Some hope to go back to the old regions. This is problematic. Too many Nigerians were happy to come out of those regional arrangements, where they felt oppressed and out of place. In fact, for most Nigerians, the oppression from a larger country is more bearable than the more targeted, localised oppression at the regional level.
I listened to the paramount ruler of Somolu and Bariga, Oba Gbolahan Timson, the other day, as he eloquently expressed support for Sunday Igboho, and as he foreclosed the idea of Yorubas continuing with the Nigerian entity. The Oba called it a war of independence (ija’gbara in Yoruba language). But he then launched into deep history (especially of Lisabi and the Egbas, who placed a curse on the Yorubas, according to him, for treachery). The story, as told by the Oba was that the Oyos used to oppress the Egbas and Lisabi (just like Igboho) rose in their defence As told, Lisabi was a fatalist who didn’t want any emotional attachment to distract him from the war, and so he first killed off his wife and children, and bombed his own house before embarking on the war – single-handedly. He had been tested with cannons before he departed and was proven to be inextinguishable. But at some point, the Egbas recalled him from the warfront, as they complained that they could no longer attend to their farms or even fetch water at the stream as a result of fear of the the war, which Lisabi was waging alone. They offered Lisabi the kingship of Egba land, but under the beautiful throne they had set for Lisabi was a sinkhole that would have swallowed Lisabi and hurled him into eternity. A smart geezer, Mr Lisabi discovered the trick, hence the curse he placed on the people, according to Oba Gbolahan Timson, the Jagunmolu of Shomolu Bariga, whose Yoruba elocution and diction is one of the best I’ve heard lately.
Oba Timson further expatiated on the curses that the Yorubas may be under, including the one allegedly placed by Oba Aole of Oyo, who was said to have mounted a hill to say Yorubas will always heckle themselves and never unite, just as Lisabi had done.
Did we see the paradox? If these curses are true and effective – and the Jagunmolu believes they are – does that not mean that even when Yorubas are in their own country, the same back-and-forth arguments, mutual suspicion and counterplots will dog the new republic? Oba Timson even made an example of what the Egbas did to M.K.O Abiola, as they raised another son, Ernest Shonekan, to take his rightful place. Ditto, the fact that Justice Sowemimo was the one that jailed Obafemi Awolowo in 1962 was mentioned. The Oba said Yorubas have ‘iwa buruku’, which could mean treacherous behaviour or just being very complicated as a people. The Yorubas famously warred amongst themselves for 17 bloody years (1876 – 1893) in what is now known as the Kiriji War, so named after the sound of the mortar which they procured from Europe – especially through Yorubas in diaspora who had been taken as slaves but had somehow found freedom and prosperity. Does this remind us of the feelings of Nigerian diasporans today, many of whom are actively supporting the dismemberment of the country? In fairness, Oba Timson recommended how Yorubas can perform rituals to vitiate the curses. He advised that there are rituals which all rulers in Yorubaland have to perform at the same time. I wondered if those rituals should not be frontloaded before the quest for own country. The problem, though, is that many Yoruba Obas will not agree. Most are now born-again Christians.
I worry about whether we are doing this self-determination thing right. Have we thought through the many cobwebs? Are we seeing the end from the beginning? Or we just want to start and see where it leads us? Will it be sustainable? Are we moving to demolish present structures just out of anger? Will patience and a little bit more perceptiveness help us in repairing the structure, rather than summarily dismantling it? Have we tried enough? Have we spent enough time, compared to some of the other countries we admire that have gone through worse than we have – bad governance, hunger, famine, pillaging, oppression, diseases, plagues, and whatnot? Are we acting on the basis of cognitive biases that the grass is greener elsewhere, or that yesterday was better than today? Have we also checked ourselves to know what we are contributing to the malaise that Nigeria is? Self-criticism is a great attribute that helps one to keep focused and improve. Self-criticism of the Yorubas is what the Oba expressed. But how many Nigerians are self-critical? Have we not been seen to protect that which is ours and criticise that which belongs to others?
