|Monday, July 30, 2018|
Pontifical Urban University, Vatican City (Rome)
“Blowing in the wind! – How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man? How many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand? How many times must cannonballs fly before they are forever banned? … How many years can a mountain exist before it is washed to the sea? How many years can some people exist before they are allowed to be free? How many times can a man exist and pretend that he doesn’t see? … How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky? 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.” – From the lyrics of the three Musicians – Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Blowing in the Wind.”
oday, almost fifty years after the Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970), that claimed an estimated 3.5 million lives of people, especially, from the Biafra side, all the indigenous populations and ethnic-nationalities in the country, which sided with the federal government against the Biafra during the war, are nowadays asking the same question the people of South East asked fifty years ago. These other ethnic-groups are now, also demanding with strong voice, for the restructuring of Nigeria! Experience, they say, is the best teacher!
Here we meet the essence of the musical lyrics of British born Musicians – Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Blowing in the wind”, cited above:
“… 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 most favored domesticated ethno- religious group in the British created Nigeria, to listen to the demands of the indigenous populations of the country for restructuring, is the cause of all the bloodshed, killings and terrorism the nation has been subjected to since the Nigeria-Biafra War till date. This is the ugliest situation of Nigeria today – the turning of deaf ear to the cry of the people in Southern, Middle Belt and Central Nigeria by those at the corridors of power!
This brings us to the main argument of our present article: It is the vindication of the moral authority of the people of South East geopolitical zone in Nigeria, who had been pointing out this fact of restructuring, and have all along, paid the prize with their blood and skull, for the past fifty years in the country. 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 cannot work unless restructured!
For more than fifty years now since the Nigeria-Biafra War, there have been the people’s cry to restructure Nigeria and make the country a home to all its citizens, not just to favor a particular ethnic and religious group as presently structured. The question of restructuring – the Biafran solution at Aburi (Ghana) Conference of 1968), that should have averted the crisis that led to the civil war is still very much with us in Nigeria and will not go away until those concerned, hear people cry! 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 and North East Nigeria.
Today, the country is back to ‘square-one.’ Restructuring is 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 region and Southern Kaduna. It is no longer Ndigbo question only. The question of restructuring is no longer localized geographically, to the South East only.
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 its 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 restructure Nigeria. This is, thanks to President Buhari’s notorious lopsided government, and especially, the free hands given to the dreaded Fulani herdsmen militants, who move around all over the country, maiming, killing and destroying farmlands, people’s towns and villages without any intervention of the government or security forces to stop the carnage.
In the midst of all the clarion call for political restructuring of Nigeria, the cry of the people still falls on deaf ear. That is, in spite of the present precarious situation of the country – the violent killings and ethnic-cleansings going on in different parts of the country today, especially in the Old Middle Belt and Eastern regions of the country under the watch of the present Nigerian government.
However, these killings show one thing: It is either the present Nigerian federal government is incapable and clueless, or that the government itself is an accomplice in these crimes against humanity, committed on daily basis today by the Fulani herdsmen militants. Otherwise, why is it that despite the deplorable situation and magnitude of the killings – the inhuman atrocities committed so far by these terrorists in the country, the federal government is doing practically nothing to stop the carnage and call these killers to book?
Again, why is it that in spite of the continued rise of these terrorists’ acts of killing and destruction of lives and property of innocent citizens, which underscores the urgency of restructuring of Nigeria, those at the corridors of power are still dragging legs in giving restructuring a chance in the country?
In the past three years alone, the country had recorded unprecedented killings and ethnic-cleansings by these marauding Fulani herdsmen militants. Moreover, there is an increasingly, alleged state complicity in the whole thing. After all, the 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 militants in killing Nigerians.
