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In 1984 Sonny Okosun sang “Which way Nigeria?” The lyric goes thus: Which way is Nigeria heading to?/Many years after Independence we still find it hard to start/How long shall we be patient till we reach the Promise Land/Let’s save Nigeria/So Nigeria won’t die…I love my fatherland/I want to know/Which way Nigeria is heading to”. That was just after the overthrow of the Third Republic of Alhaji Shehu Shagari in the coup that brought the then Major-General Muhammadu Buhari to power.
Then came King Sunny Ade’s “E su biri biri e bo mi” (2001).The lyric says: E su biri biri e b’omi/B’iwaju l’oloko n wa mi lo/B’ehin l’oloko n wa mi lo/Mi o mo. Interpreted, Sunny Ade was at a loss as to the direction the driver of his car was taking him – whether forward or backward. That was in 2001, two years after the Fourth Republic was born in 1999.
In 2004, Eedris Abdulkareem sang “Nigeria jaga-jaga” and got into trouble with the then President Olusegun Obasanjo. The lyric goes thus: Nigeria jaga-jaga? Everything scatter-scatter/Poor man dey suffer-suffer…
In 2010, the Rumba style master, Ras Kimono, sang “Under Pressure”: The lyric goes thus: Under pressure we wail under pressure/Under pressure black people under pressure/Under pressure Nigerians under pressure/Under pressure Africans under pressure/No food in we belly/No money in ah we pocket/No bed we lay we head/The people, dem are suffer/In ah ghetto, in ah city/Everywhere dah me go oh/Me see them, some are cry, some are die/Some are weeping! Some are wailing/Everywhere dah oh eh/Under pressure we wail under pressure/Under pressure everybody under pressure…
How prophetic! With the benefit of hindsight, we are in a far worse situation today than then; now, the thought on many minds is whether soon, very soon, we will not be referring to Nigeria in the past tense, like Chinua Achebe did in “There was a Country!”
In this column today, a concerned Nigerian, who is a retired university don and diplomat, expresses his mind on the vexatious issue of whither Nigeria. This is not the first time I have found it compelling to yield this space to Dr. Babafemi Badejo. He reasons that Nigeria is moving towards the edge of the precipice – and I agree no less!
Hear him: At the risk of stating the obvious, Nigeria needs an urgent dialogue over its myriad of issues for peace to prevail. There are many possible facilitators of such dialogue. The preferred chief facilitator should have been President Muhammadu Buhari. After all, he was elected by so many even if some like me doubt the credibility of the leadership recruitment process in Nigeria through elections. But the president is taciturn or, put in simple ways, he “ain’t talking”; after all, one of his aides said something to the effect that addressing the people who voted him into office would amount to the President being talkative! When other presidents were addressing their citizens on the Covid-19 pandemic, Buhari’s spokesperson, Femi Adesina, openly declared that PMB’s silence is “a matter of style.” The bottom line is that the president is just not communicating.
I have been wondering if the presidential quietude is a result of medically-induced incapacitation, that is, because of ailment(s) or whether it is evidence of early ageing. Or is this quietude a smokescreen for dictatorship? Are the issues not worth the attention of the president? Or am I, as a Nigerian, just over-reacting since we now have professional negotiators with bandits and all sorts of criminals who are being paid large ransoms with which the bandits can further build their arsenal?
Remembering Somalia: In the good old days, there were elder statesmen who gathered and promoted debates as some of them quietly worked out solutions to avoid the precipice, especially after Nigeria’s civil war. In my trying to support the peace process in Somalia in the early 1990s, I fruitlessly searched for similar elder statesmen but realized I could not find any. Somali statesmen, if they could still be so called, had become supportive of warlords who were championing clan causes. Clans are subdivisions within the Somali people who are recognized as belonging to one single genealogy. Of course, this conception is simplistic as I hope to one day write about the Somali situation. The equivalent division in Nigeria to clans in Somalia would be ethnic or, in fact, nationality groupings. With politicization galore, it is now difficult to find dispassionate elder statesmen in Nigeria as matters have degenerated into the Somalia situation.
In effect, the possible facilitators of peaceful dialogue in Nigeria are in the ostrich mode. They are burying their heads in the sand and pretending that their rump is hidden!
Nigeria is moving towards a larger conflict that is beyond the current terrorism being unleashed in the Northeast, the Northwest and the perennial herdsmen and cow owners’ terror on the North-central of Nigeria. It started with the North-central witnessing AK-47-wielding herdsmen, who are now in a greater drive into the Southwest, Southeast, and South-South under the presidency of cow-owning Buhari.
There are many theories on why these herdsmen are moving southwards and destroying lives and livelihoods. Climate change has been a plausible theory. Other theories include the invitation to foreign AK-47 herdsmen to join in conquering Nigeria for a minority ethnic group that has been controlling a majority nationality in northern Nigeria since 1804 and wanting to take the entire Nigerian territory. Some are claiming that seasonal importation of foreigners for electoral purposes went wrong after the 2015 election.
