“I lost my husband four weeks ago to Boko Haram.” That was the message sent to me last week on WhatsApp by Angela, as I used to call her. Terse as it was, it bore the shattering impact of a two-tonnes bomb. Its massive boom and the doom it left in its trails deposited shrapnel of despondency in my heart. Its impact was deafening as it hit my ear lobe like a thunderbolt. How does this young, widowed lady, barely a year old in marriage, a First Class graduate of Law and lawyer, carry the massive, unkind fate of losing her husband this prematurely and in such a gruesome yet avoidable manner? Angela is 8-months pregnant. How does the family of this 34-year old man, who had just been killed in the prime of his life, cope with this sudden loss?
Angela and I were classmates at the University of Ibadan. I met her during my latter-day undergraduate sojourn that ended four years ago. Brilliant and well brought up, I became her mentor, helping her to navigate the landmine-filled process of betrothals and marriage. Any of her suitors passed through my thin-comb scrutiny. Just the same way his passage was announced to me on Whatsapp last week, his entrance into my mentee’s life was announced through Whatsapp as well. She had sent photographs of her nuptials one bright morning. When I enquired why she let me off the loop, her explanation was that the family wanted a silent, unannounced betrothal. So, who was he? I asked. A soldier. Bad news, I thought. But when she said he had been transferred to Yobe, the warfront, I mentally began his obsequies right there and then. Because we spoke via telephone, I shut her off the visage of dejection I wore. Why should anyone marry a Nigerian soldier at this time when soldiering had become the Yoruba god of iron, Ogun, said to delight in bathing itself with blood? My pessimism was borne out of the remembrance of my own younger brother who was similarly posted to the warfront and who got killed not long after.
The above story was what I told an audience that comprised former governor of Oyo State, Senator Rashidi Ladoja, ex-Senate President, Adolphus Wabara; ex-Oyo State Chief Judge, Bolajoko Adeniji and several others last Tuesday in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State. Governors Kayode Fayemi and Seyi Makinde of Ekiti and Oyo States had then barely taken their exits from the hall to perform other pressing state functions. Fayemi had delivered the Babatunde Oduyoye annual lecture entitled Security and national unity in this difficult times and my task was to review and interrogate his submission.
Incisive, deep and profound, Fayemi didn’t disappoint his audience as an academic. He waxed lyrical and professorial about the huge stature of the problem of insecurity in the land. Like a bandana, you could see his doctoral degree in War Studies woven round his head. There is war in the land; he confirmed, citing Prussian General and military theorist, Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz, whose greatest contribution to the theory of war is the infusion of the moral or the psychological and the political into consideration of war. Clausewitz had written the classic, On War.
For those who thought war was a tea party, the War scholar governor painted war in a frightening, crimson colour canvass. When there is war, the falcon cannot hear the falconer – apologies to William Butler Yeats and his Second Coming. In war as well, famished parents decide which of their children is fit for dinner. From the kinetics to the human components of war fighting, Fayemi dissected the malady that has seized Nigeria’s jugular. However, as I told the audience later on, as profound as the lecture was, it was lean on the “delivered” and deliverables. As a major participant in the Muhammadu Buhari government and Chairman of the Governors’ Forum, the audience expected to be told by Fayemi how the government in power had made their lives more secure in the last six years. The audience, myself inclusive, couldn’t see any, even though Fayemi struggled through that barren land. He spoke like non-participants in the Nigerian political theatre and analysts like me and the two moderators of the event – Edmund Obilo and Rolake Bello – do in our weekly interventions.
The Nigerian wars – Boko Haram in the Northeast, banditry in the Northwest, IPOB in the Southeast and kidnapping, as well as sporadic violence in the Southwest – have revealed how deeply divided Nigeria is today. Just as ancient African Yoruba traditional explanation of the people’s cosmology always implicates the Tortoise, Alabahun in virtually all societal infractions, you cannot divorce the 1914 colonial error from Nigeria’s present challenge. Lord Fredrick Lugard welded peoples with different cultures, worldviews and ways of life together with magisterial impunity and I daresay, audacity. While the First Republic sought to mitigate the crises brought on Nigeria in 1914 by its practice of federalism, the 1966 coup drew Nigeria back into the nitty-gritty of the 1914 errors. This it did by its unitarization of a federal Nigeria. This has been the equation ever since, further worsened since 2015 by a Nigerian leadership that is divisive, incurably ethnic-centered and which has apparently lost the steering wheel of governance.
Today, the wars reveal all that is wrong with Nigeria. Nigerians explain, or better still, see the wars in the prism of our divisiveness, along the traditional lines of ethnic, cultural, religious and regional cleavages. At its inception, while Boko Haram was seen from the prism of Muslims versus Christians, others perceived it as a sponsored conspiracy to decapitate the Muslim North, while, during the Goodluck Jonathan regime, it was a Northern war to discredit the first president of Nigeria from the South-South geopolitical zone.
