|Sunday, June 21, 2020|
Pontifical Urban University, Vatican City (Rome)
"Jesus before Pilate: … 'So when the crowd gathered, Pilate said to them, which do you want me to release for you: 'Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?' … They said, 'Barabbas.' Pilate said to them: 'But in that case, what am I to do with Jesus who is called Christ?' They all said: 'Let him be crucified! He asked, 'But what harm has he done?' But they shouted all the louder, 'Let him be crucified … Then Pilate released Barabbas for them: After having Jesus scourged he handed him over to be crucified." (Matthew 27:11-26).
he above Gospel testimony of the crowd's participation in the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus Christ tells us much about the fact that crowd often makes mistakes. It tells us also something about the danger of silencing the dissenting voice or minority opinion in nation-building. That is, the danger of silencing those who decry what Nigeria has been passing through - ineptitude leadership and alleged state-sponsored violence in the last five years alone under the present administration. The refusal of the present Nigerian federal government to listen to the cry of the people living on the margin of the nation's leadership apparatus.
More importantly, it tells us a great deal about the shortcomings of liberal democracy, which relies on majority votes of the dominant ethnic-groups during elections to install a lopsided political regime over a sophisticated and multi-ethno-religious and multicultural nation state like Nigeria. Again, it is a confirmation that 'crowd makes mistake', and most of the time, a costly one.
In August 2018, three years when the present federal came to power in 2015, I published an article on this same theme, titled: "The Vindication of 'Five-Percenters' in Nigeria." The issues raised in that article are as valid today as ever. Thus, the need to revisit them. Our present article is a kind of 'flashback' of that our earlier article published in 2018.
Our starting point remains the vindication of the moral leadership of the 'five-percenters' in Nigeria's political landscape. The expression 'Five-percenters' was used by President to refer to the pattern people of the South-East did not vote overwhelming for him as President during the 2015 elections. The same thing played out also in the region during 2019 elections. It is the vindication of how the people of South East and Niger Delta (former Eastern region) voted during the 2015 and 2019 elections, when they gave President Buhari about 5% of their votes. In the 2015 elections people of the region voted overwhelmingly for former President Goodluck Jonathan. Also during the 2019 elections, the region voted again overwhelmingly for Atiku Abubakar, PDP Presidential candidate.
We have interpreted all these as a demonstration of consistency and role of moral leadership, the people of South East, in particular, have been playing in Nigeria's political landscape all these years, especially, since the Nigeria-Biafra War.
During the 2015 Presidential elections, following their historical experience and foresightedness, as a people living and sharing the Nigerian nation-state with other ethnic-nationalities, especially, with the Northern ruling Sunni-Muslim Oligarchy, the people of South East and their kinsmen and women in the Niger Delta (all people of the Old Eastern region (Biafra), overwhelmingly decided to vote for President Jonathan. The rest of the population of the country (North, West and Middle Belt), went for Buhari. Today, we know which region or part of the country has been vindicated by its pattern of voting both in the 2015 and 2019 Presidential elections. Obviously, is the South East region!
All this goes to show the moral authority of the so-called dissenting voices or "five-percenters", people of the South East in a union like Nigeria over the years. The so-called region of 'rebels, secessionists, separatists' or dissenting voices within a union like Nigeria, in this case, has proven to be the most consistent and the most trusted moral conscience of the nation. It means that the earlier the government listens and dialogue with them, the better for us all.
Furthermore, the dissenting voices - people of South East, and now, together with all the other ethnic-nationalities are calling for new political order, economic restructuring of Nigeria or referendum for self-determination. In this case, all these groups could also be described as the moral conscience of the nation in the present dispensation. They are the scepter of truth for justice, equity, freedom, liberty and unity to reign in the country. Without incorporating these 'dissenting' voices' concerns, Nigeria will never know peace or achieve greatness.
This is the meaning of the saying: 'Our diversity is our strength', and the African philosophy, 'Ubuntu.' It is not the other way round, which could be, 'the marginalization of the dissenting voices and minority groups is our strength.' There is no way discrimination of any particular group or individual in a country like Nigeria or any other country for that matter, could be a strength of the nation. Never!
Thus, our central argument remains "the vindication of the moral authority of the people of South East geopolitical zone in Nigeria." The people of this region, the Igbo nation and their Eastern neighbors, had been pointing out this fact of taking a hard look on the present political system and structure of Nigeria. Before the present renewed agitation for self-determination by the pro-Biafra youth movements, the people of the region have been calling for restructuring or devolution of the present political system of Nigeria. Ndigbo in particular, had paid the prize with their own blood and skull for the past fifty years in the country in their quest for better Nigeria and in their struggle to bring about restructuring or devolution of the country's present dysfunctional and failed political system.
