By Bisi Lawrence
An elected member of the National Assembly stood in the hallowed halls of the legislature and asked,”Have we got a government in this country?” One of his colleagues tried to shut him up.
“Of course, we have a democratically elected government in this country”, he retorted with heat, while the voices of other legislators were raised in support of the one position or the other.
The question was purely rhetorical and should not have engendered any passion, but it was occasioned by a discussion on Boko Haram, a subject which has grown a variety of emotions any time it came up. That was only a few days ago.
The question that might have been asked, perhaps, would be, “What manner of government have we got in this country?” That must have been asked in sheer exasperation by many people on several occasions, especially with regard to the terrorism by which we are beset in the Northern part of the country.
But there are several other issues that keep cropping up to incite the asking of that question which can only be eventually resolved by examining ourselves as citizens of this country, and finding the answer to the important and overwhelming riddle of what kind of people we are.
We kept talking glibly a while back about “One Nigeria”. We realized then that we were yet not one unified entity, but we held that out as an ideal that should be achieved. We came out of the Civil War chanting, “To Make Nigeria One Is A Task That Must Be Done.” But Wole Soyinka, even before he had become an immortal with the Nobel Award, was way ahead of us. On his way out of prison, where General Yakubu Gowon had kept him for an appreciable length of time (for the writer’s protection, the Head of State later submitted) Kongi amplified that sentiment in his own way. He said, “To keep Nigeria one, Justice must be done.”
Now hardly any one shouts about “unity” from the rooftop. Rather, we keep hearing about “breaking up”. Someone who should know better expressed this sentiment and we took issues with him for that on this page. Now another Northerner —it is usually a well-placed Northerner— has voiced that notion again.
Curiously, those who usually take this position apparently do so merely to “call the bluff” of the Southerners. But they throw it actually in the face of Southerners as a threat, which is dangerous. One wonders if they realize that fact. It has been going on for years. Yakubu Gowon articulated the proposition as part of his take-over speech when he succeeded General Aguiyi-Ironsi after the bloody coup in 1966. He bluntly stated that “the basis for unity” did not exist. . “
. Nnamdi Azikiwe, ever the liberal-minded nationalist, averred that Nigeria was a reality as a nation..” But when he expressed that same sentiment face-to-face with the Sardauna, he got a smooth rebuff. John N, Paden in the comprehensive biography, “Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto”, writes:
“Tradition has it that in the mid-1920’s, Dr. Azikiwe met with Ahmadu Bello and said, “Let us forget our differences..”
“To which Ahmadu Bello replied, “No, let us understand our differences. You are a Christian and an Easterner. I am a Muslim and a Northerner. By understanding our differences, we can build unity in our country.”
On the other hand, Chief Obafemi Awolowo insisted in those days that, Nigeria was gonly a geographical expression to which life was given by the diabolical amalgamation of 1914. That amalgamation will ever remain the most painful injury that a British government inflicted on Nigeria.”
Apart from that, no other Southerner had ever expressed any opinion but the most supportive about the idea of Nigeria’s unity. The most recent invitation for a break-up came from the Arewa Elders Council. There was no response, or reasonable reaction, from any Southern Elders, the existence of which is nebulous anyway. And it is doubtful that there would ever be, In fact, you might say the issue has suffered a paradigm shift. It was the leader of a northern group who was quoted as now saying that anyone who desired the dismantling of Nigeria deserved to be shot… or stoned, rather. He gave no reason. There might be quite a number of delegates to the National Conference, though, who may consider that notion worth cogitating about. But we shall come back to that.
But now that the celebrations of the centenary of the Amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates of Nigeria seem to have been concluded, you might once again wonder what it was all about beyond a mere charade.
What were we told that we had not known? What did they bring that we did not have? In what way was our national life edified? One of those who were most qualified to have been honoured for the occasion rejected the offer. One or two others demurred when invited to receive the award on behalf of their departed nominated relations.
Those who arranged it know why they believed they could hoodwink Nigerians into accepting almost any hollow proposition. We said it on this page before, and we will say it again. Nigeria became a nation on the first day of October in the year 1960.
