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Nigeria’s problems not reducible to ideological divisions — Akin Osuntokun

By Chris Onuoha

Mr Akin Osuntokun is a Yoruba leader and politician. Also a public affairs commentator, Osuntokun speaks on the NCEF theory that Nigeria’s crisis will evaporate once the conflict of ideologies is resolved.

Akin Osuntokun
Akin Osuntokun

We know you are not a friend of the Buhari administration. But if you are to honestly give an assessment of the state of the nation, what will that assessment be?

Neither am I its enemy. What I owe him as President will not be different from what I owe Nigeria as a citizen-patriot. All the formal education I received was a gift and privilege from Nigeria. In return I owe Nigeria the obligation of reflecting that gift truthfully in the effort of making a successful nation of Nigeria. Many actions of the Buhari government will actually qualify as enemy actions against the country- intended or unintended. The state of the nation is self-evident in the unfolding psychosis that has taken over Nigeria. Increasingly the country is being battered by government manufactured tragedies and tragedies-in-the-making. The gap between what government says and the reality is widening beyond recognition. Nigeria, as every objective opinion has concluded, has never been this divided and rendered unto inter-tribal warring communities. And as it is with the case of Donald Trump in America, it seems as if President Muhammadu Buhari is deliberately weaponising division and divisiveness, setting one group against the other in the most crass display and manifestation of nepotism and parochialism. Reinforcing this mindset or agenda is the persistent and confounding incompetence and governance failure. Ironically, the threat that presidential aspirant Buhari habitually made to render Nigeria ungovernable has become a reality under his incumbency.

Herdsmen have been blamed for the bulk of the killings across the South of the country but the thinking in some quarters is that the Fulani are unjustly being stigmatised. What is your view?

Here we go again with the perverse Nigerian tendency of blaming the victim. I don’t know if you have taken stock of all veritable reported incidents of kidnapping, assault and murder by victims including the evidence of Chief Olu Falae who was kidnapped twice. If you can’t, there is something we call random sample in social science investigations. Neither of these two objective methods of assessment supports the escapist and muddy the waters theory of Fulani stigmatization. Neither do the antecedents of the genocidal upheaval levied in the Middle Belt, nor the classification by the United Nations designating the herdsmen militia as the fourth most deadly terrorist group in the world.   You, of course, recall the validation and agenda setting given by Ango Abdullahi recently on the balance of terror capabilities of the Fulani inclusive of Fulani diaspora bordering Nigeria from the North, South, East and West. At the recent peace parley former President Obasanjo held with the leadership of a Fulani organisation, he challenged them to name one prominent Fulani who has condemned the criminality of the outlaws and brigands. More than anyone else, President Buhari bears responsibility for all this. By omission and commission, his actions and pronouncements before and after he became President have established this culture of Fulani impunity that instigates and empowers Fulani aggression and violence. This singular lapse is central to the general political mismanagement of this government.

Do you think the governors of the South-West, a region which has borne the brunt of most of the latest killings, are doing enough to stem the tide?

They are certainly not doing enough and, to be fair, they are not in a position to do enough. They are politically and constitutionally hamstrung. Willingly or unwillingly, they are victims of the hostage politics that is fostered by the pseudo unitarist political structure that we falsely call federalism. They are the opposite of what federalism intends as leaders of coordinate and independent second tier of government. It takes uncommon sense of dignity and rectitude for any of them not to kowtow to the Abuja overlords. The Finance Minister in Abuja can virtually make or unmake any governor with the manipulation of the handouts they queue for monthly. You can then imagine the power the President wields over them. One of the utilities of the security crisis is the revelation and illustration of how Nigerians have become a victim rather than beneficiary of our Constitution and the extent of its dysfunction. You designate governors as chief security officers without a police or any security agency answerable to them. You bring Ibrahim from Kazaure and Attah from Akwa Ibom to come and police Okemesi-Ekiti. How does that work?

The Ooni of Ife, after he led South-West monarchs to the President, said government is toying with the idea of deploying drones and installing CCTV to tackle insecurity. Do you think it is a step in the right direction?

Look, were I not totally sold on Yoruba culture, I will advocate the immediate abrogation of the traditional institution. They were incorporated into Nigeria by the British colonialists as proxies and sometimes mercenary agents of whoever wields political power and so they have remained to this day. Who pays the piper dictates the tune. They are appointed and funded by governors, majority of whom are unscrupulous. You can see what the personification of political degeneration in Nigeria did to the Emir of Kano. Many wayward and 419 princes have also found their way to the throne and remodelled it accordingly. Look at the one who calls himself an Emir in a South-West state. You can see how he has bastardised the throne. So I’m not surprised they would come back from Abuja with this comical notion of drones and CCTV. I have respect for a few of them but they are the exception rather than the rule.

