BY MCPHILIPS NWACHUKWU
Quintessential poet, scholar, culture activist and social commentator, Odia Ofeimun is indeed a very phenomenal character. LikeÂ his friend, former Ekiti State gubernatorial aspirant under the platform of Action Congress, AC, Dr KayodeÂ Fayemi would remark about him, â€œOdiaâ€™s life as a great man, like music has a way of inspiring us.â€
It is perhaps this life of great inspiration that brought together, last week all the â€œtimbers and calibersâ€ that cut across the civil service, politics, scholars, culture and social commentators as well as writers to Lagos , and precisely at theÂ Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, Victoria Island to honor the Edo State born polyvalent scholar and poet pathologist, who recently attained 60s years of age.
HeldÂ jointly through the support of Center for Black African Art and Civilization, CBAAC and Friends of Odia Ofeimun, the occasion , which was chaired by Africaâ€™s first Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka had in attendance notable scholars including Harvard University Scholar and critic, Professor Biodun Jeyfo, East AfricanÂ PoliticalÂ scientist, Professor Mamood Mamdani, erstwhile Director General of CBAAC, Professor Duro Oni, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, AmbassadorÂ Segun Olusola , Kunle Ajibade, Femi Babafemi ,Professor Chidi Odinkalu and Mrs Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi.
Versatile Odia, whose influence isÂ remarkably strong between the two divides of the Nigerian intelligentsia wasÂ also able to draw the presence of members of contemporary defining Nigerian intellectuals thatÂ cut across academic, media, publishing, writing and cultural activism.
Hence , there were also United States based poets and scholars, Ogaga Ifowodo and Ike Okonta. University of Ibadan based Remi Raji and Sola Olurnmi were neither missing. Neither were Luminar publisher and serial award winning author, NosaÂ Igiebor, Abdul Oroh, Jahman Anikulapo, Lanre Arugundade, Promise Ogochukwu and Daggar Tola, current Chairman of Association of Nigerian Authors, Lagos chapter.
In the character ofÂ the celebrant, the organizers of the event anchored the gathering around a very robust and timely topic. The discussion topic was; Sudan&Congo: A Lesson for Nigeria. The topic of discussion going by the turn out of the crowd showed that it wasÂ timely and very engaging, when also viewed from the fact thatÂ this meeting was coming in the wake of the horrendous killings in the former peaceful city of Jos , Plateau State.
The guest lecturer, Professor Mahmood Mamdani, again became a very suitable choice of a speaker going by his records, which qualify him as an important scholar and commentator on AfricanÂ regional crises.
As aÂ scholar of crises and violence, Mamdaniâ€™s engagement with crises and violence studies has resulted in the publications of land mark titles including; Fascism in Uganda; Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism, Good Muslim and Bad Muslim; America, The Cold War and the Roots of Terror, Saviours and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror and When Victims Become Killers.
A critical topic as,Â Sudan and Congo: A Lesson for Nigeria, immediately struck a chord in the audience, whose sensibilities are already assaulted by the senseless killingsÂ continually going in the Plateau in and different parts of post civil war Nigeria in recent times owing toÂ varying reasonsÂ attributed to Settler/ indigenes question as well as religious and political factors.
As the audience listened attentively to the well informed scholar, expectations wereÂ high as to find out how the regional crises in the Congo and Sudan came to be; and how they were contendedÂ as to help redirect Nigeriaâ€™s ownÂ Â threatening and looming anarchy. And the guest lecturer did not disappoint them.
In the nature of Odiaâ€™sÂ frank and unabashed outspokenness, the guest speaker, Mamdani spoke truth to the issue. According to him,â€â€¦the lesson of Darfur is a warning to those who would act first and understand later.â€ Basing the thesis of his argument onÂ this statement and drawing copiously from the Congolese and Sudanese experiences, Mamdani alleged the series of crises that rock different part of the continent on the paucity of African leaders to unraveling the contextual foundations of theÂ crises.
â€œ only those possessed of disproportionate power can afford to assume that knowing is irrelevant, thereby caring little about the consequences of their actions. Not only is this mindset, the deriving force behind the war on terror, it also provides the self-indulgent motto of the human rights interventionist recruited into the ranks of the terror warriors.â€ He said.
Continuing, Mamdani squarely puts Africaâ€™s crises on the signpost of colonialism, which according to him, in manyÂ countries introduced the divide and rule policy, which resulted in the division of Africa into African tribal homelands and immigrants.
â€œThe violence in Darfur was driven by two issues: one local and the other international. The local grievance focused on land and had double background; its deep background was a colonial legacy of parceling Darfur between tribes, with some given homelands and others not.â€ He said.
Scaling down the discourse to the several crises and violence that have rocked Nigeria since the Post civil war, the University of Columbia crisesÂ scholar located theÂ countryâ€™s serial civil disturbances to the faulty federal character clause in the federal constitution.
Describing the federal character clause as something imitative ofÂ â€œMobutuâ€™s geopolitiqueâ€, he said thatÂ such a constitutional provision only but helps to polarize the country along ethnic lines.
Speaking further, he added that the continued practice of the principle will amount to â€œan extension of the colonial principal of colonial authority.â€
According to him, â€œThe federal character principle has extended the colonial principle of Native Authority to key institutions in the Federal Civil Service. Its unintended effect has been to turn federal citizenship into an extension of ethnically-defined citizens into â€œindegenes and â€œnon indigenesâ€- not of Nigeria but of individual states for participation in national institutions.â€
While describing Nigeria as a global player, a position that imposes on her the task of a market pull that draws various migrant communities to come and settle in any part of the country, the Ugandan scholar maintained that the federal character principle amounts to a contradiction.
Mamdani, a Ugandan born scholar and Harvard University trained political Scientist further asserted that â€œthe simple fact that Nigeria is increasingly integrated into the global economy, and has been the subject of market reforms, has intensified the contradiction between the market and the state as currently run in Nigeria.â€
Besides, he said â€œthe tendency of the market economy is to move more and more strata of the population away from the locality where they were born. This include both the rich and the poor Nigerians: on the one hand, businessmen, industrialists and professionals, and on the other, unemployed workers and landless peasants. The system is in contrast, disenfranchises precisely those , who move and penalizes those the economy dynamizes.â€
On the need for Nigeria to take a cue from the Sudan and Congo crises and to avert a repeat of the Jos crisis, he said â€œI have often wondered whether Nigeriaâ€™s post-civil war constitution did not emulate the substance of Mobutuâ€™s geopolitique, particularly in its inclusion of the federal character clause, requiring that key federal institutions reflect the federal character of Nigeria.â€
Speaking further, he said â€œfor these institutions to reflect federal character, enrollment is based on a state-based quota system whereby the quota for each state is in proportion to its share of the federal population. The right to compete for this quota does not belong to all those who live in a state, but only to those who can claim to be indigenous to the state in question, meaning that not only they but also their father be born in that state.â€
â€œOne lesson of Congo and Sudan is that it may be time to rethink the legacy of both the colonial past and the reforms you undertook to end the civil war,â€ he stated.