|Thursday, September 13, 2018|
Pontifical Urban University, Vatican City (Rome)
"The class of '66 specialized in excluding: 'We don't want these people': Or it is those people. It is this group. And so, they kept excluding till most Nigerians who could contribute to Nigeria's development left Nigeria, either physically or mentally. They are many people who live in Nigeria but don't live in Nigeria. They gave up on Nigeria a long time ago. … What leadership requires now in Nigeria is to bring people back into the house. That is the capacity, which the current leadership elite that came out of '66 class and their cronies lack. They don't have that capacity." - Prof. Pat Utomi.
he Nigerian Professor Pat Utomi made the above statement, quoting from the following immortal words of former US President, Lyndon B. Johnson, who says, "It is better for everybody to be inside the house pissing on one other than for some people to be outside pissing in."
Relating President Johnson's immortal words to the Nigerian reality, Professor Utomi tells us that, "the reason Nigeria smells so bad is that there are too many people outside the house pissing in. The biggest leadership failure of the last 50 years in Nigeria is the politics of exclusion."
Utomi traces the history of exclusion in Nigerian political arena to Nigeria-Biafra War. The attempts by those who executed the Nigeria-Biafra War and who have been ruling Nigeria since then to suppress the history of the war atrocities, is the problem with Nigeria. As he rightly puts it, "Until Nigeria accepts that Nigeria Civil War was one of the great genocides of the 20th Century, we will continue to make mistakes."
According to him, the story of the war was not something someone told him: "I witnessed it. I saw people, unarmed civilians, being shot. Our story happened in my presence. Pretending about it is going to just breed anger in the Balkans, the people remembering a hurt, 1,000 years after and they went through what we went through. Let's purge ourselves of the error of the past and begin to move forward. That is what Nigeria requires and that must be the commitment of the new leadership in the land that wants its children to know that they are people of a certain dignity, not people looked down at."
The forgoing is a fitting introduction to the main thrust of our present article: A brief consideration of some aspects of the worrisome Nigerian reality, which the nation must look into before embarking on the forthcoming Presidential election in 2019.
One of the most disturbing Nigerian reality, which has been there, however, since after the civil war in 1970, is the near-total absence of the victims of Nigerian state sponsored violence, as protagonists in Nigerian leadership echelon at the federal level. This is playing out also in the forthcoming Presidential election 2019.
Is it surprising that none of the two main political parties, PDP and APC, has thought it wise of choosing as their party flagbearer for presidential race in the 2019 election, someone, worth the name, from the former Eastern region of Nigeria? Look at all those jostling to contest for presidential election in 2019, young and old, they all come from the same dominant zones that have been ruling the country since the Nigeria-Biafra War.
Who cannot see now that it was a great mistake during the 2015 elections to have denied Goodluck Jonathan the opportunity to complete his second term as President of Nigeria? Especially as he hailed from the minority in the former Eastern region, and as the first candidate from the restive, decimated, much neglected and marginalized Niger Delta to reach that height. The question is, 'why can't we get things right this time around in 2019?'
What stops the two main political parties take a stand and say: It is time to heal the wounds of the past! 'This time around in 2019, the President of Nigeria must come from the former Eastern region, precisely, from the Southeast, whom all of us know feel they are being punished since 1970 by the Nigerian state because of the civil war.'
The question is, 'when will Nigeria outgrow the civil war mentality and work towards bringing all the segments of the country on board in political and economic sectors of the nation?' The exclusion of a segment of the Nigerian federation from the political and economic leadership of the country since 1970 is the problem with Nigeria. Until it is resolved, Nigeria can hardly make any headway as a modern nation state.
The Fundamental Problem with Nigeria
Quoting from an Igbo proverb in his famous novel, "Things Fall Apart", Achebe says, "A man who cannot tell where the rain began to beat him cannot know where he dried his body." In his classical book, "There Was a Country", Achebe tells us that to make Nigeria a home and country again to millions of its citizens, there is need to go back to the drawing board, and with goodwill and altruism, fix the faulty foundation of the building (Nigeria), give it a solid foundation upon which it could take off again. Achebe advises that we do not forget the history of where and when "things began to fall apart" in Nigeria.
As we noted already, the problem with the forthcoming Presidential election 2019, is first of all, lack of good will on the part of those who have been at the corridors of power from 1970 till date to address the wrongs done to the victims of the Nigeria-Biafra War. The lack of goodwill on the part of the federal government of Nigeria is driving their vehement opposition to the demand for restructuring.
Thus, the problem with the ruling elite and ex-generals is the fear to acknowledge the wrongs of the past. In fact, in Chinua Achebe's estimation in "There Was a Country", this is the most crucial aspect of Nigeria's neglected history - the suppressed history of the wrongs afflicted to the victims of the Biafran war.
