By Demola Olarewaju
The narrative of the last election was deliberately made simple to fool the simpleminded: portray Nigeria as a ship heading for the bottom of the ocean unless the captain of the ship is removed because that captain was corrupt, unable to secure the land and the economy was also spiralling out of his control. In the aftermath of that electoral mutiny spurred by the greatest and most ideologically diverse members of the ruling elite since 1960, the captain was removed and anothercaptain put in command. Ever since then however, the worst fears have been realised particularly in the economy, subliminally with security and apparently with the unity of Nigeria. President Goodluck Jonathan was referred to as the “Ijaw Christian”
President under whose watch Boko Haram was growing. In choosing General Muhammadu Buhari as its presidential flagbearer, the APC sought to capitalise on the natural ethnic and religious divisions of Nigeria as a country. By making Professor Yemi Osinbajo, a Pentecostal Pastor his running mate, the gambit was complete. If some had thought that Boko Haram would go away with the election of a President of Fulani ethnicity, I am sure they never envisaged the greater danger of roving marauders whom we are often reminded not to call Fulani Herdsmen.
Mr. Joe Igbokwe is a spokesman of the APC in Lagos State but one expect a man of his standing to either tell truths or maintain a ghostly silence rather than engage in half-truths; the realm of which his last article dwells in. Igbokwe by refraining from telling the whole truth sends an obscure message to the powers that be and history must remember him as one of those who provided intellectual justification for any carnage that thereafter follows.
Of course Igbokwe is not an unwilling megaphone of his political interests – he worked assiduously for the emergence of the Buhari government and should find political reward. To do so at the price of Whole Truths when telling it all can foster solutions to national problems and abstaining from them as he did can bring death and carnage in the short-term as well as destroy national unity in the long-term is not only sad but wicked. To do so in direct negation of a position previously held (until the coming of #Change) demands that students of history respond with clear minds and consign the silly position of men like Joe Igbokwe to the dustbin of history where it rightly belongs.
Igbokwe says: “I have preached justice, equity and fair play for the people of the Niger Delta but 17 years after, I am beginning to have a rethink about the inhabitants of the Niger Delta and their antics”.
The Change that makes a man revoke his position of 17 years must be a Change that he hopes to benefit from and APC is full of them – last year it was Rotimi Amaechi who at his Senate screening when asked about his position on Resource Control said that he had been an advocate of it in times past but a recent visit to a far Eastern country had made him revise his position as he now no longer believes in it. Amaechi was rewarded with a Ministerial portfolio, far more than Igbokwe can hope for.
Where Igbokwe’s faulty thought process falters is that he failed (or deliberately ignores) to understand that concept of justice, equity and fair play goes beyond throwing money at a problem and hoping it would go away. He describes the agitations of the Niger-Delta as ‘blackmail’ against former Presidents Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan then carefully attributes Jonathan with giving oil wells and so on to Niger-Delta indigenes to placate them.
If this is Igbokwe’s definition of justice that has made him revoke his former stand then perhaps he needs to be schooled – and I say this respectfully.
The issue of the Niger-Delta goes far beyond social rehabilitation which was only the placing of band-aid on a deep gash, a treatment of ringworm while leprosy festers on the skin. Justice and equity for the Niger-Delta goes beyond the Amnesty Programme and even beyond the election or rejection of a President from the Niger-Delta. It is a problem to which we in the Southwest have always had a solution, which if Joe Igbokwe had been thoroughly educated in this school of political thought, he would have readily hit on as the solution to any problem that emanates from the Niger-Delta. We can of course blame Igbokwe’s schoolmaster – Bola Tinubu – for this gradeschool thinking at the tertiary level. Tinubu in merging the ACN with the CPC to win federal power also had to chuck out the progressive syllabus handbook and embrace feudalist thoughts.
Fortunately, some of us although younger studied at the feet of their masters – my learning in late Bola Ige’s thoughts helps my mind to see through the haziness of the Igbokwe’s of this world. Ige once said “There is nobody outside the Niger-Delta who is a bigger friend of the Niger-Delta than myself”. Indeed, he also said that “God who put oil beneath the ground of the South-South knew it would cause some damage to their land” in advocating for greater responsibility from the Nigerian state to the Niger-Delta. Even when Ige served under a PDP government which had a cacophony of voices for and against Resource Control, Ige tried to force a national dialogue on the matter by going to the Supreme Court to determine the issue under the guise of littoral states.