Even after the three-year fratricidal Nigeria-Biafra War, the people of the South East have never relented in that mission of pointing out the fact that Nigeria, as presently structured, is not working and can never work unless either structured or devolved into at least three or five separate nation states! This is because of the staggering and very striking differences, not only in ethnicity and religions, but more so in the different and often conflicting values systems of the different ethno-religious-nationalities that make up that British contraption called Nigeria.
Thus, for more than fifty years now since the Nigeria-Biafra War, there have been the people's cry to restructure or devolve Nigeria into workable entities, where citizens of each could call a home. That is, unlike what we have now, a 'new' nation that could be a home to all its citizens, not just to a particular ethnic or religious group as in the present-day Nigeria. But where each citizen will feel belonged and well catered for by the state he/she calls a country and home.
The question of revisiting the current political structure and system of Nigeria, cannot be ignored anymore, without however, those in corridors of power inviting more doom for the citizens of the country! As the saying goes: "A stitch in time saves nine." Unfortunately, those at the corridors of power and their foreign sponsors are not prepared to hear the 'people cry', that has spread, not only to the South East, but however, nowadays, to South West, Niger Delta, the Middle Belt and to other indigenous populations in the North Central, North West and North East Nigeria.
Today, the country is back to 'square-one.' The clamor and agitations for Restructuring cum referendum for self-determination of indigenous populations are now at the mouth and mind of many ethnic-nationalities in the southern and Middle Belt regions of the country as well as among the people of indigenous ethnic-populations living in the North East, North West regions and Southern Kaduna. It is no longer Ndigbo question only. The question of self-determination or new political order for Nigeria is no longer localized geographically, to the South East region only.
Clamor or Agitation for self-determination of indigenous ethnic-nationalities and what others call political restructuring of Nigeria is now a property owned and propagated by Ndigbo along with other ethnic groups in the Southern and Middle Belt regions of the country. The only obstacle to it becoming a reality today is the strong and stiff opposition from the core North, that have been controlling the affairs and governance of Nigeria since political independence in 1960.
Every other indigenous ethnic group in the country now sees the need to revisit Nigeria's founding story, restructure or devolve the present oppressive and discriminative, corrupt political system, a system that favors only a minority ethno-religious group, the Fulani Muslim of Northern Nigeria, while discriminating against others. This awareness of the faulty foundation of Nigeria's present political system, now embraced not only by Igbos alone, but by every other indigenous ethnic-group and region outside the core North, is, thanks to President Buhari's notorious lopsided government.
Moreover, the need to renegotiate Nigeria's political system and national unity came to the awareness of almost everybody in recent times, especially, as a result of the unfortunate free hands given to the dreaded Fulani herdsmen militants by the present federal government.
In addition to the well-known case of Boko Haram terrorists operating in the North East of Nigeria, since the present regime came to power in 2015, it looked as if Fulani-herdsmen militias have been mobilized by the regime to terrorize people of the Middle Belt and Southern states, majority of whom are Christians and indigenous ethnic-groups of the country. The killer-herdsmen are equipped with AK47 firearms with which they move around all over the country with their cows, maiming, killing and destroying farmlands, people's towns and villages without any intervention of the government or security forces to stop the carnage. The federal government, on the other hands, had earlier disarmed people of indigenous communities by outlawing private ownership of any type of gun and such like weapons by people living in the Middle Belt and Southern states, Christians and indigenous populations.
In the past five years alone, the country had recorded unprecedented killings and ethnic-cleansings by these marauding Fulani herdsmen militants. This is in addition to the already known activities of ISWAP and Boko Haram Islamist terrorists. Moreover, there is an increasingly, alleged state complicity in the whole thing. Retired. General T.Y. Danjuma had raised an alarm, alleging the complicity of the government and the security agencies. According to him, Nigerians should no longer trust or expect the present military and police officers to protect them. This is because the military and police, as General Danjuma alleged, collude and work with these terrorists - Fulani herdsmen militias in killing Nigerians.
Recently also, former President Obasanjo made a similar remark, alleging that the present federal government is executing a well-planned agenda of total Islamization and Fulanization of Nigeria. In this case, both Boko Haram and Fulani killer-herdsmen are the federal government-backed militias and non-state actors on the ground. This is why in spite of all the killings and destruction of people's farmlands and villages perpetrated by the herdsmen, none of them has ever been arrested, prosecuted or imprisoned. They are like sacred cows. And should anybody or village dared to retaliate against them, security agencies - military and police would immediately descend on such a person or village.
