By Adagbo Onoja
Nigeria does not have to implode like Somalia or Yugoslavia or Rwanda exactly the way Obasanjo’s latest letter to President Buhari yesterday captured it. In fact, for those who read the Meta-Bosnia debate in Europe, otherwise ‘The Banality of Ethnicity’ thesis, Yugoslavia did not even implode from convulsions in ethnicity. And neither did Rwanda. Ethnicity works as a powerful ideology and must be reckoned with but not in the way some of these spaces of violence occurred. That is the intellectual tragedy in the Nigerian crisis whereby columnists and sundry pundits keep recycling information that have been interrogated or even refuted elsewhere. Be that as it may, even the current level of suspicion, fear, mistrust and division today are evidence of a country that is already undone. It helps that Obasanjo put pen to paper, no matter what his critics may say. But even if he didn’t write an open letter to Buhari, it is already an act of dangerously living in denial to think that something that looks like Yugoslavia cannot happen here.
Of course, any country can collapse and in a much worse manner than Yugoslavia. A country can also refuse to collapse. When the USSR imploded, Vladimir Putin was to later call that the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century. Should Nigeria collapse, it will be the all time civilisational catastrophe in human history because it will conclusively prove the hypothesis about the original inferiority of the black man. There will be no better proof of that claim and the collapse will reverberate beyond the earth. The shame will be too much.
Therefore, it is time to ignore discredited evidence and examples about the inevitability of implosion that deluded quacks are throwing at people on the pages of newspapers. Not only do they not even know the geopolitical imagination behind much of such evidence they are citing, they have also obviously not read what Professor Adiele Afigbo, for example, wrote about the genesis of Nigeria’s crisis of nationhood. And Afigbo, more than most Nigerian Historians, exploded all the myths writers are peddling about 1914 and all that. It is thus important for genuine patriots to run such bad guys out of the mischief industry but constructively so. In this regard, Obasanjo’s latest letter to the president is in the right direction!
Whether one likes or dislikes Obasanjo, there are no superior alternatives to his suggestion of an inter-discursive conversation as a way of producing peace. There might have been a national conference in 2014 or so but that conversation was responding to the sentiments of that time. Another conversation, perhaps a more restricted one, which responds to the sentiments of the moment is required because Nigeria is at that moment when the saying that one man’s meat is another man’s poison is most applicable. In that sort of situation, the only way out is breaking down barriers rather than finding answers in silly mirror imaging or so-called objective analysis. This might not have been necessary if one condition were present. One would have thought that every regime has appointees of the president who would march up to him occasionally to say, “Sir, this is what you must do now” without such being interpreted as challenge to authority. It appears the Buhari regime lacks such internal critics who are normally determinants of a regime’s success by shielding a president from wild irredentists, so-called regime defenders, opportunistic gatekeepers and sycophants that are the normal creatures around power.
As things are today, only those whose level of dehumanization has so successfully internalized the ‘the state of nature’ the country has been reduced to would say that Obasanjo’s letter was motivated strictly by personal interest calculations. If that were to be true, then even those saying so must equally be guilty of being strictly inspired by their own personal interest.
More interesting, therefore, is what some sharper observers are taking home from Obasanjo’s letter in the symbolism of addressing it to the president contrary to the opinion in certain quarters that he should have addressed it to the National Assembly because of the strong perception that the president appears to be at his wits end. The view is that Obasanjo scored a point by addressing the letter to the president, given that the president, like his counterparts across the world, carries the title ‘President and Commander-in-Chief’. That title is not for nothing. The meaning of that title is something else when fully contemplated. It makes categorical the primacy of the president in the situation a country such as Nigeria is in now – extreme poverty, generalized insecurity, low rating in the community of nations, even in Africa and an unbelievable decay at all levels.
Critics concede that President Buhari did not entirely create the insecurity. It will be unfair to make such a claim but the insecurity reached the current magnitude under his reign. Yet, he has no discourse of it all. In matters of Fulani identity, the Sultan of Sokoto would normally be a primary actor. He has remained consistent that Nigeria is facing criminality and terrorism, not Fulani militia. That is unlike the president. Today, the president would say insecurity is a problem of renegade fighters let loose from hell, tomorrow, he says it is corrupt politicians at work against his regime. At the next public appearance, he says it is a problem of people not mastering how to live peacefully with each other. That is when he is not saying that it is a crisis of encroachment on cattle routes. Meanwhile, Nasir el-Rufai, the president’s right hand man and chief ideologue, says it is a problem of unforgiving non-Nigerian herders. If the way a problem is understood and framed is the way it is solved, then the president’s multiplicity of frames for the insecurity crisis means the president has no answer whatsoever to the problem and that poses a truth gap crisis of worse proportion than the actual killings.
Killings in themselves do not provoke the kind of reprisals Obasanjo fears in his latest letter to the president. It is the ‘how’ question that provokes reprisals. The ‘how’ question is what people came to believe as the explanation of people being killed. Thus, while people are being killed in Zamfara, Katsina and Sokoto, etc, that is not generating the same ripples across the world as the killings in Benue, Taraba, Southwest and so on. That is not all parochialism. It is the ‘how’ question at work. people in these other places believe that terrorists sharing the same identity with the ‘Commander-in-Chief’ cannot be doing what they are doing if the ‘Commander- in – Chief had not willed it. Whether corrupt politicians or mischievous journalists and pundits coined and popularized the notion of ‘Fulani herdsmen’ is immaterial. What the coinage imposes on the president is the challenge of management of meaning but in which he has failed dismally because of inflexibility and the tendency to feel irritated rather than try to understand that it is perception that moves human beings to act, not reason.
But that is second guessing the risk. The real reason for the president’s famished rather than muscular and confidence inspiring statesmanship might lie somewhere. Detaching from the current atmosphere of hate and propaganda to list all the main hypotheses on the question is, therefore, considered important. Which of them is/are truer about this grave risk to national security is the question now.
- The president is simply overwhelmed, either by the office or modern Nigeria or even both as to know what to do
- Nigeria has been conspired against by more powerful outside interests whose superior tactics are beyond the president’s own totality of capacities
- The president has been ‘419ned’ by his own team or lack of such a team
- The president is acting out a script on the national question in favour of his Fulani identity as some of his critics have said, (Remember the nepotism charge and TY Danjuma’s ‘they collude’ standpoint).
- The Nigerian security establishment has not anticipated or trained for the kind of new security challenges they are confronting
- It is a crisis of successfully dismantling from riding the tiger, the sort of thing that Alhaji Tanko Yakassai is saying regarding why the struggle for the soul of Nigeria is ever between military leaders. Yakassai has said many years ago that the Nigerian Civil War would never have taken place if it was civilian regime. He said it was a war about ‘who would salute who?’Apart from Yakassai being a PRP person at heart, a revolutionary in fact, Obasanjo somehow corroborated his thesis recently by saying that Buhari would always salute him for the rest of his life. In other words, Nigeria might still be suffering from military rule even as soldiers are no more directly in power.