By Dele Sobowale
“War is only a cowardly escape from the problems of peace” – Thomas Mann, 1875-1955, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, p 267.
Mikhail Gorbachev, born in 1931, of mixed Russian and Ukrainian parents, was the last President of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR, the Communist bloc forcefully created by Russia after World War II as a rival to the power of the United States. But, by 1991, the Union had passed into history as each of the nations brought under the USSR umbrella went their separate ways – along ethnic lines based on language.
The USSR military was powerless to prevent the break-up of the country because the forces themselves were sharply divided along ethnic lines. Today 15 different countries exist in the same geographical space occupied by only one until 1991.
There is a lesson for all Nigerian leaders as they gradually and inadvertently push our country to the brink of blow-up and break-up similar to that of the USSR. As an incurable optimist who believes that we can still renegotiate our collective existence as one Nigeria, I must confess my increasing alarm concerning the slide towards the brink of national disaster. Indeed, this will constitute the Mother of all Disasters to befall Nigeria in our own life time and it will usher in a period of instability which will overwhelm all of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS – as well as other African countries.
We urgently need to find our way back to peace; before the horrors of an endless civil conflict overtakes us. Then, peace will be more difficult to achieve – if it is ever attained. The break-up of India into India and Pakistan and the perpetual conflict between the two countries should caution us.
“In times of victory, prophets are unnecessary distractions” – Professor Trevor Roper, 1914-2003, VBQ P 204.
This article could easily have been titled, PRESIDENT BUHARI, NIGERIA IS ON THE BRINK OF NATIONAL CIVIL WAR, and it would have been appropriate. But, I have chosen instead to approach the matter from the angle of promise – the possibility that disaster can still be averted. The conflicts, which will erupt nationwide, will certainly consume most of us in one form or another.
The reader is entitled to ask at this point if I am a prophet. The answers are Yes and No. Permit me to address the No first. Nigeria, today, is inundated with ‘prophets’ – Christians, Muslims and traditional religion adherents. Invariably, the well-advertised ones, unlike the prophets of old, are in business to make money out of their predictions. Almost always their predictions are so vague (“Someone among my listeners will get a new job this month”, “A lady will get married before the year ends”) they constitute nothing more than spiritual 419. And they quickly pass the envelopes for donations or provide bank account numbers to which gullible followers will pay. I don’t belong in that class.
The prophets of old never asked for a kobo. Elisha rejected the offer of reward after finishing his task. He, like all true prophets, was specific about his predictions and the consequences that would follow if ignored. Yes, I belong to that class and it will require several articles to remind our readers of the specific warnings given on these pages which have turned out to be true. Three will help before moving on to the substance of today’s article.
In 1992, when the Babangida administration initiated VISION 2020; and everybody jumped on the bandwagon of forecasting that Nigeria would become one of the world’s top 20 economies by 2020, there was one lone voice saying “it won’t happen”. The voice was mine. With only a few weeks left to the end of 2020, Nigeria, instead of being among top 20, is now the Poverty Capital of the World. Nobody else can now repeat what he said about VISION 2020.
Early in 1998, shortly after my fourth trip to detention under General Sani Abacha, and when the media was under siege by the regime, I wrote the following in one article in May 1998: “We, the media, shall write the obituary of all those in power today – whether they like it or not.” Abacha died on June 8 of that year. We are still writing the obituaries of those who collaborated with him.
The third warning is more recent than others – as recent as 2016 as a matter of fact. In that article, Nigerians were warned about how the Governor of Kaduna State had deliberately ignited un-ending conflict in the state and had fractured Kaduna along religious and tribal lines as never before in the state’s history. Please read:
‘EL-RUFAI TAKING KADUNA TO ALEPO AND NIGERIA TO SYRIA – 1’
“It makes a great difference by which causes and under what authorities men undertake the wars that must be waged” – Saint Augustine.
It is probably the first time that a column appearing on this page would start with a foreword. There is an urgent reason. It is also probably the first time in Nigerian history that a columnist would be the first to alert all Nigerians to a war, already underway in Kaduna State which might eventually engulf at least the entire North and perhaps all of Nigeria.
It is a religious sectarian war that had its origins in the Middle East since the death of Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Unto Him) and which is at the bottom of a great deal of the blood-letting in Syria and Iraq today.
President Buhari has been criticized for his silence on the events in Kaduna since the clash between the army and Shi’ites which claimed thousands of lives. The Head of State has my sympathies, for reasons you will read later. But, his chief handicap lies in the fact that he is a Sunni called upon to take a stand in the conflict between Sunnis and Shi’ites.
