Within a span of six months — between November last year and April this year — I travelled to Jos twice. First, I was a participant at the Policy Strategy and Leadership Course (PSLC) of the Nigeria Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPPS) at the instance of the Nigerian Guild of Editors.
Apart from the rigorous academic endeavours, I savoured the nature-endowed beautiful Plateau environment. Again, in April, I was in Jos as a speaker at the Senate press corps retreat. I had since been longing to go back to Jos, until last week, when all the indices of the ugly 2001 conflict manifested to rehash the very depressing mood that enveloped the Plateau at the time.
That year, Plateau State was engulfed in a bloody ethnic and religious uprising that left over 1000 dead and was still mildly smouldering on the periphery of the state until the latest orgy of violence. Like it did in such cases in the past, truth has already taken flight; it is always the first casualty. Partisan ethnic and religious jingoists concoct narratives that always come into the mix, in the face of government’s inability to provide statistics, prosecute offenders and bring perpetrators to book. Thus, 17 years after the State’s major conflict, no single person has been tried till today. So where is the place of government and what are all the laws of the land meant for? If those who rule cannot provide good governance and social services – including the welfare and security of lives and property, which should be uppermost on this minds, shouldn’t we begin to think of outsourcing the country, as they do with management of dying companies, in order to bring them from the brink back to life?
People continue to hide under the kindred affiliation to those in power to cause maximum havoc on others, on grounds that are difficult to justify. The allegations that Fulani herdsmen are emboldened to kill because President Buhari, a Fulani man, is the head of state is situated in this context. Wrongly or rightly, that narrative is gaining currency among Nigerians, especially in view of the government’s seeming lethargic response to these conflicts.
Criminal gangs among the civil populace, mischief-makers and evil doors are present in every society and are daily plotting evil against the state and groups of people who may be perceived as ‘enemies’. However, a functional criminal justice system also ensures that the planners of evil do not go unpunished, or gets those plans nipped in the bud before they get out of hand. In our own case, the perpetrators are like spirits, they melt away and become more daring when their kinsmen are at the helms.
Talking about ethnic champions growing wings when their ‘brother’ is in charge, this became more manifest from the beginning of civil rule in 1999, starting with the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC). The criminal group which took advantage of the annulment of the June 12 election and hijacked the ensuing anger to cause havoc, became deadlier when Obasanjo, also from the South-West became president in 1999. Although, Obasanjo later waded in and got their leaders arrested, it came too late and was too little; many people, mainly of Northern extraction, had been killed and maimed. The mastermind of the OPC atrocities is today the Are Onakakanfo (the generalissimo and defender) of the Yoruba ethnic group.
The Goodluck Jonathan era was not different. When the Eagle Square October 1, 2011 bomb blast occurred, the then President Jonathan was the first to exonerate and absolve his Niger Delta militants/kinsmen of blame. As a matter of fact, he tried to twist the fact and to blame it on Northerners and later his arch-enemy Niger Delta brother, Henry Okah. Seven years after, the trial is still ongoing, but the truth may never be known. Time it was in Abuja, when the Niger Delta boys practically took over the streets, engaging in all forms of impunity because they felt they had immunity in President Jonathan. I had a first-hand experience of their threats. But was Jonathan an Ijaw leader or president of Nigeria?
Fast-forward to 2017/2018 under President Muhammadu Buhari, there have been the brazen activities of herdsmen, who appear to be in a permanent hostility mode and on a killing spree, and are somehow validating mounting allegations, even from Senate President Bukola Saraki, that the president and his heavily skewed security architecture are not doing enough. I do not accept the allegation of ethnic cleansing against the president and his top security functionaries, but I cannot discountenance their seeming incapacity/disinterest in arresting this slide to anarchy.
So, our society loves, condones, rewards and elevates ethnic champions who must have committed atrocities in the names of those in power. And, those in authority look the other way, so that the criminal justice system is never activated and no one is ever punished for mass murder, which is a crime against humanity. The cycle of violence is therefore sustained because of the inaction and sympathy of those in the corridors of power to their criminal kinsmen.
We cannot blame our lethargy on our criminal justice system; the laws are there but those who control the levers of power cannot seem to muster the will and courage to guarantee fairness and justice to all Nigerians, because no matter their claim, they are provincial in deeds and actions.
Other than the unifying symbol of soccer, arguments on the social media, in the streets and offices follow the same partisan pattern of defending one’s ‘people’ first before any critical or intellectual dissection of issues without bias.
With successive governments and leaders, who are emboldened by their allegiance to primordial associations, it won’t be a bad idea to begin to think of outsourcing the governance of the Nigerian state to people who will govern without prejudice or consideration for ethnic or religious affinity. By outsourcing, I do not mean the recolonisation of Nigeria. It is food for thought, a metaphor for rethinking Nigeria, a country in search of a unifying force, statesmen and patriots.
The import of the glaring failure of our leaders to play the roles of statesmen as against defence of their people is a justification for a new form of conversation to rescue Nigeria. We want leaders whose allegiance is not first to their ethnic group. We need broad-minded and cosmopolitan leaders to change the narrative for the good of all Nigerians.