This implies that what we are living in Nigeria today is a state sponsored terrorism of the marauding Fulani herdsmen militants who go about with AK47, invading people’s towns, homes and farmlands, destroying their agricultural products and 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 militants, 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 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 Nigeria of our own creation and no longer that of a colonial creation as we have it today. The ‘recreation’ of Nigeria that is of Nigerians and by Nigerians is what the call for restructuring is all about. 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! Restructuring is none of the above. Rather it is the effort and attempt of the present generation of Nigerians to 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 militants. This is why also Nigerian state could wage a war of genocide or pogroms in the 1960s against a particular ethnic-group (Ndigbo), that dare questions the present unjust political structure of the country.
No country built on such an unjust structure and philosophy as we have it in Nigeria today, can survive the test of time in modern world. This is why Nigeria needs restructuring today and not tomorrow.
In this regard, the people of South East have been playing the role of moral conscience of the nation, reminding other Nigerians of the need to restructure the country for the benefit of us all. These are a people that experienced ethnic-hate of first order and pogroms in the country, and have continued to experience them till date. Thus, after having borne the brunt of the civil war destruction of lives and property 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.
For the people of the South East, Nigeria needs restructuring to reflect the ethno-religious and cultural diversities of different peoples and tribes 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 political and economic restructuring of Nigeria today. It is their moral burden as a people to 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 restructured, Nigeria will continue to be a terror state to its citizens.
This originated from the first international Press Conference of General Buhari, immediately after his election as President in 2015, during his first official visit to Washington D.C. USA. In the Press Conference, President Buhari, was asked an important question, interestingly, not by a Nigerian journalist, but a White lady.
The Western journalist asked President Buhari the following question:
“Sir … My question is on a Nigerian issue that has not received much attention in this your trip to Washington D.C. … “Mr. President, Sir, could you please tell us how you will approach the question, with particular reference to amnesty, bunkering and inclusive development in your government?”
After the initial difficulty in understanding the English expression, “inclusive approach government”, and after some explanation of what it means by one of his aides, President Buhari said:
“I see … I hope you are acquainted with the election results. … The constituencies that gave me 97%, cannot be treated on some issues, with all honesty, in the same way with constituencies that gave me just 5% of their votes. I think this is political justice. While such a leader will be expected to do justice for everybody and everyone should get his constitutional rights. But when the party, in constituencies, either by sheer hard work, made everybody to vote and that their votes count, they must appreciate that the government had appreciated the effort they put in, in putting the government in place, in the first place. … I think that this is the reality and it is really, fair and just” – President Buhari (at his first international Press Conference in Washington D.C in 2015 after his election as President of Nigeria).
This implies that from the first day of his regime, President Buhari drew a line of demarcation and gave reasons why his administration is duty-bound to discriminate and short-change a particular section of the country in the scheme of things. He did not hide his feelings and agenda that his administration would be a government of discrimination between those Nigerians and regions of the country that voted him overwhelmingly and those that gave him only five-percent of their votes.
Invariably, President Buhari, although, without knowing it, told the nation and international community at the Press Conference that he was elected not to serve as President of all Nigerians but only of those that gave him their votes. The implication of which is that he would discriminate as President of Nigeria. In practical terms, that as president of Nigeria, he will discriminate against the people of South East and Niger Delta that gave him only five-percent of their votes.
Furthermore, the 2015 Presidential elections revealed another important thing: It showed how all those that participated in the war against the people of the former Eastern Nigeria (Biafra) between 1967 and 1970, rediscovered their war-like unity again during the Buhari election in 2015. It also renewed the traditional typical Nigerian resentment of Ndigbo. In fact, a new hostility directed against the people of South East, emerged once more in the Nigerian socio-political scene with the election of President Buhari in 2015.
Jonathan lost the 2015 election to Buhari, principally because, the people of the Old Northern, Western, Mid-Western and Middle-Belt regions voted overwhelmingly for Buhari. In particular, people of the Old Northern and Western regions entered into an unholy alliance that brought Buhari to power in 2015. Again, when Buhari got elected, the main stream Nigerian media, the so-called Lagos-Ibadan-Abuja axis media houses, went frenzy in castigating the people of the South East as having self-destroyed and short-changed themselves by not voting Buhari during the elections.
