Sunday, July 4, 2021 5:58 pm
By Olawale Rasheed
Battling for personal liberty is a cherished legacy, boasting of men and women with stoic resilience in the face of state oppression and violence. They form the bulwark of collective struggle to achieve group freedom and societal liberty. At every critical stage of a societal life, imperative of struggle for freedom pops up. The intellectual question facing all is what best strategies and tactics are most suitable for application, for expected results and for achieving the ends with minimal collateral damages.
Within the contemporary Nigerian situation, the convulsion from the north to south is a separate battle for state building which can be thinly sperated from the century old struggle for personal liberty. The status quo is a consequence of inbuilt faultlines within the state structure, which are well known to all stakeholders. The 1914 question resolved through the independence and 1963 constitutions remains the foundation of all current confrontations. The independence leaders despite their shortcomings deployed political sagacity and indeed negotiated a constitutional framework that addressed the error of 1914. Late Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikwe and Obafemi Awolowo accepted the deep differences among the three main regions and opted for a truly federal structure with substantial fiscal and political autonomy for the regions. The abrogation of inherited constitution by Ironsi led military government destroyed the negotiated instrument that had largely corrected the mistake of 1914. Let me assert as history confirmed that it is not the North that repealed the federal constitution; it was eastern leaders who instituted the unitary structure that is hunting us today.The grave error and miscalculation of Ironsi presidency was only consolidated by the unfortunate civil war which finally destroyed whatever is left of the independence and 1963 Republican constitutions.
From 1966 to 1979, the civil war military leaders were at home with the unitary structure as it enhanced their hold on what they perceived as a fragile nation and as the only route to prevent any region from ever dreaming of secession. Till date , the military leaders of that era, the class of 1966, always proudly display their war wounds to vow to keep Nigeria one at all cost. A military- influenced political elite have since emerged benefitting from the booties of a lopsided, corruption breeding unitary system. The caucus that had sustained this suffocating centralisation is national, not sectional in outlook. From Olusegun Obasanjo to Babangida to Muhammadu Buhari, their team is indeed national, united by group goal of servicing group interest. This caucus dominated the political sphere from 1999 to date. When an Ijaw man was in charge for six or so years, he did not touch the over- centralised superstructure called Nigerian federation. The incumbent from 2015 to date is also acting true to the group code- Nigeria must be centralised for it not to fall apart. Whatever measures of autonomy is conceded to the states cannot go that far as to empower a region or state to become as empowered as the old eastern region under late Odumegwu Ojukwu. For not supporting strong states and a weak centre, let blame the military- political elite who retain the control of Nigeria from 1966 to date. The incumbent is only acting true to his antecedent as one of the civil war actors. The last thing he will endorse is devolution widely seeing rightly or wrongly within their group as the reason for Nigerian civil war.
But a new dimension has emerged-the increasing banditry, spreading to southern states under foreign herdsmen. The apparent push for land grab and a perceived move to resettle foreign herders on southern land are new realities troubling a nation with many bottled up faultlines. This is definitely not an agenda, if it exists , of the civil military-political class of 1966. Many of the civil war leaders are quite cosmopolitan. They foster a national outlook in their business and personal dealings. They are agents of pan- Nigerianism, dreaming of a giant of Africa, leading the continent and the black race worldwide. The contemporary development is a manifestation of an extremist attempted hijack of a system for devious agenda. Emerging scenario is a case of anarchic right wingers, pushing to foist a model of their dream through exploitation of deficiency within the state power structures. So a new actor, a deadly foreign nurtured expansionist caucus, has emerged on the horizon. It threatens even the incumbent and members of the class of 1966. When the world see the incumbent as a collaborator, the insider fact is that of victim in a state hostage situation.
The consequence of several decades of bad governance created a youth population with little of no faith in the state. Political leaders across administrations failed to educationally and economically develop the youth who are growing up as a militant sector of the society. While we write of millions out of school in the north, we are silent on the growing army of street gangs, cult and freelance thugs across the southern region. The militant uneducated corps pose similar threats to political leaders in the North, East and West as much as forest gangs are pushing to hold northern leaders hostage. Just as some elements in the north appear to be pampering their bandits, leaders in the South are actually promoting and appointing their gang and cult boys. It is all survival strategies. Political leaders of the north are as much a victim as southern leaders.
