Of all Nigeria’s many challenges, some of which are not uncommon to other countries, two things complicate its chances at quick emancipation. The first is the country’s almost pathological ineptitude to learning from experience, whether its own or others. The other is the perennial inability of leaders to grasp the import of their remit. Let me explain.
Concerning the first, the English man says experience is the best teacher. This means that if any challenge you have experienced ever comes your way again, lessons derived from your first encounter should handily help you tread that path more deftly. And even when you are faced with a novel event or problem, which had never been your lot, the experiences of others who have walked that route in the past should guide your response.
This is why the Yoruba say that ‘the fall of one person into a pit should teach others to be more circumspect.’ But that is not Nigeria. The people of this country take no lessons from the past, whether they are theirs or of any of the person. It is foolishness that passes all understanding, one which must confound even the most foolish of peoples.
So, what is this all about? For no reason at all should a country that fought a 30-month civil war in which about two million lives were lost, ever find itself fiddling with ethnic distrusts the way Nigeria is doing currently.
Over the past couple of years, nearly every other ethnic group in Nigeria has had a bone or two to pick with nomadic herdsmen and the Fulani ethnic group to which they predominantly belong.
Aside from the nuisance these pastoralists and their cattle are believed to constitute to farmers in so many parts of the country, they have also been accused of crimes ranging from kidnapping, rape and armed robbery. Some Nigerians in fact, hold the opinion that there are expansionist motives in the recent actions of the Fulani and that the fact that Nigeria’s current president is of same pedigree has emboldened them!
Without dabbling into the merits or otherwise of these suspicions, recent events in the South-West states of Oyo and Ondo should tell that this country had hitherto treated this matter with kid gloves and that the wounds have gone very deep. The events also indicate that things are beginning to get out of hand and that a conflagration, may ensue unless the country finds a comprehensive solution to the issues and fast.
One of the dangers of neglecting to deal with this issue of crime and the alleged involvement of herdsmen over the years is the increasing, even if unwitting ethnicisation of these criminal activities.
Even if herdsmen are found amongst those who perpetrate the crimes of kidnapping, banditry and what have you, timely investigation, arrests and prosecution of culprits would have saved Nigeria the tendency to assume that every Fulani man is a criminal to be wary of.
Truth is that a crime is a crime. Crimes have no ethnic, religious, regional and political coloration. There are criminal elements among every ethnic group that make up Nigeria and it would, in fact, be impossible for any group to carry out these crimes without the active collaboration of people from other tribes.
For instance, when a Fulani man kidnaps a victim in the Ibarapa area of Oyo State, he keeps his victims for two weeks in an unmapped forest, during which he feeds, takes care of their health needs and communicates with their families. How does he do this without the collaboration with people who may not necessarily be Fulani?
One reality Nigerians must own up to is that money has become such a god to many of our compatriots that sentiments like blood and tribe do not restrict people from collaborating to commit crimes that bring substantial financial benefits.
The other day, I saw a video of about four Yoruba men who submitted a girlfriend and a friend for ritual killing for sums as paltry as N2000 and N5000 respectively! Were the hoodlums alleged to have razed Sunday (Igboho) Adeyemo’s Ibadan home on Tuesday Fulani, for instance? If they were, can we say they did not have the support of some Yoruba people? Criminals and politicians share an affinity to forget ethnic boundaries when mutual benefits are involved, I dare say.
But then, government’s (federal and state) failure at going the whole hog in dealing with this issue has accentuated the current narrative giving ethnic colorations to these crimes. This is dangerous to national integration and security and unhelpful in dealing with the overwhelming level of insecurity.
And this brings us to the other point, which is the failure of leaders to understand the purpose of their positions. You see, leaders are made for tough times; this is when their real value is revealed. The effectiveness with which leaders can solve real and imagined problems and bring change to society they lead is the real measure of impact.
Just recently, we saw the result of the sacrifices that past (and even current) leaders of the United States of America made in building resilient institutions and systems, capable of resisting the madness of any incumbent. In modern Africa, it is not likely that history will forget the role played by Paul Kagame in the evolution of Rwanda. Nigerian leaders and those who serve at their pleasure must understand the importance of true service devoid of the feeding of parochial and selfish appetites.
Nigerian leaders must understand the need to build institutions and use the same for universal good. Spokespersons for political leaders must avoid temptations to appropriate roles that do not belong to them. They must not say anything that portrays them as deploying state resources to protect the interests of themselves or their principals because such pronouncements build suspicions that no retraction can obliterate. And then, legislators must wake up to and adorn the full weight of their responsibilities.
As I ruminated over the incident in Oyo State, I thought about how much the National Assembly can do to change Nigeria. I remembered the “Minority Report and Draft Constitution for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1976,” put together by Prof Olusegun Osoba and the late Dr Yusufu Bala Usman published in Lagos last year and how much that tells about where Nigeria is.
One of the issues raised by these two intellectuals over 40 years ago was the need to eradicate “state citizenship” to create a situation where every Nigerian would be legally entitled to live and work in any community without let or hindrance. Another was the need to make the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy, enunciated in Chapter II of the Constitution, justifiable such that Nigerians can legally hold their government accountable.
Would members of this National Assembly ever consider the benefits that a parliamentary rather than presidential system of government could be to Nigeria? Tough decisions like this made in the overall interest of the future of the country is what leadership is all about. This is unfortunately lost on most Nigerian leaders who only crave transactional opportunities.
It is this confusion about purpose that breeds the negligence, which throws up overnight heroes like Adeyemo popularly known as Sunday Igboho. Igboho has not asked for the votes of anyone, but he feels sufficiently motivated to champion group interests neglected by state actors who are carried away by other considerations.
Of course, when sub-national concerns are at the fore, Igboho’s intervention would be seen as heroic. But in a federation like Nigeria where there are laws, it is one step in the direction of failed statehood.
Let Nigerian leaders know that governance is a serious calling requiring full attention and intellectual energies. Let all state actors who are intellectually handicapped and infected with primitive desires for wealth accumulation and the promotion of selfish interests wake up from their affliction. Let them begin to appreciate the honour and privilege of providing leadership to a people who deserve to have the best of life. Let them consider the essence of legacy and not burn Nigeria down by their incompetence.