About a month ago, I was at Ahmadu Bello University. And I got a shock. I had been to a number of universities across the length and breadth of Nigeria in the last couple of years. I enjoy interacting with these young students because they remind me of my time in school three decades ago. I expected ABU students to be at best ‘normal’, like the ones I’d met at Ife, or Akungba, or UNN. But they were crazy. I mean absolutely, raving crazy. They heckled their lecturers and spoke up at every turn. They cracked jokes while the seminar went on. They hailed the professors they liked, and addressed their student union leader as ‘commander-in-chief of the supreme headquarters’. They referred to themselves – as a throwback to our military era – as 50,000 strong ‘armed forces’. It was hilarious. My mouth was wide agape for the most of the seminar at which I spoke for about five minutes! I’d never seen anything like it. ABU students – most of them boys – owned their school. They were happy to be in university and retained that innocence and rascality of ‘Aluta’. In the South, students have become subdued and cowed by their lecturers and school administrators. Many are victimised, and some have had to turn to cultism for expression.
In ABU, I could see where Dino got his bravery. I could see where many of Nigeria’s leaders who attended that university found their confidence, even if many of them are not very vocal in the public space. That camaraderie, that sheer bravado, cannot disappear ever in anyone who passed through those four walls that are Ahmadu Bello University. I made a few comments about that experience afterwards, and noted that the only downside was that the mostly-male students – who are also mainly Muslims and Hausa-speaking – may not be showing enough sensitivity to the minorities amongst them (ladies, Christians, non-Hausa speakers and Southerners). We could write that off as the exuberance of youth, but again, like the confidence and bravado, these attributes may never depart from whoever had imbibed them. I asked Rayyan, my companion on the trip, about other universities in the North, and he confirmed that they weren’t too different. He had had a stint at Usmanu Dan Fodio University in Sokoto. I could sense that Bayero University, Kano (which the ABU boys call their second team/feeder team), wasn’t too far behind in this regard. Intellectualism is intoxicating in the North. In the South, we passed the curve quickly and may have now become anti-intellectual. Unlike most of the ABUsites I met that day, very few students will pass through a federal university down South today and claim they had fun.
And so when I learnt that Arewa ‘Youth’ had met at the Arewa House in Kaduna and issued an ultimatum for Igbos to leave the North by October 1, 2017, my mind went first to ABU. I imagined those crazy young fellas I had met on that day, if they had to make statements about what is going on in Nigeria today. I reckoned that it was just up their alley as ‘comrades’, reacting to similar threats from the South-East of Nigeria, to voice out their opinions in a way that will shock most Nigerians. For them, it would just be a stroll in the park because the orientation of the average university graduate from the North is that of unhindered exuberance and excitement. Education still means a lot to them beyond a meal ticket. We know that the North is still greatly disadvantaged in that department, as against the South where degrees are now a dime a dozen. Let us say education to them means better access to power than a meal ticket. And yes, the students I met in ABU, understand power!
In my reckoning, however, there was no serious need for such threats, apart from the recent sit-at-home enforced in some South-East states. The sit-at-home was not violent, but the statement from the Arewa groups brought out the fact that even non-indigene residents of those states could not go about their legitimate businesses that day. Now, that has implications for the future. I actually admired the level of success recorded by the lockdown and felt it was a call for the government to sit up, but I didn’t consider then that non-indigenes (such as Hausas trading in their Sabo settlements), would not find such funny and had stayed at home out of nothing else but fear. For them it’s not really about the money they lost for a couple of days, but that they were corralled and threatened into submission. There are always miscreants in every part of Nigeria, willing to take advantage of such fluid situations to unleash mayhem. Still, that one-day lockdown should not have provoked this type of ‘Orkah-esque’ declaration which the Sun newspaper (a tabloid with specialty in sensationalism and where Mr. Femi Adesina was Editor-in-Chief), tagged as ‘The Beginning of the End’ for Nigeria. My anger was directed at the Sun. A day after their prediction of ‘the end’ for Nigeria, their front-page was emblazoned with “Igbos Spit Fire!!” Now, that newspaper, owned by Orji Uzor Kalu is not shy of burning down this country, while it smiles to the banks.
