By Ikem Okuhu
A passage I picked from a book I read recently, is important in laying out the theses of this article. It says that “Nationhood as an aggregation of human society originated as a war strategy. That is why history is usually more emphatic on leaders who led nations to wars or those who ended it and brought peace.” This passage is extremely important for leaders who desire immortality, and I assume that all great men have a lingering remote craving for this. Religiously, it reinforces the assurance of a pride of place in the hereafter and for the worldly, it speaks to the enduring influence long after they had left their mortal bodies.
God didn’t always create nations as we know them today in their organized, simplistic forms with unique identities. Great men; warriors, leaders, social engineers and, if you allow me this luxury, vulnerable settlements needing protection; worked to bring them into existence. Names such as George Washington, of the United States; Qin Shi Huang of China and Romulus and his twin brother, Remus of Rome readily come to mind. In certain dominions and empires in Africa, we had names like; Eze Nri in Igbo land, Oduduwa in Yoruba land, Bayajidda and Othman dan Fodio for the Hausa. Oral history never recorded that these ancient Nigerian nationalities morphed out of massive reproductive explosion. Wars, conquests and fears of war were the secret ingredients behind their emergence.
You can imagine what the course of history would have been, had these great men mentioned above and many others time and space would not accommodate in a literature of this size, not taken strong decisions to either fight for empire expansion, regional domination and treaties of dominion or city-states aggregation. Not sure there would have been the civilization as we have it today. History would have gone on a totally different tangent.
If we look at these men in history, there is a common trait among them all: they all worked for the enlargement of their territories or at least saw to the maintenance of peace with neighbours, and none of them was recorded to have tolerated internecine conflict. They knew that the worst war is the internal war between and among peoples of the same stock. It does not matter if the stock is family, ethnic or ethno-nationalistic.
When we read leaders like Sir Winston Churchill scream during World War II that, “I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire,” we realise the importance of leadership in times of great conflict. You don’t sit in the fortress of government headquarters and speak to your countrymen and women through all sorts of busybody proxies; you offend the sensibilities of the people by so doing.
Mr. President, Nigeria is at war, and you have to be seen to be mobilizing the energy of the entire people towards bringing the buffeting crises to an end. You have left a lot of things too late to be remedied, but one of the things you have been doing which must stop is this penchant to speak to Nigerians through your retinue of aides, assistants and proxies in Aso Rock. Even if you don’t care about how Nigerians feel about your rumbling silence during calamitous national emergencies, make not the situation worse by trying to demonstrated mediated concern through the often offensive voices of your aides. It does not enhance your office; it doesn’t deepen its aura. Instead, it thickens the existing repellant membrane between you most Nigerians. It is even worse for those of us who rooted for you against Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. Some of us lost the love of family and the friendships of kinsmen and associates because we believed in you. You have to begin to talk to us; you have to begin to rewrite that infamous “I belong to nobody” rhetoric of 2015 to ensure that, in the twilight of your administration, that you are a worthy statesman, belonging to all of us.
In doing this Mr. President, the best first-foot forward will be a radical de-Fulanisation of your administration. Across the length and breadth of this beleaguered country, it appears members of this ethnic stock, your ethnic stock, are infusing “Aryan standards” in their relationship with others. Fulaniphobia is a new state of mind, fueled by the ravage armed herders and their cattle unleash on communities. One of the greatest achievements of your administration I have followed is in the field of agriculture. But you see, Fulani herders are driving those you sent to the field away; some, to death! I am a victim, Mr President. I lost 17 hectares of cassava farm and 5,000 heaps of yam in 2019 in Uzo Uwani, Enugu State and I doubt if losing investments in such a way would be my preferred dividend from supporting you to become President, against all odds. When Garba Shehu speaks in favour of roaming cattle and herdsmen, I get the feeling he is telling me, on your behalf that the destruction of my farm was all in the line of legit Fulani business.