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We just found that the Federal Government has after all voted billions of naira for the controversial RUGA project in the 2019 budget. How do you view that development?

Bingo! What more evidence do you need to confirm the nature of the government Nigeria is currently shackled with? Given the controversy and divisiveness that this policy has fostered, should any government with good faith which belongs to nobody but belongs to everybody be engaged in this cat and mouse game with Nigerians? Go back to the statement of suspension of the policy by the government and reconcile it with what is happening. Remember this is a policy that was disowned by the Vice President of the same administration. So what has changed and shouldn’t Nigerians be briefed accordingly if there is nothing to hide? What exactly are they implementing now? Why is the government bent on isolating the Fulani? Is this how to promote nationhood? Is Ruga a Fulani word or not? If it is, then it is difficult not to conclude that the policy is a deliberate act of provocation and impunity with grave consequences down the road

The #RevolutionNow protest was apparently unsuccessful in spite of the suffering in the land. What does this say about Nigerians as a people?

Nigeria is too fundamentally divided and polarised for revolution. And the worse it gets if you have a government that is invested in aggravating the division. Revolutions succeed where political divisions are defined by class rather than ethnicity, religion and region. Revolution has no chance of succeeding where politics is defined by RUGA, so called fulanisation and Islamisation. President Buhari was elected largely and discriminatorily by a section of the country defined by common language and religion. Whether we like it or not, the reality of Nigeria is that there is no national consensus on the terms of national association and what constitutes the irreducible minimum of good governance. So sorry to say but the idea of national revolution is dead on arrival in Nigeria.

Where do you stand on the arrest of the convener of the protest, Sowore, ahead of action?

Where I stand? Would my predictable response not amount to platitude? I think it is a joke taken too far. Maybe it is giving the government the good feeling of contriving and catching a treasonous felon of their own imagination. It is the extent to which this country is being trivialised. How does a country in the throes of socioeconomic collapse prioritize the detection of an innocuous rebel over the mess it has made of putting together a credible cabinet? Well at least it has served the good purpose of elevating Sowore

Are you satisfied with the way the current administration is handling the ethnoreligious suspicion in the country?

This is not a new discovery. It is latent and comes to the fore now and again as an instrument of demagoguery by politicians masquerading as pious moral leaders. And no one personifies this tradition of demagoguery and sham righteousness more than President Buhari. The most conspicuous manifestation of the deployment of this political ploy was the Sharia separatist crisis of the early years of the fourth republic. You remember President Obasanjo appropriately cited it as political Sharia. It is a potent weapon of political division and mobilisation but it also harbours the potential to get out of control and boomerang like the Boko Haram insurgency. Karl Marx made a similar point about the political exploitation of religion-citing religion as the opium of the masses. Once the downtrodden sniff or smoke it, their underdeveloped critical faculties are suspended and replaced with the false consciousness of religious fanaticism that defines the enemy as those who don’t profess their religion and make heroes of political charlatans.

An entirely new dimension has just been introduced into the Nigerian crisis when a group called Nigerian Christian Elders Forum and parading prominent people like Generals TY Danjuma, Joshua Dongoyaro, Lekwot, among others, not only insisted that Islamisation agenda is real but also that our democracy is in danger because it is in conflict with the Sharia ideology that is domineering in Nigeria. How do you react?

I don’t think the problem of Nigeria is reducible to ideological division. I think it is better clarified along the lines of federalism’ and regional autonomy as enshrined in the legitimate Constitution of the First Republic. Regional autonomy can and it is indeed intended to accommodate cultural and political diversities. Ideological division presupposes a high degree of national integration and consensus – which, not surprisingly, has eluded Nigeria. If for whatever reason, religion ceases to serve as an instrument of political mobilisation, you will be surprised at how fast the Sharia careerists will revert to secular neutrality

What, in your own perspective, is the way out of the current crisis?

There are the short, medium and long term perspectives to the Nigerian crisis but they are mutually inclusive. The near term perspective devolves to the capacity of the present political leadership to govern effectively and competently; to display a pan-Nigeria mentality in the style and substance of its stewardship. In the long term, we have to go back to the spot where the rain started beating us to rediscover the path from which we drastically strayed. Let me repeat myself here that practically and theoretically, the cumulative experience we have gathered since 1966 is that the failure of Nigeria is commensurate to the extent of our deviation from the norm of federalism. Without the recognition and acceptance of this reality, Nigeria will keep charging around like a bull in a China shop-with the certainty that it will ultimately come crashing down on us if we don’t change course

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