After a few days, the video of the declaration surfaced. First, the statement was made by an old person, and not a youth. I realised it was not a youthful exuberance thing after all and so the matter needed to be taken more seriously. In prominence, as one of the chief drivers of the declaration, was one Yerima Shettima, who sat beside the declarant. I Googled Shettima to find out who he was. It so happens he was detained for months by the Department for State Security in 2009 for allegedly recruiting and training a militia of Hausa boys in Idi Araba, Lagos. That means the guy is a hot potato – just like Nnamdi Kanu. The lesson here is that each one of Nigeria’s 519 or so tribes has an Nnamdi Kanu – a hotheaded who professes tribal superiority and is ready to incite people to arms.
As a matter of fact, since that statement, we have seen many groups coming up with wild statements. A group of youth in the Niger Delta asked the federal government to withdraw all oil blocks given to Northerners, and asked their allies in that area to resume the bombing of oil drilling infrastructure and pipelines. Another group from the South-West is inviting Yorubas to get ready to exit to their own country in a short while. Another Yoruba group has also asked Igbos to leave the territory by October 1, 2017, if they cannot stop talking of Biafra.
Let us unpack some of the issues:
- The Myth of Arewa House
The Southern people of Nigeria would usually complain that the North claims superiority over others in the country. In this incidence, I saw how that superiority is handed on a platter to the North. Nnamdi Kanu and a bunch of people have been saying all sorts of things against other Nigerians and some of those who rushed to the press to say ‘Beginning of the end’, upon a singular statement from a Kanu-type rabble-rouser, never saw anything wrong with that. The Southerners did not show restrain. Many didn’t even try to find out who was what before drawing dire conclusions. They showed they were scared of the North. The rationale, according to those who justified this position, is that Northerners are known to carry out what they say. Some also pointed to the millions of Almajirai children up North, who could be used to effect the quit notice in a violent manner. Granted. But I would prefer a more cautious, methodical approach. Of course many extremists from the other side jumped into the matter. We hear that there is an implication that the venue from which that group made the statement was Arewa House. Hence it must have had some government backing. However, in reality the group met in a tiny room in Arewa House and I don’t think there is any protocol by which Arewa House will have requested the full agenda of anyone using their facilities. We are not (yet) in such a fascist state.
Nnamdi Kanu, on the other hand, requested for guns and ammunition at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel in Los Angeles in 2015. There was no way Sheraton would have known that he would use their venue for such an illegal activity, and they couldn’t even care less afterwards. He suffered no reprimands from them. This is what he said on that occasion, as captured in a video recording:
“We need guns and we need bullets. To kill somebody is not a problem for us… Lugard killed people in bringing Nigeria together, so killing people to break it is not a problem… If they fail to give us Biafra, Somalia will look like a paradise compared to what will happen to that zoo (Nigeria)… If they do not give us Biafria, there will be nothing living in that zoo (Nigeria)… nothing will survive there, I can assure you. I do not believe in peaceful actualisation or whatever rubbish it is called. I have never seen where you become free by peaceful means”.
It is noteworthy that hardly anyone in his audience that day agreed with his position. A certain gentleman, towards the end of the clip, strongly suggested that rather than fight the federal government, the Igbo people should deal with their local issues. This means that an Nnamdi Kanu type probably never has the support of right-thinking people whom he purports to champion their cause. But the danger is that right-thinking people are in the minority. Nnamdi is worshipped today. So also might these new demagogues from the North, who we are now giving national importance.
- Balance of Terror?
Was the group at Arewa House trying to create a balance of terror? Is their statement a mere push-back of the Igbos? Why did they have to make specific threats, like houses and hotels will be seized? Did the group consider how easy it is to cause insurrection among their people? Will they be responsible if flash mobs start wreaking havoc in the North? Much as I hate to admit it, it seems the words that come out of the mouth of a Northerner is weightier than the vituperations of a Southerner.
