By Rotimi Fasan
THE trouble with Nigeria, Chinua Achebe once famously said, is squarely one of leadership. Most Nigerians and others who have taken more than a fleeting interest in those issues of development that coalesce under the rubric of national question have repeatedly identified with this prognosis of our national malaise.
The generation of political leaders Achebe held up for scrutiny and discursive savaging in his eponymously titled pamphlet of 1983 are in today’s terms models and political avatars of unequalled achievements. They tower over and above any of those that have since served in their place.
Those who have identified leadership as the major challenge facing Nigeria are not by this saying that only politicians are to blame for Nigeria’s problem or that the rest of us are in our private capacities mere plebeians without leadership responsibilities. We are all imbued with leadership potentials, capabilities and responsibilities in our different zones of operations, including the management of our homes.
But for their prominence in the determination of the policy direction of the country, the political elite often play a role that is of far more relevant and significant in shaping national destiny. It is in this context that we must situate the ongoing debate about the high level of insecurity in the country, the alleged complicity of cattle herders in the problem, the connection of the All Progressive Congress-led government and, specifically, the role of President Muhamadu Buhari, in the whole debacle.
The first thing we must understand here is that both the herders and the farming communities with whom they have fought in all kinds of violent encounters are all involved in the struggle for survival, trying to make a living amid limited resources. Theirs are clashes of interest, one of the textbook definitions of politics.
At this basic level of interaction, both the cattle herders and the farmers are playing politics, which is what we all practise at every point in our lives. The herders want to graze their cattle and the farmers want to grow their crops. Both are involved in economic activities and both want to make profit.
As human beings their different perceptions of the routes they must take to achieve their desired end is the cause of the clashes. Stated differently, the struggle to harness and use the limited resources of land is the reason why brothers have turned enemies, ambushing one another, to recall one of Bob Marley’s famous lines. Where there are clashes of interest like this, as there would always be, those who as members of the elite (political and otherwise) are entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring peaceful co-existence among the people, or have the means to resolve such crises of interest, must step up to the occasion.
It is when leaders, read elite, fail to be leaders in circumstances like this that little problems spiral out of control. A resurgence of an age-long problem that began as clashes between farmers and cattle herders went off tangent due to the criminal negligence of those class of Nigerians of misbegotten origin misnamed leaders.
They sat on their palms and watched or tacitly lent support as economic competitors went for each other’s jugular and left room for rogue elements among them and others of unknown origin to engage in violently deadly but opportunistic crimes of banditry, arson, rape and abduction for huge ransoms. In these circumstances, it was all too easy to scratch open the soft scabs and usual fault lines of ethnicity, religion and political identity.
Had leaders played their part as leaders in the farmers and herders clashes we would be telling a different story today. Had Buhari not started out as president dividing Nigerians by playing the ethnic (religious and political) card, Nigerians would not have cause to read ethnic, religious and political meanings into his actions in the face of farmers and herders clashes. He failed to walk the talk of his 2015 inauguration speech that he belonged to everybody and he belonged to nobody.
Since it became clear that he belonged to some people, it was a matter of merely reading his infamous body language for others to do what they thought would impress him and his people. And in the face of the unfolding saga of alleged herdsmen criminality, many Nigerians who also see themselves as leaders have refused to learn the obvious lessons of their irresponsible ineptitude and have continued to mouth the partisan and ethnically-coloured registers that underwrite their failures as leaders.
Thus, the main contribution of the so-called Northern Leaders Forum of Ango Abdullahi to the herders and farmers controversy was to demand an exodus of ethnic Fulani and Hausa from the South. Ango Abdullahi is a professor, was a vice chancellor of the topmost university in Northern Nigeria and is leader of a Northern socio-political organisation. Yet the only message from him concerning the bloody tales of so-called herdsmen gone berserk is araba. So much for his leadership.
Only God knows how many ordinary Nigerian families have fallen victims of herdsmen banditry before and since the attacks on Chief Olu Falae and Mrs. Funke Olakunrin (God rest her soul), daughter of Chief Reuben Fasoranti. To be sure, these were terrible and unhappy affairs. However, in all these attacks, the so-called chief security officers of the South-West states, the governors, had nothing to offer beyond platitudinous statements of fighting insecurity. But as soon as people with high name recognition are involved, they waste no time to rouse their slumbering security agencies into action.
Others like them who like to speak in the name of the people waste no time also to describe such attacks on one of their kind as an attack on all Yoruba – or all Igbo or all Hausa/Fulani as the case may be. The problem of the ordinary people of this country remains their problem stricto senso but that of prominent politicians and their ilk is transformed into the problems of all members of their ethnic group. Playing the fool, the people are too ignorant to see through such nonsense but take up cudgels to fight their oppressors’ battles.
The Nigerian elite whose eyes, as the Yoruba would say, have seen both the sea and the river rush back to their ethnic enclaves with tales of ethnic exclusion each time they are sent off the table by their thieving counterparts from other parts of the country. Their tales of demonisation of other ethnic nationalities for personal gain and aggrandisement are all the genuinely befuddled and wilfully ignorant majority need to carry on the proxy wars of the elite members of their ethnic group.
In the end, they become foot soldiers of wars that are not of their making. The Nigerian elite are, indeed, Nigeria’s problems.