Painfully, too, was the recruitment of our so-called ‘intellectuals and civil rights’ groups, in our two most important cities, Lagos and Abuja, in the political campaign that installed the present helmsman as President of Nigeria during the 2015 elections. The famous Lagos-based NADECO and all other groups of the so-called Lagos school of civil rights and lawyers that claim to be promoting liberal democracy in Nigeria, championed the election of Buhari and demonized Jonathan as a result of it.
This same group of Lagos and Abuja schools of ‘civil rights and democracy’ in Nigeria, also blamed the people of South East for what they said would befall them in the new administration because they failed to vote for Buhari. In other words, even the think-tank of the nation, who mainly reside in Lagos and Abuja – and claim to be civil and human rights’ groups, lawyers and journalists, in these two important cities of Nigeria could not see what the people of South East and Niger Delta saw by not voting overwhelmingly, Buhari into power in 2015. The people of South East, in particular, were made scapegoat for whatever may befall them in the new administration.
Furthermore, in the Northern states, once Jonathan conceded defeat and congratulated General Buhari after the elections, Northern youths began violent threats of killings and destruction of property of people of South East and Niger Delta living in the North. This was how Nigerians in various parts of the country reacted to the way people of South East and Niger Delta had voted during the 2015 elections. That means, Nigeria has not learnt anything from our experience as a nation state in the past fifty years after the civil war!
Thus, since assuming office in May 2015, the present administration is running the most notorious lopsided government never witnessed in the history of Nigeria. In the three arms of the government – Executive, legislature and judiciary, it is as if people of the South East are no longer part and parcel of Nigeria. All the service Chiefs, Chief Military and security officers and heads of important ministries and federal parastatals, people of the South East are totally and cleverly excluded. People of South East now merely exist and live as foreigners in their own country and fatherland. This is the most tragic of all.
Coming to infrastructural allocations, the story is the same. In Federal Government appointments, admission into federal schools and institutions, people of South East are totally sidelined. It is all round anti-South East policy of the present federal government. The damage of which may take many years to repair, if at all it will. What the people of South East have always received from the Nigerian government since 1970 after the Nigeria-Biafra War, is a massive deployment and presence of military personnel and police in the region.
These military and Police personnel are deployed in large numbers in the South East, not necessarily to checkmate the menace of armed robbery or kidnapping in the region, but merely to extort money from poor people, especially, motorists and cyclist drivers. Every nook and corner of the region is erected with military and police check-points. South East has remained militarized ever since.
Moreover, the military and police also harass and kill the people with recklessness and impunity as was witnessed during the 2017 so-called “Python Dance II” military invasion of South East, under the pretense of clamping down on the Igbo youth non-violent group – IPOB and its leader Nnamdi Kanu. The Amnesty International, reports have revealed, only heaven knows how many of these Igbo youths, Nigerian military and police have killed or imprisoned in the last three years alone.
“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).
The 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 three 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 the Old Testament, at the heart of the Exodus experience of the people of Israel, the crowd murmured against Moses. Time without number, the people even threatened to abandon Moses in the Desert and return to Egypt, from where they were running away from slavery. In the Book of Joshua, we meet the episode of how only Joshua and his family had chosen to stay on the side of Yahweh, the God of Israel, while the rest of the crowd had the challenge to choose between Yahweh and the gods of the Amorites in the country they were living (Joshua chapter 24). In the Book of Judges, we meet the expedition of Gideon, how Yahweh reduced the numbers of Gideon’s army in the battle against the Medians and Amalekites (Judges, Chapter 7:4-8). With this reduced number of the Israelites’ army, Gideon went to war and was victorious over their enemies.
In the First and Second Kings, we meet the experience of Elijah. Elijah stood alone with God, fought the multitude of the false prophets of Baal, who had abandoned the worship of Yahweh and who instead, decided to side with Jezebel and her weak husband Ahab in defense of the worship of false gods, Baal in Israel. Elijah alone was the only prophet on the side of God, and God used him in putting to shame, King Ahab, Queen Jezebel, and all the false prophets of Baal.