For Achebe, the Nigerian-Biafran war is the beginning forever of "things fall apart" in the country. Until the issue that led to that genocidal war is resolved sincerely and truly, the country will hardly recover its lost soul. No election held under such suppressed history will ever yield something positive for the country:
"Most members of my own generation, who were born before Nigeria's independence, remember a time when things were very different. Nigeria was once a land of great hope and progress, a nation with immense resources at its disposal - natural resources, yes, but even more so, human resources. But the Biafran war changed the course of Nigeria. In my view it was a cataclysmic experience that changed the history of Africa." - Chinua Achebe, "There Was A Country."
Achebe is not alone in pointing out this unresolved history of Nigeria, almost fifty years after the Nigeria-Biafra War. In fact, the call to address this aspect of the country's most dangerous history for a new Nigeria to emerge, was equally echoed by Wole Soyinka, another Nigerian literary giant and Africa's first Nobel laureate in literature. According to Soyinka:
"Nigeria does not want to confront its history. Nigeria is living in denial - as long as it refuses to confront the wrong it has done to the Igbos." - Wole Soyinka.
The question therefore, we have to ask ourselves as Nigeria braces up for Presidential election in 2019, is whether our political elites are really sincere with themselves as they campaign for the election. Will anything good or positive come out of the 2019 Presidential election without our addressing the underlying issues that have been holding Nigeria captive and backward since after the Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970)?
Put in another way, will Presidential election in Nigeria today, conducted under a suppressed history yield any positive and lasting result! Is our political elites continued culture of suppressing the history and memory of the victims of Nigeria's crooked past not one of the major reasons' for the country's backwardness and perennial political instability?
Corollary, where lies the greatest threat to peace and stability of Nigeria today? Is it in those who are calling for political restructuring of the country for a new Nigeria to emerge? Or, isn't it the present federal government's turning of deaf ear to the yearning of majority of the citizens - the call by eminent Nigerians and various ethnic-nationalities for political restructuring of the country. The present federal government's refusal to give restructuring a chance is the greatest threat to the continued existence of Nigeria as a nation state.
All this implies that before we begin to kill ourselves for the 2019 Presidential election, there is need to examine whether what we have on the ground presently ensures bright future for Nigeria through the forthcoming election. That is, assuming that Presidential election takes place today without political restructuring, will it yield any positive or desired result for peace, stability and progress of Nigeria?
Will the Presidential election of 2019, if held today, heal the wounds of the Biafran war? Will the election put a stop to the terrorism of Boko Haram in the Northeast region as well as the killings of innocent citizens by the Fulani herdsmen militants in the Middle Belt and Southern states of the country? Will the winner of 2019 Presidential election call to book the Miyetti Allah and their marauding Fulani herdsmen who have been killing innocent Nigerians in hundreds in the past three years, without any rebuke from the present federal government and security agents?
Furthermore, will the 2019 Presidential election usher in a leader who will not operate on the principle of 5% versus 97% of Nigerians who voted him into power? Will Presidential election of 2019 usher in someone who will not operate a lopsided government like the one we have presently? Will the 2019 election not a clever way to help those in power now to succeed themselves since all indices point to that fact. Can a Presidential election conducted under the supervision of a lopsided government as we have it presently in Nigeria, be free and fair?
More importantly, how are we sure it won't be another round of elections by intimidation and imposition of selected candidates by powers that be? From lessons learnt from the recently concluded elections in Ekiti and Rivers States, among others, there is no way any right thinking person will expect the present lopsided federal government of Nigeria to conduct free and fair elections.
The fact is that all the elections conducted so far under the supervision of the present federal government, the ruling party candidate won through intimidation and imposition. What was clear to any discerning mind at the recently concluded Ekiti gubernatorial election was that both the INEC and security agents collaborated with the ruling party at the center to rig the election in favor of their candidate. Thus, any wonder there was no jubilations at all in Ekiti when the INEC announced the result of the last gubernatorial election there.
We should not expect that something different will happen during the 2019 Presidential election. In fact, the rigging will be worse and more chaotic in 2019. PVC or no PVC, the result of the 2019 Presidential election is ready already, waiting only on the D-day, to be announced.
People will be killing themselves for nothing during the elections, struggling to cast their votes, but at the end, the power that be, will announce whomever they have selected. All this will be so because of the faulty foundation of Nigeria. Unless that faulty foundation is addressed and corrected, nobody should expect even a miracle to happen during the forthcoming 2019 Presidential election.
Another question we should ask ourselves is this: 'Under what platform of population census and structure the Presidential election 2019 is going to take place?' This is because it has been proved beyond all reasonable doubts, that the population count, region by region with which Nigeria is governed since after 1921 census, was doctored by the colonial masters to favor the Northern part of the country. Not until this dishonest population count of Nigeria is corrected to reflect the true picture of what is on the ground, the marginalization of which we spoke about in this article will hardly be addressed.