One elected official who had not been reluctant to act is El-Rufai, the self-righteous, self-adulating Governor of Kaduna State. Last week, he called some reporters and handed them a bundle of partisan sectarian half-truths about the Shi’ites. He had earlier proclaimed the sect banned in Kaduna State. By so doing, El-Rufai had brought to our door steps in Nigeria the main cause of Islamic sectarian wars in Syria and Iraq. The rest of us innocent bystanders will feel the heat of battle.”
That article was published in December 2016. Since then, Governor El-Rufai has added ethnic partisanship to the religious conflict engulfing Kaduna State. The once most congenial state capital in the North and the former regional capital is now a hell on earth for its dwellers. The carnage was foretold. Attention has been drawn to the warnings on Kaduna for the obvious reason.
Kaduna State is not only central to any effort to achieve peace in the North in particular, it points to the problems Nigeria as a whole will have to restore peaceful co-existence. It is daunting task but not an impossible undertaking if we want to continue as a united country. I remain an optimist that we can avert disaster. But, the windows of opportunities are closing gradually. What happened to the USSR under Gorbachev becomes relevant as a lesson for us which we ignore at our own peril under Buhari. Here is why.
‘IBB, Abdulsalami Declare Support for North-Central People’s Forum’ – DAILY INDEPENDENT, November 19, 2020, P 2.
Unlike most Nigerians, I read several newspapers every day. Until that report by DAILY INDEPENDENT was published, nobody could have convinced me that former Heads of State – Babangida and Abubakar – would ever enlist in any sectional or regional forum. In fact, in the concluding part of my article two weeks ago – ‘FACED WITH IMMINENT DISASTER, WHERE ARE THE NIGERIAN LEADERS’ – the two former military leaders had been suggested along with some others who might help Buhari to rescue us. I laboured under the impression that they have both successfully warded off requests to join the North Central of Middle Belt crusade for fairness.
The DAILY INDEPENDENT report and the statement credited to IBB in particular broke my heart as it revealed how close we are to the brink of disaster. Here is part of what he said:“ I have always wondered when I hear groups from the North-West, North-East, South-South and South-West, and I kept wondering where we in the North-Central belong…”
Babangida was speaking to a delegation from the North-Central People’s Forum led by Lt General (rtd) Jeremiah Useni. The Forum, which has been busy lately, is the indisputable proof that the North has become openly divided.
Those parading themselves as northern leaders will now have to define which part of the North they are leading.
The Forum also visited Saraki, former Senate President, who chipped in this bit of complaint about marginalization of the N-C: “If you talk about the unity of this country, you must factor in the North Central. If you are talking about the future of this country, it lies on many of the resources, like minerals and agriculture, which our region has.” (PUNCH, November 21, 2020).
It was not just the old politicians talking. Some of the young leaders of tomorrow are also dissatisfied. Mohammed Belgore, son of Justice S B Belgore, and a High Court Judge himself, had this to say: “In fact, the issues plaguing our country at this time will need wisdom to distil into principal cruxes…we know we have problems and we need to act fast and sort them out. We are at the 11th hour as a nation. I believe we should start by fixing the problem of undeserving individuals in the corridors of power.” We ignore that at our peril.
“It requires wisdom to understand wisdom” according to Walter Lippmann, 1899-1974. It is impossible to disagree with young Belgore about wisdom. The problem is, the village idiot does not know he is a fool. That is why on matters of such magnitude successful national leaders reach out to others beyond their inner circle of people in the corridors of power to solve unprecedented problems such as the one confronting Nigeria.
BUHARI – THE MAN ON THE SPOT
“The main essentials of a successful Prime Minister [or President] are sleep and a sense of history” – Harold Wilson, 1916-1995, UK Prime Minister.
I have no doubt that the occupant of “the other room” ensures Buhari sleeps well. But, a strong dose of history is also necessary in addition to wisdom. There were precedents before. We should be prepared to learn as much as possible from their experiences. The lives of millions of people are at stake. We cannot afford to make mistakes which could prove costly and deadly. Gorbachev had no reason in 1989 to believe that the USSR he led will vanish in 1991. President Buhari has only two years and six months left in his second term. But, that very perceptive leader, Harold Wilson, had also warned all political leaders that “a week is a long time in politics.”
Buhari will be committing a blunder to think that he can either ignore the gathering storm; or that he has a lot of time to deal with the problems. Wisdom from the mouth of young Judge Belgore should inform the President that we are running out of time…..
To be continued