Like a gangrene, despotism spreads perniciously. It has the potential to grow rapidly and infect the entire body in a most vicious manner. That is, if the painful but necessary procedure of cutting out the infected part is not carried out.
Increasingly, the Buhari administration is proving to be a cruel gangrene that is growing in ferocity, eating at the very soul of our dear country. Those who once thought they were sacred cows and could not be afflicted by its mad and devastating onslaught are now regretting their obvious naivety.
Not even conscientious dissidents who in other democratic dispensations could take refuge under the banner of free speech to call out autocrats have been spared. They are now also licking their wounds.
Once upon a time, other Nigerians, especially the privileged political elite who wanted to be politically correct and curry favour with the imperious Mr. Buhari, silently stood by and watched Fulani herdsmen kill indigenous peoples in the Middle Belt region and forcibly occupy their ancestral lands. These passive Nigerians saw the suffering inflicted on us by the horrendous impunity of the herdsmen as strictly ‘their own’ concern which ‘they’ alone should grapple with.
To be sure, as Garba Shehu, Femi Adesina, President Buhari and the Miyetti Allah Cattle breeders fell over themselves to at once discredit reports of, and justify, the herdsmen’s brutalities, the South West elected to deliberately look the other way and even accepted the false narrative about a subsisting conflict between farmers and Fulani herdsmen.
The South West thought that being largely in the same political Party (APC) with Mr. President automatically conferred on them a certain measure of immunity from the bloodthirstiness and expansionist proclivities of the herdsmen. Unknown to these lukewarm onlookers, even the Muslims amongst them are considered as being second-class by their core north ‘brothers’ who have conferred on themselves the status of the true custodians and adherents of the faith.
Aside die-hard, consistent consciences of our society such as Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, a few social critics and some top notch patriots in Afenifere and such other pressure groups, the largest proportion of South West politicians chose the easy path of passivity. Like we have said elsewhere, they silently queued behind Ahmed Bola Tinubu, waiting to be counted among Mr. Buhari’s ‘good guys’, in anticipation of a hefty rewarded, come 2023. This is because the core north prides itself as possessing a decisive political joker – the huge electoral ballots that can sway any presidential vote. Even though this has remained highly suspicious.
As recent events have poignantly shown, a desperate tyrant, especially one with a burning, irredentist, agenda would trample anyone and anything, including the most hallowed ideals, to attain his goals. It does not matter whether your kith and kin were his ardent henchmen only the day before.
We may learn a lesson from the German Lutheran pastor, Fredrich Martin Niemoller, who was an anti-communist and supported Hitler’s rise to power. But he became disenchanted and led a group of clergymen who opposed the architect of the Holocaust. He was also subsequently imprisoned in 1937 by Hitler but was released by the Allies at the end of the Second World War in 1945.
Even at the risk of being too repetitive, we must once again quote this version of his cautionary poem, ‘First they came…’, which says:
First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionist, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me –
and there was no one left to speak for me.
It is within this dark frame of reference that we must situate and interrogate the storming of Sunday Igboho’s residence by well- armed operatives of Nigeria’s clandestine police (Department of State Services) that Thursday, July 1, 2021. Likewise, the earlier condemnation by Abubakar Malami, Senator Abdulahi Adamu, etc, of the resolution of Nigeria’s southern governors to ban open grazing of cattle in that part of the country.
Apparently, the South West, which was once in cahoots with the Buhari government, was suddenly coming to terms with the fact that this virulent disease spares no one; it only tolerates its own, equally virulent, kind.
Those who see that murderous raid on Igboho’s residence as an isolated act of state-sponsored brigandage may be doing so at their own peril. No doubt, there is a strong link between the spiraling Islamist insurgency in the North East, the well-orchestrated mayhem being currently executed by Fulani herdsmen in the central and the southern parts of the country, the rising waves of armed banditry and abductions of school children in the North West, Nnamdi Kanu’s recent re-arrest and the Sunday Igboho saga.
The common thread that runs through all of these recurring tragedies that underscore the daily lives of ordinary citizens is the consistency of the Buhari government’s roles – either as direct triggers or tacit catalysts. Their ultimate destination is the fulfilment of an ethnic and religious game plan. This is very clear in the one-sided manner Buhari’s Federal Government has consistently reacted to these national calamities which continue to raise a lot of suspicions in the minds of the perennial victims.
The immediate goal of the Buhari government in the Sunday Igboho matter is to make the thought of self-determination as an alternative way of freeing Nigeria from this stifling union with the core north a very frightening proposition. Such a dramatic panacea for the overbearing influence of the Muslim/Fulani over and above other nationalities must be violently crushed and lives wasted, if necessary. The long-term desire is to further strengthen the status quo, the existing power structure skewed in favour of the core northern oligarchy, to the detriment of the majority of Nigerians.