But anyone who supported Nnamdi Kanu should have known such a time will come. In a war, everything becomes a weapon. The East of Nigeria has been through this before and the whole of Nigeria can ill-afford a repeat of it. A few years back, I had had cause to caution Biafran agitators along this line – that they had more to lose if the union should break than any other group. Sometimes last year, I met a rich and highly-educated Igbo man who lectured me that that was all figured into the matter because there exists a blueprint; a strategic plan whereby all of those asset will not matter. I was humbled. The gentleman told me the Igbos have finalised plans to trade with other countries like Cameroon and extend their reach to the furthest parts of the Earth. I greatly respect the acumen and prowess of the Igbo man, so I changed my opinion. However, with the reality of a quit notice from the North, it is evident that a breakup will be messier than expected.
Shettima says they are trying to help the Igbos accelerate their exit from Nigeria as severally declared over the years. But if he and his people are gentlemen, they could have assured the safety of all people, and even property. By stating that you will seize all properties, you are inviting street urchins to an orgy of blood.
- The Maps of Self-Delusion
The entire imbroglio has thrown up the challenges involved in forming a country. The Biafran advocates have drawn up a map of their dream nation, which includes most of Benue and Kogi States. They have since taken for granted that the entire Delta State (including the Urhobos, and the Itsekiris whose language is closer to that of the Yorubas) is part of Biafra. The entire Rivers and Cross-River states is part of their equation. Ditto Bayelsa, with its deepsea oil fields. It seems however that they will have to fight several wars to actualise that map as we had predicted. In fact, the fight from those ‘minorities’ will be fiercer than from the rest of Nigeria.
The advocates of Oodua Republic also drew a map, in which they included their ‘junior brother’, Benin. They also carved in the Itsekiris of Delta State. At least one person – Don Pedro Obaseki – has spoken up on behalf of the Binis. ‘Forget it!’ he screamed. “Benin people are not and have never been Yorubas”. Just as Yorubas believe that Binis are their junior brothers, the Binis have it exactly opposite in their own history books.
As it pertains to Northerners giving quit notices, most Nigerians are asking who gave them the authority to try and carve up Nigeria too. For me, I’ve been telling romanticists who blame Lord Lugard for joining together disparate peoples into an ‘unholy’ union called Nigeria, that that is how it is done everywhere. In the year 1900, there wasn’t anything near the kind of enlightenment we have today. Our societies were primitive. We were held as slaves on our own soil by these British people. We also held each other as slaves as we never got tired of fighting tribal wars. No master asks his slave for his opinions. The white man did worse things to people with whom he share the same skin colour.
Therefore most nations – if not all – are ‘geographical expressions’. What matters is what you choose to do with that ‘expression’ afterwards. I believe that Nigerians have mismanaged this union out of immaturity and mutual disdain. Sometimes I sit back and assume the role of an outsider and watch Nigerians speak. The sheer arrogance. The self-importance. The exceptionalism, made worse by religion and cultures that tell us we are meant to be better than everybody else! I believe that all of these issues we are throwing up merely shows our shallowness. Meanwhile, civilisation is defined as the ability to coexist in large cities. It is almost a truism that we don’t yet have that ability or paradigm. Most of us distrust anyone but ourselves. Tribal and religious differences merely provide us an anchor for that distrust and hate. The black man, the Nigerian, has to be forced to think greater thoughts.
- The Buhari Factor
Is there a Buhari factor to the whole issue? Are we seeing this because people want to give Osinbajo problems? Some have alleged that this ties in with the recent talk of a coup de tat in the making. The idea is that a coup would probably be led by Northern military men with the aim of retaining power. I hardly believe in such conspiracy theories but who knows? One thing is for sure; Buhari’s absence is a problem for Nigeria. Even his presence, when he had good health, was problematic. In other words, the Buhari that we supported and hoped would impact positively on this country, ended up being a disaster. The North is under pressure and elements who identify as ‘leaders’ from there are now sharpening their long knives. They intend to retain power for power’s sake. Some Southerners are also mismanaging Osinbajo’s acting presidency. I refrain from praising him too much these days and can also begin to see his own inconsistencies (we all have ours). I hope Osinbajo keeps his cool at this point as we watch things unfold.
