Pray thee, what manner of peace are they urging now? Peace of the graveyard? People are being asked to accept peace conditions on terms dictated by those who want to forcibly acquire their land, means of livelihood and who have, in reality, launched a scorched earth policy to browbeat them into forcible submission!
Equal rights and justice, the hit tune by the late Reggae singer, Peter Tosh, was often blared on megaphones in beer parlours and barber’s salons as a rally cry during the dark days of the struggle for the restoration of democracy, after General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida annulled the 1993 presidential election. Further on, the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) crowd loved the punchline, “Everyone is crying out for peace, none is crying out for justice”. That was in the activities following the takeover of the oppressive military junta headed by General Sani Abacha, who along with his Department of State Security, were far from amused by the rally cry. This punchline resonates today, in our collective search for a lasting solution to the season of discontent brought about by crippling insecurity in the South-West.
Peace, like Richard Nixon’s 1968 “Law and Order” call, which was a coded dog whistle, is now all the rage from those who folded their arms while people were picked off the highway like grasshoppers and livelihoods became destroyed by cattle feeding on crops. Pray thee, what manner of peace are they urging now? Peace of the graveyard? People are being asked to accept peace conditions on terms dictated by those who want to forcibly acquire their land, means of livelihood and who have, in reality, launched a scorched earth policy to browbeat them into forcible submission! We can pretend all we want, yet injustice has an expiry date. No such peace condition can be enforced and it certainly cannot last. Any peaceful coexistence will have to be on the universally accepted condition of, “when in Rome you behave as the Romans”. After all, this is the basis upon which the Yoruba have sojourned in Northern Nigeria for decades. It has also been the operating ground rule and accepted norm by non-indigenous populations residing in the South-West since the 1920s. On this there can be no negotiation.
On the national scene, President Buhari’s quietude in the face of these atrocities is what is creating impetuous and unreasonable majorities with passionate interests. Under Buhari, Nigeria is morphing into an ochlocracy. Yet, I feel for Fulani and Hausa communities who have lived among the Yoruba for generations.
All things considered, the complicity of the Yoruba traditional institutions at this propitious times, must not be ignored. We have Ọbas who cut trees in forest reserves and dig for minerals by engaging Chinese mercenaries and Tuaregs to fund their extravagant lifestyles. If kings cannot see beyond the urgency of now, what hope do we have? When kings are eager to deplete forest cover, engage in dangerous artisanal mining, destroy hectares of arable land and mortgage the future of generations, who will protect us from onslaught at the community level? When Ọbas own cattle and arm the Fulani rearing their cattle, are they not investors in our misery and conflict entrepreneurs? These are questions we must ask and confront. In the absence of functioning local governments, our traditional rulers must understand that their roles are not just pivotal but all-encompassing. They must step up as the defenders of the land. A whiff of suspicion that they are complicit in conniving with invaders, is fraught with grave dangers. They must be reminded that there have been peasant revolts in the past and this time it could be lethal. As Marx observed, in describing the discontent in France: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” The traditional institutions in the South-West must allow the “traditions and mores of those who are long gone” to be their guide and guard. The consequences of stepping on the toes of their people will lead to the emergence of warlords and peasant uprising like the Talakawa Parapo movement in Ife division in the early fifties, and Agbekoya in 1967. The rise of Sunday Igboho is a testament to this. More of his type may emerge if the situation is not arrested and resolved amicably.
On the national scene, President Buhari’s quietude in the face of these atrocities is what is creating impetuous and unreasonable majorities with passionate interests. Under Buhari, Nigeria is morphing into an ochlocracy. Yet, I feel for Fulani and Hausa communities who have lived among the Yoruba for generations. On January 2, a few kilometres from Ọwọ junction, I parked by the roadside to buy cottage cheese from Fatima, as I had done countless times in the past. Fatima bore the classic Fulani phenotype. Her ancestors have lived among the Yoruba for centuries. She speaks impeccable Yoruba. Some of them have intermarried and lived peaceably until the sinister agenda of bringing in the Tuaregs and foreign Fulani unfolded. The South-West governments must therefore outline clear guidelines about the interactions between the traditional institutions and settlers among the Yoruba. Chief Obafemi Awolowo walked unarmed into the forest to negotiate a truce with Tafa Adeoye and the Agbekoyas in 1967, the South-West today lacks a pivotal rallying figure to do the same. The governors must immediately wade in. The space must not be left for non-state actors. It is a slippery slope.
When a section of the country wears the toga of ethnic superiority, can there be peace? When did it become legal for civilians to carry a military grade weapon? What if we all begin to carry automatic rifles in defiance of authority? The truth is that the Nigerian state has lost the monopoly of violence.
No part of the country has been more accommodating than the South-West. However, peaceful coexistence is based on equity, justice, mutual respect and not on the terms and conditions dictated by a conquistador mentality. The unfortunate pronouncements by Bala Mohammed, the governor of Bauchi State is a huge part of the problem. When a section of the country wears the toga of ethnic superiority, can there be peace? When did it become legal for civilians to carry a military grade weapon? What if we all begin to carry automatic rifles in defiance of authority? The truth is that the Nigerian state has lost the monopoly of violence. The spectre of large scale anarchy looms unless the government intervenes justly and discard its nepotistic bent.
While Southern borders were closed, the Northern borders were left open to Nigeriens and Malians, etc., to come in, unchecked and unregistered. Even in the republic of Guinea, where the Fulani are the second largest ethnic group, they have accepted terms and conditions of modern and peaceful coexistence, which people like the odious governor of Bauchi are averse to considering, let alone accepting. In the words of Peter Tosh, “there will be no peace, ’till men get equal rights.” No justice, no peace!
Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo
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