BY SOLA EBISENI
NIGERIA is an article for negotiations. Yes, on the counter and up for hard haggling. Events during the week continue to attest to the fact that those who delude themselves that Nigeria has a unity that is non-negotiable are minority elite living in fool’s paradise.
The harsh reality is that Nigeria has already placed itself on the counter, that object we all are used to which is aptly described by the Oxford dictionary as “a long flat-topped fitment across which business is conducted in a shop or bank”.
The business is Nigeria the conduct of which is both usual and unusual. It is usually because it is not strange as Nigeria is a product of negotiations but also unusual because the agreed resolutions which formed the basis of our existence have been altered and the beneficiaries of the alterations are daggers drawn on its defence while those who perceive betrayals of the covenant would rather have the agreement revisited.
This past week played host to several events, actions and comments of dramatis personae of the Nigerian project that put the lie to the claim that the terms of the relationship between the component nationalities of Nigeria are not negotiable.
Babagana Kingibe would appear to have stirred the northern hornet’s nest even in his most simplified allegorical comparison of the Nigerian union to matrimony which membership, even as a till-death-do us-part relationship is still rendered asunder if not consistently discussed. It is shocking that most reactors to Kingibe did not really appreciate that those comments of his were neither here nor there. There was nothing in it worth celebrating by either side.
Babagana was quoted by the media to have said “I was born in Nigeria. I was groomed in Nigeria. I believe in Nigeria. People of my generation believe in Nigeria. We have no doubt about the fact that we have no option, but Nigeria. However, I think that a few of my colleagues believe that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable. Of course, it is negotiable.
Even the unity of a family is negotiable. Even the constitution of husband and wife is negotiable adding that the moment either party feels this union is no longer bearable, that he or she will rather go his or her way, you help them to sit down, consider their condition so that they make the decision which suits them best. It is not enough to say I do not fare well where I am. So, I am going.”
Even in his legendary dilatory approach to national issues which is often attributed to his diplomatic background, the clear message of the Kanuri born politician was that indeed the unity of Nigeria and negotiations are not mutually exclusive but its corporate existence is immutable. It is therefore amusing that such a minimum harmless position would elicit sharp responses and denouncement. There is this unwholesome narrative from a section of northern Nigeria that seems to suggest the capacity to determine Nigeria and the fate of every other group therein. I have diligently searched and can’t find exceptions in spite of pretensions to progressivism and some previous momentary behavioural sparks.
They indulge in grandeur allusions to the blanket position of the north on national issues. Those of them who occupy sensitive federal positions or speak for the federal government could not resist the urge of speaking or acting in a way that suggests that Nigeria should be made in their regional image. Such was the statement credited of the Arewa Consultative Forum that “no northern group gave Babagana the mandate to go and negotiate Nigeria unity” as if Kingibe claimed to be speaking for the
It was in the same version Ghali Naaba, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, spoke when he said “within the North today, the idea of many people that the presidency must shift to another region is not a welcome idea because the feeling of many people is that the years of this president is a waste.
They’ve not gained anything from it”, with the rider “So, why should anybody even talk to them about zoning? When they believe they have the numerical strength to elect another person”.
Though he alluded to a supposed idea of many people in the North, the rider that the North has the numerical strength to decide the fate of Nigeria at any time defines Naaba’s opinion on Nigeria. At a conference on the 2023 elections to garner support for a president of southern origin, held at Sheraton Abuja, in May this year, Naaba had called for quality presidential candidates anywhere they could be found, denouncing zoning in effect.
Of course, the protest from the audience, dominated by southern and Middle Belt leaders, gave Naaba reasons to leave the conference. Of course, the National President of the Middle-Belt Forum, Dr Pogu Bitrus and Hon Jonathan Asake of the Southern Kaduna People’s Union, SOKAPU, were quick not only to deny a purported one North view on the nationality question and expressed solidarity for a president of southern Nigeria origin in 2023.
When the Nigerian State wickedly attacked Sunday Igboho’s residence at Ibadan in the wee hours of July 1, this year, my dear aburo, Wale Okunniyi, Secretary of the National Consultative Front, justifiably railed on the Federal Government, describing the horrendous incident as a “midnight gun attack of Sunday Igboho’s residence and dastardly murder of his family members as nothing but reckless abuse of power and violation of Sunday Igboho’s privacy and fundamental human rights, which should be condemned by all well-meaning Nigerians and citizens of conscience”. He assured the nation that this abuse of state power shall be taken up by NCFront’s National Secretariat before the International Court of Justice, ICJ, in due course”.
Pronto, Ghali Naaba, Leader of the NCFront, denied the statement of the Secretary as being personal to him adding that majority of the members of the steering committee of the inchoate third force organisation, supported the invasion. He spat at Igboho, with all vehemence, declaring “we’re not supporting them, we’re supporting the measures taken by the Federal Government.
We’re not going to support anything that’s detrimental to the state. We’re not going to hide behind the issue of human rights to defend criminals, people whose actions have threatened law and order in the country”.
The whole world knows that the only crime of Igboho for which his life is being sought by the State is his insistence that the Federal Government called terrorists and murderous herdsmen to order.
All that have condemned Igboho have curiously been quiet on the heinous actions of those who provoked Igboho’s peaceful campaigns. The courts have vindicated Wale Okunniyi condemning the acts of government with N20 billion aggravated damages.
Just how low could Naaba descend when he claimed that the reason his own northerners would not support a president from the South was that they considered Buhari’s government a waste which has not benefited them, especially when in his view, they have the monopoly of determining who rules because of their superior voting strength. In other words, until Ghali’s northerners consider themselves satisfied and in a government which must necessarily be headed by a northerner, power must remain with them ad infinitum.
Of course, empirical evidence abounds in Nigeria validating the thesis of Pastor Tunde Bakare that the tribal or regional origin of the President is not directly proportional to the benefits of his people. Yet, such sentiments forget the undeniable truth that humans are political animals who merely surrender their individual powers to rule themselves to the state. A state in which a chunk of the people believes they can not legitimately aspire to rule is not a healthy political organisation. It is susceptible to perennial crises and imminent disintegration.
In the bid to sustain unjustifiable access to power, no effort is spared to compromise the same democratic processes to which they pander as the determinants. The constitution must not be tinkered with in the bid to perpetuate the injustice therein. For instance, in several fora, including severally on this page, we have argued that the democratic process is perverted ab initio by the arbitrary awards of local government which, as innocuous as it appears, is the basis of every political decision.
It determines the number of delegates to party congresses and conventions. In a country where it is only through political parties that one may contest elections, areas with a lesser number of local governments are short-changed from the beginning.
To sustain bogus demographics, Nigeria is the only country unmindful of its borders deliberately thrown open to Mauritanians, Chadians and Malians. Herders of no nation are welcome to Nigeria so much that a tribe of 10 million people now boasts around claiming 40 million; only in Nigeria will the national parliament be persuaded to allow minimal checks of electoral malpractices through electronic transfers; the idea of electronic voting still sounds like something to look up to by those privileged to attain heaven; for the sake of Nigeria, peaceful campaigns for self-determination is categorised terrorism while perpetrators of mass murder are dressed in the robe of banditry.
In all of these, talking is a crime; Nigeria is said to be neither negotiable nor its perverted structure reviewable. This twenty years head start by falsehood takes only one day to be caught up by the truth. Nigeria, we hail thee.
Ebiseni is Secretary General, Afenifere.