- Who Is Your Mouthpiece?
We can see that the mouthpieces of this kind of sectional wars are people without any stake themselves. Ralph Uwazurike of MASSOB did say that Kanu was an unemployed guy that followed him about while he reigned supreme in his own era. As eloquent as he is, we don’t know if Kanu has ever had a career and if he has worked for anything in his life. Ditto the likes of Shettima. As a matter of fact, people cause this kind of trouble as a way of upsetting the system. Every so-called revolution throws up new oppressors. So, perhaps that is the aim. The lesson is that we should take a hard look at those who speak for us. If they have nothing at stake, we are in deep trouble.
Perhaps it is the fact that the leaders of this ‘revolution’ are failures in their chosen fields – if any – that is responsible for their insertion of land-grab in the agenda against the Igbos living in the North. Could the point have been made without revealing that you were interested in collecting what many people may have worked for all their lives?
- Brother’s War Is the Worst
Meanwhile, it is true that if we are as yet challenged in our abilities and willingness to live in large groups (otherwise defined as civilisation), there is no assurance whatsoever that as our tribal countries grow we will not have issues. Psychoanalysing the Nigerian problem reveals that at the heart of this is an inability to understand diversity. Among the Igbos is so much mutual discrimination. An Enugu man cannot become anything in Abia, even if it is difficult for anyone to tell the difference between the two men save for a slight accent here and there. Even within a state, people are identified and restricted up to the village they hail from. So what we have is still the village mentality. Yet we are in the year 2017! The same can be said for every other ‘tribe’ in Nigeria. There is the mistrust between the Tivs and Idomas, the Igallas and the Ebiras, the Jukuns and the Agatus and so on, for starters. Sometimes one feels we should altogether abolish the concept of tribes, clean the slate and approach the future as modern men and women; citizens of the world, ready to play fair for humanity’s sake. I reckon that is where all these will end someday.
Managing the aftermath of splitting is another problem. India split from Pakistan in rancorous fashion in 1947, right at independence. Till today, neither country grants visas to each others’ citizens. A man who lives in London, born of Pakistani and Indian parents, was denied visa by both countries. Denied by India because his mother is Pakistani, and by Pakistan because his father is Indian. Can you beat that? The two countries share borders and have been engaged in war since 1947. Good job. We always warned that there was a very slim possibility that Nigeria will resolve a breakup in a convivial manner. It is emerging today that we are right. I believe if we are calm, we can make this country work.
- Misgovernance Writ Large
Ultimately, what ails Nigeria is misgovernance, simplicta. Not much else. Because of the village mentality still existing in most of us – and by extension our leaders – we cannot get rid of greed and ego. The leaders who emerge here are those who still exist in the realm whereby they have to show off to the rest of us with their possessions. We are easily taken in by the shiny things of life. Therefore we have made all the wrong decisions since the white man departed, and we are set on making more. If 20 percent of our commonwealth had been used for the betterment of society at large, no one will be thinking of scattering the union, and the Nigerian specie would have greatly improved – in thinking, in productivity, and otherwise. But what we have instead are politicians playing poverty politics, financing thugs and area boys, subjugating the majority in the worst form of poverty on planet Earth, and ensuring by every means that the majority of us continue to be, well – ‘savages’. Nigeria is simply the most mismanaged country on Earth, where even in an economic recession, we make appalling choices with our commonwealth and waste resources like drunken sailors. If we could have a new ethos in governments, and conserve and maximise our resources, and deploy first to the most vulnerable, we will see Nigerians rise from the ashes, unity will grow, and we will all pursue a new vision.