By ABBA MAHMOOD –
There was a recent meeting of “Southern Leaders” to advance their latest agenda: “restructuring”. It was led by Chief Edwin Clark, the one that forfeited some assets to the federal government for corruption when he was commissioner in the Gowon administration and who later became Ijaw “leader” and godfather of President Jonathan.
The other fellow is Chief Nnia Nwodo whom Shagari brought out to the limelight when he served as special assistant and later minister of aviation in the Second Republic. Nwodo was also minister of information in the last military administration of Gen. Abubakar. Although made by northerners into what he is, and he even aspired to be president, it appears he has been overrated all along as none of us thought that he could be so sectional and bigoted. They all conveniently forget that the current constitution was drafted by a committee of 50 people headed by a gentleman, Supreme Court Justice Niki Tobi, a patriotic Nigerian from the same south they claim to represent, just like the American constitution and the earlier 1979 constitution of Nigeria were equally drafted by 50 and 49 wise men respectively.
One fellow who has played ignominious role in Nigeria’s history and is now part of the “Southern Leaders” is Prof. Ben Nwabueze. When it suits him Nigeria should be a “unitary” state as he was the one who drafted the Unification Decree under Gen. Ironsi that attempted to destroy Nigeria’s federal system; he is now trying to lecture us on “true federalism”! He saw nothing wrong in serving as education secretary in the illegal Interim National Government of Shonekan appointed by the military. He recently declared Nnamdi Kanu as the greatest Igbo alive! These are some of the fellows who want to “restructure” Nigeria and talk on behalf of “southern Nigeria” even though none of them had ever won any election to have any legitimate mandate. It was like what the Hausa say: The horse of the mouth owner (one who shouts loudest) runs the fastest. There was an excellent editorial last week titled “Buhari, Southern Leaders and Hate Speech” which I hereby reproduce below for you, my dear readers:
President Muhammadu Buhari’s concise, succinct and straight-to-the-point national broadcast on Monday, August 21, 2017, delivered in a tone of generous gratitude to God and Nigerians, was visited by the sledgehammer of southern leaders last Wednesday. The president’s attempt to assure Nigerians that the country’s unity remains sacrosanct, just to calm frayed nerves and accompanying fears over the deluge of agitations while he was away, was loudly rejected by southern leaders.
Buhari had said, “Nigeria’s unity is settled and not negotiable. We shall not allow irresponsible elements to start trouble and when things get bad they run away and saddle others with the responsibility of bringing back order, if necessary with their blood.” That the activities of ethnic and regional champions in the last few months have created fear and uncertainty in the air, the kind of suspense that put the unity and security of Nigeria at risk, is a known fact. In their response, the southern elders, led by Chief Edwin Clark, Albert Horsfall, Chief Nnia Nwodo, Prof. Joe Irukwu, Chief Reuben Fasoranti and Chief Ayo Adebanjo, opposed the assertion that the unity of Nigeria is ‘settled’ and ‘not negotiable.’ They said, “This is the time to renegotiate Nigeria along the federal lines negotiated by our founding fathers to stem the tide of separatist feelings and agitations.”
They supported their position by saying, “Fulani herdsmen have become much more ferocious in their attacks against farmers in the South and Middle Belt areas of the country, with security forces shying away from enforcing law and order.” They added, “The one sentence by the president that every Nigerian can live anywhere without let or hindrance, if meant to address the quit notice by Arewa youths against the Igbo, was rather too short to address the clear and present danger that the unwarranted threat represents. We are distressed by the refusal of the police to comply with the arrest orders given by the Kaduna State governor, Malam Nasir el-Rufa’i, and the vice-president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, while the president was away.” They insisted on another look at “the terms and conditions of the union.”
While their stance highlighted some of the predicaments facing today’s Nigeria, they were less than statesmen-like in their argument. Their statement spoke to crises linked to the northern part of the country, but treated with understatement the huge and more dangerous tension created in the South-East and South-South by secessionist groups like the IPOB, MASSOB, MEND and others. The statement, therefore, smacked of a tacit endorsement of the sectional and secessionist agenda of these groups.
The fact is that the issues highlighted are national problems that require national attention. Therefore, every discourse with a thematic focus on solving our besetting problems should be elevated over and above sectionalism, negative framing and self-defence. For instance, the IPOB, led by Nnamdi Kanu, has established a “Biafra Secret Service (BSS),” ostensibly to perform ‘intelligence gathering functions.’ This is in addition to the roles being played by members of the IPOB in terrorising and inciting the people of the South-East, arrogating unfounded authority to themselves and declaring that the forthcoming Anambra State governorship election would not be held. These “southern elders” chose to look the other way from this dangerous development, with Professor Ben Nwabueze trying to explain it away by alleging that Kanu would halt Biafra agitation if the country is restructured. The term ‘restructuring’ is now a fuzzy buzzword that has lost even its dictionary meaning. It is a ready-made pavilion for insubordinate, rebellious and destabilising activities.
Instead of condemning the secessionists the way they did the ‘AK-47 rifle-wielding Fulani herdsmen’ and ‘northern youths,’ the southern leaders justified the rebellious activities of youths from the southern part of the country. And to demonstrate their deliberate bias, they talked about farmers/herders conflict in the South and Middle Belt, ignoring the fact that similar conflicts occur in the North-West and North-East, where hundreds of deaths have been recorded, thousands of cattle have been rustled, and farmers prevented from accessing their farms. Katsina, Zamfara and Kebbi states have suffered heavily due to farmers/herders conflict, as much as any other part of the country. To paint the conflict as North versus South is gross mischief, to say the least.
The country certainly has many problems as evidenced by the many amendments to the 1999 Constitution and the feeling among many Nigerians that instead of depending on federal allocations, state governments should harness and develop their natural resources to meet their developmental challenges. The country needs to be reordered in such a manner that the systemic failures we have experienced over the years are appropriately dealt with.
But hate speech cannot bring about restructuring; rather it breeds disaffection and violence. We cannot hide behind the amorphous sense of ‘restructuring’ to paint and portray a section of the country in bad light. A civil war was fought and millions of Nigerians killed in order to achieve the current unity. Any action that would inch the country towards another disastrous conflict should be avoided by right-thinking elders and leaders.
If there is need to restructure some aspects of the country, this must still be done in conformity with the provisions of the constitution, which emphasizes the indissoluble status of the country. Any form of restructuring that would lead to the dismemberment of the country is absolutely unacceptable. As the southern leaders stated, “every country is in daily dialogue.” However, most countries that have engaged in ‘daily dialogues’ did not do so in an atmosphere of hatred, anarchy and intimidation.
President Buhari faces an urgent and arduous challenge of fixing Nigeria, but the task is not for him alone. Opinion leaders from all sections of the country must come to the table, unite and join forces to deal with the enormous burden of putting Nigeria on the pedestal of growth and harmony. The president was point-on when he said, “Every group has a grievance. But the beauty and attraction of a federation is that it allows different groups to air their grievances and work out a mode of co-existence.” The National Assembly, not any extra-constitutional body, is the right avenue for that dialogue.