What makes this eggregious agenda, which has had the tendency of stoking the flames of Islamist insurgency and the other acts of violence we are witnessing all over the country today, so distasteful is the sugary deception with which they coat it. In the case of Kanu, just as Igboho’s, they pontificate about struggling to preserve national unity and protect the territorial integrity of Nigeria. In other words, they accuse Kanu and Igboho of undermining the unity and territorial integrity of Nigeria!
What national unity? A unity that holds the largest part of the country in perpetual servitude to only one region, the core north? This unity that is built on an inequitable distribution of political power and economic resources where the least contributor controls the lion’s share? The Petroleum Industry Bill currently in the works at the National Assembly is a clear case in point.
They pretend to jealously uphold and guard this whimsical and opaque national unity because it soils all other Nigerians with their own collective failure and weaknesses which have turned the core north into the breeding ground for almost all universal indeces of underdevelopment.
What territorial integrity? They preach territorial integrity to us while they go behind our backs and invite millions of their Fulani kith and kin from all over the Sahel to come over-run our international and state borders. They invite them to come feast along with them in their Nigeria, an eternal heritage bequeathed to them by their forebears. However, the very essence of the integrity of our territories in the central and southern states have been repeatedly raped, bastardized and despoiled by Fulani herdsmen who have continued to ravage and plunder both the peoples and their lands under the very watch of the Buhari government.
This is the version of national unity and territorial integrity that the core north pursues and is consistently striving to force down the throats of other Nigerians.
That is why Nnamdi Kanu, Sunday Igboho and the rest of us must continue to question the validity and equitability of this sanctimonious unity and territorial integrity. We categorically declare that it is high-time this one-sided unity is re-negotiated. This is because the very foundations of this country are laid on very defective ground. It must either be uprooted and equitably reorganized or the constituent units be allowed to go their separate ways. However, some Nigerians believe that the latter option should only be a last resort.
Who says that a national unity that is so suspicious must be viewed as sacrosanct and, therefore, beyond reproach? The north talks about the non-negotiability of our national unity as if the formation of this country was ever negotiated in the first place. And even if it was and its unity cast in stone, are these monumental inequities, violence, atrocities, etc, being visited on the central and southern parts of the country not enough justification for those injured and short-changed to clamour for a re-negotiation of the terms and articles of association?
History has repeatedly shown that the geographical boundaries of nation-states are in a continuous state of flux. This is most especially so in nations where the persecution and denial of the rights of some constituent units on the bases of their religions and ethnicities become the norm, where a section constitutes itself into an overlord over others, etc. Unfortunately, Nigeria, as currently configured, falls under this category.
Who ever thought that the Soviet Union would one day collapse and disintegrate the way it did in 1991? Despite its massive landmass (straddling Europe and Asia) with a population surpassed only by China and India, an ideology which touched every corner of the world, an army and nuclear capability that instilled fear in the US and its western allies and, mark this, a secret service (the dreaded KGB) that perfected the practice of absolute state control over the lives and minds of citizens, despite these remarkable records, the almighty Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) collapsed in 1991. It had been in existence since 1917.
It is instructive to note that the USSR was a loose confederation of 15 republics, with Russia as the most dominant. The others were Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belorussia and Tajikistan. Although many remote and immediate factors were responsible for the ultimate demise of the Soviet Union, those that should interest Nigerians are as follows:
1. The government was strictly authoritarian.
2. Freedom of speech and other civil liberties were proscribed.
3. The one party state was not accountable to the people.
4. Because Russia was the most dominant republic, the interests of the other parts of the country were relegated to the background and subordinated to the whims and caprices of Russia.
Do you see any parallels between the defunct USSR and the Nigeria of today, under President Buhari?
As things stand in Nigeria today, these are the questions bogging the minds of most citizens: After Igboho, who will be the next victim of the Buhari gangrene? Whom amongst Nigeria’s patriots has the courage to toe the line of self-actualization as a way out of the current cul-de-sac and risk being infected by this gangrene? As Nigeria slides into that desperate condition that is turning our country into what Condoleezza Rice called an ‘outpost of tyranny’, how many citizens can afford to court the strong susceptibility of that raging gangrene by calling out Mr. Buhari?
Those averse to the USSR-type solution say that it will erode the great potentials inherent in Nigeria’s diversity. They hope that the Nigerian state can still be salvaged through restructuring and true federalism. But this, they warn, must be carried out with all sincerity and without any hint of ethnic and religious bigotry and Fulani irredentism that have bedeviled our country since 1960.
But whichever way the pendulum swings, Nigerians know that, someday, there will surely be a reckoning. A dispassionate reckoning to right the monumental wrongs committed against the majority of Nigerians.
Only then can the excruciating pains caused by this gangrene be permanently healed. And forgotten.
(Chris Gyang is the Chairman of the N.G.O, Journalists Coalition for Citizens Rights Initiative – JCCRI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)