By Dele Sobowale
“The wretched nurseries of unceasing discord and the miserable objects of universal pity or contempt….” –
Alexander Hamilton, 1757-1804.
That was how Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of America and a former Treasury Secretary (equivalent to our Minister of Finance), described some of the nations of Europe when they were going through social, political and economic upheavals similar to what we are now experiencing in Nigeria. Invariably, the tensions were heightened by poor leadership and prolonged by lack of compromise on the part of the contending forces for supremacy. When a leader announces that he is, by nature, combative, he has simply forgotten that nobody has a monopoly on that attribute. One person’s perpetual aggression invites a similar response from others. Both the thirty years and hundred years wars in Europe started in one day and outlasted most of those who got them started. If war breaks out in Nigeria, it will most likely occur because we lack leaders and advisers with any sense of history. We would have been led to it by people who should not be leading us or who we should no longer follow.
Nigeria, in 2019, can, with a great deal of justification, be called a wretched nursery of unceasing discord. We have, since the 2011 general elections, elevated the winner-takes-all brand of politics, which had been endemic since 1959, to new lows of mutual political hostility. Our language during campaigns and after elections had always aimed to divide the country. We were witnesses to the statements made about making the country ungovernable by the losers. We experienced the riots in some states which supported them. But, fortunately, the disturbances did not get out of hand.
There was no cause for alarm in 2015 because the major loser was patriotic enough and statesmanlike as well, as to concede without even going to court to challenge the results. Had the loser, an incumbent President, Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, C-I-C, chosen to fight instead of going peacefully, only God knows how many Nigerians would have been needlessly sacrificed at the altar of one man’s ambition. Billions of naira worth of properties acquired with sweat and hard labour would have gone with the dead. The facts are before us and the difference is clear. Another difference, however unpalatable, is the fact that the President in 2011 is a Southerner; his opponent was a Northerner – who went to court. Now he is President and he resents anybody challenging his victory. That should tell us something about principles and leadership. It matters a lot what leaders do – in and out of office.
Four years and three months after his re-election, Nigeria qualifies more to be described as a wretched nursery of unceasing discord and disunity. In 2011, Nigeria had one major security threat inherited from the government of President Yar’Adua. That was Boko Haram. The problem was of purely of Northern origin; no Southerner, not even Muslims in the South, had a hand in fomenting this discord which had consumed lives, properties, hopes for development as well as funds which could have been spent to avert Nigeria becoming the poverty capital of the world. Today, in addition to Boko Haram, the nation is contending with terrorists in the form of herdsmen, cattle rustlers, bandits and kidnappers – the last on an unprecedented scale.
Nobody needs to be told where cattle rustlers operate and who they are. It is inconceivable that an Ijaw or Oron or Ilaje or Berom will attempt to go to Zamfara to rustle cattle and hope to return alive. Rustlers, if they are Nigerians, are Northerners. Now, the nation’s financial resources are being diverted towards solving another security threat which is absolutely Northern in origin. Bandits constitute another species of armed robbers who are everywhere in Nigeria. Bandits are the only group of armed robbers who are not only contented to steal properties – cash, GSM sets, jewellery, food items etc – they actually seem to take special delight in wiping out communities. The bestiality and viciousness are unmatched by any other group of armed robbers anywhere in Nigeria. The blood-thirstiness is totally unique to the North – especially the North-West. That raises three quick questions to which no answer will be provided now. First, what sort of society breeds people like these? Second, what religion do they practice? Third, what conditions exist in Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna which produced them of all the thirty six states of Nigeria? Today, unknown number of lives and immeasurable billions of naira worth of properties had been lost to these sub-human elements. No other Nigerian government until this one has ever spent a kobo on the problem of rustlers. That is a fact which the habitual dissemblers in Aso Rock cannot dispute.
“A stitch in time saves nine”, according to an old adage we grew up with. A former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Board, Burns, went further. He warned that if governments allow an untenable situation to go for too long, suddenly, they might find there are no good solutions left. Herdsmen palaver is a classic case of a government failing to check a problem before it becomes a serious crisis. Herdsmen were hardly a serious security threat since the creation of Nigeria in 1914. They were as docile as can be. My first experience with them was in 1952 in our small community at Agbowa-Ikosi, Lagos State. They would come with the cows at harvest time to feed on cast-offs from our daddy’s farm. They never on their own entered the farm; any farm. We gave them food because they were transient friends and they occasionally brought dried meat for the kids. The relationship was symbiotic until recently. Now everybody in the community is on alert when the first cows are sighted. What went wrong and why now? Given space constraint, let me summarise how we missed the boat.