But how best can the West, East and even the moderate North tackle and cage this monster? Certain misconceptions should first be addressed. Muhammadu Buhari did not brought himself to power. He campaigned ,was campaigned for and was voted into office. His backers include the best minds in the federation across political lines. Are they not as smart as we think? Any error of a Buhari presidency should be blamed on those bright minds. Secondly,addressing the menace of land grabbing foreign herdsmen cannot be achieved through secessionist agitation. Nigeria is one of the strongest state in Africa despite her woes. No region or state can break away from Nigeria of today. It was not possible in 1966; it is impossible today,2021. Those labelling Nigeria as a failed state applying some theoretical postulations missed the reality of Nigerian state which though challenged is still strong enough to uphold her territorial integrity. And lastly, Nigerian challenges should not transformed all people of hope and strengths into mob of hopelessness and depression who think apocalypse is just around the corner. Losing hope as a contemporary generation made us mere caricature of early leaders.Are we not supposed to be an improved breed of our progenitors?
The possibility of resistance under legal superstructure is real. Without resorting to secessionist agenda, the mantra of self- defence is an age long reality within and without nation state. The constitution endorses self defence and in reality, key leaders have mentioned the needs for citizens’ response. Those holding onto the responsibility of every government to protect her citizens are not wrong. Yet that same constitution places self defence at the heart of national security. When the state is challenged, citizens’ defence is a natural response. The Nigerian defence minister once charged the people to defend themselves. It was not a slip of tongue; it was not retracted. The incumbent also recently rebuked the governors, tasking them to act and defend the people who elected them. That was a verbal presidential delegation of authority which can be made real through legal actions within the state structure. Ondo state demonstrated a clear grasp of the new reality. As much as the South Western states have set up Amotekun corps, Ondo has moved further to enact a state law banning open grazing. Osun state has proceeded to set up hunters Association to complement the activities of the Amotekun corps. The Oodua Peoples’ Congress is reorganizing to serve as an intelligence gathering platforms for Amotekun corps among others.
In an era of undeclared emergence in which the state is truly challenged , state leaders are expected to demonstrate statesmanship as war time leaders, sewing together defensive structures to nip in the bud foreign inspired attacks on their people. States are supposed to be on warfooting ,cutting back governance as usual, setting up neighbourhood watches as critical bastion of citizens’ defence. The bulk of security votes should by now be going into security infrastructure s, setting up streets watch corps, linking up with local ,federal,senatorial and state security apparatus. Now is the time to strengthen local traditional institutions , empowering them as local hub for security action. Now is the time to allow the local government to function by addressing local economic poverty that provides thriving ground for insecurity. The state governments especially in the southern parts of the country are expected to energise a security response that must include the likes of citizens’ defenders such Sunday Igboho and his Likes. Such concerted response will signal to the right wingers at the centre that resistance is real and not just being mouthed. Imagine a citizen defender living in luxury within the city! Bandits and other northern right wingers are in deep forests unreachable to security operatives.
I submit that taming the marauding foreign herders cannot be achieved through secessionist plots. Adopting such measures will play perfectly into the evil scheme of the extremist flank ; it is a good cover to wipe out those resisting land grabbing, expansionist caucus. The incumbent will automatically be on the offensive because his delicate point or his group’s sacred axe , has been touched. He will sign unto all military and security measures to keep Nigeria one. This will be to the delight of the right wingers at the centre. This interplay explains why resistance must be deployed through the legal super structure. Asking how that can be achieved is demonstrating lack of depth in the history of struggle for power within the state.
Resistance within the law is achievable. In fact, it is the way to go. Secessionist plots will be brutally suppressed. If the real goal is a true federation, the battle is within legal and political space. If the threat is the foreign herders, the response should be articulated self defence. Both are different; they should not be mixed. And both are winnable.
* Olawale Rasheed , a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja. He can be reached on [email protected]