By Wole Olaoye
Few things are as frustrating as public commentary in Nigeria. In a country where some people have made a career of playing one section of the country against the other, using religion to fan embers of separateness and flaunting a mythical indivisibility for decades, anyone who tries as much as probe deeply into regional or national affairs is immediately labelled a public enemy.
The first thing many people check when reading an article is the name of the author. Is he Yoruba? Or Igbo? Ijaw or Nupe? Fulani or Ibibio? Is he Kanuri?
The last time I checked, wisdom had no tribe. Stupidity and idiocy afflict every race and tribe and clan. But who is to convince the professional bigot who makes a living through narrow-mindedness? Who is to persuade the perpetual conspiracy theorist that I don’t have to be Hausa or Fulani or Kanuri to comment on the terrorism ravaging the North or the poverty holding the masses of the region’s people by the jugular?
I have written in the past about the scandalous sight of street urchins and beggars of various hue on the streets of many northern cities. Don’t get it mixed up; there are beggars in other parts of Nigeria too, but they don’t define the landscape as they do in the North. Gladly, all governors in the region have decided to rein in the beggars and urchins. It is no longer fashionable to hide under religion as if Islam is a religion of mendicants.
Developments in the United Arab Emirates have shown every objective analyst that even an emirate system could be tweaked to become progressive. The Emirati is no less a Muslim than the northern Nigerian, yet the former embraces the progressive slant of the religion while even serving as a great advertisement for Islam. Many Nigerian Christians who visited the great mosque in Dubai have come back with stunning pictures starring them barefooted in Jalabiyas and hijabs.
For years, the political elite in the North have used the twin factors of religion and tribe to keep the masses of the people down, to the extent that the children of the poor end up poorer than their parents while the children of the rich inherit the wealth and influence of the family to replace their fathers and mothers in juicy public offices. There are some famous names in the public space which Nigerians have been hearing for four generations. There are others who are condemned to anonymity for all time because when a beggar begets another beggar, no comets will ever be seen before or after they expire.
The North has an array of intellectuals and professionals that are the envy of other places. But down the ladder, the story is grim. The Okada riders, gatemen, dumpsite scavengers, Mairuwa (water sellers) and their ilk would probably have done better if given the opportunity. There is no quality that the southern youth has that cannot be seen in his northern counterpart. It’s a question of opportunity.
For years, many of us have advised that a system where children beget children; where unemployed adolescents become fathers even before they know the full implications; where pubescent girls become mothers and graduate to Vesico-Vaginal Fistula (VVF) patients and a life of misery… It was time, we begged, to subscribe to responsible parenting to improve the quality of life of the people.
If one had made such commentary about Namibia, Ethiopia or Togo, it would have passed unnoticed. But here, you earn a lot of online and offline flak from those who insist that since you are an ‘outsider’, you have no right to comment on anything within their geographical space. Well, thank God for little mercies, the answers to the north’s problem are coming from the region itself through its traditional rulers.
Perhaps the most consistent voice of reason in the North is the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III. During the EndSARS protest when some people wanted to regionalise the cause of the protest to give the impression that the North was insulated from the problems in the South, Sultan Abubakar quoted the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate to make his point: “Sheikh Usman Danfodio said a nation can endure with unbelievers but it cannot endure with injustice. Justice is the foundation of peace in every nation’’.
At the height of the Coronavirus lockdown, he warned that government should not lose sight of the number one virus afflicting the stomach — hunger: “There is a very serious virus that is killing people much higher than coronavirus. That virus is hunger. There is hunger virus and it’s very serious. You need to go round the country into the villages, into the towns and see how people are really struggling to survive.”
Last week, the Sultan hit the bull’s eye with his comments after the latest round of Boko Haram killings of Borno farmers became public.
“Unfortunately”, he said, the common man is now caught in between two contending phenomena. When he goes to the farm, he gets killed and when he stays at home, he dies of hunger. It should be known that this singular act of Zabarmari was a calculated attempt to instil fear among farmers and jeopardise the frantic efforts of returning internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their localities by the Borno State government…
“How long would we continue to live in fear? For how long can we continue to wait in vain? For how long shall we continue to condemn acts of terrorism without any concerted effort in ending them? For how long would we continue to remain indolent? And for how long can we continue to remain hopeless in a precarious situation such as what we are in presently?” asked the traditional ruler.
No one can accuse the Sultan of being a hired gun. In the same vein, conspiracy theorists will be hard put to find an ulterior motive behind similar comments made by the traditional ruler of President Buhari’s hometown, the Emir of Daura, Alhaji Dr. Umar Farouk Umar. The emir said the spate of insecurity in the country is worse than the period of Nigeria’s civil war as the country has literally been overrun by bandits, killer herdsmen, kidnappers, armed robbers, rapists, cultists and sundry armed criminal gangs.
I think we can all agree now that the introduction of the AMOTEKUN security Corps by the states in the Southwest was a proactive move. Clearly, every state needs its own Amotekun to ensure the security of its communities. Henceforth, kidnappers, bandits, highway robbers and other bloodsuckers ravaging the land should be given their just deserts. Enough is not just enough; it’s already too much!
The Emir of Katsina went spiritual last year when he directed his people to rain spiritual missiles on the terrorists troubling Katsina State: “All citizens of Katsina Emirate should embark on special prayers against the activities of bandits and cattle rustlers. As muslims, we should embark on aggressive prayers for Allah’s intervention to end this menace. The bandits have killed my people and kidnapped women and children. We have no option than to resort to prayers”.
No one doubts the efficacy of prayer, although no wise strategist can afford to ignore the fact that the god of modern warfare is always on the side of the bigger gun — which is why, lately, Nigerians have been calling on the Buhari government to bring in mercenaries to finish the job. While reiterating the call for a sack of the service chiefs who have overstayed their tour of duty, Nigerians believe that we have reached the bare-knuckle junction.
If we can import petrol from Niger, second-hand automobiles and spare parts from Belgium and used clothes from Europe, there is no shame in employing mercenaries to wipe out Boko Haram in six months; unless there is something the government knows that it is not telling us.
Several decades ago, as a young journalist in DRUM magazine, one of the most fascinating stories I followed and analysed was that of a mercenary with a cause, Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, alias Carlos the Jackal. There are many Carloses out there who are not just professional merchants of violence but committed anti-terrorists who can’t stand to see the savagery being visited on defenceless people. We knew them as ‘Have Gun Will Travel’.
Enough said, President Buhari. The ball is in your villa.
BISI OGUNBADEJO AT 70
Nigeria’s most cerebral cartoonist who took magazine cartooning to another level in the 70’s and 80s with West Africa Magazine, hit the newspaper scene like a blizzard with The Guardian from inception and went on to serve as Group Arts and Cartoon Director at THISDAY newspapers — turned 70 last week. Now I can say with Zig Ziglar, “You were designed for accomplishment, engineered for success, and endowed with the seeds of greatness”. Ad multos annos, A-Bis!