I do not want to spend time on the lopsided government appointments that seem to favour people of your ethnic stock. I don’t want to disagree with myself, having in the early days of your administration publicly spoken against the sort of federal character that distributed incompetence and ignored merit across the country. But you see, it is not as if all your kinsmen that have taken most of the government and even military appointments have improved anything. You need to look at this.
I had to take time to check the tribal distribution of the Nigerian population and discovered the Fulani constitute a mere six percent of the population of this country. Six percent! It is not even fair to even think that most of the crises in the southeast, southwest, north-central and increasingly, northwest is blamed on your ethnic stock who constitute such a relatively small fraction of Nigeria’s human numbers.
Mr. President, never before have we witnessed the proliferation of small arms in our history. Bandits and all manner of criminal groups have held the country to ransom, freely and confidently challenging the authority and capacity of our security agencies. In 2016, a report by Oxfam, a confederation of 20 independent charitable organizations focusing on the alleviation of global poverty, pointed to the presence of 2 million small and light arms weaponry in our country. But this scary number, according to former head of state, Abdusalami Abubakar, has increased by more than 300 percent to 6 million in the past five years. The fact that this report says many of these small arms were stolen from the Nigerian armed forces should worry everyone and should make you ask more serious questions of the officers and men of the Nigerian security establishment. Those that were not stolen from the security agencies, the report says, were brought into the country by smugglers, under the noses of eagle-eyed Customs officials, who appear to be preoccupied with hunting down used car and foreign rice imports than policing our land, air and sea borders against illicit arms inflow.
I had to take time to check the tribal distribution of the Nigerian population and discovered the Fulani constitute a mere six percent of the population of this country. Six percent! It is not even fair to even think that most of the crises in the south east, south west, north central and increasingly, north west are blamed on your ethnic stock who constitute such a relatively small fraction of Nigeria’s human numbers.
If we explain the ease with which the Islamic State for West African Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram acquire weapons by blaming it on the outflow from the Libyan conflict, how do we explain the weapons the bandits in the north west, north central, and the secessionist militants in the south east have been using to compromise our internal security? How these weapons find their ways into the country and which gatekeepers enable their entry are important preventive questions that Nigerians expect you to be asking.
Dear President Buhari, our country has become unbearably toxic and we mostly languages of ethnic hate, tribal distrust and crass classism than we do of constructive unity. The blessings that come with diversity have eluded us, forcing many to recoil into the cold comforts offered by centrifugal jingoists. Conversations, social, political and even religious are now loudly read with several hitherto muffled sectional undertones and strangely, these became a lot more highlighted between 2015 and the present.
Who do we tell, if not you, our dear President, that a mid-sized tuber of yam we recently bought for N500 now goes for N1,500 or more? Who do we report the skyrocketing prices of other foodstuffs in a period herders and bandits are driving farmers from creating abundance? If I were you, Mr. President, I will make haste to address these issues. And you have less than two years to get these things done. History will be kind to you if these overwhelming challenges are sorted out under your tenure, and like I keep saying, those of us who stuck out our necks for you back in 2015 expected no less. Shall we still be hopeful?
I am aware of an ongoing jamboree baptized as Public Hearing on Constitution Review. Don’t misunderstand my cynicism; Nigeria has traveled this same road a number of times in the past with no meaningful progress. Your predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, even went as far as convoking a National Conference, whose vain end was predicted from the beginning by people well versed in identifying diversionary public policy. Whatever your intentions in the current process might be, I am not expecting anything groundbreaking between now and 2023; the time is just too short for anything useful to happen and this means that whenever any change eventually occurs, it will be a struggle ascribing the credits to you.
There are a number of other things you should, for the sake of posterity, do with a bit more deliberate speed. Ridding the country of the increasingly emboldened criminals is one; reuniting the country by reassuring its various peoples of their relevance and safety under the green umbrella is another. And yet again, it will be nice for us to hear you raise a war cry, mobilizing Nigerians into the fight to take back their country from criminals.
If you do these, Mr. President, Nigeria will begin to heal for the good of all.
Ikem Okuhu is a journalist, a Public Relations professional, brand strategist and teacher.