This implies that what we are living in Nigeria today is a state sponsored terrorism of the marauding Fulani herdsmen militias who go about with AK47, invading people's towns, homes and farmlands, killing, destroying agricultural products and people's means of livelihood. All this is happening under the watch of the present administration who had demonstrated time without number, the incapacity or rather unwillingness to stop the carnage.
Furthermore, the ongoing terrorism of Boko Haram and deadly Fulani herdsmen militias, the seemingly incapacity of the present federal government to stop these killings, all show that Nigeria as presently structured is not working. It is a confirmation of how urgently the country needs to revisit its political system and make room for referendum for self-determination for those who want to form their own separate state. If not, at least, allow restructuring - a return to the ideals of the founding fathers of our political independence, who left us with a political system anchored on regional autonomy and fiscal federalism.
We need a country of our own creation and no longer that of a colonial creation as we have it today in Nigeria. The 'recreation' of a 'new country' that is of the citizens and by the citizens, is what the agitation for self-determination and even the call for restructuring is all about. Self-determination or restructuring is not about short-changing any group of people in the country. Neither is it a means of seeking a vendetta against the people that have been controlling the affairs of the country ever since. No! Self-determination of indigenous peoples or restructuring of an oppressive political system as we have it in Nigeria today is none of the above. Rather it is the effort and attempt of the present generation of Nigerians to determine their future, and create a country in which every citizen would be proud to call a home.
Nigeria as presently structured cannot claim to be a home to all Nigerians. This is because the colonial arrangement of the country, the behavior of those the arrangement favored, is such that some other ethnic and cultural groups are marginalized, made strangers in their fatherland! This is why those in the corridors of power would stay put, doing practically nothing to stop ethnic-cleansings of a particular ethnic-group of the country, carried out by the Fulani herdsmen militias. This is why also Nigerian state could wage a war of genocide and pogroms in the 1960s in the name of 'keeping Nigeria one', against a particular ethnic-group (Ndigbo), that dared questioned the present unjust political structure of the country.
No country built on such an unjust structure, philosophy and violence against its own citizens as in Nigeria today, can survive the test of time in modern world. This is why Nigeria needs to listen to the yearnings of those calling for referendum for self-determination as well as those asking for restructuring, as the case may be. They all meant well for the people of the country and for the nation itself.
In whichever case, the people of the South East have been playing the role of moral conscience of the nation, reminding other Nigerians of the need for self-determination, why the country needs a new political order - a new political system that will benefit all of its citizens. The people of South East are in the most privileged position to play this role, especially, because of their historical experience as a people. It gives them an onerous task to help conscientize other Nigerians on this.
Till today, after having borne the brunt of the genocidal Nigeria-Biafra War, destruction of lives and property in their region and elsewhere, carried out by the Nigerian state against them, the people of the South East are best qualified for the mission of the moral conscience of the country. This they must continue to do until freedom, justice, equity and fair-play is achieved.
For the people of the South East, Nigeria needs to revisit its founding story and political system to reflect the wishes of different ethno-religious and cultural groups that make up that entity created by British colonial masters in 1914. The people of South East have been reminding other ethnic-nationalities the urgent need for self-determination of indigenous populations as well as a new political and economic order for Nigeria.
This has been the moral burden of Igbo nation as a people in the political history of the Nigerian state. Both during and after the Nigeria-Biafra War, Ndigbo have continued with their words and sacrifices, to show other Nigerians that unless the country is renegotiated, and people allowed to assume responsibility, freely and in truth and justice for their own self-determination, Nigeria will continue to be a terror state to all its citizens.
As I wrote in an earlier article, "here we meet the essence of the musical lyrics of British born Musicians - Peter, Paul and Mary's "Blowing in the wind":
"How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry? How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many have died? - The answer, my friend is blowing in the wind! The answer is blowing in the wind."
The refusal of those at the corridors of power - the favored ethno-religious group - Sunni Muslims of Northern Nigeria, their refusal and that of their foreign allies, to listen to the demands of indigenous populations of the country for self-determination and new political system, is the cause of all the bloodsheds, killings and terrorism going on in the country today. It is the cause of the perennial political instability and crisis in Nigeria.
The Jihadist mind-set and lust for power by those who hold the 'word' captive is the bane of the Nigerian state. This is the naked truth about Nigeria - the turning of deaf ear by those at the corridors of power and ruling elites to the cry of the people of Southern states, Middle Belt and other indigenous populations in the Northern regions of the country, asking for self-determination and new political order, is the problem with Nigeria!