Can every clan that wants out be given a referendum? At what point does the government say no? What criteria can be adopted and how many questions can be put in the referendum? Also, what if we had two or three years of active, perceptive, positive, communicative, inclusive, imaginative and dynamic governance? Will everyone not forget about breaking away?
My thinking is that somehow, Buhari brought out the beasts in everyone. We pray that whoever comes after is not worse because we never knew Buhari could turn out this way. From Day One in 2015, he alienated all the people who loved and hoped in him. He abandoned even his party stalwarts and those who campaigned for him. He refused to appoint ministers because, according to him, they were noisemakers. He abandoned the parastatals as well. He treated himself to good healthcare at Nigeria’s expense while doing nothing for the people. He presided over a crash in the value of naira and sponsored his children through schooling abroad, while asking people to withdraw theirs from school as the country had no dollars. The people felt scorched with a scorpion. This was worse than the whips of Jonathan and Obasanjo put together. Then the economy suffered two hits. Crude oil prices crashed in 2016 and then again in 2020 because of COVID-19. The economy went into recession twice under the same man. People lost jobs. Businesses closed down. Opportunities diminished to zero. Many Nigerians ran abroad like they did in 1984. The man eventually appointed only those from his narrow circle of tired folks into office. Old and tired, with no new initiatives. Not so much has changed between the Jonathan presidency and now (except that the economy has gotten a lot worse). Those agitating for self-determination did not do so under Jonathan, did they? They did not do so under Obasanjo or Yar’Adua. Why now? So, I say let us outlive Buhari. Perhaps we may get lucky the next time. Even if leadership is a lottery, we may get lucky someday. A people should not create bigger problems for themselves because of one bad leader. Nigeria is bigger than Buhari.
Referendum Or Not?
I’ve been thinking about this. The South-East is particularly vehement about splitting from Nigeria and the clamour has been on for quite a while. There is a standing army to actualise this, and a charismatic, even if totally crazy Nnamdi Kanu, broadcasting from somewhere in Europe; a Hilteresque figure who is worshipped by, perhaps, millions. On several occasions this man has ordered his boys to go ahead and kill policemen and soldiers and he has been heeded to. Almost 100 policemen and perhaps dozens of Nigerian soldiers have been killed in Nigeria’s South-East (including parts of Rivers and Akwa Ibom States) thus far. The secessionist threat from the East is therefore much stronger, better funded and organised by far more armed and willing to use arms, filled with young people who have fanatical belief in the cause, and more widespread than what they have in the South-West – a rather nascent phenomenon only since the advent of Sunday Igboho. In my view, this problem has gone on for so long (51 years), and must be resolved someday – we cannot leave this to our children to continue the mutual suspicion and sometimes hatred. This government will, of course, escape responsibility by ignoring the problem. I believe the South-East should be granted a referendum to determine if the people want out of Nigeria. If they say yes, then by all means lets have Igboexit. If no, then let us all live in peace and cooperation and disarm all breakaway armies. The South-West referendum should then follow. This is however tricky. Can every clan that wants out be given a referendum? At what point does the government say no? What criteria can be adopted and how many questions can be put in the referendum? Also, what if we had two or three years of active, perceptive, positive, communicative, inclusive, imaginative and dynamic governance? Will everyone not forget about breaking away? For if the Igbos of South-East Nigeria were to break away today, given the bad blood in town, what happened in 1970 will be child’s play. Properties will be seized all over. People will seek revenge and all sorts. Businesses will be ruined out of anger. Xenophobia will spike everywhere, as people eject those who are not like them. Victimisations and crimes will spike. Free movement will be curbed. Borders will be rapidly drawn and forcefully enforced. And please that talk of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the United Nations (UN) enforcing order is absolute bunkum. They can make some laws, but no one will obey. Are we ready for the madness?