What of the lopsided composition of the present Nigerian army, air force, navy, police, customs, immigrations, civil defense, prisons, and other paramilitary outfits? What of the Judiciary, the Legislature and the Executive arms of the federal government dominated by people from a particular region and religion? Only a fool will be expecting from such a lopsided structured federal government and security agencies, a free and fair elections in 2019.
Moreover, what of the lopsided INEC itself, which is the elections umpire? How can INEC, so lopsidedly composed, conduct free and fair elections? Moreover, both the security agents and INEC feel that they their owe loyalty to the President than to the Nigerian state. That implies that on the part of the INEC, the President and his political party come first before any other consideration during elections.
Finally, can the present Nigerian federal government, which refuses to declare the dread Fulani herdsmen, a terrorist organization, be expected to conduct a free and fair election? as we noted earlier on, these are Fulani herdsmen militants, who in the last three years alone have killed not less than 2000 innocent people, destroyed many villages and farmlands in the Middle Belt and some Southern Nigerian states. Yet the federal government officials have refused to declare them a terrorist organization.
Unfortunately, instead of telling the world that the Fulani herdsmen are like "sacred cows", because they belong to the same ethnic-group and Sunni Islamic religion like the President, Nigerian government officials defend them by saying that to declare them terrorists is like saying that all Fulanis are terrorists. But even if this is so, is it also the reason why the federal government itself and security agents look elsewhere when the Fulani herdsmen militants commit those crimes against humanity in the Middle Belt and some of the Southern states of Nigeria? What stops the security agents from arresting and bringing them to justice whenever they commit any of those crimes against humanity?
Moreover, by saying that to declare them terrorists equals to declaring all Fulanis terrorists, are the federal government officials not telling the world that Fulani herdsmen militants are protected by the government because the militants themselves are representatives of the entire Fulani nation? The fact is that the Fulani herdsmen militants who roam around our villages and farmlands with AK47, maiming and killing innocent citizens are not representatives of all the Fulanis.
The Fulani herdsmen militants are rather mercenaries, terrorists, recruited by power driven politicians, to serve as foot-soldiers in intimidating the indigenous populations of the Middle Belt and Southern states of the country for the purpose of maintaining power at the center. Protecting them and not bringing them to justice for their crimes against humanity is too dangerous for the future of Nigeria. Government officials may be sending the wrong signal that those militants are indeed, true representatives of all the Fulanis, which is not true.
The federal government shielding of the Fulani herdsmen militants is therefore, very worrisome. This is because the same federal government did not waste time last year in September 2017 in declaring IPOB - a non-violence Igbo youth movement, a 'terrorist group." What a world of deceit!
This is in spite of the fact that IPOB members have never killed anybody. IPOB have never destroyed any property or caused breach of public order anywhere. The group is simply, Igbo youth non-violence movement, seeking for self-determination of their people by requesting Nigerian government to grant them the opportunity to organize referendum as allowed in law.
Till date, unlike the dreaded Fulani herdsmen, no violence has ever been linked with members of the IPOB. But why the present lopsided Nigerian federal government decided to declare them a 'terrorist' group, beats any known law and rationalization.
In other words, any Presidential election conducted today and supervised by the present federal government of Nigeria is bound to be suspicious. The bottom-line of it all is that the present federal government lacks the moral authority and public trust to conduct free and fair elections in 2019.
The federal government immediately the civil war was over in 1970, began a systematic marginalization of the former Biafra enclave and the people of Southeast in particular, from all facets of federal appointments and infrastructural development. Since then, people of the Southeast are hardly, given the opportunity to climb to any meaningful position in the highest leadership echelon of the country.
Dr. Alex Ekwueme who served as Vice-President of Nigeria under Shehu Shagari regime (1979-1983), once they were in their second term, and the powers that be feared he might be the next Presidential flagbearer of the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN), a coup that toppled them was staged by Buhari/Idiagbon military junta in 1983. Since then no Igbo person has ever been given the opportunity to reach that level of the nation's governance ladder.
Again, another question we have to confront ourselves is the near-war situation in which Nigerian state has subjected the people of Southeast since after the civil war in 1970. The Southeast region, former Biafra enclave is the most hit of this post-civil war situation of Nigeria. Apart from the Southeast region suffering from the civil-war military short-changed political structure as well as lopsided federal government political appointments, made notorious by the present federal government, there is as well, the militarization of the zone, which is worse also under the present regime.
Again, the marginalization of Southeast region, by hindsight, has been a deliberate policy of the federal government of Nigeria since after the civil war in 1970. This ugly situation prompted Dim Emeka Odimmegwu Ojukwu, the ex-leader of Biafra, to make the following statements in an interview he granted in 2001:
"The person marginalizing me is the person who thinks he has something to gain by maintaining the war situation without the fighting. They don't allow you to fight but they want to keep the war situation alive." - Dim Emeka Odimmegwu Ojukwu.
