A nation on tenterhooks

July 30, 2019
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r – at least, in this part of the world. There seems to be trouble brewing in Nigeria right now and the response so far has been inadequate, to say the least.

Nigeria is a typical example of a country in distress. The citizens have witnessed religious zealots metamorphosed into fierce insurgents and career terrorists. We have seen how communal clashes can graduate into realms just short of xenophobia, and we have witnessed local and imported criminals hold communities to ransom. The fabric of the nation appears to be at risk of coming apart due to a failure to de-escalate ongoing threats or prevent the growth of new ones.

When distrust and intolerance are at a record high and criminals are being classified by ethnicity, it is not surprising that the country has become a ripe ground for opportunists with sinister agendas. Critical steps need to be taken now before the situation gets out of control. At the moment, the security situation in the Southwest mirrors, very well, the danger to nationhood that the entire country faces.

The Southwest is gripped by an influx of undesirables thought to have come from the ranks of the bandits terrorising the Northwest and alleged bad elements posing as cattle-herdsmen. Although these undesirable persons may be additions to criminals already in operation in the region, the reality or possibility of non-locals tearing through the region has roused so much anger in the people and their leaders. As has become apparent, the anger is not so much at the criminality, but at the assumed or actual ethnicity of the said criminals. This is quite instructive.

The seemingly misdirected anger in the Southwest is replicated across Nigeria. It is further influenced by the saturation of social media, and even traditional media platforms, with theories of ethnic domination and grand agendas of ethnic subjugation. If the facts do not appear to support the theories, it would have been a smaller problem. But everyday, new revelations and occurrences feed the monstrous rumours and stoke the fire of ethnic bias among Nigerians.

Even through the lies and half-truths, the manipulations and misinformation that have taken over media platforms, one thing is certain – there is danger. The precise nature of the danger may not be clear, but the government and people of Nigeria need to sit up to their responsibilities. The rising insecurity has brought back familiar arguments about the structure of the country and how power should be shared. Even at that, some are of the opinion that restructuring may not be enough to stem the possible erosion of our national life.

Besides the concern over the situation in the Southwest, a clash of interests is also playing out on the national stage between ethnic groups. The recognised leadership of major ethnic groupings and regions in Nigeria are trying to stand up to their responsibilities as guardians of their people. In so doing, fingers are being pointed, consciously or unconsciously, in many directions. We may be heading back to dark times in the nations history; dark times in the past when Igbos, Yorubas, Hausas, Fulanis and others were asked to return to their ancestral homes because of rising or planned violence against them in “foreign” parts of the country.

The idea of restricted access within the country, which is what we may be coming to, is alien to federalism and the concept of nationhood. It is also adverse to basic decency within a country. Insecurity is creating division and clannish predisposition in the regions of the country.  For instance, Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba group, concluded a security summit for the Southwest region in June. The Southeast, Niger Delta, Arewa Consultative Forum and the middle-belt have also been in regional talks about the issue of security. Security is a national concern, and when regions are forced to find regional solutions to a common problem, it does not encourage nation-building.

One can hardly fault the Southwest leaders, or any others, for taking these steps, having, themselves, been victims of attacks or lost family to the marauding criminals that are currently choking Nigerians. Rotimi Akeredolu, Governor of Ondo State, claimed to have had his convoy attacked and may have been kidnapped or worse, but for his security detail. Olufunke Olakunri, daughter of Pa Reuben Fasoranti, leader of Afenifere, was a very recent victim of the bad state of security in the Southwest. It cannot hit closer to home than that for both of them. To even think that the perpetrators are non-locals must be maddening.

Just the other day, Kayode Ajulo, another figure from the Southwest took to social media to reveal the presence of Fulani vigilantes in operation deep within Ondo State. The state government neither knew of their operation nor did notable people in the communities where they operate, but the police was said to have been aware and possibly endorsed it. Although it could be a noble gesture based on the same concept of nationhood and ethnic co-habitation that this column wishes to promote, the lack of procedure and failure to carry along local authorities and public figures is what makes it dangerous. It is no wonder that the regions are clamming up. But come to think of it: how can those accused of fomenting trouble in the Southwest turn around to say they are providing security?

The more national issues are left to regional authorities to address, the weaker the union of ethnicities that we call Nigeria. Even the much sought after state/community policing structure, will be dependent on coordination and partnership on a national level for it to be effective. But the signals one is getting from regional responses so far is that it is every man for himself or to thy tent oh Israel.  Many traditional rulers in the country have voiced concerns to the government. But they now go, on behalf of their regions, and not as a block of national elders and leaders. This was not always the case.

Perhaps, it was concern over the damage to our nationhood that the state of insecurity is causing that prompted former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, to call a peace summit to be hosted in Minna, in his home state of Niger. The summit would have proceeded as planned on Monday, but some regional leaders pulled out at the last minute. The bone of contention was the inclusion of representatives of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria as part of the stakeholders.

Many in the south of Nigeria have connected the violence by alleged herdsmen to Miyetti Allah. That fact, including the classification of the group as a mere trade group by southern leaders and the middle-belt forum, was enough to raise dissatisfaction with the summit.  While there is a point to that stance by the regional bodies, there may be a missed opportunity to explore, as widely as possible, solutions to the problem of insecurity, even with accused perpetrators or alleged financiers of the perpetrators.

The present subject of insecurity and its connection with ethnicity is a poisoned chalice. Beginning dialogue on the subject will unearth deeper national and ethnic issues, while ignoring the subject will most assuredly lead to doom. It is left for President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to encourage regional leaders to put on the cap of national leaders and work together towards a national, rather, than regional solution. It is the only way out of the quagmire of insecurity.

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