Oba Timson, like many people who have given up on Nigeria, says the time for restructuring has passed. Restructuring to that group, simply means every region should manage their affairs. Some hope to go back to the old regions. This is problematic. Too many Nigerians were happy to come out of those regional arrangements, where they felt oppressed and out of place. In fact, for most Nigerians, the oppression from a larger country is more bearable than the more targeted, localised oppression at the regional level. Does the South-South subsume back to the South-East? Do Binis and Deltans merge back with the South-West? Do we know about the conflicts that led to the creation of Adamawa and Taraba States out of the old Gongola State? Do we care? Do we think Zamfara wants to fuse back with Sokoto and Kebbi? Are we aware of the issues between Katsina and Kaduna? What about Nasarawa, Plateau and Kogi? Do we understand the nuanced issues there? Do we care? Does Ebonyi want to go back to South-East and lose her sovereignty and enhanced dignity as a State within a larger Nigerian context? Is that what the people want? Do we know about the conflict between Ekiti and my Ondo State? Even Oyo and Osun could not cooperate over Ladoke Akintola University. Even if we adopt the six-region option, and appoint Mayors for states in place of governors, are the people in power presently – who are the ones that can change the laws – ready to give up their exalted positions and radically alter the structure? Are the six geopolitical zones a democratic creation and will they not suffer the same accusation of illegitimacy? How then do we get it done?
What I have proposed before is that this restructuring be built into our Constitution. We should have a clause or two that causes us to sit down and review the constitution thoroughly every four years, with eyes on making life better for the average Nigerian. This will mean a gradual erosion of power from governments to the people. We can achieve a smaller Federal Government and the States and local governments could begin to take on far more responsibilities. All of the people arguing fervently for restructuring today suffer from one very interesting cognitive issue – they want a sea change. Why seek for a sea change for what should be constantly and instalmentally achieved? Why wait for a problem to become a mountain before seeking to scale the mountain all at once? Is this not the same problem we have with infrastructure? What we are grappling with today is the same lack of a maintenance culture. Just as we cannot maintain our roads and bridges and buildings, we cannot manage our structure and polity and ensure it constantly delivers for the people into the long term without embarking on massive expenditure in terms of time, resources or… blood. No constitution is perfect. Forget that talk about a constitution being written by the military. It does not matter really. The story of this country cannot be told without copious mention of the military. De facto, they ran governments and are also citizens of this country. Not even the American constitution – which is our reference point – is perfect. If it was, it will not have been amended 27 times! The first American constitution barred women, blacks and land-less white men from voting. It regarded black people as only two-thirds of human beings. The WE THE PEOPLE that commenced that constitution should have been WE THE ARISTOCRATS, because they did not even have the consent of their people before drafting a constitution and merging the colonies. I can bet with anyone that any attempt to rewrite the Nigerian constitution in these testy times, from the scratch, will not go past first base. I can see them throwing punches already.
Who has caused this? Is the Nigerian name now a fully damaged franchise? Is this a great reason to demolish everything and start afresh? Why not adopt a new name (United African Republic or whatever)? Can we embark on a long journey of repairing the franchise? What will it take? First, an honest analysis of what caused it…
Sometimes, many times, many of the vocal people substitute Buhari for the North and vice versa. Again, let us not deify Buhari. He is a human being. He will go someday. I admit that the North has a hold on our politics and political governance in Nigeria has not really delivered over time. Truly, the Northern culture is rather out of tune with Western models of frugal governance and efficiency. But I believe this can be tackled in an atmosphere of intellectual, and honest leadership and camaraderie. As a fact, the current agitations are like the country going through a threshing floor. This process is important and we will likely achieve something out of it if we don’t allow everything to tip overboard. A lot of what is happening in Nigeria is culture clash that is badly managed. Everybody must be ready and willing to give a little and take a little. If we stick to our prejudices, we may as well burn as a whole. So I say the north – being the focal territory for many people’s anger – should be ready to concede two things; one, the Almajirai system. This must now go. No excuse. The leaders must face up to this massive problem, which is also an opportunity because investment in those children’s education is the best we could ever make. The second concession is this open grazing issue. It can be done. We also want the leaders to enforce religious tolerance. These are civilisational issues. The Southern people must be more charitable and cooperative and mock the North the less. Because that North has hidden advantages. Many things are not ‘louded’ in the North, as we often do down South. No one should think the North is unsustainable. And I tell you what; all the mockery may be what they require to fix things up and wake up. In a year, the North can clear up those Almajirais if they really have to. They have the agriculture – the vastest irrigated lands in Nigeria and indeed the most fertile. Northern Nigeria is 76 per cent of the landmass of Nigeria. Call it 65 per cent if you redraw a little bit. They also have one thing, what the Chinese has that the West does not. And that is the ability to get the people to cooperate, to defer gratification, to comply with rules without much hassles, to heckle leaders less. This is very important.