Often times we forget the truism that the key to building Nigeria as a truly united, reconciled and prosperous nation lies with the victims of the state-sponsored violence. In Rwanda, imagine what could have been the situation there today had the perpetrators of violence - the 1994 genocide, allowed to be controlling the affairs of the country at the end of the war there. Certainly, the country will not be the one African success story it is today.
Look at the neighboring Burundi, where the perpetrators of the state-sponsored war and violence that killed thousands of their citizens are still in power. Has the country known any peace ever since? The danger of allowing perpetrators of war genocide remaining in power at the end of the war is that they tend to follow the principle of 'exclusion', which Professor Utomi, from the citation we made at the beginning of this article, spoke vehemently, against.
In Christian theology of reconciliation, we learn from St. Paul how the Crucified Son of God, Jesus Christ, the Victim par excellence of human violence, forgave us our sin by dying on the cross and therefore reconciled us with God. Be became our reconciler, a mediator between man and God. The victim of the most human cruelty, Jesus Christ became the 'key' through which reconciliation, peace, justice and freedom were achieved for humanity.
The Way Out: Empowering the Victims of State Violence in Nigeria
Ii is a simple logic: The victim of violence has the key to true leadership that could usher in unity, reconciliation, peace, equity, justice and freedom among the warring groups. Unless the victim of the type of state violence we experienced in Nigeria and have continued to experience it today, are brought to the table of dialogue and leadership echelon of the nation, Nigeria will continue to wild away in the wilderness, without political stability and vision.
The victims of the Biafran war have continued to feel marginalized by the Nigerian state, almost fifty years after the war ended. No serious effort is made on the part of the Nigerian state to fully integrate them into the mainstream of country's political and economic leadership structure.
The so-called three Rs - for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, and Reconciliation, which the federal government announced at the end of the war in the '70s, was a mere window dressing. It ended there in paper since there was never time the federal government showed seriousness towards pursuing any of the three Rs in the former Eastern region. This is why till today, the region is visibly the most starved of federal government's infrastructural development.
Again, what has escaped the mind of all those at the corridors of power all this while, is the fact that the key to making Nigeria great again lies with the full integration of the victims of the Biafran war. These are victims of a state-sponsored violence. 'Nigeria waged a genocidal war against its own innocent and unarmed citizens.' Peace and political stability of Nigeria lies on the full integration of the victims of the Biafran war.
Painfully too, is that in addition to the victims of the Biafran pogroms, in recent times, we have gotten also, the victims of Boko Haram terrorism in the Northeast, and especially, victims from the Middle Belt of the country, those killed by the dreaded Fulani herdsmen ongoing terrorism attacks.
Without these victims of Nigerian state violence being accorded the recognition due to them, as real protagonists in Nigeria's rebirth, the country will hardly make any headway. No Presidential election held in Nigeria today without these people's full participation as real protagonists, will not yield any positive result.
Another disturbing reality is that none of the two main political parties, PDP and APC, for example, gearing-up for elections in 2019 has any clear-cut ideology or agenda for governance of the country. In fact, none of them has any political ideology at all. Nowadays some politicians are making political realignments, defecting from one party to the other. They do so not because of differences or clashes of political ideologies, but simply for reasons of selfish political expediency of the individual.
Most of the political realignments and defections are based, not on differences of political ideologies and principles, but rather on financial inducement, ethnic and religious sentiments of most members of the political class. People join PDP or APC not because of political ideology which none of the two parties has, but simply to serve one's personal interest. There is total lack of love for the country and its people by most of these politicians and ex-generals who have been presiding over the affairs of Nigeria since 1970.
Since 1999 when the country returned to civilian regime, the poor masses still do not find any political party with clear-cut ideology for governance as is done all over the world where democracy is practiced. Unfortunately, it is under this atmosphere that everyone appears to be gearing up for the Presidential election in 2019.
These are the naked realities of Nigeria today, which go to confirm our call for restructuring and bringing on board the victims of state violence in political and economic leadership of the country. Without restructuring and full integration into the mainstream of the nation's body polity, of the marginalized victims of state sponsored violence, we shall continue to deceive ourselves in Nigeria.
The country will continue to distance more and more of its citizens from the state. It will continue to shed more blood of its innocent citizens and empower all more, the Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen terrorists as foot soldiers of the present federal government. Nigeria will continue to be a hopeless country to millions of its citizens, born and unborn.
Our hope, therefore, is that those at the corridors of power will listen to the yearnings of eminent Nigerians, various groups and ordinary citizens, and give restructuring a chance, integrate at the mainstream of the nation's body polity, all the victims of state sponsored violence in Nigeria's checked history. On this, lies the future of Nigeria as a nation state.