Now, the wars have assumed stronger and more dangerous ethnic cleavages, revealing the fact that the 1914 Lord Lugard mis-joinder of Nigerian nations may be a life-long albatross. They reveal how and why Nigeria is not a single nation, has never been and can never be. In the wars, you will see why Nigeria is not together and why anyone who labels Nigeria a nation and assumes that her farcical unity was not negotiable is living in a fool’s paradise. Angela’s soldier husband and several others are killed by insurgents and buried silently by their families, without the knowledge of the world. Victims’ families wail in their closets and lick their wounds silently. And everything goes on as if nothing ever happened. That was why when, in July, 2019, the highly influential Wall Street Journal (WSJ) alleged that a thousand soldiers were secretly buried in Borno State’s Maimalari barracks by the Nigerian Army, the allegation raised a lot of hell, with the Army labeling WSJ an instrument of deceit. In mourning their fallen soldier deceased, southern families wonder why their children had to be killed in a “Northern war.”
Same happened a few years ago in Aagba near Osogbo, Osun State. A policeman from that state had been posted to Zamfara, the hotbed of banditry and got killed in exchange of gunfire. He was hit on the side of his head. His 80-year old ex-Headmaster father and 78-year old mother were distraught and inconsolable. The police he served and died for could only provide N100,000 out of the N200,000 bill to convey his corpse back to Osun, leaving his family scampering round to provide the remainder. As if in a blood oath like the Scyths, ancient Iranian people of horse-riding nomadic pastoralists, who dominated the Pontic-Caspian throughout Classical Antiquity, for whom a form of oath was dripping their blood into a glass cup which was later mixed with wine and drunk by the oath-takers, husband and wife swore, upon the killing of their son, never to come outside of their home. The fallen police officer’s father never did, until he joined him a few months later. His wife still sits inside their Aagba home, swearing never to leave the darkness brought upon her by Nigeria to see sunlight. Nigeria had taken away her sunlight, her son, she wails.
Many southern families whose sons are killed in the wars in the North wonder why they had to die in “Northern wars.” I guess the same is happening in the north. In 2011 when Auwal Shanono, 500 Level Medical Student of ABU, Zaria was trapped and killed in the NURTW imbroglio in Ibadan, I reckon that his family too must have wondered why Shanono had to be killed in a Yoruba war. In 2011, some Southern youth corps members were killed in Bauchi State and later on, in Plateau State and their parents, till today, must be narrating how their children were sacrificed to the senseless “Northern war,” not the Nigerian war. While IPOB and its suspected allies kill at random and burn government properties in the Southeast, my hunch tells me that this government is not overtly bothered because it feels that the Igbo created their own war and are killing one another. This is because Nigeria is a mere convenient narrative to loot and take advantage monetarily. In reality, Nigeria is non-existent as it is a fake and abstract construct.
Thus, the cleavages in the narratives of the wars in Nigeria have conspired to reveal the underbelly of how divided Nigeria is and how only a restructured, properly federal Nigeria can either stem the insecurity in the land or bring Nigeria back to the path of sanity. Since Nigeria is not a nation and no effort is made to accept this reality, it will be foolhardy to expect a national peace and quiet from the shrapnel of anger and anguish scattered all over the land.
What seems to be the tinder that is stoking the Nigerian insecurity is the pervading atmosphere of social insecurity. Perhaps because of the longstanding understanding of national security as security of the people in government, attention was paid less to the human aspect of security. From the 1994 United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP)-Human Development Report which defined human security “as freedom from fear and freedom from want” and its 2-tier understanding of security, one of which is “safety from such chronic threats as hunger, disease, and repression; and two, it means protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life whether in homes, in jobs or in communities,” rulers have been urged to concentrate on the human element of securing their people, rather than deploying kinetics and armaments to the rescue.
Governments after governments, since the military hijack of power in 1966, have been bothered by the now, at the detriment of the thereafter of Nigeria. Skyrocketing unemployment figures, huge statistics of the hungry and the scary number of hopeless people in society have made violence a pastime. The End-SARS protests which shook Nigeria to its basement last year, as ex-Governor Ladoja said at the lecture, is a tip of the iceberg of the war to come, unless we restructure Nigeria in its proper sense. When you add the anger and hunger in the land to the plethora of injustices that is the familiar route that the current administration treads, no one should need a soothsayer to tell us that the war ahead will be worse than the ones at hand.
*Dr Festus Adedayo, journalist, lawyer and public affairs analyst, writes from Ibadan