The state of human insecurity in Nigeria is almost at an explosion point. A simple market-place fight at Sasa in Ibadan resulted in the loss of many lives, livelihoods and untold properties in houses, trucks with cows and other foods. This sad development was waiting to happen with kidnappings and marauding bandits killing all over the place in the South of Nigeria. The unfortunate Sasa tragedy has resulted in a cow-rearing group joining with some so-called “unions” to hamper the free flow of food into the Southwest of Nigeria, in what is being widely described as a blockade.
The threat to use food as a weapon in a charged political situation has only witnessed feeble reaction from the Federal Government. PMB and the presidency have remained quiet. Had the food blockade persisted, the consequences could have been: 1. Prices of food items would skyrocket in the Southwest. It would be a bad situation for the poor in that region.
2. The talk of exporting food to other African countries is just that! No African country with or without their own food production has the capacity of the consumption in Lagos alone, not to talk of the entire Southwest. This means pile-up and destruction of food in the North-central, where food is really produced. In the end, farmers and middlemen bringing food to the Southwest at exorbitant prices (who are also cow owners) would lose unimaginable revenues.
3. Retaliatory moves in halting imported and Southwest manufactured goods from going up north is a strong possibility; after all, the ports and most manufacturing are in the Southwest.
4. In the long run, the Southwest starts to embrace food production as serious business. Meanwhile, businessmen would start to move food from Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal by air and sea at cheaper prices than the middlemen used to offer with respect to North-central produce. Cattle on the hoofs air-freighted from Argentina and Australia could be an option, not to talk of the same from Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Chad with landing costs cheaper than was formerly the case with respect to cattle being brought on the hoofs from Niger Republic and Chad into the Southwest. This would have implications on terrorism in the Chad basin as livelihoods disappear.
5. Businessmen would remember that the Murtala/Obasanjo military government imported frozen beef and turkey in the 1970s. This would be much cheaper as people realize they do not need to see cows on the hoof in order to consume beef.
6. New business opportunities would spring up around the food chain in the Southwest.
7. The Northern middlemen feeding on producers in the North-central would lose control, including their Southern counterparts in huge Ibadan and Lagos markets, giving rise to different middlemen taking over the huge, sprawling, multi-billion naira Mile 12 market.
8. There would be huge job losses for the Almajirai and petty food traders from Northern Nigeria in the Southwest who would have to return home and join the restiveness that is already happening in the north of Nigeria or take to crime in the South, if not already constituting themselves into forward ethnic soldiers in the event of a total breakdown.
9. Loss of billions of naira by middlemen on the movement of goods both ways would be immense and this realignment of power from trading could spur other non-conventional money-making possibilities.
10. The taciturn presidency would likely inflame the situation by its utterances and actions as the Southern leaders reply in kind.
11. Bringing the Nigerian military forces into the enforcement of the movement of goods both ways would result in the worsening of the sectional interest protecting perception of the Federal Government spilling over into the military with the possibility that the chain of command may end up being compromised.
12. With the situation above unresolved, Nigeria continues to move closer to the edge of the precipice.
International Intervention: Nigerians should stop dreaming about the UN and the international community solving their problems for them. The UN cannot intervene in the affairs of member-states except by invitation or a threat to global peace is visible. Indeed, a conflagration in a country of 200+ million is a threat to global peace as the world would be unable to handle the humanitarian consequences on the West coast of Africa. But that is if the major powers would care about the unfortunate situation and resultant humanitarian crisis. Therefore, it is not true that the world cannot afford a disintegration of Nigeria.
The UN Secretary-General had been pontificating on preventive diplomacy for quite a while. Definitely, he has been receiving reports from his Ambassador here, also known as the Resident Coordinator, on the insecurity situation in Nigeria beyond the symptomatic kidnapping of school children for ransom payments that should also be of concern to UNICEF.
If the Secretary-General is acting, much of Nigeria is not seeing or feeling his possible discreet efforts. His Deputy finding time to endorse the Nigerian government’s feeble economic moves that do not take the country out of its classification as the poverty capital of the world does not help the UN brand, at least in Nigeria. Of course, it must be accepted that the Secretary-General is entering into a campaign mode for his re-election and must court every country in spite of rendering actual assessments on the laudable sustainable development goals that the UN has in place for countries.
The Secretary-General could formally call the attention of the Security Council to the unbearable insecurity situation in Nigeria, thereby giving the Council a task of helping Nigeria to help itself. He could also appoint a respectable person as Special Envoy to help dialogue in Nigeria. The communication accompaniments to these possible acts of the UN Secretary-General could help wiser counsel to prevail.
In the final analysis, the buck stops on Buhari’s table. His body language and silence say a lot and hurt so much. He can still mobilize national leaders for genuine dialogue away from the so-called National Assembly towards confederation or a peaceful break-up. The Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia are some examples to note. A confederation would be a win-win solution as it is clear from our post-independence experience that federalism cannot work for Nigeria.
Well, you have heard him! Those who have ears; let them hear! And a word, as they say, is enough for the wise!