President Jonathan Goodluck has bought into the misguided clamor for a national conference on the national question. After advising Nigerians in his Presidential speech to the nation, to count both our blessings and curses of the nation’s fifty-three years of self-governance, he announced that he would allow for a conference on the so-called national question. A committee comprised of the same old faces—fifty-five years and above—is already in session regarding the national question. All that someone can say here is it feels like…here we go again: politicizing unity and waste, burying our heads in the sand, and pretending that we do not know the answer to our national question—whatever that question is!
In our efforts to solve the persistent obstacles to Nigeria’s unity, and hence catching up with the rest of the advanced world, our leaders continue to reproduce the same structures, same ideas, same policies, same “solutions,” and same models of development, using the same actors, with the schizophrenic hope that we will get it right each time. Haven’t we held a national conference or something similar before? We have had two conferences, one under the Abacha regime, and one under the Obasanjo government. What happened to their findings?
But as soon as President Goodluck announced his intention to set up another committee to address the national question, criticisms began to pour in. Some accused him of trying to rescue his party from its internal cancer, and some that he wanted to secure his bid for 2015. Others have advanced suggestions, among which is the idea for creating more states to address the concerns of ethnic minorities, and up to and including amending the constitution. The most pungent observations have come from those who see this effort as a waste. The best characterization of this is brought to our awareness by former Ambassador Yahaya Kwande. He states:
“When I heard him announcing it, I was really shocked because I consider it a great waste of money and resources belonging to Nigerians. He could have done something else more worthwhile with the money.”
He went on to suggest that reports from the two previous conferences be given to the current committee and be: “given one or two months to review them and bring them for implementation for the benefits of all Nigerians.”
Amen! Amen! to that.I join the chorus with the Ambassador, but I also understand why the president wants a conference. Since the Al-quada inspired and supported Islamic Boko Haram began terrorizing the North, many Southern activists have bombarded the airwaves and the web with calls for a national conference. President Goodluck is simply using a democratic approach and suggesting that we listen to their calls.
For this, his actions should be applauded, because only a democratic mind would even pretend to want to answer to the people. Just as President Obasanjo was run out of town for trying to hold onto power, that fact that President Johnathan Goodluck is pretending to answer the call of the people should be celebrated as evidence that some of our leaders want to listen to the voices of their people.
But on the other hand, we can see behind the veil that it is misguided. It’s just a diversion from the real issues, and possibly a political ploy to position the PDP and himself for 2015. But it is the activists and some elites who have given the president this convenient excuse and ploy to settle the issue of our national question. But what is the national question, anyway?
If the national question is about the colonial construction of Nigeria, then, it is the wrong question. Nigeria is a fait accompli. If it is our destiny, then there is nothing we can do about. We were married nearly a hundred years ago, and supervised for nearly fifty years. We have been left to fend for ourselves for fifty-three years now. Reasonable Nigerians will agree that we are all in this together, and in the words of the old spiritual message: “no turning back, no turning back;” and to paraphrase Bishop Mathew Kukah quoting a friend in one of his books: it is like a Catholic marriage—it may not be happy, but it will not break apart.
So the real question is: Is the national question about breaking Nigeria into parts as it was in pre-amalgamation or pre-colonization? If that is the question, do we want to create an Igbo nation, where the lessons of the Biafra war occurred not too many generations ago, and where we paid in blood and tears? Do we want to create a Yoruba nation, a Hausa nation, and a Hausa Fulani nation, and nations for the hundreds of other ethnicities? If so, how could we have wasted human and material resources to fight a war to keep Nigeria as one, only to dismantle it? That is tantamount to being “opposite people” as Fela, of blessed memory, would say,
It is instructive to note that those who have been clamoring for a national conference are so parochial and audacious in their thinking that they think that all Nigerians are Hausa, Yoruba, or Igbo and would gladly accept the division of Nigeria into three nations. That is pure arrogance, and the height of audacity.
The northern minorities (those in the middle belt and the pure Hausas breed- the maguzawa) don’t want to be part of a Hausa or Hausa Fulani nation; neither do the southern minorities want to be in a Yourba nation, nor an Igbo nation. Nigerian minorities have fought against treble oppressions: colonialism, marginalization, and the effects of corruption. They do not see their liberation in breaking Nigeria into nations that will yoke them to their regional majorities. They prefer for the current spatial and geographical Nigeria. Their plight can be improved with the creation of states, but not balkanization or subdivision of the country.