In the New Testament, in the case of Jesus Christ as noted earlier on, it was the crowd that shouted “crucify him … crucify … crucify him.” The crowd preferred Barabbas, a criminal to the Son of God! Also in the New Testament, there is the episode of the woman who was a sinner, was condemned already in the “public court” by the crowd. The crowd, following their archaic tradition wanted to stone the woman until Jesus intervened and told them, “Let he who is not without sin before the first to throw a stone.” This public condemned woman, now rehabilitated by Jesus, was the person that had brought with her, an alabaster jar of ointment and with it, anointed Jesus before the Cross-Event. She was, without knowing it, the instrument used by God to fulfill what the prophets had prophesized about the Messiah who is to come, that is Jesus Christ, in the Old Testament (Luke 7:36-38).
In fact, the Biblical tradition is a testimony of the story of how God used the remnant of Israel in sending us His only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. Jesus came from one of the families of the remnant people of Israel. These are the poor, the forgotten of the society, who had been waiting with patience and endurance, looking forward for the coming of Messiah in Israel. This remnant of God, few as they were, were trampled upon, and discriminated against by majority of the people of the Old Testament Israel.
In other words, God does not work with crowd but rather with a chosen group or individuals in accomplishing his universal mission of salvation of all nations and peoples of the earth. These people or individuals, God uses for his universal mission for the nations, are often from the margin or forgotten of the society.
Again, God does not discriminate against any nation, group or individual. Rather in the particularity is the universality of God’s salvific work for humanity. Therefore, any authority on earth that uses its particularity as a means of subjugating other groups is working against the divine plan of salvation of all peoples in God through Jesus Christ.
All this implies how unfortunate it is, that in Nigeria today (and many other African countries), those in the corridors of power are using their particularity as a means of subjugating other ethnic-groups in the country. It also puts into question, why we as a nation, accepted without questioning, the colonial imposed political structure and arrangement, built on principles of the triumph of individualism over the collective aspiration of other ethnic, cultural and religious groups that make up the entity called Nigeria.
We accepted in Nigeria without questioning, the lordship of particularity of one domineering ethnic-group over and above the collective aspirations of other ethnic groups in the country. It is like adopting a structure of governance that favors particularity at the expense of universality. The challenge in Nigeria therefore, is how to achieve and arrive at equilibrium on the dialectics between particularity and universality in political structure and governance. This, we as a nation have not been able to achieve since attaining political independence in 1960.
We adopted Western liberal democracy in Nigeria without questions! In Nigeria we opted without questions, the kind of political theory and system that developed in Europe during the Enlightenment, which sees the state as a collection of individuals, who have their inalienable rights, but who, in pursuit of their own self-interest, come together to set up structures of common living, spelt out in a contract. They insist on the dignity and rights of every individual. This principle, however, promotes healthy social contract of individuals, but on the contrary, it ignores natural communities like families, kin groups, indigenous ethnic-groups and populations.
So, we cannot base construction of a nation state in Nigeria (and indeed in Africa in general), on this theory of individualism and liberal democracy. The basis of community in African culture and tradition is in relatedness. Every human being has the experience of being in relationship with others for his/her origin, life, culture, religion and celebration. Relationship is found in such qualities as a respect for the traditions of one’s own and others’ cultures, recognition of one’s shared humanity; and an understanding of, and even empathy for the meaning others impart to their beliefs, values and needs.
In fact, as modern scholarship has shown, once we go beyond individualism as the basic element of society, then we discover that a nation is actually a community of communities, because a nation is not a conglomeration of individuals, but is made up of a variety of ethnic, cultural and religious groups. This reality has been explored, particularly with reference to multiculturalism.
People in a national community do not relate to each other only as individuals, but as members of particular groups, each with its identity. Each group attempts to protect its identity and deserves recognition and respect. Of course, the groups should not be allowed to stifle the freedom of individuals in the name of preserving and defending group identity. But the groups have a right to be recognized, acknowledged and respected. In other words, respecting community identity goes side by side with citizenship of individuals. The contrary will be communalism.
