MY remarks today will be primarily directed at the younger members of the society who may not quite understand the root causes of what is happening in Nigeria today or the on-goingsenseless massacre of Nigerian citizens in Central Nigeria. Consequently, they may also not appreciate the stand that should be taken to address the Nigerian condition today. I say this because those who do not know how and where a problem started may never figure how to deal with or contain that problem. But first,let us look at the background to the crisis eating up the country.
In 1947, Chief ObafemiAwolowo published a book entitled Path to Nigerian Freedom. In that book, Chief Awolowo informs us that at a conference of Northern emirs in 1942, a letter written to them by the West African Students Union, WASU, in London came up for discussion. The letter, Chief Awolowo tells us, touched on many problems affecting Nigeria as a whole; and the WASU appealed to the Northern emirs and their peoples for cooperation with leaders and peoples of Southern Nigeria in tackling them in order to ensure peaceful coexistence between the two sections of the country. According to Chief Awolowo, the emirs’ comment on this appeal for cooperation, as contained in the official report of the conference, is as follows:\
Holding this country together is not possible except by means of the religion of the Prophet [Mohammed]. … If they [the South] want political unity let them follow our religion. (Awolowo, Obafemi, Path to Nigerian Freedom, p. 51)
In other words, the condition given by the emirs for peace and unity in Nigeria is that Southerners must become Moslems and must all come under the Sokoto Caliphate.
As a consequence of these and other cogent observable factors, Chief Awolowo then warned that if Northern and Southern Nigeria must continue to live in one country post-independence, special provisions must be made in the Nigerian constitutional framework to contain the huge cleavages between the two sections of the country. I cannot go into the details of what the great Chief outlined here, for want of time and space, or how things have developed from that point in the affairs of the country. In any case, I have just published a book on the subject entitled Shadows of Biafra from which any interested party can glean the facts or details.
Suffice it to say that in the final analysis, Southern leaders especially Zik and Awolowo accepted to have the North and South constitute one country probably because they saw that there were elements and political groupings in the North who did not agree with the jaundiced viewpoint of the emirs and their political party, the NPC, which made Islamisation and assimilation of the rest of the country into the Caliphate as the only condition for peace and unity in post-independence Nigeria. Amongst these were Malam Aminu Kano (a Fulani) and his NEPU and later the United Middle Belt Congress, UMBC, that was led by Joseph Tarka (a Tiv). In other words, of the two parties, NPC and NEPU, which emerged and contested the 1951 elections in Northern Nigeria, the NEPU was progressive and shared the democratic and liberal philosophies of its counterpart Southern political parties.
Of course, the NPC which was the party promoted by the emirs or the traditional feudalistic Fulani ruling class was conservative and towed the viewpoint of the emirs on the future of Nigeria.There is no gainsaying the fact that the conservative faction of the Northern political elite of the NPC hue stood for the continuation of the brigandage and Jihadist wars of yore in post-independence Nigeria and what was called the dipping of the Koran into the sea as well as the feudalisation of Nigeria.
Indeed, it can be said that because the NEPU was the more popular party and had the support of majority of the Northern masses or the Talakawa, it was felt that the NPC had no chance of coming to power in the North and that with a likely NEPU government in the Northern Region, post-independence Nigeria would become a workable reality. Unfortunately, the Southern leaders did not reckon that the British Colonialists would intervene on the side of the emirs, their longstanding friends, and rig the 1951 elections, which the NEPU was poised to win, for the NPC. This then is where the problem actually started. Thus, as soon as Ahmadu Bello (a Fulani) and his NPC took power in the North and subsequently used that leverage to gain power at the centre at Independence, all hell broke loose as Ahmadu Bello immediately began to use federal power to pursue the agenda of the emirs and the Caliphate, which was to Islamise Nigeria and bring everybody under the Caliphate.
Ahmadu Bello and the NPC-controlled Federal Government used the Nigerian Army to attack the Tivs in the Middle Belt who stood in opposition to Ahmadu Bello’s autocratic rule in the North. Later, the NPC exploited the political crisis in Western Nigeria by engineering dissension in the region with a view to gaining political control of that region. Ahmadu Bello was on the verge of using the Army in Western Nigeria in the same way he was using them to suppress and pacify Tiv land when Nzeogwu stopped him via the January 15, 1966 coup d’état. Nzeogwu had been an officer of Nigerian Army Intelligence and therefore knew about Ahmadu Bello’s plot well in advance. Indeed, Ahmadu Bello’s idea was that as soon as he succeeded in the West, the Eastern Region would also be attacked and colonised. (For details, see Shadows of Biafra)
The demise of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the then acclaimed leader of the NPC did not take much away from that party because Ahmadu Bello was not the actual leader of the party; he was only a front or the assigned messenger – the de facto leader. The actual (de jure) leaders of the NPC – the Fulani Emirs/ the Sultanate – made sure that the party survived the January 15, 1966 coup d’état, albeit in different modes and appellations, and has hence continued to hold sway in the country to present day.
