Opinion: An adversarial President, a divided and discontent people

By Obi Nwakanma

Truth be told, President Muhammadu Buhari does not have the easiest job in the world. But then again, no one who runs for the president of Nigeria ever imagines it to be easy.

Even on its best days, Nigeria is a very complex and volatile mix ethnic and religious differences compounded by a heritage of political ideas and leadership that has more generally emphasized and intensified these differences rather than create a harmonious idea of shared nationhood.

As I have always insisted, a nation like Nigeria, with its many “ancient kingdoms” and “caliphates” contending with the idea of a single organic nation, is a candidate for profound ruptures.

Nigerians have increasingly grown apart, and have been, as a result of the Machiavellian politics of power and control, pulled apart so much that the nation does not mean much anymore to most Nigerians.

As a matter of fact, except for maybe about 5% of Nigerians, mostly beneficiaries of an oligarchic control of national resource, nobody else loves Nigeria. Over 90% of young Nigerians from the age 15-35, given the choice or opportunity will leave Nigeria, and escape permanently.

They have no reason to love Nigeria, or believe in it. Nigeria does not offer them much. In their estimation, the patch of grass outside its shores holds a greater promise of life than the intense discontent, the darkness of the mood that now pervades the Nigerian psyche and its landscapes.

You can feel it also in the actions and dispositions of the new arrivals from Nigeria to the United States: they wish to have nothing to do with Nigeria, or the community of Nigerians. They basically have given up the idea of a “Nigerian home.”

They do not join Nigerian associations. They just do not want to have anything to do with Nigeria anymore. Those who send their sons and daughters out from the burning land must understand that they have given them up for good, and they shall not return.

This new phenomenon of disconnection and alienation is the product of discontent. This is dangerous – this loss of faith that now animates the Nigerian consciousness. Nigeria is the only nation I know of, which is officially not at war, but whose most educated and most skilled are fleeing from home.

This past week, I had an interesting conversation with an old dear friend of mine, a Professor of Philosophy in one of Nigeria’s major Universities, and his lament was as thick as the melancholy conveyed through the static of trans-Atlantic conversation: “the Nigeria you knew has gone from bad to worse, and I’m telling you this.”

Here is a rationalist, whose field is the Philosophy of Science, and who should, were Nigeria and its political leadership be more clear-minded, be on the advisory council of a National Science Foundation, and on the frequent call-list of Nigeria’s Minister of Science and Technology, saying his dearest hope is to send his children away from Nigeria because he loves them. “The depth of melancholy I felt on returning with them from the US and arriving at the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos; the sheer contrast drives me to tears.

As I speak with you, I have no light.” And he lives in one of those faculty housing on campus. This crisis is existential, and we have told this story ad nauseam – the fact that as Nigerians would say, “nothing is working in Nigeria.”

The question is, and has always been, why is nothing working in Nigeria? President Muhammadu Buhari and his school of thought tend to think it is because of “kwaruption.”

Just in case you are not yet cued in, “kwaruption” is the corruption of the word “corruption.” Just imagine, if somebody were to accuse the resident of corruption based on his corruption of the basic morphology of the sounds of the English language.

In any case, I tend to have a different view: corruption is not Nigeria’s greatest problem. It is the fundamental loss or even absence of the imagination.

A nation without visionary capacity is bound to falter. Take for instance, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Minister of Science and Technology. First class in Chemical Engineering and Distinction in his doctoral work at the University of California, though not the one in Berkley, but in California, and we can live with that.

He has all the right credentials, yet, the minister’s first announcement on resumption is that Nigeria will start producing pencils.

Dear readers, I thought we were all living in the 21st century, where Materials Science has taken us so far beyond lead pencils.

Just last week, the minister also said laid out one of his priorities: he would soon establish science museums in the six regional zones of Nigeria. Why not first activate the Research and Production (RAP) strategies or models of the now defunct Biafra Directorate of Research which led to significant war productions, in the six regional zones of Nigeria? Why not create Research Parks? Why not activate interdisciplinary collaboration between the production arm of the Ministry of S & T with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, etc. I think Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu has lost it. But we watch.

The problem is that Nigerian public leadership does not listen. Those who occupy public office feel themselves immune from the consequences of not listening to the Nigerian public. The feelings and dreams of Nigerians are at odds with the agenda and interest of its public leadership. The president knows it all, and he is not ready caution troops and the police  shooting unarmed protesters whose greatest crime is that they are seeking self-determination by peaceful means. He is what the Igbo call, “Eze Onye agwa nam.” That is why the president of Nigeria is now in the process of leading Nigeria to a double-headed insurgency in the South of Nigeria.

Last week’s murder of unarmed members of MASSOB and the IPOB continues a strategy intimidation that will not work, either in the creeks of the Niger Delta or in the streets of Aba.

Voices of reason have appealed to President Buhari to revise his policy of militarization, and stem the possibility of an armed struggle, which no one will win. As a matter of fact, the IPOB/MASSOB have issued a warning that they might be forced to arm and defend themselves against the Federal government’s use of deadly force.

It will be a dangerous situation, and it is in the offing; and the great nightmare which the president’s security analysts and advisers have yet to make clear to him is the possibility of spreading to Lagos, and shutting down the South completely as the Niger Delta militia and the Biafrans establish increasing collaboration with greater strategic objective.

This is the time for the president to stop playing the adversarial president and become the statesman. At the moment the president acts like a school yard bully. He must begin strategic engagement with these agitators, even if to reassure them. Last week’s meeting between the president and a group of his party folk, who claimed to represent the Igbo is a joke. The president met with folk who cannot win elections in their own compounds, and have no mandate from that region. The leaders of the Igbo are, at this very moment, their elected delegation to the National Assembly. Only they can speak, and be used to reach the Igbo, including members of the IPOB/MASSOB, on national issues.

The president’s choice of hosting a mutual admiration party does indicate a profound disconnection with the reality. That the president has never made a real move to reach out and explore means of stepping down the Biafran agitation through negotiations speaks of his capacities, or lack thereof, in understanding the complexity of the situation. That he has never met members of the National Assembly representing the South East on this matter, choosing rather to meet members of his party who do not speak, or act, or have any mandate to represent the South-East, indicates the president’s profound confusion about the East.

I should also say here, and now that the president cannot be accused of not liking the Igbo. That would be a total lie: as he himself has said, he is great friends with Azikiwe’s children; he was an ally of General Ojukwu, and his first two running mates – Chuba Okadigbo and Edwin Ume-Ezoke were respected Igbo. Mike Ahamba stuck with him as his lawyer through thick and thin and disagreed with him only on matters of principle.

The problem is that, in making his first political moves, President Buhari failed to leverage his political capital in the East, and continues to rely, not on diplomacy, but the adversarial use of force to quell legitimate discontent. The president sowed the discontent.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija



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