Saturday, January 28, 2012

Abugu: Dialogue With Boko Haram? A National Dialogue More Like It .

28 January 2012

WHOEVER these Boko Haram members are, they must be people so angry about certain goings-on in the society that they would not be placated until they have destroyed almost everything and everybody in their path to demonstrate this anger. But, what, really, are their grievances? What are they so mad about?

Personally, I refuse to believe that all these bombings, the chilling, remorseless destruction of lives and property that appear to have become a national pastime of the Boko Haram insurgents are carried out merely to show anger at the arrest and detention of some leaders and members of the dreaded sect, as we have been made to believe. After all, Boko Haram, from the very beginning, had emerged from its hitherto shadowy existence in an orgy of violence: it did not adopt violence as its modus operandi merely as a protest against the reported arrest of some of its leaders and members.

Nor am I convinced that these people are this violent because they need to show their abhorrence of Western education and culture as the name Boko Haram suggests—aren’t we interpreting their philosophy rather too literally? It means, then, permit me to say, that Boko Haram’s grievances against the rest of society are much deeper than members of the insurgent group appear prepared to expressly state. But, again, what are these grievances? What are these people really aggrieved about?

We may never know. But, what I do know, indeed what everybody in Nigeria knows, is that so many other people and groups in this country are aggrieved about one thing or the other that we have got to deal with the issues holistically. In the Southeast, for instance, the complaint is about marginalization and seeming deliberate underdevelopment of the region by the federal government over the years; the Niger Deltans are angry at the decades of despoliation of their environment by oil companies, which, in collusion with the federal government, have taken so much wealth from their soil but given them little or nothing in return; the majority Yorubas in Kwara complain about minority Fulani lordship over them; the Beroms in Plateau complain about perceived Hausa/Fulani conspiracy to destroy and take over Jos; Idoma in Benue are aghast at Tiv’s seeming iron-clad domination of the politics and economy of Benue State, etc, etc.

Other examples abound—of the many grievances that virtually every group in Nigeria nurses against the federation. Which is why it has become imperative, perhaps more than ever before, that we hold a national dialogue to discuss these grievances, as many as they come, and find amicable solutions to them, rather than discuss separately with groups as cases arise. We have enough evidence to show that our federalism as presently constituted is just not working—there are far too many stress points. Interreligious and inter-ethnic relationships have largely broken down, giving rise to inter-group suspicion and hate mongering among the population; persons whose responsibility is to superintend callously plunder our commonwealth and institutions, showing no love of country at all in the way they carry on. So, we can’t continue to pretend that all is well when we know that all is not well.

Many influential citizens (some would say those who profit from the rot) routinely talk about the indivisibility of the country—which is what most Nigerians actually wish. But, that is only when the state can guarantee justice, equity, equality and security for all its peoples. Indivisibility must not be seen as a take-it-or-leave thing, an imposition that every citizen must accept willy-nilly. For, we can never have a happy and progressive country where citizens are kept together by force.

Yes, the average Nigerian does not want a divided country. Yes, we all, or at least most of us, want this huge, sprawling giant in the sun to one, a potential African superpower. But, we must be able to sit down together and spell out the terms of that togetherness; we must sit down and agree on how to live as one indivisible entity. Having found ourselves together through the accident of colonial history, irrespective of our cultural, religious and ethnic diversities, it is only natural that we sit down to agree on how we can live together, if we must continue in that forced relationship. That, in my view, is the irreducible minimum that any citizenry can ask of its leadership in a country faced with such existential challenges as Nigeria is.

Whether we have ‘strong or weak’ leader, the truth is that this country will never make progress until it has been redesigned in accordance with the collective wishes of its constituent nationalities. From Murtala to Obasanjo, we have had strong leaders most of the time but where has that left us? We had as many crises in Obasanjo’s administration as we have today, meaning that, in reality, the problem we have at the moment is not so much because President Jonathan is ‘weak’ as because Nigerians who should protect the system deliberately and unabashedly sabotage it for selfish gains.

I have heard people say that the solution to the problem lies in fighting corruption to a standstill. Which is true. But, then, who will fight who? Who will wage a successful anti-graft war in a country where people are prepared to shield corrupt men from the law simply because they are their kinsmen who are only being ‘witch-hunted’, where financial malfeasance is even applauded because the thieving public official is ‘one of our own’?

Is anybody, therefore, under any illusion that we can go on like this for too long? Those who speak arrogantly about the indivisibility of Nigeria should cut the rhetoric and rise to the challenge of building a virile, progressive, socially and economically just nation that citizens will be ever willing to defend its integrity not because anybody says so but because they are proud of the land and flag.

So, let the Babangidas, the Obasanjo’s and all those other more-Nigerian-than-the-rest-of-us compatriots begin to read the hand-writing on the wall and drop their ill-advised opposition to a national conference so that Nigerians can sit down and discuss their future as citizens of a truly one, indivisible country!

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