By Pini Jason
Reading Dr. Jide Oluwajuyitan’s column in The Nation newspaper of September 13, 2012 aroused again in me an idea I have been nursing for a long time now.
Dr Oluwajuyitan, in an article titled: “Edwin Clark’s blind fury”(The Nation, September 13, 2012) recounted his exchange with the late Ken Saro Wiwa years back.
He said he had on August 28, 1990, in another article titled: “Saro Wiwa’s Misplaced Aggression”, written that “the problem of the Niger Delta was as much that of the elite of the area, including those who became administrator of Bonny and later Federal Commissioner in their twenties”.
That was a barely veiled broadside on Ken and the innuendo was not lost on him. A few days later, said Oluwajuyitan, Ken stopped by his office and said to him: “Jide you trivialize the Niger Delta problem because you have never been there”.
Between 1999 and 2001, I was part of a team of resource persons for Sweden-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, I-IDEA that toured the six geo-political zones in this country in a dissemination workshop to sensitize Nigerians about the report of a democracy assessment we conducted under the auspices of I-IDEA.
When we got to Maiduguri, yes the same Maiduguri where blood flows today, I fell in love with the city. Its canopy of lush green trees took my breath away. Maiduguri can easily compete as one of the most beautiful cities in Nigeria.
Maiduguri probably has more green than Lagos! And you will probably eat more variety of fishes in Maiduguri than in Port Harcourt!
And so I was gushing to a publisher of a national daily that I would take my family on holiday to Maiduguri. He was surprised, perhaps shocked. “Why would you take your family on holiday there? I thought the whole place is desert” he retorted.
I screamed: “Hell no! You see how little we know about our country? And yet everyday we want to editorialise about places we hardly know and people we hardly understand”.
His Grace, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, used to tell me with a painful disbelief: “Pini, when I read some articles in our newspapers, I wonder if we are talking about Vietnam”. Of course Bishop Kuka was right.
Until he gave me insight into the politics of the North and until I read his fantastic book on religion, politics and power in the North, every crisis in the North was a religious crisis.
It is still so to many of us now. I must confess that the North is very complex and complicated. But the truth is that we hardly make the effort to know ourselves! We don’t even want to know!
What Ken Saro-Wiwa told Oluwajuyitan rings resonant even today! We trivialise our problems because we have NEVER been “there” and we do not know “there”.
Since the day that publisher said to me that he thought Maiduguri is all desert, I started thinking that perhaps, the best thing the National Orientation Agency can do for this country is to organise exchange tours for Nigerians from primary school to leaders to go to other parts of the country to see for themselves the problems of other Nigerians as well as appreciate their values and qualities.
That way, we can really truthfully mouth the cliché, unity in diversity. You may say the National Youth Service is already doing that. But evidence is that that is not enough, especially when posting can be fixed the Nigerian way. It is more important that those who take decisions about this country understand the country!
It will be nice to take the Northern States Governors Forum on a tour of the Niger Delta to appreciate the misery, poverty and anguish caused by the devastation of life and means to sustain it in the Niger Delta because of oil exploration.
They will appreciate that the 13 percent derivation cannot make a dent on the problem of the region and that the demands of the region is not just out of greed. Another trivialisation of the Niger Delta problem is the stupid tale told by some Nigerians that it was after some Niger Delta youths attended Daniel Kanu’s Abacha rally that they saw what the wealth from their backyard has done in Abuja and got incensed to militancy!
Such tale trivialises the problem of Niger Delta as a long festering wound. For sure there was no Abuja when Isaac Boro and his comrades revolted in the Niger Delta! Abuja was nothing when Ken Saro Wiwa began the agitation for which he was judicially murdered!
In return, the Southern Governors who may see nothing but avarice in the agitation by the North for more revenue should be taken on a tour of the North to see vast agricultural land under the ravages of desertification and flooding and the attendant poverty in the place.
The agitation by the North may be wrongly framed and wrongly timed, and using Boko Haram terrorism to leverage the demand may be addle- headed, but there is a need for us to appreciate the level of poverty in the North.
I am not aware that the Nigerian Governors Forum, as a group, has visited the affected states of the North since the Boko Haram menace! Yet they all sit together as leaders of the same country, but obviously in denial of the division among them!
Both Northern and Southern Governors should be conducted on a tour of the South East to appreciate the de-industrialization of the zone since the end of the civil war through a deliberate Federal Government policy of Federal absence in the zone.
They need to see the loss of agricultural land to erosion and the poverty in the land that has made funerals at weekends as the only growth industry in the zone. They will appreciate why people of the area are immigrants in their own country and why imported crimes like drug running, advance fee fraud and kidnapping have found home amongst people hitherto reputed for hard work and industry.
All the Governors need to go to the Middle Belt to behold the problems of a region with a preponderance of retired military and paramilitary population with little land space to accommodate farming and cattle grazing for which the region has become a killing field!
Then all the Governors should also visit Lagos, Ogun and Oyo to appreciate the burden and stress internal migration and attendant urban explosion has placed on life and infrastructures there, so that when the areas demand special attention, they would understand.
After the Governors, similar tours should be organised for senators, members of House of Representatives and state legislators. Instead of spending taxpayers’ money junketing abroad during their break, it would pay the nation better dividends if they spent that money towards understanding the country they pretend to lead!
If a publisher of a national newspaper thinks that Maiduguri is all desert, then you can wonder how much the editors and reporters know about this country and the peculiar pains of its peoples. If you asked most editors where Nkalagu is, they would not know!
That is why the ignorance we proudly display on the pages of newspapers sound like tales from Vietnam! That is why rumour has overtaken the news!
The point I am making is that we are so disconnected from the realities of one another; we are too comfortable in our enclaves that we do not know when fellow Nigerians are hurting. Thus we are constantly trivializing our problems, because we have never been there!