Restructuring: Nigerian elders aren’t playing the role -By ’Tunji Ajibade

Filed under: National Issues |

Tunji Ajibade

Nigerians relate well with one another at everyday level irrespective of where they come from. It’s in high-wire politics and sharing of resources and appointments that we remember who’s Igbo, Fulani, Yoruba or Hausa. I have friends across those divides, and I see them as Nigerians, not their tribal and religious colorations. So, I don’t understand it when some spew ethnic and religious hatred in the course of contributing to relevant national discourse.

Who’re the people in this category and what role have they played in the ongoing restructuring debate? Have their approach steered the debate in the right direction, and is their disposition helpful to the future of this country?

I shall string a few things together in my approach to these questions. Not long ago, the Sultan of Sokoto, Saad Abubakar, observed at an event that most Nigerians proclaim faith in God yet they talk about “the mistake of 1914”. The Sultan rhetorically asks his listeners if God makes mistakes. At a prize-giving ceremony organised by the Nigerian LNG Company in 2009 in Abuja, and where Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was the Guest Speaker, the ex-Biafran warlord said he had come to the conclusion that if God wanted Nigeria to break up, he, Ojukwu, would have succeeded with the 1967-1970 Biafran project. He repeatedly said he was for the unity of Nigeria and he wanted to be remembered as standing for the unity of Nigeria.

The remarks by these two eminent Nigerians have also made me wonder how Nigerians who profess God so much could harbour hate against a fellow Nigerian. I find this quite intriguing, how anyone can hate or despise a fellow human being on the basis of tribe, race or religion. I’ve concluded it takes a really bad heart to hate. For me, a bad heart is the reason people do atrociously unbelievable things to fellow humans on the basis of, for instance, race as the World War II has demonstrated. A bad, uninformed heart is the reason anyone would stereotypically tag a tribe and hate it as one. The older generation of Nigerians has continually contributed to this.

A few years ago, a young man was on Gbenga Aruleba’s “Focus Nigeria” on AIT in his capacity as the leader of an association. One of his fantastic claims was that Nigeria’s problem had its root in what he called the collaboration among the Hausa and Fulani oligarchs and the British colonialists to amalgamate different parts of Nigeria in 1914. I did respond on this page that the amalgamation was Lord F. Lugard’s idea (he resigned his appointment in 1907 when the British Government initially rejected his request but was brought back in 1912 to execute the project), and that this kind of spurious claim was one reason Nigerians found it difficult to feel united. The claimant is one of those Nigerians who take their own tribes as perfect; for them, other tribes create all of Nigeria’s problems. How did the young man arrive at his conclusion? He picks bits and pieces in the form of hate and biases that the older generation pass on to him as the historical truth.

Also, I’ve heard young people make strange claims about the Nigerian civil war. Teenagers say a particular ethnic group is responsible for genocide in the course of the war. How do they arrive at that conclusion regarding any war situation which inherent unpalatable outcomes are certain wherever it happens? They get bits and pieces of hate and biases as history from the older generation. This brings me to the role older generation plays in the current debate about restructuring. I take note that the older generation largely makes the call for restructuring, and it’s at the forefront of the ongoing debate. But I’ve also come to the conclusion that the older generation hasn’t handled the process in the manner we’ve come to expect of elders in the African context. I’ll explain.

In most settings, if young ones are impatient with the elders, it’s often in connection with the elders’ tendency to spend long time discussing, seeking peaceful solutions regarding issues over which hot-headed young ones would gladly pick up arms. Most of our elders at the moment have handled the restructuring issue in the manner expected of young ones, not elders. Why do I state this? Over the years, each time there was a national issue that generated heat, I took it for granted that the older generation would reach out across the Niger River, pay one another visits and discuss the way forward. But it’s never been the case. Yet, it’s so easy to do because many among Nigeria’s older generation of public figures have met at the highest level before they retire to their communities. The other day, I was surprised when Alhaji Tanko Yakassai mentioned some elders from the south (involved in the restructuring debate) whom he said he had worked with in commissions and presidential committees from the 1960s into the 1980s. Such contacts across the Niger could have been utilised by the restructuring champions to generate consensus and provide a safe landing for us.

I know there are elder statesmen and past leaders who enjoy tremendous respect in parts of Nigeria other than their own. So, I’ve expected elders among them who are interested in the restructuring matter to get up from the South and pay visits to elders in the North-East, North-Central, North-West. I expect elders from those sections too to do the same, get background dialogue going over every important national issue, showing one another what the benefits are for each section of the nation. But, what I’ve noticed thus far is that our elders mostly stay in their part of the country to point fingers, issue threats regarding what they want Nigeria to look like. In the event, positions are hardened and the outcome is the kind of situation we have now from some sections of the country regarding the call to review our federal arrangement.

A few weeks back, after the issue of devolution of powers was overlooked in the Senate, the Senate Majority Leader, Ibrahim Lawan, said the entire issue of devolution was something many from the North didn’t quite have a grasp of. He said time was needed to have a better understanding and people should stop issuing threats. A few days back, Usman Bugaje, a respected northern elder said there was the need to have a grasp of what was meant by the restructuring issue after which the North would come up with its own view, and that it wouldn’t be pressured to accept what it didn’t fully understand its implications. These instances make me ask only one question: How come each time there’s an important national debate, elders who champion it don’t think it’s necessary to engage in consultations with elders in every part of the country to carry them along? Considering our past experiences of antagonism, I assume this should have been the accepted standard approach.

I took note the other time when some governors from the North travelled to the South-East. This had followed skirmishes not totally unconnected with the restructuring issue. Governors from the South-East reciprocated the visit along with a few elders. I thought these visits should have included all the geopolitical zones in order to give a sense to our people that we may disagree but our elders are working towards finding peaceful solutions to our national challenges, including the need to restructure our federation.

Now, I come to two conclusions. Every Nigerian, except the privileged elites, bears the brunt of the challenges that have led to the agitation for restructuring. Elder statesmen, politicians and other relevant stakeholders should reach out to discuss in order to resolve them if they are truly keen to keep this nation united. Two, unintended outcomes happen in history. But we need to move on rather than live with hate that past occurrences can encourage. The older generation should desist from playing the role it has played thus far in passing hate as history to the younger generation. If it doesn’t, it’s assisting to destroy the future of our nation. I have this conviction that the younger generation of Nigerians has the innate capacity to forge relationships across tribal and ethnic divisions needed as foundation for the unity of this nation, and it has been doing so. But, would the older generation play the role expected of it?

 

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