The last thought on my mind as I fell asleep last night was of Kenyan Vice President William Ruto saying at his daughter’s wedding that though it is difficult giving out one’s daughter in marriage, it is even much tougher giving that child to a Nigerian. As much as Ruto said this in jest, yet much truth can be extracted therefrom. For one, Ruto is middle aged; just 54. We know it is old people that harbour much prejudices, but Ruto’s statement is an indication of how we Nigerians are all held in suspicion. That the man will blurt out like that in the presence of his Nigerian in-laws and many international personalities means this feeling is topmost in his mind and in the minds of many Kenyans and other peoples of the world. Why are we globally mistrusted? It is not only because we have bad governments. I recall one of Ruto’s predecessors and kinsmen, Raila Odinga, cracking a joke about Nigerian leaders stealing 100 per cent of project allocations and boasting about it. It is not only Kenyans who feel this way and think lowly about us. It is the whole world. How does this manifest? People know many Nigerians are smart. They also know that some of us are too smart for our breeches. But once in a while, we get pulled over in airports and harassed. The other day, they made a Nigerian blogger, Tayo Aina, to defecate by force at the Ethiopian Bole Airport, while he was been glared at by Airport Police. Many Nigerians have been detained and jailed for short periods, irrespective of who they may be. I recall some university Vice Chancellors I know being detained for hours at London Heathrow because some immigration officer believed they will run away if allowed to go into London city!
Who has caused this? Is the Nigerian name now a fully damaged franchise? Is this a great reason to demolish everything and start afresh? Why not adopt a new name (United African Republic or whatever)? Can we embark on a long journey of repairing the franchise? What will it take? First, an honest analysis of what caused it: the drug trafficking; the internet fraudsters; the open display of wealth by Nigerians (who dance on other people’s cherished currencies); the mad corruption by our politicians who spend like drunken sailors abroad thinking they are impressing others. Our usual loudness and braggadocio must be tamed. We need to take people’s countries less for granted. We need to migrate more sensibly – not to leave here to go and ‘hustle’ on the streets of other countries selling stuff in traffic or pushing narcotics, or being prostitutes. This will principally mean a radical focus on social goods like education, security, health services, the environment, and so on, which had long being abandoned in Nigeria as successive governments released the youths of this country to their own devices. This will require tremendous amounts of investments in the people and sacrifice by leaders. In focusing on those social goods, which are the principal functions of governments everywhere, Nigerians will find out that there are jobs aplenty in this country, and our entrepreneurs will then thrive because purchasing power and per capita income will be increased. But the government must add something, and that is the constant communication of the right values, and leadership by example, so that the average Nigerian can start to move away from the current ‘get-rich-or-die-trying’ mode, into a realm that is more dignified, that values honest labour, that sacrifices for God and country, that innovates for the good of all, and that aspires for collective, not individualistic, greatness.
Yes, I say let’s be a tad patient. Nigeria can be fixed.
‘Tope Fasua, an economist, author, blogger, entrepreneur, and recent presidential candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.