May 18, 2024

Ethnic agitations and future republics, by Muyiwa Adetiba

Ethnic agitations and future republics, by Muyiwa Adetiba

Muyiwa Adetiba

It must be a sign that I am getting too old, or too cynical, that the recent siege on the Oyo State Secretariat, the seat of the old Western Region, by a group of Yoruba agitators, took me completely by surprise. I did not see it coming. I can’t say I had not heard of the group. But there was nothing in my mind that distinguished the goal of the group from the main goal of other Yoruba agitators which is to negotiate a pulling apart of the Yoruba nation.

Therefore, there was nothing that suggested to me that it was ready to take over the seat of government, even if symbolically, because, from what had emerged so far, symbolism seemed to be its aim. Not really knowing its aim though, I would not know whether the group achieved it. But the swift reactions of the State Government, followed by the condemnation of other Yoruba separatist groups and more importantly, the denouncement bythe rank and file of the people it is claiming to fight for, suggested to me that even the symbolism of the siege failed.

Personally, I felt embarrassed. I am not sure I was the only one. That attempted siege did not meet the minimum standard of a people long famed for its tactical and cerebral approach to issues. The issue of separatism is too weighty for such an impulsive, attention seeking and frankly infantile approach.

The Yoruba agitators and indeed other ethnic agitators have my ears and sympathy if not my endorsement. Theirs is an issue that has dogged my years as a practicing journalist. It is an issue that has engaged my thoughts as a Nigerian. I have had cause to interrogate many leaders in the past on it and therefore know a bit more than the average Joe. I have also been invited – unsuccessfully – to join one or two groups in the past as I am sure many visible Nigerians might have been. What is certain is that the basic concern of ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria will not go away until it is addressed one way or another.

That concern has to do with a quest for a form of control over their resources and therefore, destiny. It also has to do witha perceived sleight of hand in sharing leading to the feeling that they could indeed fare better going it alone. The longer the concern is left unaddressed, the more the opportunists who masquerade as ethnic nationalists will mushroom. Nobody is really benefitting from the current system which is stifling at best. Not even those who think they are and therefore are reluctant to effect a change from the status quo.

The analogy which comes to mind is that of a waste basket which was put in a corner of a hall. Everybody wanted it to be placed more centrally except those who were nearest to the basket. Over time, those who were farthest to the basket tried to reduce the frequency of their trips and thus became innovative in trying to control theirwaste. They learnt how to re-use and to store waste. Meanwhile, those nearest not only became complacent, they had to contend with the not so pleasant smell of the contents in the basket at times. They were also denied the benefit of exercising their legs – and minds.

It is time to have a conversation about Nigeria and the nationalities that make up the country. The tidiest and the most feasible way at the moment given inter-marriages and intra- ethnic collaborations over the years, is to negotiate the extent and limits of separation. Let the regions – or the zones in this case – go back to the pre-military era where resources were controlled by the regions and a certain amount of autonomy existed within a truly federal structure.

Let competitions and collaborations be encouraged among the zones. Let the power of the center be reduced and with it the lure of Abuja. And speaking of power, what many agitators find desirous is the power that comes with separation and not the intractable contradictions that will have to be contended with. Their followers are swayed by the sentiments and unfounded beliefs that their lives will be positively transformed once they leave the ‘zoo’ called Nigeria. Nothing is farther from the truth. Their situation might even be compounded by the bloody power play that will eventually follow.

The issue in Nigeria is bad leadership at both the State and National levels. As long as we have leaders who seek power for personal enrichment and self- aggrandizement, Nigeria will not be able to achieve its full potential. Just as the States have not achieved their full potentials. Creating different fiefdoms under the guise of new nations will not help the plight of the average citizen.It might even worsen it by denying them the umbrella and respect which a larger nation provides.

As restrictive as many things are for the States within the current system and as stifling as the system can be to development, I believe there is still enough room for any Governor who wants to make a difference in the lives of its people to do so. We do not need an Oduduwa Republic for example, to tell us our children are not going to school in the numbers they used to – we have about a million out of school children in the South-West. Or that our youths are not learning trades that will make them self-dependent.Or worse, that yahoo-yahoo is taking over the minds and psyche of our youths. Or even that we are unable to feed ourselves. And nobody has told us how Oduduwa Republic or any of the Republics will be governed. Is it from the same crop of leadership we have at present? What has it done with the opportunities it has? Or even the legacies it inherited?

Yes, we need to tinker with the system that puts so much power and resources at the center and thereby promotes a rental economy. A system that has slowed down the educational, technological and entrepreneurial growth of its component parts. A system that tends to favour some sections over some others. We need to discourage those whose share of the national cake is based more on population than what they bring to the table. But we need to worry about our leadership quality more and the environment that produces this type of leadership.

For all their education and hype, none of the current crop of leaders is an Awolowo who did so much for his people in such a short time. It is sad that more than half a century after he governed the old Western Region, he is still the benchmark for what governance should be. The thinking that merely having an Oduduwa or a Biafra will lead people to an Eldorado without addressing the leadership problem and the decaying moral values is a delusional one. It is like putting the cart before the horse.