“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere when human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men or women are persecuted because of their race, ethnicity, religion or political views; that place must – at that moment become the center of the universe.” – Elie Wiesel.
In this Part 2 of our article, and in the light of the recent nationwide #EndSARS Protests of Nigerian youths against police brutality and bad government in the country, we wish to continue with our argument, which we started in Part 1. That is, that the problem with Nigeria has gone beyond political clamouring for “Restructuring” and “Rotational-Presidency” (Igbo-Presidency). In Part 1, our attention was on “Restructuring.” However, in this Part 2, we shall focus our attention on the question of “Igbo-Presidency” in Nigeria, as we know it.
In this first segment of Part 2, we shall begin with a brief background of why we say that the problem with Nigeria has gone beyond the clamour for “Igbo-Presidency” and “Restructuring.” We shall, however, continue with the argument in Part 3, to be published later as a separate article.
This introductory background is necessary, because events in the last few weeks alone, the #EndSARS Protests of Nigerian youths, for instance, have confirmed our concerns expressed in the first part of the article. They have also shown that further delay in taking concrete actions towards addressing the basic problem with Nigeria, may have enormous consequences, nobody would have wished for the country. As a Hausa proverb says, “Familiarity with the chicken will not save it from the day it will be slaughtered!” The English will put slightly, thus: “A stitch in time saves nine!”
Malcom X once said, “The worst thing you can do is to tell a Blackman the Truth. If he knows the truth, he will kill you.” In the words of Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), “It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.” However, conventional wisdom tells us that we must always strive to be right, no matter the cost. That is, if we really want to be on the side of Truth and Wisdom.
On the question of Truth, Jesus of Nazareth challenges us thus: “Know the Truth and the Truth will set you free” (John 8:42). Standing before Pontius Pilate on the eve of his Passion and Crucifixion on the Cross, in his answer to Pilate’s question, “What is Truth?” Jesus said:
“I was born for this, I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the Truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” – (John 18:37-38).
Events in the last few weeks in Nigeria must have convinced whoever cares to know, that it is no longer business as usual! Those things the umpires of the country since independence in 1960, and especially today’s ruling Oligarchy and political class, are afraid of confronting – the truth about the faulty foundation of Nigerian state, the youths of today are telling us, “Enough is enough!” Because the delay all these years in addressing this fundamental problem with Nigeria, is the major reason for the mess the country has been witnessing ever since, that led to the #EndSARS protest itself.
It is not that the older generations do not know about this basic problem with Nigeria, but that, for selfish ends, lust for power, quest for political posts, and material acquisitions, they have chosen the path of lies, denials, and deceit, instead of path of truth and common sense. Even as we write, our politicians and elites have continued with the same old mistake and personal interest, over and above the common good. They forgot that we are living in an era of information technology and the internet. They forgot that youths of today have more sense of justice and desire for liberty than the older generation. That without justice, equity and freedom for all citizens, irrespective of differences in ethnicity, religion or political views, there will be no peace in the country.
Furthermore, the youths of today have at their palm – with their cellphones and computers, the whole lot of information about the world and the social structure governing the society in which they live. Nobody can take away from our youths of today this new culture of information technology. Even the continued threats of intimidation coming from the present Nigerian government to regulate social media with obnoxious bills, won’t change anything. Information technology is a global phenomenon. It transcends the frontiers and local control of any country, not to talk of a Third World country government like Nigeria.
Thus, the kind of information and means of accessing it, which our youths have today, were not available to the older generation. Knowledge, the English philosopher Francis Bacon tells us, “is power.” With the kind of information and knowledge our youths have today about the social structures upon which their society is built, gone are the days when those in corridors of power would take them for granted. As the saying goes, “No amount of army will stop an idea whose time has come.”
The Problem with Nigeria
The key political leaders of Nigeria at independence from the British in 1960, all recognized and voiced out the problem with Nigeria. However, instead of them tackling it then from the roots, they went ahead with the colonial master’s plan without considering the long-term implications of their actions for generations to come. Nigeria has never known peace or political stability ever since. In the bid to suppress the truth and maintain the lies, the ruling Oligarchy and political class, have continued to turn blind eye, to this theatre of blood, Nigeria has become. Since independence, till date, Nigerian land has been bleeding with the blood of the innocent, because of our inability to summon the courage and audacity, and correct the faulty foundation of the Nigerian state.
