Saturday, December 6, 2008
NIGERIA, MIRED DOWN IN TRIBALISM!
One of my favorite Nigeria media commentator, Simon Kolawole, editor of Nigeria's Thisday Newspapers wrote this analytical piece on the problem of ethnicity and tribalism in Nigeria titled "Nigeria Fails Us… Yet Again". Icheokudotcom loved it and with due deference to Mr. Kolawole, hereby republishes same.
"Let’s be frank: how much protection do the ordinary people of Nigeria enjoy from their government? The raison d’être for government, we were taught in elementary political science, is to prevent anarchy, to secure life and property. In a state that has not failed or that is not at war, government must have the monopoly of violence. Citizens must be able to live anywhere in their country without fear. Citizens should have confidence in the government’s ability to secure their lives and property. It’s that simple.The latest Jos riots, in which hundreds were mercilessly killed, once again brought this fact to the fore: nobody cares about us in this country. Our rulers think they are in power just for themselves alone. They do not joke with their own comfort – as you can see in their bullet-proof, state-of-the-art, multi-million naira convoys with the full compliment of security operatives because of insecurity in the land; frequent medical trips abroad because of our unhealthy hospitals; ivy league schools for their children in America and Europe because of our illiterate teachers; so on, so forth. From my base in Lagos State, I could guess there was going to be trouble in Jos North. No council poll had held there since 1999 because of the explosive nature of the local politics. There have been frequent clashes between the “settler” Hausa/Fulani community and the “indigenous” Beroms. The tension is permanently there and you don’t need any security report to know that bloodshed was a possible outcome. Thousands have died in clashes there in the last 10 years. What other indication do you need? That no adequate security arrangement was made for the election beats my imagination; perhaps Nigeria’s security apparatus was too busy executing the seven-point (or is it four-point) agenda against Mallam Nuhu Ribadu that they forgot their primary responsibility was to protect Nigerians. Instead, they were busy fighting the fight of an ex-governor and his co-looters on the rampage. That is the basic tragedy of Nigeria: if the task is to protect treasury looters, our security agencies and exponents of rule of law would do it perfectly, with dedication, with vigour. But if it is to protect the lives and property of Nigerians, they just can’t be bothered. What a country! I covered the 2003 general election in Plateau State. I toured Jos North while voting was in progress. What I saw and learnt was scary. The atmosphere was polluted with tension. I took time to make enquiries. I realised that a weapon of mass destruction had been firmly planted in Jos North for decades. I was told the Hausa/Fulani are seen by the “indigenous” Berom as “settlers” who are trying to dominate their “hosts” in the “typical expansionist agenda” of the Northern “oligarchy”. To the Beroms, therefore, the “agenda” had to be stopped. Their attitude is: “How can these Hausas come and lord it over us in our own land?” On the other hand, the Hausa/Fulani are said to be of the opinion that you cannot be calling them “settlers” in a land they have lived for perhaps hundreds of years. They see themselves as authentic “indigenes” – they have even coined a word to describe their ethnicity: “Jasarawa”. They too had decided to take their destiny into their hands by mobilising politically to assert themselves. Their own attitude is: “Where else is our home? This place belongs to us.” In summary, therefore, we had a potential Armageddon in our hands in Jos but pretended it was not there. In fact, riots in 2001 and 2004 had led to the slaughtering of thousands and a declaration of a state of emergency and suspension of the governor by ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo. But you cannot resolve a conflict by a decree. You can actually worsen it when you ignore the real problems and the undercurrents. People don’t just wake up one day and start butchering their neighbours if there had not been a latent factor. Conflicts, in my own understanding, are better resolved through a process of reconciliation, mediation, negotiation and a mutually agreed way forward. People have asked me: how can an ordinary council election become a religious war? How can a political matter become ethnic? In truth, it is the other way round: an ethno-religious problem became a political conflict. It was Hausa/Fulani vs Berom, automatically Muslim vs Christian and, intriguingly, ANPP vs PDP. My worry is not about Jos North only. I am worried about every state in Nigeria where there are minorities who for years have been living in the shadows of the “majorities” and are trying to assert themselves. I worry as much about the “indigenous” Christians in Zamfara and Kano States as much as I worry about “indigenous” Muslims in Enugu and Imo States. I fret about Ekitis in Kwara State as much as I worry about Aworis in Lagos. We are sitting on potentially serious conflicts, burying our heads in the sand (like ostrich) and pretending everything is fine. Why can’t a Muslim Fulani be chairman of Jos North? Why can’t a Christian be a commissioner in Kano State? Why can’t an Ijaw be governor of Delta State? Why can’t an Emeka Enechi, “the Lion of Gboko”, be governor of Benue State? Why can’t an Uzo Chuku be governor of Kebbi State? Why on earth should somebody who has lived all his/her life in a place still be treated as a “settler”? Why do we neglect the basic constitutional provision of citizenship and instead be talking about “indigeneship”? Why do we ask of “state of origin” rather than “state of residence” even in official documents? How come there are no concrete steps being taken to eliminate this institutionalised discrimination? Why are we so racist (tribalistic) in this country? But God forbid that I give up on Nigeria. Instead, I have seen signs and indications that convince me more than ever before that this country can work. In Kano, for instance, I know there are “settlers” among the governor’s appointees. Lagos State has an Igbo commissioner. Former governors, Orji Uzo Kalu (Abia) and Donald Duke (Cross River), built mosques in Government House. An Igedeman was Benue State deputy governor for eight years, even though Igedes have only two councils. An Itsekiri is now governor of Delta State, although some are still bitter over that. All these may be taken as tokenism and symbolism, but that is exactly the point – we need these symbolic gestures to start with. We can then build on them.I know some people think the only way these problems can be addressed is through a sovereign national conference (SNC). Unfortunately, I am not one of the proponents of this. The whole idea has been poisoned with calls for the balkanisation of Nigeria. I do not see anything concrete coming out of it, apart from name-calling and bickering. I have discussed with the advocates of SNC several times and all I hear them say is how the North has marginalised the South and how they want to weaken the North. For me, you don’t go to the negotiating table with such an attitude and expect to get anything meaningful out of it. Respect begets respect. In the interim, I favour local problems being resolved locally, with the full support and participation of the Federal Government. I believe strongly in the power of negotiation and mutually-designed, mutually-agreed roadmap to peace. We can move on to SNC when we have taken care of the problems in our backyard. In Delta State, for instance, those who campaigned for a South-south president last year were the same people who said an Itsekiri should never be governor over Urhobos. That’s hypocritical and inconsistent. And that is why I think many of those canvassing SNC are too narrow-minded in their diagnoses and prescriptions. I conclude thus: one, the Jos North killings served us enough notice but we ignored it, perhaps because of the “state of emergency” declared on Ribadu and some sections of the media; two, there is “Jos North” in virtually every corner of Nigeria and if we don’t act on time, there is real Armageddon ahead; three, we must consciously take measures to entrench citizenship and discard “indigeneship”; and four, we need symbolic gestures to accommodate minorities in our midst, at least to start with. Finally, the Jos North killings have once again shown that this country, Nigeria, has failed woefully in its basic function: protecting the lives and property of its citizens. Warlords were on the loose killing innocent people, while we were busy mobilising state energy against Ribadu. What a country. What a shame". The author can be reached via his Email: firstname.lastname@example.org