TRAMPLING ON THE GRAVES OF AGATU
When herdsmen sacked the small Agatu ethnic group in Benue State in 2016, the FG was presented with a golden opportunity to put a stop to indiscriminate killing of fellow Nigerians by herdsmen. Agatu and Nebo in Enugu State occurred within weeks of each other. Nobody is certain how many people died in Agatu. But, I was there and took some pictures which were published in May that year. Even if only a hundred people were killed, the FG should have demonstrated more concern for the security of its citizens. They should also have known that doing nothing would foster impunity and more killings. A former President of France mobilised the security forces to track down and eliminate killers of only six citizens. The terrorists quickly got the message. If the FG, instead of offering excuses for the herdsmen, had demonstrated more statesmanship instead of partisanship, after Agatu, we would have been saved the losses of lives and properties and prospects which we now suffer. Now, we have N2billion RUGA money going begging and no Middle-Belt or Southern State wants to participate. Great opportunity is being lost on account of mis-management of the herdsmen-farmers-communities conflicts. We are now close to the brink of costly war.
Other problems exist, which are totally Northern in origin. But, only one deserves attention now – Nomadic Education. As conceptualised, the Nomadic Education programme was designed to provide the opportunity for children of herdsmen/women to acquire some education. The burden was expected to be shared between the Federal, States and Local Governments. That has not happened. It is now completely FG-funded. It is also in shambles. Nobody can account for how the money is spent and the results achieved. It has become a scam. We all know who attends Nomadic Schools on which funds generated largely from the South is now being wasted.
Just as we thought everything had been released from the national nursery of discord, Shiitism cropped up. Every Nigerian Head of State, military, civilian, Muslim or Christian, had managed that delicate situation until now. In 2019, it had become another divisive issue. Is there anything Balewa, Ironsi, Gowon, Mohammed, Obasanjo, Shagari, Babangida, Abacha, Abubakar, Yar’Adua and Jonathan didn’t know about Shiites that is now known? What is it? We have now added captured Shiites to the growing list of people who must be housed and fed at government expense. How on earth can we ever have the funds to build schools for kids when more of the little we now have is going to the prisons?
Sorry, it took so long to get to the heart of the matter. Nigerians have become “the miserable objects of universal pity or contempt” largely because, since 2009, we have evolved a queer sort of federal structure in which eighty to eighty-five per cent of the federally collected revenue is generated by the Southern States while the generally self- imposed problems, now consuming our resources (funds, manpower and time), have their origins solidly in the North. Strictly speaking, our present federal structure is even worse than “monkey-work-baboon-chop”. It has become “monkey-work-baboon-chop and throw more away”.
In 2015, we were not the poorest nation on earth; although we were already the “miserable objects of universal pity or contempt”. No nation in the world welcomes Nigerians – not even African nations; whose leader we are supposed to be. Under Buhari in the 1980s, Nigeria expelled Ghanaians – giving rise to the Ghana-Must-Go epithet. Now, as fate would have it, Nigerians are now being hounded out of Ghana. They have Buhari to thank for that.
Elsewhere in the more advanced nations, we are treated with the pity and contempt we richly deserve. Countries living within hazardous boat rides of Libya can have nothing but contempt for those risking their lives on those rickety contraptions and their country of origin. Nigeria tops the list because most of the revenue allocated to the region is thrown down the drain with very little hope of earning a return on investment.
In 1960, there was a symbiotic relationship among the three regions. Now, the relationship is purely parasitic – one region is sucking the two other regions dry and, unfortunately, it is not getting better itself. It is becoming more malnourished everyday. More disturbing still is the fact that there is no discernible plan to get the North out of its self-induced tragedies which have made economic and social development missions impossible.
Even for a country and for a race that cannot be disillusioned anymore, there are now reasons to ask seriously if we can continue like this. For how long can our Northern citizens and their Southern political associates expect to stand around and look while the revenue for which they toiled is sent for burial in Lake Chad or Malunfashi?
METRIC FOR JUDGING LEADERS
Years ago, I developed a simple metric for judging political leaders. It calls for waiting two years into their tenure; then make a survey of newspaper headlines. If more negative or positive news make the front page, then you know how things stand. For the last one week, in America and in Nigeria, discord and disunity; murders and kidnappings have dominated the news. In 2015, when Obama and Jonathan were Presidents, there was disagreement, but, it was about how to improve the economy. The difference is clear.