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Renegotiating Nigeria

Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

There is trouble in the land. People are getting all worked up. There is the growing argument for the renegotiation of the terms of engagement amongst the people of Nigeria. The catch though is that some of the so-called progressives who used to champion the cause of restructuring are now curiously quiet. It makes one remember the title of Eric Remarque’s novel “All Quiet on the Western Front”. Be that as it may, there is the need to urgently address the fault-lines of the old country. Nigerians need o talk on how to co-exist.

A country risks extinction when it fails to re-invent itself. Josip Broz Tito loomed large over the old Yugoslavia of unblessed memory, but after his death the country could not re-invent itself and thus fell to pieces. Soviet Union is no more because the diverse nationalities could not talk on a common front. The national question is on the front burner of discourse all over the world.

Minorities are insisting on the right to self-determination. Ethnic groups are highlighting their differences which they maintain ought to be given due recognition. The ferment cuts across races and regions of the world. Every interest group wants to be represented in the affairs of the nation. When the conference table cannot provide an answer, violence supervenes. The world has in fact lost count of the number of souls lost in the many battlefields that ordinary conferences would have prevented. The Nigeria-Biafra war would not have been fought if the Aburi conference had succeeded in every material particular. Many moons after that horrendous war, the issues that elicited the war in the first place remain unsolved. The Boko Haram menace can be situated within this ambit. The herdsmen menace is yet another dimension. The recurring call for Biafra is seen in the resurgent IPOB protests. There is the clear and present danger of the Niger Delta Avengers.

The evolution of multi-ethnic nations takes studied negotiation. One angry Nigerian, Sixtus Chibueze Ezennaya, poses this loaded question: “One Nigeria! One Nigeria! One Nigeria! When was it agreed upon?”

The European colonial powers that set up shop in Berlin in 1884-85 to allocate the area now known as Nigeria to colonial Britain acted in spite of the nationality groups then inhabiting the land. Sir Frederick Lugard amalgamated the Northern and Southern Protectorates so that the South will serve as “the lady of means”, in the words of Lord Harcourt, to feed the arid North. The mutual benefit of the constituent parts was not put into consideration. Some 16 years earlier, Lugard’s girlfriend, Flora Shaw, had suggested a name for the emergent country: Nigeria, a word formed from the River Niger, not minding that River Niger itself was named after the accursed racist word “Nigger”.

Thus from the very beginning Nigerian history is replete with obfuscating contradictions. Some radical military majors thought they could change history by staging a coup in January 1966. The coup was portrayed by some foreign agents to mean an Igbo coup aimed at the ethnic group dominating the entire country. Northern military officers fomented a revenge coup in July of the selfsame 1966. After taking over power, Yakubu Gowon had prepared a speech to announce the dissolution of the Nigerian Federation on August 1, 1966 and the secession (araba) of the North until he was prevailed upon to change his mind by the British High Commissioner in Lagos, Sir Francis Cumming-Bruce. The pogrom unleashed on the Igbo people in the North put a heavy question mark on the existence of Nigeria. The Aburi conference in Ghana had to be convened as a last ditch effort to save the country from war. The agreements at Aburi became subverted and the Nigeria-Biafra war ensued.

After the war, military and Northern domination of power came to a head with the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by Chief Moshood Abiola. General Sani Abacha locked up Abiola, and the country teetered on the precipice until somehow Abiola and Abacha died after one another. It took the arranged re-emergence of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo for the Northern military to anoint a civilian fit enough to be trusted with power. Nigeria’s misadventures with Obasanjo’s Third Term Project, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s death-knell presidency and Goodluck Jonathan’s besieged presidency do not need further elaborations here. From Boko Haram to Biafra, Niger Delta, herdsmen, senseless killings on Ogun-Lagos waterfront to everywhere, trouble is all over the land.

To give him his due, former President Jonathan organized a national conference which the current Secretary to the Government of the Federation has dismissed as “job for the boys”. There is still danger in the land. The calls for restructuring, devolution of power etc continue to reverberate. President Muhammadu Buhari needs to heed to these calls. If he does not believe in the Jonathan conference he should go ahead to organize his own. Nigerias urgently need to settle the matter of their nationhood.

What Buhari needs to do can be achieved with requisite sincerity. The country should be delineated into constituencies for the election of the representatives of nationality groups, town unions, trade unions, academics, NGOs, professional bodies, citizens in exile, the security forces etc to come into conference to tackle issues such as the national question, confederation, census, federalism, devolution of powers, policing, martial and external relations, secession etc. The conference is sovereign to the extent that its result will be binding on all the peoples of Nigeria and not subject to doctoring by the powers-that-be. Any further dilly-dallying can cast the leader in the mould of Gorbachev who dithered in the old Soviet Union and saw his nation disintegrate. It is akin to leaving the country on auto-pilot. No pilot worth his name abandons the cockpit.

The late comedian Mohammed Danjuma once told the joke of how he was once mid-air inside a plane only to see one man in parachute knocking on his window and telling him: “I don go-o! Na me be pilot of this plane-o. If you like-o, continue to stay there-o, but me I don go-o.”




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