By Sunny Awhefeada,
If one were to write an abstract on Nigeria the resonating keywords will not be far from chaos, anarchy, confusion, tragedy, waste, loss and other such words with dense negative connotation. Matthew Anorld’s “Dover Beach” gives an apt imaginative depiction of the Nigerian narrative as it is today. Arnold, the Victorian writer captures the uncertainty and chaotic reality of his time in the following words, “So various, so beautiful, so new/Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light/Not certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain/And we are here as on a darkling plain/Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight/Where ignorant armies clash by night”. The sense conjured in the excerpted lines portray a world that is assailed by conflicts and thrown into chaos. The Victorian era from which the poem derives its impetus gave way to the cataclysm of the Modern period as occasioned by the two World Wars. Nigeria has since 1960 proved to be an embodiment of the circumstance that birthed Arnold’s poem. The slain writer and environmentalist, Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa, did adopt the line “on a darkling plain” as the title of his Civil War memoirs in which he gave a frontline account of the Nigerian Civil War from a minority point of view. That War ended fifty-one years ago and we all bear the visible and invisible scars as “casualties” as J. P. Clark lamented decades ago.
We have all become so helpless watching Nigeria slide into anarchy. The movement of history for Nigeria has been fraught with accidents all the way. No matter how sunny our optimism has been, there has always been a genie casting something in the works to rock our boat. That is why the Nigerian ship has never had a smooth sail. But I must admit right away that in spite of our many false starts and the pitfalls that hobbled our sojourn as a people, ours is not and will never be an ill-fated country. I have consistently maintained that today’s tumult derives from the consequences of the sins of old. Sins committed by those who destroyed our today yesterday. One of them mischievously wrote a self-serving book titled, For their Tomorrow We Gave Our Today. Another, ever so desperate to purchase a place in history, proclaimed I See Hope as the title of his political potboiler. These guys whether in khaki or agbada or babanriga ruptured our yesterday and marooned our today. But our tomorrow, our future must be liberated from their vice grip.
It appears as if an uncertain future lay ahead of us and Nigeria. This may seem so, but it must not necessarily be so. We must identify the things and factors that tear us apart and make amends. And those things are inherent in us. The first of it being the acute lack of altruism that has engendered bad leadership at all levels. The lack of altruism suffocates if not asphyxiates patriotism. It demobilizes the essence of nationhood. It enhances and consolidates all that inhere in the antithesis of nationhood. This has been the bane of many Nigerians who by hook or crook found themselves holding the levers of power. Nigeria has always been distant in their reckoning. The best the remotely altruistic has done for Nigeria has been to recede into their tribal enclave and cloister it at the expense of the larger Nigerian ideal. It was for this reason that Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello became tribal avatars shorn of a national temperament. Some are wont to point at Azikiwe’s nationalist credentials. The truth is that he incinerated that label the moment he took flight to Enugu to dislodge the Efik, Professor Eyo Ita, as the Leader of Government Business in the Eastern Region in the early 1950s. From that moment Zik was for the Igbo, Awo was for the Yoruba and Ahmadu Bello was for the Hausa-Fulani. The minorities such as the Isoko, Itsekiri, Afemai, Edo, Tiv, Jukun, Urhobo, Ijaw, Ibibio, Anang, Efik, etc, who could not muster the number to form a formidable ethnic bloc became orphaned in the geopolitical space called Nigeria.
The unfortunate reality of Nigeria’s power geography depicts the predicament of the minorities on the two occasions the accident of history put them in power. These cases are those of General Yakubu Gowon and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Gowon was put in power by rabid Hausa-Fulani irredentists who were baying for the blood of Igbo soldiers that allegedly killed their Sardauna.
Murtala Muhammed who led the coup that brought Gowon to power merely tolerated him for as long as the latter stabilized Nigeria being a Northern Christian. For fear, Gowon couldn’t marry Edith the Igbo belle who was the love of his life. Murtala’s boys in the army eventually kicked Gowon out in 1975 with the active connivance of his boy, Colonel Joe Garba. Goodluck Jonathan succeeded a Hausa-Fulani, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua, who died in office. The North harangued Jonathan for all the years he stayed in office. The Northern elite conspired and undid him. Jonathan’s political naivety made him look like a poor fellow who didn’t understand what was happening to him.
The very root of “the trouble with Nigeria” runs deep in that seminal lack of altruism and faith in the essence of Nigeria. The three founding fathers enacted that unbelief. The military adventurers who torpedoed the First Republic also coloured their bloody action with tribal sentiments as nobody from their ethnic group was considered bad enough to be shot. Only people from other ethnic groups were bad enough to be killed. This provoked the second coup, the massacre of the Igbo and eventually the Nigerian Civil War. The June 12 crisis was also precipitated by ethnic jingoism. The sons of Usman Dan Fodio who typify the born to rule mentality envisaged a Nigeria to be ruled by them only. So, when Moshood Abiola, a Yoruba Moslem won the June 1993 election even in Kano and other core Northern states, Dan Fodio’s sons said nay! Not minding the reality that Abiola was not just a Moslem, but he projected the religion more than any other person by the number of mosques he built in the North and other things he did for that region.
The chaos that is threatening to raze Nigeria at the moment was borne of that same tendency explored above. Boko Haram began as an incendiary gang to protest many years of exploitation and marginalization of the downtrodden by the Northern elite. Soon the same elite hijacked the movement and nurtured it thinking it would use it to subjugate the South. Today, Boko Haram has magnified into a mammoth destructive force that is now haunting the North. Muhammadu Buhari made statements supported them before he became president. Nasir el Rufai and other Northern governors paid murderous herdsmen. Today, other ethnic nationalities are up in defence of their homestead. Amotekun, Ebube Agu, IPOB and even individuals are up against what they see as caliphate colonialism. Nnamdi Kanu, Sunday Igboho and many others have taken to sabre-rattling. The ensuing situation has been that of anarchy all around us. The government is losing control and there is no corner of Nigeria that now enjoys law and order. Besides the bigger issues of terrorism, kidnapping and armed robbery, rapists and serial killers are on the prowl. Diabolic ritualists are loose on our streets taking lives without consequences to them. Many officials of the security agencies are aiding these diabolic tendencies.
Nigerians must dream anew. We must envisage a new dawn and live beyond the present anarchy. But this will not come if we do nothing. Let a new movement be born. A new movement fired by the ideals of altruism. Let patriotism drive us. Let us reinforce the idea of Nigeria. This nightmare has taken too long. Let us wake up!