THE REAL NATIONAL QUESTIONS
Wasting money and time to set a Presidential advisory committee on the so-called National question, whose answer is obvious, is a bandage on an obvious, large, and open wound. Here is the answer to the national question: Provide security of life and property so that the Igbo who has ran out of spatial space in his region of origin and is highly enterprising can live in peace anywhere in the country and conduct his business; so that the Yoruba can feel comfortable to live and do business even in “Igboland;” so that the Hausa Fulani can feel assured that his life, religion, and pride are not threatened even if an infidel rules the country; so that ethnic minorities have the opportunities to participate in the economic and social life of the nation and not face physical, religious, and cultural extinctions, and MEND fighting for the fair use of oil resources are morally given their fair share of the nation’s revenue.
In effect, our national question is partly more of the question of citizenship, than Nigeria remaining an entity. We should rethink the notion of citizenship. What does it mean to be a Nigerian? That means tweaking our constitution, so that as it is done in the U.S., we are Nigerian (national) citizens in the purest form of citizenship, and we are not indigenes of a such-and-such spatial, geographical area.
Our national question is also about security of life and property. There are three very important social forces that must be addressed in this respect. It does not require a conference to do so. The social forces are: The scourge of Boko Haram that has plunged the north back to the Stone Age. The Federal government and northern governments should cooperate in developing a five-year plan- after all our governments are fond of five-year development plans. Regarding security, why not eliminate these misfits of society and enemies of modernity, once and for all? In the plan, tell the UN that you will not send Nigerian soldiers on any UN peacekeeping operation for five years. Then set up a military base, equipped with air power on the Northeastern corridor. Declare war on Boko Haram and fight it as you would a real war. Nigeria is training about 850 soldiers to go on peace-keeping missions to Darfur. We need them for peacekeeping in the troubled areas in the north.
The Terror of the Fulani Herdsmen
Second, it is not only Boko Haram that is the scourge of violence in the country, but also the nomadic Fulani who have been infiltrated by elements of Boko Hram and Al-quada from Mali, Niger and Chad. They have been terrorizing, killing, and maiming farmers, especially in the middle belt states of Plateau, Benue, Nassarawa, and parts of Kaduna state in Southern Kaduna.
We also need a five-year plan for solving the nomadic Fulani question. The root of the problem is their nomadic lifestyle. Serious consideration should be given to encouraging them to change their lifestyle. It is obsolete and incompatible with the twenty-first century world.
With increases in population, global warming, and depletion of agricultural land, the country can no longer sustain the lifestyle. If their cousins could give up herding and become Hausa Fulani, they can do the same. But, if they don’t want to, then the federal and state governments would be allowed to subsidize modern animal husbandry for them. A group, SOKAD, has made a very useful proposal on this in its memo opposing the bill on the grazing reserves and routes for the Fulani herdsmen.
This is not impossible. Many countries have done it. In America for example, each cattle ranger is only “nomadic” on a few thousand acres of land, and yet, they produce enough milk and beef to feed millions. American cattle farmers can produce enough beef and dairy products to feed more than half of the world, if not the whole world. We are no longer living in the nineteenth century. With science, most things, if not all things, are possible.
The upper north has space and is fertile enough for science to convert the barren desert and semi- desert parts into arable fertile grazing reserves where they can become semi-nomadic and be the meat basket of the country. It is disheartening for nomadism to be politicized, such as in the case with the Fulani nomads in Nigeria. There is no doubt that there is an agenda behind the Fulani ethnic group continuing their nomadic lifestyle. They are being used as a smokescreen for internal colonialization.
The truth about the Fulani nomads is that their number is very few, perhaps just a few million, but yet, they have, in recent times, caused more death and destruction than any ethnic group. However, it needs to be noted that there is no group in Nigeria that has had it so good. The Fulani herdsmen are sacred cows, and not only that, the most privileged and pampered ethnic group. There is a special education for them: Nomadic Education, where schools have been built for them along their nomadic routes. There are ill-conceived and misguided bills in both houses of the National Assembly to create a new bureaucratic and money-siphoning structure called National Reserves and Grazing Routes.
This special treatment for the Fulani herdsmen will not solve the nomadic Fulani question. There is no price that is too high to change the Fulani lifestyle, even if it means bringing water from the Niger and Benue rivers to the upper north location for pastoral agriculture. Nigeria should and can do it.
Corruption, Inaction, and Cronyism
Some of us have begun to believe that corruption is in our DNA. There is corruption everywhere. From the low to the highest, from the police, military, to the ordinary citizen. Corruption is more serious than Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsmen violence, because like cancer, if left untreated, it spreads throughout the system. Our young men and women cannot join the police or military unless they bribe recruiting officers. It does not need a national conference to know that it costs at least between 100,000-200,000 naira to get into the police program and the military.