It was, at the best, all a mere distraction from the problems that lie ahead and must be faced before we cross the Jordan of 2015. Having mentioned the instances of those who dissociated themselves from the so-called “Centenary Award”, we can only add that those who made the list should have realized that many more Southerners would have been more qualified than Northerners if it had been based purely on merit— which it should.
They would have saved themselves the issues of trying to present a “balanced” list which could only be at the expense of the Southerners. They would then have settled for two lists, one for each former protectorate.
Then people like Hogan Bassey and Osita Agwuna, to mention a few, would not have been blanked out. The inclusion of some names whose memories have left a dark stain on the annals of this country’s history had better be left unmentioned, though it is also a pointer to the hollowness of the entire concept.
But to return to the Conference, many people may actually believe that some good would come out of it. Let them attend it and present their proposals about building up unity in Nigeria. That appears to be general notion of the raison d’etre of the conference.
Indeed, there is the need to unify the intents and purposes of the diverse elements that constitute this country \ and that was to what the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, was referring above at his meeting with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe—unification,not uniformity.
However, it is apparent that the structure of the Conference —some people call it “dialogue”—is defective even from the way the delegates have been nominated. The representation is uneven and the motives of the nominees appear questionable.
Some seem to be prepared for war-war, as opposed to jaw-jaw. That is as a function of the motives. Those who see themselves as “minorities” seem determined to cast off that yoke on the basis of acquiring equal recognition, equal recompense, and equal prospects, as citizens with equal rights. There is nothing wrong with that, but has the Constitution not addressed that already, so where comes this feeling that there is a call to arms over such issues?
Then there are issues that will not be solved at an open conference because they are already crusted through an appreciable period of fruitless address and have now become hardened with frustration. They are now fit only for careful adjudication through quiet arbitration, without any banner-waving approach as the “dialogue” has now set a stage for. Imagine a delegation being warned not to return home without securing the fullness of its mandate.
That is evocative of the old Spartan soldier’s admonition to return home either with his shield, or on it. We may not know what measures are already in place for the containment of confrontations which will develop when the interests of one group clash with those of another, a situation that should be naturally expected. But finally, how will the decisions be executed, and by what authority—the National Assembly or through the results of a plebiscite? Is this not all a case of driving down a blind alley?
If you ask me, it is all at par with the Centenary celebrations. Distractions!
A State Governor, bowed with the grief of losing several of the children in one of his schools to the macabre murderous onslaught of the Boko Haram, offered the opinion that the marauders may have been better armed and more motivated that our military.
He was almost in tears. Not a bit impressed, Doyin Okupe, one of the trouble-shooters of the Jonathan government, came down severely on the governor, hauling him over the coals for daring to speak out about the comparative calibres of the weaponry involved. As for the case of motivation, the Presidential attack-dog merely dismissed the issue by asserting that our armed forces are proving equal to the task in every way. In the grip of his anguish, the Governor wondered about such insensitivity. I watched it on television and marvelled at such callousness.
Governor Kashim Shettima of Bornu State, it was, and he just had to bear the sorrow and the pain and the loss quietly. Yet he had not said anything out of turn. Several other people had commented freely on the “sophistication” of the weapons with which the Boko Haram attackers are armed, hinting on their superiority, rightly or wrongly.
But no direct light has been thrown on the matter and the public has been left, as it were, to misguide itself if it so desires. As to the degree of commitment evinced by the fighting forces of the terrorists, it is really of no account to compare elements of a suicide squad with troops of upright, regular soldiers defending their nation. And it is not speaking disparagingly of the latter to comment on the ferocity of the latter.
But a more disturbing chapter was to open later when, some two days later, another Governor of one of the beleaguered States, this time Murtala Nyako of Adamawa, himself a former military person, reportedly came under fire at a checkpoint near Shuwa where he was on a condolence visit to some of the victims of Boko Haram raids.
His story was fiercely challenged by military authorities, most probably because the attack had supposedly been from the direction of the check-point. The controversion might have been considered necessary, but it little served to clear the air.
Do we really need this kind of disagreement at this time? By the middle of last month, more than 120 people had been killed in Bornu alone. We should have more on our minds than the issues that are being flogged around. The military are doing a good job, but more is required. That is why the headquarters has been advised to relocate to Bornu. And the sooner, the better. Sophisticated weaponry or no sophisticated weaponry, shooting at a governor or not, press conferences on that are mere distractions.