Igbokwe verbally urges Buhari to go to war in the Niger-Delta. If Igbokwe assumes that a war in the Niger-Delta would help Nigeria then he is perhaps actually just a terrible student of Tinubu’s school of politics and I apologise to his schoolmaster – some students just do not pay attention as even Bola Tinubu can never think this way. Igbokwe continues the trajectory of this government which is divisive (97% versus 5%, Wailers versus Hailers etc) – an ironic fulfilment of the prediction that Jonathan would divide Nigeria, now being fulfilled under Buhari.
Igbokwe’s article is the most dangerous type of prophecy (in the Hebrew sense of the word as “truth-telling) – he mixes and exaggerates his truth which has been carefully subtracted from the truth. One can agree when he says that elders from the Niger-Delta should call the Avengers to order, but to ignore the larger question is to postpone the evil day and to encourage madness which my generation will ultimately reap, long after the sowers of violence and the intellectual justifiers of their actions are dead and buried. As one of many diverse thinkers in my generation, Igbokwe’s
The concept of Justice, Equity and Fair Play to the Niger-Delta may involve things like the Amnesty Programme or electing and rejecting a Niger-Deltan as President but the ultimate solution to such and other crises in Nigeria is True Federalism. Unless a system of equitable distribution of resources is evolved to force every part of Nigeria and every state to look inwards and utilise their best resources, issues will continue to provide moral justification for groups like the Avengers – even if their actions are wrong and condemnable. True Federalism is the ultimate justice to the Niger-Delta and this shouldn’t be hard to achieve as Igbokwe profusely tries to explain that every part of Nigeria contributes one thing or the other and so the Niger-Delta had no reason to feel responsible for bearing the fiscal burden of the federation.
Funnily, there is also another truth beside this one. The truth is that divisive Presidents bring out the worst divisions in any multi-ethnic country. By failing to unite the country after a divisive election where the vanquished incumbent left without fanfare and continues to urge support for his successor in the war against Boko Haram, the Buhari Government continues to fan the flames of division rather than seeking unity and now, that opportunity may have been missed. Many political watchers expected that Niger-Delta response to a Goodluck Jonathan defeat would be violence but this government had a period of close to a year to embrace unity in the South-South at least, yet it chose to ‘unlook’ and keep playing the arrogant and all-conquering victor. And in case some truant student still doesn’t get it, let’s break it down and give them some tips:
What would it cost Buhari to go to Otuoke in Bayelsa and visit with former President Jonathan? Is Mr. President so insecure that he feels this would make Jonathan feel important or that someone up north would think him weak? Such a symbolic move would go a long way to defuse tensions as these issues are not only a problem of multi-ethnic countries but also of political issues.
Mr. President would do well to for once remember that this is 2016 and much water has flowed under the bridge since the days when he fought the civil war. An all-out assault on the Niger-Delta would find sympathy for the Niger-Delta outside the Niger-Delta and even internationally. Not every Niger-Deltan supports this violence but war in the Niger-Delta wouldn’t endear him to the people. Statesmen do not reach for guns as a first option but if men like Joe Igbokwe continue to encourage Mr. President’s natural tendencies, then I too see war but not just in the Niger-Delta.
I see a war in Mile 12 where Hausas/Fulanis and Yorubas clashed recently over a minor motorcycle incident. I see another war in Akure where a foremost Yoruba leader was not only kidnapped but has had his farmland attacked severally, resulting in the death of an OPC member. I see another war in places across the north where Shia Muslims now feel a greater sense of being besieged. I see a war in some Eastern parts where IPOB protesters have been killed and in Enugu where farmlands have been ravaged. I see a war in Agatu but that war already happened on the watch of this President with many dead but not a single person arrested.
When citizens feel a sense of being second class in their own country and some feel superior to them, either by actions or inactions of Government, any eyes can see wars.
Even if your name is Joe Igbokwe and the war may one day extend to our individual doorstep.
Demola Olarewaju is a Lagos-based Public Affairs Commentator and Strategist.