Innocent and ordinary Nigerian citizens are now victims of the Nigerian state itself. This the result of that costly negligence of Nigerian independence negotiators with Britain in 1960, their failure to address the question of a true nationhood of the Nigerian state with the colonial masters at independence in 1960.
Benjamin Natanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister, was once quoted as saying, “You can only live in peace with people who want to live in peace with you.” The leaders of Nigeria at independence knew this truth of nationhood. Unfortunately, they ignored it. Today we are all victims. It suffices to cite the historical statements of the following Nigerian leaders at independence to buttress our points:
In 1948, Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the man that later became the first Prime minster of Nigeria at independence, had in 1948, said, in his “The Lie Called Nigeria”:
“Since 1914 the British Government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any signs of willingness to unite – Nigerian unity is only a British invention.” – (Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, 1948).
In 1947, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Premier of Western region of Nigeria at independence, said a similar thing, as follows:
“Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no “Nigerians” in the sense as there are English, “Welsh” or “France.” The word “Nigeria” is a mere distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria and those who do not.” – (Chief Obafemi Awolowo, 1947).
In 1964, 4 years after independence from Britain, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first ceremonial President of Nigeria at Independence, had this to say:
“It is better for us and many admirers abroad that we should disintegrate in peace and not in pieces. Should the politicians fail to heed the warning, then I will venture the prediction that the experience of the Democratic Republic of Congo will be a child’s play if it ever comes to our turn to play such a tragic role.” – (Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, 1964).
Of course, in a matter of two years after Azikiwe made his prediction, the Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970), ensured. The war claimed an estimated lives of 3.5 million Biafrans, mostly Igbos. The rest is now history. Today, 53 years after the war, the issues that led to the war in the first place, are yet to be resolved. This is why bloodbath and its’ attendant vices have become like a second nature of the Nigerian state, and is not about to go away until Nigeria is radically renegotiated.
Furthermore, at independence in 1960, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bellow, the charismatic political leader of Northern Nigeria at independence, who later became the first Republic Premier of Northern Nigeria, and doubled as the Sultan of Sokoto Caliphate, granted an interview to a foreign journalist on the state of the newly independent Nigerian nation. In his usual characteristic way, this is what he said:
“The new nation called Nigeria should be an estate of our great grandfather Uthman Dan Fodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power. We use the minorities in the North as willing tools and the South as a conquered territory and never allow them to rule over us, and never allow them to have control over their future.” – (Ahmadu Bellow – in the “Parrot” Newspaper of 12 October 1960).
This is it! It is exactly, the situation today. The driving force of the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. For anyone to think that restructuring or rotational presidency (Igbo-Presidency) will change this “conquista”, Jihadist’s mind-set of the Northern Caliphate politicians, is deceiving himself.
Otherwise, how can one explain the continuation of the same mind-set in the words and actions of the current President, Lt. Major General Muhammadu Buhari, sixty-years after Nigeria’s independence from Britain? A glance at some of his campaign statements since he joined partisan politics in the early 2000 till date, will suffice here:
- “Muslims should only vote those who will promote Islam. We are more than the Christians if you add our Muslim brothers in the south.” – Muhammadu Buhari.
- “I will continue to show openly and inside me, the total commitments to the Sharia movement all over Nigeria.” – Muhammadu Buhari.
- “Why should Christians be concerned when Muslims cut off their limbs? After all, the limbs cut off are Muslim ones.” – Muhammadu Buhari.
- “I can die for the cause of Islam if necessary. We are prepared to fight another civil war.” – Muhammadu Buhari (Freedom House Radio Interview, 2000).
- “The declaration of state of emergency [by President Goodluck Jonathan administration] to fight Boko Haram in 3 Northern States is a grave injustice against the North.” – Muhammadu Buhari (Liberty Radio, June 2, 2013).
- “We cannot be blackmailed into killing the Sharia idea. Sharia must be spread all over Nigeria.” – Muhammadu Buhari (Freedom House Radio Interview, 2000).