Our official corruption is so pervasive and endemic that it is the remote and efficient cause of all of Nigeria’s problems. Namely, it’s the reason why we have been unable to solve them, and hence, give us the reason why Nigerians have been asking for a national dialogue.
We need one of those feel-good slogans to fight official corruption: “War Against Indiscipline;” Operation Feed the National,” etc., and we may tag it: “Operation You May Embezzle, But Keep Your Money in Nigeria.”
This is a lengthy slogan and may sound trivial, but it made the case. Some of us believe that the man who could have been president, Abiola, got some of his money through embezzlement, cronyism; but he kept it in Nigeria and made good use of it that benefited many. He built schools, mosques, farms, media organizations, and had a successful football team. One couldn’t ask more from corruption. Take the case of Dangote; regardless of how he obtained his riches, he is doing many good things for the country. He has just announced that he will build a modern hospital in Kano!
Unlike the likes of Abiola and Dangote, many of our new breed of embezzlers are hedonistic, selfish, and classical parasites. Their loots only enrich the economies of other countries rather than Nigeria. A law should be passed banning any high-ranking official from sending themselves and family members abroad for education, medical treatment, or vacation, until Nigeria has achieved a certain level of development. Perhaps, this will help resolve the gradual regression of our universities to glorified secondary schools, and the destruction of our health care system. These suggestions may seem outlandish and trivial, but they are better than wasting our resources and time to convene a national conference to answer the questions whose answers we already know.
We are a wasteful nation. The government is too large and too bureaucratic, and it must be trimmed. More than 80 percent of our revenue goes into administration. How can a country that is still in the nineteenth century economy in a twenty-first century world afford to model its government alongside a giant, such as the U.S., that has a very strong private economy? We don’t need two chambers of National of Assembly with about 469 lawmakers, where the salary and allowances of one lawmaker is more than those of ten college professors. As Rev. Fr Mbaka once said, it is sinful for an aide of a politician to build a three-story mansion in his village, while a professor can’t afford to buy new tires for his car.
Nigeria does not need 774 local governments. Of what use are legislators in a country where there is no rule of law? Since the military left, what achievement have our civilian lawmakers made? Nigeria is better off with no senators and fewer representatives. Abolish the senate and have only the House of Representatives. There should be only two members from each state, with a staff of two for each. Their accommodation, salaries, and allowances should be the responsibility of states, not Federal government.
To accommodate the concerns of ethnic minorities on representation, more states should be created, while the number of local governments would be reduced to twelve for states with large populations and six for smaller states. To accommodate any effect of this trimming, state Assembly constituencies should be increase to bring state lawmakers closer to the people.
This restructuring should alleviate the concerns of those who think that more states may lead to an increase cost of governance.
Our 1999 constitution is a caricature of the U.S., which is the best in the world; but Nigeria does not have the history, the culture, the discipline, or the resources to implement even half of it. If we tinker with our current constitution, by amendments, one day we may reach the promised land of American representative democracy. But for now, we must govern with less government. If the Catholic Church with about 1.2 billion members, an Institution that gave the world the concept of bureaucracy and hierarchy and is spread throughout the world can function with one pope, 51,000 bishops, 420,000 priests, and about 730,000 women in religious orders, Nigeria, with a population of about 166.2 million in smaller landscape, can do with less.
TO KEEP NIGERIA ONE IS A TASK THAT MUST BE DONE.
I apologize to the Igbos for the use of the above civil war slogan of the Yakubu Gowon government. It is as useful now as it was useful then. Our national question can be summed up this way: How do we keep Nigeria united and one in the face of insecurity (physical, economic, and social as evident in the evils of Boko Haram, nomadic Fulani terrorism, political assassination, and kidnapping); official corruption, and cronyism; and bring Nigeria to the twenty-first century?
We don’t need another conference to know the answer and find the solution. We already know them: Develop five-year plans to tackle each one of the above, and the ordinary Hausa or Igbo, or Yourba, or minority, will be happy to leave and work with any ordinary Nigerian. As it is now, the ordinary Nigerian is not looking for ballroom gimmicks and “dogon turanci” to know that all he or she wants is security, a job, and freedom to travel and live anywhere of his or her choice, and feed his or her family. He or she knows the cancer that has infested the country will persist even if the country is subdivided into smaller nations.
The Nigerian marriage is here to stay; there will be no asunder put into it. And as a physician friend of mine succinctly put it: Nigeria, at 53, may be experiencing a mid-life crisis; it will continue to hold together and survive. The Presidential Committee on the National Dialogue, though fait accompli, should work toward preserving that marriage.
Tunga Lergo is Sociology Professor and Coordinator, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Santa Fe College, Gainesville, Florida, U.S.A.