Frankly Speaking

November 15, 2020

Faced with imminent disaster, where are Nigeria’s leaders?

Faced with imminent disaster, where are Nigeria’s leaders?

By Dele Sobowale

“We have created Italy; now we have to create Italians” – Giuseppe Garibaldi, 1807-1882, Father of Modern Italy.

Italy did not exist on the world map until the Kingdom of Italy was created on March 17, 1861. That was after rivers of blood had been spilled all over Europe on account of wars lasting close to half a century.

The leaders of the new Italian nation faced a situation similar to what President Buhari confronts in an old country called Nigeria.

Italian leaders had to undertake the difficult task of uniting a country divided by language, culture and history. Buhari, who has my total sympathy on this matter, is similarly faced with a country – Nigeria – which is divided into ethnic groups based on language, customs and history.

By contrast with President Buhari, Garibaldi and the leaders of Italy had a very easy time. There were few ethnic groups and languages. After years of personal and painstaking research, I thought all Nigeria’s ethnic groups were captured in my book, IBRAHIM B BABANGIDA 1985-1992: LETTING A THOUSAND FLOWERS BLOOM. But, just this week, my colleague at VANGUARD, Obadiah Mailafia, jolted me by introducing his own people in Southern Kaduna – Adara. It is a safe bet that other than their neigbours, few Nigerians ever heard of them. That is not surprising. If an incurable and inquisitive rolling stone like me, who traveled to the area several times, could miss them, other Nigerians must be forgiven for not being aware of their existence.

Yet, like it or not, the presence of Adara people, as well as dozens of small nations, must warn our leaders everywhere blowing hot on RESTRUCTURING that this is not a matter just for the Hausa, Igbo, Fulani and Yoruba. In fact, the four mentioned constitute less than 40 per cent of Nigeria’s population and also less than 40 per cent of the landmass. In fact, close to 75 per cent of natural resources in Nigeria are located in minorities’ territories. We, the large ethnic groups, are the real parasites and we might inadvertently be sowing the seeds of its destruction.

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I have deliberately excluded Buhari from what will follow because, contrary to what most Nigerians think, I strongly believe that he is almost irrelevant to the decisions Nigerians will reach about the future of our country. In a way, Buhari is actually now a victim of circumstances. At no time in the history of this nation have we lacked people who can be called Nigerian leaders.

Gradually, virtually every prominent political leader, traditional ruler or even public opinion leader is now described in terms hyphenated – Northern, Southern, Middle Belt, Tiv, Ibibio, Igbo, Ijaw, Fulani, Yoruba. Most frightening is the fact that someone who had been in the public domain for 40 or more years is still contented to be called the leader of Arewa Consultative Forum, Pan Igbo Organisation or Yoruba/Afenifere or Middle Belt Forum, Ijaw Movement etc.

That they have spent all those long years digging themselves deeper into a regional or ethnic political grave apparently does not bother them. Certainly, none had thought about the consequences for the country in the long run. Unfortunately, some of the consequences are now starring us in the face.

“Northern govs vow to keep Nigeria one” – Punch, November 3, 2020, p 14.

Other papers called them Northern leaders; but, there was no disagreement about some of the things they released in their communiqué. However, before going into the details of their pronouncements, it is pertinent to note that among those in attendance at this meeting were three Federal Government public servants –Secretary to the Federal Government, the Chief of Staff to the President and the Inspector General of Police – who by the nature of their jobs work for all Nigerians and not just the North.

They are free to resign their appointments if they want to be sectional or regional leaders. But, there is a lack of decorum involved when national officers join those who want to discuss issues involving all of us on a sectional basis. Of all of them, I found Professor Gambari, educated at Columbia University, USA, most disappointing. Is he living up to his reputation as a tribalist and religious bigot despite all the intellectual window-dressing? At any rate, now that he has tagged himself as a Northern leader, we will hold him to that diminished status.

“The meeting rejects and condemns the subversive actions of the #EndSARS protests.” This was part of the communiqué – which must have been written by people who appear to have lost all sense of logic. #ENDSARS protests started nationwide on a peaceful note. In fact, it was, at one point, almost carnival in nature with music, food and entertainment.

President Buhari, to me, should be commended for taking the initial step of granting the request to end SARS as it was. Was, Buhari caving in to subversive elements? Even Gambari should know, from his days in the United Nations, that the answer is NO! The young victims of SARS atrocities, including homicide, quite rightly protested an intolerable situation. Buhari, initially, responded positively; then announced the formation of SWAT. That raised suspicions of a double-cross by the FG.

