Sunday, June 12, 2016

Time To Review Nigeria

Alabi Williams
When some concerned intelligence quarters in the U.S advised that 2015 could be ominous for Nigeria, not many people took the concern to heart. Some even jeered at the peep as another meddlesomeness of the West. There was sufficient time between when the alert was issued way back in 2006 and 2015 for some reasonable measures to be put in place to shame the doomsayers, assuming that was all there was to it. There were also no signs that the matter was handed to local intelligence units to interrogate. In the absence of a concerted official position on the prediction, individual politicians swore to high heavens that Nigeria had come too far to disintegrate. Private citizens, as usual, launched into prayers to ward off the forecast from hell, and to possibly return it to those who sent it.
Year 2015 has come and gone and the house has not fallen, even though we did not do anything special to reinforce its structures. Glory be to God. But how long can the house continue to stand when there are no deliberate efforts to prolong its lifespan, except to hope and pray? But citizens continue to do a lot of other things to hewn at its foundations and the leadership refusing to hearken to calls to retool for enhanced cohesion and greater performance.
Until three weeks ago, the most disturbing news item was that of herdsmen who prowled communities of Benue, Enugu, Oyo, Delta and everywhere, unleashing terror on armless victims and setting their homes ablaze. Skirmishes between herdsmen and farmers had gone on for decades, but such were settled with sticks, and perhaps bows and arrows. Herdsmen used to carry local guns for hunting animals. In those days, herdsmen travel for kilometers in search of grazing lands and they did not seek to drive local farmers away to inherit their lands. If there were skirmishes, they were isolated and were within the capacity of community leaders to manage.
But as if to hasten the U.S prediction on disintegration, even if not within the 2015 timeline, herdsmen of recent years leave no one in doubt about their notion of a country. They want to operate like doctors with borders, roaming without inhibitions of law and space, trampling on territories and annexing vast swathes, even ancestral lands. They went to Plateau and left behind desolation and deaths. Then they went with temerity to Kaduna, south of the state and inflicted collateral damage on the local population. Then they went to Nasarawa, where prevailing internecine suspicions among local tribes aided their exploits. Then they crossed into Benue, Kogi, Ondo, and Oyo and were unhindered, even though they made front pages when they visited chief Olu Falae. It was in Enugu, and of recent Ekiti that their accomplishments received more than the usual feeble condemnations of the past.

In Enugu, they caused the state governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to shed some tears for the lives lost and property destroyed in Ukpabi and Nimbo communities in Uzo-uwani local government area, and for his own helplessness. He is the chief security officer of his state, but he could not defend his people. But he was able to rally the support of eminent voices, including that of Ohaneze and other Southeast governors to put the issue in the front burner. But in Ekiti, after herdsmen attacked Oke Ako community in Ikole local government area, the state governor Ayodele Fayose did not shed tears.
He visited the community and told the locals to defend themselves. The degree of mutually assured risk inherent in Fayose’s solution to dealing with the herdsmen menace is likely what has brought the temporary halt we have witnessed of recent. When there is no government and the people are told to take charge of their safety and livelihoods, there is no knowing how far they will go. Those Fulani, who have lived in Ekiti for years, and apparently in relative harmony with their hosts, know the meaning of this and quickly dissociated from the marauders. They pledged to live in peace, which must have signaled to the restless and wandering troublemakers to keep away.
For too long, the matter of herdsmen invading communities and causing havoc had lingered without the Federal Government intervening convincingly. And that did not begin with the present government. All the ‘wars’ that had been fought in the Plateau were carried out since the time of president Obasanjo. Under Jonathan, three local governments in Plateau – Ryom, Barkin Ladi and Jos South- had to be put under emergency rule because the level of assault was beyond conventional management. Even at that, government has been unable to decisively contain the trouble. And that is the reason it has grown from the North to the Middle Belt, and now to the South.
 It is the same way government and the politicians trifled with Boko Haram until it became a major catastrophe. The sect was thought to be the spiritual wing of the Borno government during the regime of Ali Modu Sheriff. By the time the Federal Government made up its mind to deal with it, it had grown malignant. So much so that some persons who had romanticized the idea of full blown Sharia in the northern states did not envision the monstrosity that was to unfold. Now we are battling and spending hard earned resources to deal with it.
It is the same state of affairs in the South, where we now have at least three militant groups claiming territorial space in the Niger Delta. We have encountered the activities of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA). They have consistently bombed oil infrastructure for about one month now. Their aim, they say is to degrade the oil industry and make it impossible for Nigeria to depend on crude found in the region. By yesterday, they said they want to take ownership of oil operations from government and sell directly to foreign buyers, just the way ISIS has taken over oil business in parts of Libya, Iraq and Syria.
The situation looks grim, but not strange. We have had the Niger Delta situation for decades and governments since 1967 have not dealt with it the way they should. For those who still claim they don’t know what the avengers are asking for, let them know it is not different from what the majority of Niger Deltans have asked for over the years. They want to control resources located in their God-given space, or at least, have more than the 13 per cent, which the military regime of late Sani Abacha condescendingly offered. They have agitated for more of it since the days of Isaac Adaka Boroh, Ken Saro Wiwa and others.
The closest they got, to having the listening ears of Nigeria in a debate was in 2005, when Obasanjo put together the Confab to discuss the possibility of restructuring Nigeria. The idea of 25 percent derivation was canvassed, but the majority tribes frustrated it. The Confab dispersed without achieving anything.
Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua, peace-loving man, came up with the idea of amnesty for militants of the Niger Delta after he became president in 2007. It worked partially, by addressing issues of employment for the boys. Many were engaged and trained in skills that are on demand in oil industries. But amnesty did not address the larger issues of environmental degradation and resource control. So, it only suppressed the agitation to enable government harvest more crude oil for sale.
What we are seeing today are direct responses of aggrieved nationalities to the attitude of today’s government in conceptualizing issues of restructuring the polity. On many occasions, President Buhari has exhibited lack of interest in debates, just like it was under military regimes. He would rather deploy arms to deal with certain issues, while he feigns disinterest in others. The 2014 Confab, convoked under president Jonathan remains the closest to dealing with festering issues of the federation. The debate was robust and the recommendations provide a soft-landing for all, without the jarring extremes of militancy. But some are still ensconced in the old order, conditioned to reason that calls for restructuring would deny them access to life.
In addition to NDA, there is the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force, which has threatened to deploy missiles. There is also the conciliatory, but equally deadly Bakassi Boys. Not to forget MASSOB and IPOB. Therefore, this is the best time to review Nigeria.

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