National conference, 2014: Speaking to the presidential address

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By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu

LAST Monday, it was my turn to  respond to President Goodluck Jonathan’s address at the opening ceremony of the National Conference, 2014. As was set out by the conference leadership, every delegate was expected to say something about Jonathan’s speech. The great handicap was that each one of us was assigned just three minutes for a statement. Not enough time to open full hearts about the Nigerian condition.

While many delegates spent time praising the speech, quite a significant number of delegates have also touched on some of the issues that necessitated the conference in the first place. Nigerians are obviously hurting, for a variety of often, disparate and conflicting, even adversarial reasons. I knew that three minutes won’t be enough to state all that occurred to me, but I chose to write out my thought, while I then summarised the script. What you read here is the script that I wrote as my thought, and which I spoke to Goodluck Jonathan’s speech of March 17th, 2014.

Nigeria matters. We are the only African country with all attributes to become a great power: size and population; arable land and water; oil and solid minerals; diverse tourist potentials and very resourceful people, with incredible self-assuredness. Yet, we face serious problems: a deformed political structure and an economy that has not worked, especially since the mid 1980s, with the implementation of imperialist Structural Adjustment Policies (SAP) and neoliberal policies. They have led to de-industrialisation; and the transfer of public assets into the hands of private cronies, in controversial privatisation policies.

Consequently, we have managed to create one of the most unjust societies in the world today. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) says 115million Nigerians live in poverty and 64% of our urban population lives in slums. Yet, those who now control Nigeria’s wealth have spent over $6billion purchasing private jets.   Nigeria’s rich oligarchy consumes more champagne than their Russian counterparts. CRONY CAPITALISM is ruining our country. It is at the base of ethno-regional and religious rivalries, that many of the old people here assume to be the most important contradictions facing us. Extreme wealth lives side by side with mind-boggling poverty, deprivation and hopelessness. The World Bank recently said that two thirds of the extremely poor people of the world live in China, India, NIGERIA, Bangladesh and DR Congo! Since 1999, a new phenomenon emerged in Nigeria, where those who have ruled our states, after eight years, have become richer than the states they governed!

Today, Nigeria is a country of young people: 45% is under 15; 63% of the population is under the age of 25; while 75% is under 35. Instructively, those aged 65 and above, are only 3% of our population.   The young; urban and rural working people; women; and the physically challenged, and how we treat them, will determine Nigeria’s future.   23.9% of Nigerians are unemployed, but youth unemployment was at 54% by 2012, according to the National Baseline Youth Survey Report.   In May 2012, a former minister of Youth Development  announced that 67million young Nigerians were unemployed, while 80 percent of that number do  not have university degrees, and are almost unemployable. Alarmingly,  1.8 million graduates enter the job market annually.

The most central problems we face are ECONOMIC; how to re-industrialise to create jobs for millions of young people. We will not create those jobs if we do not critically interrogate the philosophy of governance. Nigeria’s bizarre form of capitalism is NOT working. Rev. Fr. George Ehusani of the Catholic Secretariat, did a study of ethno-religious crises in Nigeria, between 1999 and 2007, and showed that most of them occurred between 12noon and six pm. Those are the hours people would normally be at work. And most of those involved are young people. The preponderance of membership of Boko Haram is young Nigerians! Nigerians must be put to work!   Faulty as the 1999 Constitution might be, let us make JUSTICIABLE Chapter II, the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. Many of the elite groups at this National Conference have retreated into ethnic, regional and religious identities; there is scare mongering and unbridled efforts at delegitimisation of our dear country, including ill-concealed secessionist agendas; but the Nigerian people don’t really hate themselves. Elite groups manipulate them into postures of hatred in their rivalries for power and privileges.

Nigeria matters

I will like to return to where I started from; Nigeria matters. Our country has responsibilities to its people and the African continent. One out of every 5 Africans is a Nigerian; 20% of Africa is Nigeria and 47% of West Africa is our dear country. But neoliberal capitalism will sink us into an abyss.   It has created a few billionaires, yes.   But the majority of our people are in despair all over Nigeria. We must build a caring and inclusive country, not the Hobbesian state of nature, where life is nasty, brutish and short, as we have today in Nigeria.

Finally, people have asked for “restructuring” of Nigeria. My suggestion is that we should return to the 12 states structure of General Yakubu Gowon, between 1967 and 1975. There were six states in the North and six in the South. That offers a balanced basis for real development. We should then significantly reduce the exclusive legislative list and devolve more resources and responsibilities to the states. In that setting, we can conveniently have well-organised state police forces and even local police forces too, while the Nigeria Police Force will be in charge of cross border and federal crimes. We can also remove the friction around what Southern Nigerian groups agitate for as ‘Resource Control’ by giving oil producing states 50% derivation on ON-SHORE oil while the entire country owns revenues accruing from offshore oil fields. A corollary of these developments is to bring the state back into the development process. The ‘religion’ like devotion to privatisation and market forces is doing far more damage to our country, than people have bothered to study.