There was palpable tension and everything was on knife edge until the shots rang out at the Lekki Toll Gate. All hell broke loose and the real subversive elements – not the protesters – took control. In fact, once the shooting started, what most of the protesters just wanted was to stay alive and get home. So, it was not only defamatory, but a colossal lie for the Northern old men to gather anywhere and label the protesters subversive. They certainly were not!!

From making one absolutely self-serving statement after another, they then swerved into vowing to keep Nigeria one – as if they were slave masters and the rest of us are theirs to hold irrespective of our wishes to the contrary. I have bad news for them.

Any one among them laboring under the impression that the next civil war, if it comes to that, will be another case of all the other ethnic groups ganging-up against the Igbo better go and borrow a thinking cap because he does not now possess one to put on.  To begin with, the North they claim to represent is a figment of their collective imagination. Governor Lalong of Plateau, the Convener of their meeting, knows too well how every other ethnic group in his state feels about the Fulani. Is it a leader who cannot keep those under his care from incessant ethnic blood-letting who is vowing to “keep Nigeria one”? Real leaders don’t joke with important matters; they leave jests to comedians.

“Every hero becomes a bore at last” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882.

I knew what to expect the minute that message was published. There would be a blast from the South – by Southern leaders of course. It came and it was exactly like looking at the second side of a crooked currency bill. Unlike the Northern leaders outburst attributed to a meeting, the noises from the South – and Middle Belt – came from the usual sources. To me, some of them now appear to speak so often and on every subject that they have diminished their contributions. Of the two – North and South leaders – the Southerners pain me more. Most of them were/are fellow progressives. They are still mostly right, but one cannot escape the impression that they enjoy being the only people lazy journalists reach out for every time a comment is needed. Inadvertently, they are creating the impression that the ideas they support have narrow bases. That is unfortunate.

So, as if in unison, Afenifere, Ohaneze, PANDEF etc sent hostile rejoinders to the Northern pretenders. In principle, they supported the youths and #ENDSARS. To them, protest was inseparable from democracy and government has no right to stop people from exercising their rights. On social media, the two could not be more diametrically opposed. The North wants it severely controlled (one crack pot even wants Twitter banned outright), the South wants it left strictly alone. With the exception of a few individuals on both sides of the North/South divide, #ENDSARS and social media illustrate how dangerously close we are to carving the country into two – with far more catastrophic consequences than we have now.

In the event the reader is still wondering where I stand in all of these, let me be absolutely clear. I am for the unity of Nigeria and her 130-170 ethnic groups.

I strongly believe anything else, other than negotiated co-existence, will create more disasters than what we have now. For my own reasons, I believe that people like Obasanjo, Babangida and Buhari are correct when they state their wish for the continuing unity of Nigeria. I only wish there are more of us. Right now, the separatists have taken over the media. That is unfortunate; because the problems that will follow any attempt to break up Nigeria will be worse than whatever we have now. That is why we urgently need Nigerian leaders. But, just in case those hell bent on dividing the nation think that it will be easy, here are a few points to ponder:


“What will you like to see happen when Nigeria is restructured?”

“I want the South West, Yoruba to stand alone.”

Interview in Lagos with a strong supporter of restructuring

In various discussions with people who urgently seek restructuring along regional, zonal or other geographical lines, it is generally assumed that the South-West is in the strongest position to stand alone. As the argument goes, the Yoruba belong to one ethnic group and the zone has everything to stand alone as a separate country – if need be. So total is the complacence on this count that it easily sways those unable to think beyond the obvious.

Yet, two territories, Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, more than other states illustrate the problems we will encounter in the event of an imminent break-up of Nigeria. Lagos is briefly examined first.

At least a few members of every ethnic group in Nigeria lives, works and have made some investments in Lagos. Any break-up of Nigeria and call for everybody to return to their states of origin will not only leave Lagos indigenes as the beneficiaries of properties not their own. The obvious question is: Who will take custody of these properties and how will they be disposed off?

The sheer quantum of assets which others will have to abandon on their way home is sufficient to make us pause before we continue our headlong rush towards disintegration. I have deliberately left out mega-investors like Dangote, Tony Elumelu, Atedo Peterside, industrialists, TV moguls etc – who have invested far more billions in Lagos than in their own states.  Igbos stand to lose the most in the event that occurs. That is why, to me, the childish call by the leader of IPoB for Igbo people to return home is partly insane. There is nothing for them to return to in Biafra – however defined.  But, the fact is, does anybody really expect the rest of Nigeria to allow Lagos and the South-West to go away with their lives’ work for nothing and without a fight?…

To be continued

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