The stakes run much higher
On Monday 25 June 2018, Ehidiamen Afama-Eromsele posted a very interesting piece on the “#Take Nigeria Back” website. In it, he appealed to the conscience of Nigerians. He said: “So you think Nigeria is actually divided? Look at the line-up of the game between Nigeria and Iceland. Not less than 70% of the footballers were from the eastern part of Nigeria. Did anyone complain? No. Many did not even care to notice that fact. Again, when Ahmed Musa scored the first goal, was it only the Hausa people who celebrated? No. Were the Igbo and Yoruba people sad? No. Did they protest? No. When he scored the second goal, did anybody complain why it's only this Hausa man that was scoring? No. You know why nobody cared about those things? We were all after the Goal! One vision! One victory!
“The problem of Nigeria has never been our diversity but lack of corporate and formidable national vision. When we have a goal, a vision, nobody cares where anybody comes from! The greatest harm that our leaders have done is to succeed in making us believe we are divided. No, we are not! They are the ones who don't have goals, solid visions attractive enough to bring us together. Trust me. Our diversity is our strength and not our disaster. We must take deliberate steps to knock unfortunate and "visionless" leaders out. Then, we can have a true and grand celebration of our democracy as a people, united and strong.”
I think the young visioner had a point here – a point that practically every Nigerian knows. And yet, dismantling the social and political structures that have consolidated the country’s wealth in the hands of a few rogue families who claim to have fought for the independence of Nigeria seems so difficult. Why? There is no place for trust on the part of those who are in for changes in the system because at every turn, saboteurs are waiting in line to collect a pittance from their very oppressors so that they can enable them perpetuate their greedy rule over the majority of the people. So, the question becomes: who are the real enemies of a united Nigeria – the greedy politicians who are bent on greasing the palms of willing Nigerians to enable them remain “relevant” in the scheme of things in the country or those Nigerians who are willing to be bribed in order to swing their votes in favour of their benefactors and thereby deprive Nigerians of the legitimate leaders they deserve?
It is in this context that Nigerians should view the recent call by the National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF), concerning what it observes as the dominance of Muslims in vital positions of security in the country. The NCEF has even asked Nigerians to be prepared to embark on civil disobedience which would lead to a ‘shut down’ of the country should President Muhammadu Buhari fail to take immediate action to ameliorate the situation which I think is taking panic measures because nations are never built overnight. It could take centuries or generations, and that is the truth every Nigerian must consider.
The NCEF notes that the heads of key security offices in the country are Muslims from the north, a situation it says grossly undermines the constitutional provisions for a federal character. In the current dispensation, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces who also doubles as Petroleum Minister is from the north. The Senate President is from the north. The Speaker of the House of Representatives is from the north. The National Security Adviser is from the north. The Chief of Army Staff is from the north. The Chief of Air Staff is from the north. The Chief of Defence Intelligence is from the north. The Defence Minister is from the north. Secretary to the Federal Government is from the north. Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission is from the north. The Chief Justice of the Federation is from the north. President of the Court of Appeal is from the north. The Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is from the north. President of the Federal High Court is from the north. The Comptroller of Customs & Excise is from the north. The Comptroller of Prisons is from the north. The Comptroller of Immigration is from the north. The Comptroller of Fire Service is from the north. The Managing Director of Nigeria Ports Authority is from the north. The Managing Director of Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation is also from the North. These are the people in whose hands the destiny of the country lies in the Buhari administration.
Only very few positions are offered the south, for which President Buhari expects them to be grateful. Some of these are the ministerial appointments which had followed the constitutional stipulations. And so, this is one way Nigerians can argue whether or not the administration is the one making life difficult for Nigerians in their totality and for long they would be able to do so.
This precarious situation becomes even more poignant when it is considered that no matter how difficult or how bad a leader may seem in public estimation, there are those who benefit from him, who will stand to fight with him even with the last drop of their blood. We saw that happen in Egypt, in Yemen, in Iraq and even in Libya at the beginning of this decade in what came to be widely known as the “Arab Spring.” So, if in his administration, Gen. Buhari has thought it necessary to saddle his northern Muslim brothers with the safety or otherwise of the Nigerian nation, is it plausible to assume that all the youths in the north will abandon him when he needs them and vote for change which the southerners see as non-negotiable? And what if the administration pays off some secret agents of southern origin – a fact that cannot be completely ruled out? Where does that place Nigerian unity?
Take another example. The National Common Entrance Examination [NCEE], Board recently published the cut-off marks for each Nigerian state in the 2017/2018 common entrance examinations. As would have been normal in a democracy – except if every zone had a level of autonomy in the control of its educational programme – the same cut-off mark should have been made compulsory for every Nigerian child, irrespective of the child’s state of origin. But characteristically, every state was given a different cut-off mark by the federal government presumably according to the academic prowess of students coming from those states.