We must also introduce a Development Planning regime to take control of the development process. Nigeria must deliberately overthrow the Washington Consensus and bring Nigeria’s working people, patriotic intellectuals, business people dedicated to patriotic endeavours and well-trained and patriotically bureaucrats, to drive the development process. At the moment, our economic process is driven by agents of imperialism; and they owe more allegiance to the Washington Institutions than to our country. Wasn’t one of them alleged to have made 60 Billion Naira from negotiating the cancellation of Nigerian debts under Obasanjo? Surely, those are not the types that should be piloting Nigeria’s economic process.

Fulbe nomads: From negative profiling to ethnic cleansing

THE killing of innocent Fulbe nomads near Keana, Nasarawa state last week, by Nigerian soldiers, was an almost predictable tragedy. The Nigerian state has been priming to kill Fulbe nomads, to satisfy the yearnings of groups of the Nigerian elite, from different parts of the country. This was the ambition of even the ruling circles in states like Benue and Plateau, at the heart of conflicts between nomadic groups and farming communities in recent years. In a place like Plateau state, urban-based political conflicts were deliberately taken to Fulbe nomads in the rural areas; and in many instances, Fulbe nomads’ cattle were rustled. Nomads fight back with a ferocity that surprises their adversaries. Farming groups have children in elite circles and they control a tendentious Nigerian media that has systematically, negatively profiled nomads over the years.

The Nigerian media has not covered itself in glory in reportage of conflicts between farmers and nomadic Fulbe communities. When I worked in DAILY TRUST, the profiling of Fulbe people was an issue we regularly debated and to its credit, DAILY TRUST improved its reportage. But that is not the position with most of the Southern Nigerian media. THE NATION newspaper, for example, always seemed to have a deliberate agenda to negatively profile the Fulbe in its reportage. It seems unable or unwilling to see the danger of its consistent profiling. Two Mondays ago, I spoke with Sam Omatseye, the Chairman of THE NATION’s Editorial Board about the reportage of the Fulbe. It just doesn’t change with THE NATION. So a few days after the massacre of innocent Fulbe nomads in Nasarawa which shocked people around the country, and ought to have made reportage more nuanced; on April 6, THE NATION ON SUNDAY reported on its page 5: “FULANI HERDSMEN KILL SIX, WOUND 14 IN TARABA”. That sounded definitive, until you read the first paragraph of the story: “Six people  lay dead yesterday in three Tiv and Jukun villages in Wukari Local Government Area of Taraba State following an attack THAT BORE SEMBLANCE WITH PREVIOUS ONES BY FULANI HERDSMEN” (capital mine!). There was no definitive report of an attack by Fulbe nomads, but just that what happened “BORE SEMBLANCE WITH PREVIOUS ONES BY FULBE NOMADS”, so THE NATION CONCLUDED Fulbe Nomads were responsible for the new atrocity! But that is irresponsible journalism! Journalism’s responsibility is to report the FACTS; journalism should NOT extrapolate a trend into reportage. But THE NATION did! Almost like it was pursuing an agenda against Fulbe nomads.

Genocide in Rwanda

This issue is very important, because the genocide in Rwanda, which happened 20 years ago this month, was preceded by a systematic profiling of the Tutsi; and the media, this time the radio, helped prepared the condition which facilitated the massacre of one million people! In the tragic killings in Benue, it is strange that up till this moment, not a single person has been arrested and brought for prosecution. This much was admitted by Gabriel Suswam, the Benue state governor, in the interview he gave to SUNDAY TRUST recently. It is equally instructive that Chief Paul Unongo also stated that people apprehended attacking some Tiv communities were discovered not to be Fulbe! But constantly, we read reports in newspapers of attacks by “Fulani nomads”. In the heightened hysteria against Fulbe nomads, even a governor suggested that the Federal Government should cleanse them from states in North Central Nigeria.

In that respect, the Niger State Government forcibly removed Fulbe nomads and deported them to Kaduna state a few weeks ago. The killings in Nasarawa portend serious danger for Fulbe nomads and the fact that Fulbe people were separated from other ethnic groups before being killed in cold blood by the Nigerian Army, is a new departure in the criminal behaviour by agents of the Nigerian state! I do not condone criminal acts carried out by Fulbe nomads or other groups and individuals, but it is unacceptable to profile an entire people as Nigerian elite groups, especially those in power and in the media, are doing to Fulbe nomads!

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