Although subsequent Nigerian governments have more or less remained under the control of the Caliphate, no other Fulani has led a ruling party or government in Nigeria since the counter-coup of July 29, 1966 except Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the NPN fame, Umaru Yar’Adua of the PDP and General Muhammadu Buhari of the APC, who was also a military Head of State. The other Nigerian rulers were non-Fulani; hence the partial dissonance between the policies of these governments and those of the Fulani ruling class especially over the latter’s Jihadist ambitions or propensity.
Of the Fulani that have been in power since 1966, Shehu Shagari and Umaru Yar’Adua appear to have been liberals of the Aminu Kano hue. Although Shagari was a member of Ahmadu Bello’s NPC in the First Republic, he does not appear to be a Jihadist or supporter of the agenda of the traditional Fulani ruling class; ditto Yar’Adua. It is remarkable that Shagari’s government in the Second Republic lacked the Jihadist posture of the Fulani ruling class; little wonder the latter did not mind his ouster from power through the military coup of December 31, 1983, which brought about the short-lived General Buhari’s military government of 1984 to August 1985. It would appear however that Buhari is not exactly cast in the same mould as Shagari and Yar’Adua!
All in all, the return of General Buhari to power in this dispensation has been catastrophic for Nigeria. Although there has been skirmishes of Fulani herdsmen’s aggression in the Middle Belt before Buhari’s return to power in 2015, the Fulani have now been emboldened to turn the skirmishes into total war since Buhari’s re-emergence and apparent connivance and identification with the aspirations of the Fulani herdsmen who see the rest of Nigeria as a conquered territory, which they can use as they want and without the consent of the aboriginal peoples that own the land.
The protestations of these aboriginal peoples over the attitude and menace of the Fulani herdsmen have caused the recalcitrant Fulani herdsmen and their militia to turn Nigeria, especially the non-Caliphate section of Central Nigeria into a vast canvass for mass murder and destruction of unarmed and defenceless citizens, with tacit support from the Buhari government. The whole thing smacks of supremacist and Jihadist delusions! In fact, it appears that we are back to square one!!
Indeed, the Southern part of Nigeria is also being assailed by Fulani terror gangs under Buhari’s watch. In the last two or three years, a number of isolated Igbo, Yoruba and South-South villages have been attacked and ransacked by the Cattle Fulani militia. In Ondo State, for instance, Chief Olu Falae, a towering Yoruba politician, has on one occasion been kidnapped and his farm devastated again and againby these Cattle Fulani militia. I don’t want to talk about the killings that have happened in some Southern villages!
That Chief OluFalae is still alive today is probably not due to luck but perhaps because the big-men behind the Fulani herdsmen and their activities have deigned it so. Apparently, they are still testing the waters and bidding their time. Indeed, that the dastardly activities of the Fulani militia seem now to be restricted to the Middle Belt is just another aspect of that calculation and tactical manoeuvre. Those who imagine that the seeming retreat of the Fulani militia from the South is going to be permanent delude themselves!
It is for these and some other reasons that we say that the primary agenda or goal of our country today should be the pursuit of the security of life and property in the Nigerian political space. Issues of economic development, of war against corruption, etc. have perforce to come second. Economic progress and accountability are after all for the living. The dead has no portion in a booming economy. Therefore, for us in this country, it is life and self-preservation first before any other thing. In any case, you cannot have sustainable development when the country is ravaged by lawlessness, pillage and brigandage and a regression into barbarism; indeed a one-sided sponsored annihilation of sections of the polity taking place under Buhari’s watch. Going by the pronouncements of Buhari’s Defence minister, it is likely that the on-going mass murder and ethnic cleansing going on in the country will go on for quite a while because his putative condition for cessation of the killings will not be met. Certainly, no self-respecting people or state in Nigeria will succumb to the blackmail that the anti-open grazing law for cattle and their herders(long created through the judicial pronouncement ofHon. Justice Adewale Thompson of Abeokuta High Court on the 17thof April 1969) should be suspended or abrogated for peace to reign.
So, the country must not betray the liberal but determined stance of discerning Nigerians, who also constitute the majority, for a respectable place under the sun. We should never compromise on these standards and basic rights and aspirations.We must stand for life and what makes it liveable and enjoyable!
And how shall we confront and successfully deal with the murderous spree enveloping our country and yet come together as one Nigeria family under the maxim: E pluribus Unum, out of many, one? The afflicted, the violated, the oppressed, the aggrieved, the threatened and most especially, the high-minded from all corners of the country must join hands in cooperation and brotherhood to deal with this menace. This is not the time for anybody or group to want out or strive for separatism. As the wise saying goes, together we stand; divided we fall.Secondly, we must have state police NOW!That, in my opinion, would give state governors the legal right to mobilise for the legitimate defence of their respective citizenry. (For details, see Shadows of Biafra)