- “Boko Haram members should be pampered and given V.I.P treatment not killed. It is injustice to kill them.” – Muhammadu Buhari (Liberty Radio, June 2, 2013).
- “No, no, no, Abacha did not steal Nigeria’s money.” – Muhammadu Buhari (Freedom House Radio Interview, 2000).
- “I hope you are acquainted with the election results. … The constituencies that gave me 97% cannot be treated on some issues, with all honesty, in the same way with constituencies that gave me just 5% of their votes. I think this is political justice.” – President Buhari (first international Press Conference/interview on running an inclusive government after his election as President of Nigeria in 2015, during a visit to USA).
This implies that from the first day of his regime, President Buhari drew a line of demarcation and gave reasons why his administration is duty-bound to discriminate and short-change a particular section of the country in the scheme of things. He did not hide his feelings and agenda of running a lopsided and Sharia driven government that would continue to discriminate between those regions and people of Nigeria that gave him 97% of their votes and those that give him 5% only at elections. Since he came to power in 2015, his administration has just be doing that.
However, in fairness to him, Buhari is only an extension of the political agenda of Alhaji Ahmadu Bellow, father of “modern” day Northern Nigerian politics, and the man who single-handedly (of course, with the hold of the British), succeeded in putting Northern Fulani Caliphate at the domineering center of Nigerian politics. In an interview with foreign journalist in 1964, Ahmadu Bellow, in his usual political sagacity, has this to say on the question of why Igbo resentment and general hatred in the North where he is the Premier, should remain so:
“Well, the Igbos are more or less the type of people whose desire is to dominate everybody… In the past, our people (North) were not alive to their responsibilities, because you can see it from our Northernization policy. But since 1952, when I came here (as Premier and reside in Kaduna), there were only few Northerners in the civil service here. So, I have to Northernize the civil service now. All key posts are held by Northerners.”
Furthermore, when asked if that policy of discrimination against Ndigbo and other Nigerians residing in the North is a temporal or permanent arrangement, the premier said, “In actual fact, what it means is a Northerner first. If we can’t get a Northerner, then we can get an expatriate like you. If we can’t get one, then we can employ another Nigerian, but on contract too. … This is going to be a permanent policy as far as I can see.” – (Alhaji Ahmadu Bellow, Premier Northern Nigeria, 1964).
Today, the fact speaks for itself – “Res ipsa loquitur.” No amount of restructuring or rotational presidency will ever change this type of mind-set of Alhaji Ahmadu Bellow in Northern Nigeria today and in the nearest future. If 60-years of independence and 116 years of amalgamation of Southern and Northern Protectorates have not been able to change it, what else can? In other words, unless other ethnic-nationalities in the country decide today, collectively, that enough is enough, nothing is going to change.
At least, this is one thing, the #EndSARS protest has taught us all. That we cannot continue to pretend as if everything is well with the Nigerian state, which everyone knows was a forced marriage, aimed to perpetuate British interests in the country, as well as that of their Northern Fulani Muslim Caliphate collaborators, serving as their local agents for the neo-colonial project.
As one author said, the #EndSARS Protests have taught us in a more eloquent way, that it is the British neo-colonial interest in Nigeria, and “the Islamic agenda being pursued by the North and Fulani herdsmen Terrorism, and not the agitation for Biafra that put the death nail on Nigeria.”
Cornelius Tacitus once said, “The lust for power, for dominating others, inflames the heart more than any other passion.” The North will never give up their lust for power, for dominating other ethnic groups in the country, until the people themselves, say, “we can’t take it any longer.” Lets’ call a spade a spade, organize referendum for self-determination and begin to take our destiny by our own hands. This is the challenge today!
Because, we cannot evade any longer the fundamental issue of renegotiating Nigerian State, if we really want to tell ourselves the naked truth and prevent the looming danger. The reality of the problem with Nigerian State is today scaring us in the face more than ever! The Nigerian reality, if truth be told, has passed the stage of political clamour for “Restructuring” and “”Rotational-Presidency.” The future of the Nigerian state can only be best determined through referendum for self-determination of the confederating units. Anything less than this will be playing to the gallery, waiting for the worst to happen.
