Ruined by Sectarian/Ethnic Politics


It has become a trend in Nigeria for individual losers in general elections to play on primordial sentiments so as to make things difficult for the new administration. While claiming to be working for their sectional or religious groups, the primordial leaders are actually using the common people as cannon fodder. Afenifere leaders who collected a fortune from Goodluck Jonathan to work for his reelection in March 2015 in the Yoruba-speaking part of Nigeria got well beaten by the group led by Bola Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State, who supported Muhammedu Buhari. When one of their own number, Olu Falae, was kidnapped by a bunch of Fulani herdsmen on September 21, 2015, on his farm in Akure, Ondo State, the Afenifere leaders saw the development as an opportunity to shake down the Buhari administration, and so hit upon the propaganda stunt of the Yoruba pulling out of Nigeria. Now, Igbo political operatives who amassed a fortune from Jonathan and worked unsuccessfully for his return are seeing in the detention of an overexcited young man named Nnamdi Kanu by secret police as an opportunity to engage the Buhari government from a position of strength.

Both the Afenifere leaders and Igbo political operatives are merely following in the footsteps of erstwhile Zamfara State governor, Ahmed Yerima, who in 2000 chose to be in the eye of the storm in the name of northern nationalism and, in the process, set the North back by at least a decade. Yerima, a member of the defunct All Peoples Party (APP), capitalized on the culture of religious politics in the North to launch the Sharia law in the state shortly after the federal administration led by Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian from the South and a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), came into being. Yerima used his state’s resources to propagate Sharia beyond his state. Sharia was presented as the antidote to all manner of social ills: unemployment, hunger, prostitution, begging, etc. Fifteen years after the introduction of the strict Islamic code in many states in the North, the social ills it was intended to cure are more menacing, to say nothing about the thousands of lives lost in the fight over Sharia and the seeming permanent division of Kaduna, hitherto reputed for its liberal tradition, into Christian and Muslim parts.

Still, some elements did not want to be left out of the destructive sectarian politics in the North, even if it meant the ruination of the future of their own people. Datti Ahmed, president of the Supreme Council for Sharia Affairs and a well-trained medical doctor, decided to intone the news to Nigerian Muslims that the immunization vaccine used to protect children from severe medical conditions, was a device by the West to depopulate the Islamic world. He was merely re-echoing the dangerous propaganda by Islamic extremists in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. While Ahmed was busy spreading this scandalous disinformation, I saw my great medical friends from the North reel under an extraordinary emotional burden. They knew that their medical colleague was exposing a generation of innocent Northern Nigerian Muslim children to great danger, but were afraid of challenging him frontally in public for fear of mob action. The ordinary people had been mobilized in millions against a counter viewpoint, a common practice in undeveloped societies where groupthink, conformity and tyranny of the elite are prevalent, in contrast to a culture of individual convictions, diversity of ideas and inclusion of all kinds of people in the political, social and economic processes which has driven human progress throughout history.

The culture of sectarian politics in the North, which was the subject of Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah’s doctoral dissertation at the University of London in the 1980s and has been highlighted by Karl Maier in This House Has Fallen: Midnight in Nigeria, sowed the seeds for the emergence of the Boko Haram menace in Maiduguri, Borno State. The former state government supported this gang of religious fanatics and unemployed youth known as Ecomog. The gang was used effectively for electoral purposes. But it was a social time bomb. Soon the youth realized that while the state administration was pretending to be promoting Sharia ostensibly for the common good, its top officials were secretly acquiring private jets. They rose against the state government and later against the Nigerian state in 2009, but got pulverized under Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. The heavens did not fall. There were no protests from northern leaders, but when Jonathan, despite being a wimp, attempted to move against the fanatics decisively, there was uproar. Even Muhammadu Buhari said that the fight against Boko Haram was a fight against the North. Bamanga Tukur, then the PDP national chairman, described Boko Haram members as fighting for justice. A monster was thus created, and all of us are now victims.

This is what happens in a society where everything is politicized, seen from the prism of ethnicity, sectionalism and sectarianism. The innocent people are manipulated to cultivate the victim mindset, with the manipulators projected as freedom fighters. The tough and rough boys recruited and armed by the Rivers State government to return the administration by all means in the 2003 election took to oil theft and kidnapping for ransom after the vote when they became jobless, yet the press joined in the scandal of portraying them as Niger Delta freedom fighters. Once Jonathan empowered the “Egbesu Boys”, they left the Niger Delta in droves for places like Abuja and Lagos to live like Hollywood celebrities. In the Southwest, a bunch of raw elements in the Oduaa Peoples Congress led by a carpenter who goes by the name of Gani Adams assumed the status of Yoruba freedom fighters in the public imagination. It took some time before it dawned on the Yoruba political establishment that the majority of victims of OPC’s excesses were Yoruba, including a chief superintendent of police who was murdered by the group. Even as Lagos State governor, Tinubu was almost assassinated by OPC operatives at about 2am on December 13, 1999.

One has gone through all this historical excursion because some Igbo people now seem about to be cajoled into unconsciously creating their own Boko Haram by supporting Nnamdi Kanu, who clearly is on the lunatic fringe. Despite producing some of greatest geniuses in world history, the Germans were led and destroyed by a rabble rouser, Adolf Hitler. By unabashedly advocating violence against non-Igbo Nigerians, Kanu wants to turn Igboland into a wasteland, the way Boko Haram has messed up the Northwest in the last few years. Igboland was the theatre of the 1967-70 fratricide, from which we have yet to recover fully. Those who think Kanu can be used to negotiate a better deal for Ndigbo from Buhari are in grave error. They are just simpletons. They have no clue how Nigeria works.

Adinuba is head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting.

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