The cut-off marks were as follows (alphabetically): Abia, 65; Adamawa 40; Akwa Ibom 63; Anambra 66; Bauchi 18; Bayelsa 51; Benue 60; Borno 33; Cross River 54; Delta 65; Ebonyi 60; Edo 63; Ekiti 62; Enugu 65; Federal Capital Territory- Abuja 57; Gombe 37; Imo 66; Jigawa 37; Kaduna 52; Kano 34; Katsina 37; Kebbi 35; Kogi 61; Kwara 62; Lagos 65; Nassarawa 42; Niger 49; Ogun 65; Ondo 64; Osun 64; Oyo 63; Plateau 52; Rivers 62; Sokoto 15 for males and 7 for females; Taraba 19; Yobe 20; Zamfara 14 for males and 12 for females. The irony of this fact is that it is still the citizens from those states which have very low cut-off scores who will be saddled with the management of the Nigeria of tomorrow. They are the ones who will be appointed into high public offices as high court judges, comptrollers, ministers and heads of government agencies and parastatals. Those whose scores were high would be told they don’t “qualify”!
Yes, my dear Afama-Eromsele, while there are reasons to line up and fight our “common enemy” whoever he is, it is necessary for the ordinary Nigerians to guard against surprises if they are in for a battle. Only those who have the experience know what is involved in a war. For instance, there is the provision of Sharia in the Nigerian constitution, but none for Christianity – as if the country is an Islamic country. Where does that leave about 50% of Nigerians?
For that and many more reasons, most Nigerians believe that there is need for them to advocate for a new constitution that will be drafted by elected representatives of the people for the people and not one that is imposed on them by the military junta that kept Nigeria in the messy condition it has remained since it attained self rule. These are the areas advocates for change should concentrate their war. Let them talk to their local representatives. They should lobby their parliamentary colleagues that Nigerians want a new constitution. They should collect signatures in forums that aim to inform the legislature that this idea of a new constitution is what a majority of people from each of the constituencies want. That is one way to get about the war, not just greedily asking for more and more constituency allowances when some of the legislators don’t even have constituency offices and hardly interact with members of their constituencies or get their weekly or monthly mandates for the parliament the moment elections are over.
The NCEF has given its support to Gen. T. Y. Danjuma who recently called on Nigerians to defend themselves against attacks by bandits. But I personally don’t believe that it is the right way to go about the problem. If there is anything Nigerians must avoid in this lingering challenge, it is the idea of taking a panic measure over the incessant killings in parts of the north. The Forum has advised President Buhari to “dismantle the current discriminatory appointments in the country’s security and education sector and make new appointments in compliance with Section 14 (3) of the constitution; commence the implementation of the 2014 National Conference and to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as the basis of providing healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness in Nigeria. But above all, the Buhari administration should set up machinery to develop a new constitution for Nigerians, based on democracy as the only national ideology. As an immediate step, the Forum recommends a return to the 1963 Republican constitution which was the constitution negotiated by the founding fathers of the Nigerian nation.
It has tasked Nigerians to be prepared to embark on civil disobedience and shut down the country if the Buhari Administration fails to take immediate corrective measures to stabilize the country and restore justice, equity and fairness, particularly in stopping the reckless murder of Nigerians by Islamist insurgents. “Nigeria belongs to all its citizens. And it is the highest act of treachery, betrayal and treason for elected officials to use the instrument of government to promote sectional interests at the cost of the lives of other citizens. As elders, we witnessed Nigeria pre and post-independence. What we are seeing presently is a nightmare compared to the glorious dreams of the founding fathers on 1st October 1960” the forum said.
“During the colonial era, traditionalists, Christians and Muslims all lived in peace and harmony. It is disturbing that after independence, Nigerians are unable to live together again, in peace. We do not want to believe that the British should be invited to come back and rule us. We can solve this problem but the Islamists in northern Nigeria must be persuaded to back down from this foolish and live-costly adventure that they have embarked upon. It is an ill wind that blows no one any good,” the Forum said in its statement.
So, while many Nigerians would agree with Afama-Eromsele that they stuck together during the football match between their country and Iceland, I don’t think they want to be carried away in their political focus by the same level of emotional commitment to that football match. Nigeria’s political terrain is not a football pitch but all the same, it very slippery. For the untutored, criticising or condoning people who are in government could be as easy as to stay 50 yards apart and fling the leg in a kung fu fight. No one who knows the terrain will do that. They know that the stakes run much higher.
- Asinugo is a London-based journalist and commentator and publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine (imostateblm.com)