It has often been said that where Descartes said, “I think, therefore, I am” (Cogito ergo sum), the African would rather say, “I am related, therefore, we are” (cognatus ergo sum). This is what some in Eastern and Southern Africa call “Ubuntu”, which means, ‘how can one be happy when the others are sad?’ “I am because we are.”
In other words, what those who are advocating for restructuring in Nigeria today are saying is, let us have an “Ubuntu” Life. In African spirituality and tradition, the value of inter-relatedness comes high above that of individualism and personal or particular independence. By the same token, the practice of cooperation is more relied upon than competition.
It is in this context of Ubuntu, or rather a nation, that as a community of communities that we see the inadequacy of a democratic system that depends on the rule of the majority, because in such a system, a majority community can always dominate minority communities ‘democratically’ within the union or state. For instance, today in some African nations (like Nigeria), the attempt by some majority ethnic groups to claim to themselves the right to dominance in national affairs and governance by virtue of their numerical strength, shows the shortcomings of the present liberal democratic system focused on the individual.
This is why in a multiethnic, multicultural and multi-religious country like Nigeria, people who reflect on conflict resolutions are advocating for Sovereign National Conference (or implementation of 2014 National Conference in Nigeria), where all groups that make up the country could be allowed to make their contribution towards ushering in a system of strong or deep democracy.
In the opinion of some sociologists such as B. Barber, strong democracy complements liberal democracy by developing institutions and structures where everyone can actively participate in discussions and contribute to the evolution of policy and decision-making that affects all. Here, not only individuals, but communities are also respected.
Such participative democracy is distinguished from representative democracy, where a few representatives, often more concerned with their self-interests than by the interest of the people, decide the fate of the entire people. The principle that the universal illumines the particular, holds ground only when each community sees itself reflected at the center and feels being an active participant there as equal partner in dialogue, decision-making, and in the execution of whatever might have been discussed and accepted as satisfactory to each component unit that make up the nation.
Often, a presence of a representative from a marginalized group at the center or in a commission controlled by the dominant ethnic group, does not necessarily mean his/her participation. Thus, if the center is dominated by one section of the community while marginalizing others, the result would be ethnic-conflicts, religious violence, dictatorship and eventual war. This experience, Nigeria is presently, passing through today.
One who lives in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious community or nation with system of participatory democracy is open to pluralism. Such a person does not seek to dominate or impose, but to converse, to dialogue and to search for consensus. In a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation state like Nigeria, the challenge then is to build up a nation state that respects, integrates and transcends ethnic, cultural and religious pluralism through a political restructuring.
Our starting point is on the vindication of the moral leadership of the ‘five-percenters’ in the 2015 elections. It is the vindication of how the people of South East and Niger Delta (former Eastern region) voted during the 2015 elections, when they gave President Buhari about 5% of their votes, and Jonathan, 95%. We have interpreted this as a demonstration of the moral leadership, the people of South East, in particular, have been playing in Nigeria all these years, especially, since the Nigeria-Biafra War.
At the 2015 Presidential elections, from their historical experience and foresightedness, living and sharing the Nigerian nation-state with other ethnic-nationalities, especially, with the Northern ruling Sunni-Muslim Oligarchy, only the people of South East and their kinsmen and women in the Niger Delta (all people of the Old Eastern region (Biafra), decided for President Jonathan. The rest population of the country went for Buhari. What a tragedy?
All this goes to show the moral authority of the so-called dissenting voices or “secessionists” in a union like Nigeria over the years. The so-called ‘rebels, secessionists’ or dissenting voices within a union like Nigeria, is in this case, the moral conscience of the nation. The earlier the government listens and dialogue with them, the better for us all.
Therefore, the dissenting voices and ethnic-nationalities calling for political and economic restructuring of Nigeria today, 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!