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Buhari and the separatist agitators

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Buhari

Presidential spokesman, the gentlemanly Garba Shehu, said April 20 that agitations for secession could not intimidate Buhari. Perhaps not. But the statement itself is not a tribute to his principal’s sense of national responsibility and leadership. The president should be worried stiff about what is happening in and to the country under his watch; and that includes the jarring drums of separatism that he may or may not feel constitute existential threat to this beautiful house built by Lord Lugard.

If you would excuse a hackneyed cliché, a lot of water has passed under the Carter Bridge since the country survived the civil war and General Yakubu Gowon committed to rebuilding a just, fair and egalitarian nation from the ashes of death and destruction. We cannot afford the somnolent luxury of taking things for granted anymore. The agitation in the South-East has always been violent from the birth of MASSOB in 1999 to that of IPOB in 2012. It is becoming worse, what with IPOB attacks on prisons and police stations in parts of the geo-political zone. IPOB, a more radical successor to MASSOB, is waxing stronger and attracting international attention to its cause, whatever it is.

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The president and his men and women must shine their eyes because in the nature of human societies, those who present themselves to the world as under-dogs fighting for their rights, are hardly ever denied the sympathy and support of do-gooders in words and deeds; as indeed, witness the British government decision to grant asylum to some IPOB members claiming to be escaping persecution, thus internationalising what IPOB is fighting for, however misguided we might think it is.

Many things have badly gone wrong in our country since Buhari took the presidential sash from Dr Goodluck Jonathan and promised to be for no one but for everyone. There are termites in every wood in the land today. Our leaders may not suspect that the expensive Italian furniture they sit on is infested with termites. I advise them free of charge to look under those seats. What they find might shock them.

To repeat the obvious: we are overwhelmed by insecurity, making life brutish and cheap. With AK-47 and other small arms everywhere, our country has become increasingly violent. It is not in the nature of human societies to develop and unite the people when no one feels safe. Security is the first law in nature. It is recognised by our constitution as the first duty incumbent on the three tiers of government.

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The economy is in bad shape and headed south. We have been through two recessions under since 2016 but the economy refuses to halt in its march down the unwanted road. The easy resort to foreign loans cannot halt the march because it is a temporary measure for which the stiff price would be paid in the near future, post the president’s time in Aso Rock. A competent management of the national economy outside borrowing and spending remains rather cynical in approach and jocular in execution.

The COVID-19 lock down has worsened our economic situation. It has impoverished more people and made life even harder for those the Naira has been consistently unkind to. The last time anyone looked into the number of the poor and the extremely poor, it was a mind-numbing 100 million people, nearly half of our estimated 206 million population. Our place as the poverty capital of the world is not likely to be claimed by a worthier country soon. That is not good news. The more money we borrow, the poorer we become.

Shrinking economic opportunities creates serious social problems for every nation. It is much worse in an atomistic society such as ours where every tribe suspects every other tribe of trying to grab and monopolise every available opportunity and deny other tribes the right to participate in the limited economic opportunities that should be open to everyone. Every tribe that feels deprived blames other tribes for its deprivation. The old name for it is marginalisation. It once held centre stage in our national discourse, or rather what passes for a national discourse.

The drums of separatism now beating menacingly louder is as much a consequence of the circumscribed opportunities for all but the lucky tribes in the country as primordial interests thrown up by the rising tide of fear and hopelessness. Resentment arising from either fact or suspicion has always menaced us in our efforts to forge a common destiny in which the tribes matter less and the contents of our heads and heart matter much more. An egalitarian society has far proved elusive for us but it is not impossible to achieve provided we approach our common problems with a good measure of honesty and fairness. Fact is, through avoidable acts of commission, our national fault lines are widening in the face of poor management of our diversities.

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It may be unfair but every nation entrusts its present and the future to only one man to chart its course and lead it to where it wishes to be. The lot today falls on Buhari. He may not be responsible for all the problems we face now but we expect him to solve them or moderate them such that they cease to be a glaring threat to the corporate existence of our dear nation. He cannot lead or more properly rule this country in the current chaotic situation we face today. No nation has the luxury of eternal opportunities. Time now for the president to tackle much more seriously the ills besetting this nation that once held such a great promise for black people everywhere. This giant of Africa must not be allowed to become the sickest nation in Africa: hobbled at home by its unresolved social and political problems and held in contempt by other African and world leaders who see it thrashing in the polluted waters of its own duplicity.

Two clerics, Bishop Hassan Kukah and Pastor Tunde Bakare, Buhari’s running mate in the 2011 presidential election, in their separate Easter sermons, urged the president to wake up to the enormity of what is confronting the country under his watch and take urgent steps now to pull the country and its people out of despair, desperation, fear and hopelessness. It was a fair piece of advice the president would do well not to treat with his signature contempt.
Said Bakare: “The first fundamental problem of the Nigerian nation is the absence of (a) unifying leadership that can redeem Nigerians from our diverse ethnic and religious identities and integrate us into a common national identity.” Yes.

As a young officer, Buhari fought the civil war to save the country. The death and the destruction the war visited on the country could not, 51 years later, be a dress rehearsal for separatism threatening to take us back to the inglorious past. To keep Nigeria one was the task that was done; it is the task that must be sustained. The nation and its people paid dearly for it.

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The president needs to either wake up or sit up to appreciate his place in history and
a) provide strong, fair, inclusive and focused leadership to make every part of the country and the people safe and secure and proceed to chart the course of our national development
b) pull the nation out of the doldrum and take steps to revamp the economy to enable him keep his promise of taking 100 million people out of poverty in ten years
c) take steps, and urgently too, to contain the separatist forces and let us hear the drums of national unity, not of divisiveness and
d) commit himself to the transparent management of our diversities in a fair and just manner that restores everyone’s faith in one, united and indivisible Nigeria, in which no tribe or faith is favoured at the expense of others and Nigerians become once more their brothers’ keepers, not their brothers’ killers.

Intimidated or not, Buhari should rise now to the demands of statesmanship and initiate a meaningful dialogue with the separatist agitators. The round table has a well-earned reputation for helping to resolve social and political problems. Buhari has to head for the round table with the agitators. The use of force would only make matters worse and strengthen the resolve of the agitators. Grievances are suppressed but not redressed by force. Buhari needs to talk to them to know what agitates them and how the Nigerian state can, in fairness, respond to them.

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