I listened to the paramount ruler of Somolu today as he expressed support for Sunday Igboho, very eloquently, and as he foreclosed the idea of the Yorubas continuing with the Nigerian entity. The Oba called it a war of independence (ija’gbara in Yoruba language). But he launched into deep history (especially of Lisabi and the Egbas, who place a curse on the Yorubas according to him, for treachery). The story, as told by him was that the Oyos used to oppress the Egbas and Lisabi (just like Igboho) rose in their defense. According to the Oba, Lisabi was a fatalist, for 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 canons before he departed and was proven not to be extinguishable. 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 from the war which Lisabi waged 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 hurl him into eternity. Smart geezer, Lisabi discovered the trick, hence the curse he placed on the people, according to Oba Gbolahan Timson, the Jagunmolu of Shomolu Bariga, whose elocution is one of the best I’ve heard lately – in Yoruba.
Oba Timson 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.
Did we see the paradox? If these curses are true – and the Jagunmolu believes in the curses – does that not mean that even when Yorubas are in their own country the same back-and-forth arguments, mutual suspicion and counterplots will also dog the new republic? Oba Timson even made an example of what the Egbas did to MKO 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. The Oba said Yorubas have ‘iwa buruku’, which could mean a treacherous behavior 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 who are actively supporting the dismemberment of the country? In fairness, Oba Timson recommended how Yorubas can perform rituals to vitiate the curses.
So 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 patients and a little bit more perceptiveness help us in repairing the structure rather than summarily dismantling same? Have we tried enough? Have we spent enough time compared to some of the other countries we admire who actually went through worse than we have – bad governance, hunger, famine oppression, disease and whatnot? Are we acting based on cognitive biases that the grass is greener elsewhere, or that yesterday was better than today? Have we also checked ourselves, as in, what are we contributing to the malaise that is Nigeria? Self-criticism is a great attribute that helps one keep focused and to improve. How many Nigerians are self-critical? Have we not been seen to protect that which is ours and criticize that which belongs to others? Our own brother can never do wrong but someone else’s brother could never do right. Is that not the ethos for most Nigerians?
My thinking is that somehow, Buhari brought out the beast in everyone. We pray that whoever comes after is not worse because we never knew Buhari could turn out this way. From Day 1 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 treated himself to good healthcare at Nigeria’s expense while doing nothing for the people. He presided over a crash in Naira value and sponsored his children through schooling abroad while asking people to withdraw their children 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 up. Opportunities diminished to zero. Many Nigerians ran abroad like they did in 1984. The man had appointed only those he knew into office. For me, I have no problem with this as appointments into office is usually the luck of whoever is appointed and their families. But most of his appointees were gerontocrats like him. Old and tired, with no new initiatives. This is how we got here. Buhari brought out the beast in Nigeria. Not so much has changed between Jonathan presidency and now (except that the economy got 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. A people should not create bigger problems for themselves because of one bad leader. Nigeria is bigger than Buhari.
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 actualize this, and a charismatic, even if totally looney 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. Almost 100 policemen and perhaps dozens of Nigerian soldiers have been killed in Nigeria’s south east (including parts of Rivers and Akwa Ibom) thus far. The secessionist threat from the East is therefore much stronger, better funded and organized, 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 nascent phenomenon since the advent of Igboho. In my view, this problem has gone on for so long (51 years), and must be resolved someday. This government will of course escape responsibility by ignoring the problem. I believe the south east be granted a referendum to determine if the people want out of Nigeria. If they say yes, then please Igboexit. If no, then let us now live in peace and cooperation and disarm the breakaway armies. The south west referendum should follow. This is however tricky. Can every clan that wants out be given a referendum? At what point does the government say no? Also, what if we had 2 or 3 years of active, perceptive, positive, communicative, inclusive, imaginative and dynamic governance? Will everyone not forget about breaking away? For if the Igbos of SE 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. Businesses will be ruined out of anger. Xenophobia will spike everywhere as people eject those who are not like them. Victimizations and crimes will spike. Free movement will be curbed. Borders will be rapidly drawn and forcefully enforced. And please that talk of Ecowas and 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 on the extreme side of things, say the time for restructuring has passed. Restructuring to such people, 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, localized oppression at the region. Do the south south subsume back to the south east? Do Binis and Deltans merge back with south west? Do we know about the conflicts that led to the creation of Adamawa and Taraba out of old Gongola? Do we care? Do we think Zamfara wants to fuse back with Sokoto and Kebbi? 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? Is that what the people want? Do we know about the conflict between Ekiti and my Ondo State? Even if we adopt the 6 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? How then do we get it done? What I have proposed before is that restructuring be built into our constitution. 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 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. It should be written into our constitution that that document will be reviewed every say four years, with a view to delivering more to our most vulnerable people. No constitution is perfect. Forget that talk about a constitution being written by the military. It does not matter really. Not even the American constitution – which is our reference point – is perfect. If it was, it will not have been amended 27 times! I can bet with anyone that any attempt to rewrite a constitution in these testy times, will not go past first base. I can see them throwing punches already.
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 also admit that the north has a hold on our politics and if it is anything to go by, governance in Nigeria has not really delivered over time. Yes, the northern culture is rather out of tune with western models of frugal governance and efficiency. But I believe this can be tackled. As a fact, the current agitations is like the country going through a threshing floor. It 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, 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 – 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. These are civilizational issues. There has to be less focus on religious fanaticism in the north as well. Extremism begets extremism. The southern people must be more charitable and cooperative and mock then north 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 required to fix things up and wake up. In a year, the north can clear 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% of the landmass of Nigeria. Call it 65% if you redraw a little bit. They also have one thing… it is like 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. 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, but 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 mistrusted? It is not only because we have bad governments. I recall one of Ruto’s predecessors and kinsman Raila Odinga, cracking a joke about Nigerian leaders stealing 100% 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 Ethiopia Bole Airport, while he was been stared at by Airport Police. Many Nigerians have been detained and jailed for short periods irrespective of who they may be. I recall some VCs I know being detained for hours at London Heathrow because some foolish 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? Or 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. 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.