NASIR el-RUFAI ON PRESIDENT JONATHAN'S "SPECTRE OF BIAFRA": Matters Arising.

Amid the post-election killings in the north of Nigeria, Presidential Goodluck Jonathan cautioned: "if anything at all, these acts of mayhem are sad reminders of the events which plunged our country into 30 months of an unfortunate civil war." 

In a recent interview: "Why I Didn't Support Nuhu Ribadu" (The Sun News On-line, May 21, 2011) Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, former FCT boss, decried what he termed President Jonathan's indifference to post-election mayhem in the north. According to el-Rufai, "The president had an attitude of complete indifference because six days after this crisis started, the Presidency said nothing. And when Jonathan chose to speak, he was raising the spectre of Biafra. That was not a responsible response, with all due respect."

It was not until lately that HURIWA (Human Rights Writers Association) provided information that about 800 lives were lost during that post-election violence. While the violence raged, Nigeria's security operatives combated the killers.

What was irresponsible regarding President Jonathan's caution to the killers amidst the violence reminding them that what they were doing was not much different from what provoked Nigeria's civil war? To stop such large scale violence, which president must not go for any terminology he deemed weighty and fit enough?

In this case, if as it is believed by many that the spectre of the south of Nigeria breaking away from the north sends chillers to the spines of some people, mostly in the far-north, is it then out of order for the President to remind the killers that what they were doing was a reminiscent of what led to the civil war, hence should be stopped? And did or did not that President's reference to the civil war help stop the activities of killers, arsonists and marauders?

And the bigger question: can it be a taboo for the president of any country to make a productive reference to an event that took more than one million lives in a space of about 30 months in his country?

El-Rufai's Biafra talk reminds one of another similar incident: amidst one of those rounds of killings in the north about a decade ago, regional organisations from other parts of Nigeria were spitting threats of reprisal killings, mostly aimed, as usual, to stop the killers. Among the regional organisations was one sympathetic to Biafra (MASSOB). Then Vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, openly scolded the media regarding why MASSOB's, of all the activities of the regional organisations must also be publicised.

The attitudes of Abubakar and el-Rufai to history and realities beggar the question: is there a drive by some Nigerians that some parts of the county's history be washed away?

In the interview, Nasir el-Rufai would subscribe to Nigeria setting up a "thoughtful and comprehensive policy to compensate innocent victims of violence, arson and destruction of property;" and if necessary, a "legislation backing it."

But can Nigeria continue to ignore political/structural reforms it needs today, reforms that must go a long way to eliminate the political underpinnings that prop up the ugly spectre of people resorting to violence, arson and snuffing the life out of their co-nationals at any whim? And instead opt for a legislation to compensate victims of human and material loses; loses arising, unarguably, from undercurrents of political manipulations and exacerbated by ethnic/religious prejudice?

Indeed, if one can see through el-Rufai's prism, the spectre of people killing their co-nationals in orchestrated violence is far from over.

Questions have been asked regarding the rationale behind the last post-election violence. Was the murderers provoked by anger over assumed election malpractices? If yes, what then are the law courts meant for? Did elections provoke previous murderous upheavals?

However, one has to give credit to whom it is due: before now, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai has been one of the foremost in the relatively thin roll of people from the northwest and northeast of Nigeria that understand the drawbacks inherent in Nigeria's Big Federal Government political structure. He has denounced this unworkable political structure that has stalled Nigeria's development process; a structure that has imbued disastrous dependency and despondency cultures on Nigerians irrespective of their provenances.

The dynamics of this political structure birthed the bitter political struggles over who, or which group, must at any turn sit on the throne to control revenues from Nigeria's natural resources. In fact, groups' struggles for control of the big central government in a pluralistic country drives the sporadic upheavals; the only deviation is that sporadic selective killings (some dub them pogroms) in the far-north of Nigeria is mostly tinted with religion on the background.

Human, more than natural resources, are easier to develop, are the most effective means to fuel development in any society; and above all, where human resources exist side by side the right political climate, human resources are the most easily accessed by all for society's good.

Nigeria's political and development problems are mostly buoyed on most of its citizens' inability, or choice to ignore so far, to differentiate between the terms 'Resource Control' and 'True/Fiscal Federalism,' (Mallam el-Rufai has since rooted for the later).

In a resource control polity, a state like, say, Bayelsa or Ondo or Imo can have all the natural resources but, due perhaps, to its people's poor attitudes to duty or its inability to develop its human resources, the state and its people can still remain poor.

In a fiscal and true federal structure, a state like, say, Zamfara, or Ebonyi or Osun or Kebbi which is able to understand the importance of human resources, may develop its human and scant natural resources, makes its populace aware of the challenges facing them, enable them exert their energies and talents to the fullest and thus make more development strides than any, if not all the three southern oil and gas states cited above.

Nigeria is long overdue for political and structural reforms to give lesser incentives to those who take to the streets to murder innocent citizens at any turn, to set the country on the right path to development, to disabuse the minds of most of its citizenry who rightly believe that the 1999 constitution imposed on the country by the military is not for the good of all in the country. For those of us that are waiting for good leaders to emerge from this structure and set things right under the same structure: what does one expect to come from a huge central government that munches much of its income on overhead costs? What significant infrastructural developments do we expect from a government whose political practitioners surround themselves at many levels with immunity laws?

When those known for chasing the substance now begin to chase shadows...

This is where Mallam el-Rufai's now overt ambivalence - his condemnation of the evil of Nigerians murdering their co-nationals, and at the same time asking for a standard formula to be used in future to compensate victims of such violence ÔÇô is troubling, and may send a bad signal to murderers; a signal that it is not yet time to sheath their swords.

Benedict Okereke

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