The Question of “Igbo-Presidency”
Note, by focusing our attention in this article on “Igbo-Presidency”, its implications for the Igbo and future of Nigeria, our aim is not to whip-up ethnic-sentiments or anything of that nature. But rather, to remind ourselves, once more, of the dangers ahead should we continue to deceive ourselves and pretend as if “Igbo-Presidency” or “Restructuring” will resolve the problem with Nigeria. The Nigerian problem needs a deeper and honest diagnosis than the clamour for “Restructuring” and “Igbo-Presidency.”
Restructuring or Igbo-Presidency will not bring to an end the reign of bloodbaths, violence, terrorism or political instability in the country. It will not bring about either peace, equity or fair-play. It will not bring about justice and reconciliation in the country. Rather it will embolden all those vices responsible for the mess in the country today. Unless as a nation state, we return to the drawing-board – Nigeria’s founding story and tackle the problem once and for all, from the roots, justice, peace, unity and stability will continue to elude the British contraption, called Nigeria!
There is no enabling environment for Igbo-Presidency in the Nigerian state, as we know it. As experience has shown, there wouldn’t be possibility for it in the future either, even if the country is restructured into regionalism. At independence in 1960, Nigeria started with regionalism, which it inherited from the British colonial masters. Thereafter, came the restructuring that gave birth to the defunct Mid-Western region. But at the end, what happened? All failed and ended up in bloodshed. E.g., Biafran pogroms, war, violence, continued conflicts, ethnic-cleanings, radical Muslim terrorism, and the present political instability in the country.
The problem with Nigeria is the irreconcilable nature of convergence of divergent value systems of various hostile ethnic-nationalities, merged together by British through colonial fiat as one nation state! This basically, is the cause of the problem with Nigeria. It is the cause of Nigeria’s underdevelopment, backwardness, poverty, corruption, violence, terrorism, and enthronement of mediocrity, instead of excellence and merit in political and economic leadership echelon of the country. The problem with Nigeria, therefore, is the non-convergence of diverse value systems of different mutual-hostile ethnic-nations merged together by British in 1914 to form a façade nation state they named Nigeria.
No amount of restructuring or rotational-presidency will ever resolve this basic problem with Nigeria. The only viable solution therefore, is plebiscite or rather referendum for self-determination. Let the people decide through referendum which type of country and political system they want for themselves as a distinct ethnic-nationality. Only then will peace and stability begin to reign among them as neighbours and not enemies.
Nigeria has to discover that it is an abnormal nation state. It has to understand that a heterogeneous nation state as it is, should not see itself as if it is a feudal state, or even a mere conglomeration of individuals. But rather, is made of a variety of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious groups with divergent value systems, worldview and philosophy of life. Each group has right to seek a way to protect its identity and deserves recognition and respect.
In other words, there is nothing sacrosanct about Nigeria’s unity. It is deceit of the devil to say that Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable. Nigeria is not a creation of God. As a nation state it is created by man, the British with colonial fiat and agenda which are not for the interests of the indigenous populations, but of the colonial masters and their local agents, spinoffs. The creation of Nigeria as nation state was a colonial plot to keep Nigeria and its people as long as possible under British tutelage, and as a personal property of Northern Fulani Muslim Caliphate. Experts on political science have told us time without number, and rightly so, that Nigeria lacks at least three basic elements necessary for nationhood: 1) a national language (that is indigenous to the people), 2) a predominant religion, and 3) a long history of organized cohabitation among its various people with shared value systems and philosophy of life.
This means that the real situation in Nigeria is not as result of absence of restructured political system or rotational-presidency, but rather a struggle by the oppressed indigenous ethnic-nations for second independence from domineering ethnic-group. Government in Nigeria is in essence winner-take-all. As a game of numbers, Nigerian democracy favours only the domineering ethnic-group/groups and those in corridors of power. This is why the issue of nationhood in Nigeria must be resolved before things begin to get offhand. A Stitch in Time Saves Nine!
Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic Priest. He lives in Rome where he is a Professor of missiology (mission theology) in a Pontifical University. He runs a column on The Trent. He can be reached by email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.