Tunde Leye: Nigerians must be careful what they wish for (Y! FrontPage)

by Tunde Leye

tunde leye

The most disturbing reactions however were from those who believed there might have been a coup and were practically rejoicing about the prospects.

We must be careful what we wish for. Yesterday, the rumors were rife on social media after shootings were reported in the SSS Headquarters. No one knows what to believe yet, but two of the reactions were disturbing. There was the sickening politicizing of the issue. The most disturbing reactions however were from those who believed there might have been a coup and were practically rejoicing about the prospects. What these people forget is that, apart from the January 1966 Nzeogwu coup and the Abacha coup, every other successful coup was greeted with rejoicing in the streets of Nigeria. People were happy the military had taken over from the corrupt edifice that the politicians had built. Years down the line, we all know what the military governments turned out to be. A huge part of the reasons we are where we are today as a nation is due to the advent of the military and continued participation of ex-military men in our politics.

The frustration of many Nigerians is understandable. But we must not let our frustration blind us into falling into the mistakes of the past. The results will be no different. In his book, Oil Politics and Violence, Max Siollun described a phenomenon termed coup baiting. It’s one where the people’s frustrations are used to fuel agitations for a military coup utilizing the media until the psyche of the populace is ready to accept the coup. We must not allow ourselves to get to this point again.

You see, the Nigerian problem is not one that will be resolved by the blitz of military intervention to “restore order” as our past has shown extensively.

The solution clearly does not lie in breaking the country up either. Many point to the breakup of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as a prime example of what Nigeria’s future should look like. But we forget two things. One, this breakup happened early after the independence of India. This period is the most feasible period when a nation such as ours can break up. The window of opportunity for this closed after the first decade of independence. We came very close to this during the July 1966 coup when Murtala Mohammed initially wanted to take the North out of Nigeria and of course the civil war. It did not happen. Those that agitate for such a breakup must move past it. The window honestly has closed.

The second thing we forget is that the then united India was not a rentier state, depending on an extractive resource to survive. Nigeria on the other hand is a nation built around collecting rent from extracted oil. That single dynamic means that it is more profitable to the elite to keep Nigeria together. A nation closer to us is Sudan and we are witnesses to the long, bloody process that led to its breakup, a process lengthened without doubt because of the involvement of oil. The southern Sudan leader John Garang did not want the breakup. It took his death to pave the way for the south to break away. We are also witnesses to how South Sudan has imploded after the breakup. Breaking up will result in even more bloodshed if we do not solve the fundamental problems. When one reads Alabi-Isama’s book The Tragedy of Victory and sees the way the Eastern Minority groups like the Annang and Ibibio felt within the Biafran state, one cannot help but wonder the kind of fighting that would have erupted within Biafra from these sources had the secession succeeded.

What we must do is to work with the tools available within our democracy to achieve our aims of building the one thing that Nigeria needs the most – working systems. Jacob Zuma in South Africa has all the looting tendencies of our Nigerian leaders. The reason he has been unable to do this successfully is the strong state institutions which he cannot use the force of his office to circumvent. Contrary to popular opinion, the Nigerian police officer is neither corrupt nor incompetent. What makes them look that way is the system called the Nigerian Police Force. Take that officer out of that system to a United Nations Force and suddenly, the officer becomes outstanding. Why? The UN system works such that the officer receives reasonable pay as and when due and there is insurance such that if he dies or is gravely injured on duty, his family is taken care of. The necessary training and equipment are given to that officer, and the required intelligence gathering, planning and logistics for his operations are put in place. An effective system of monitoring his conduct during operations, with serious repercussions if he misbehaves, is put in place. Therefore the officer does his job well. The Nigerian Police Force system does not offer this to the officer and hence when operating here, he looks like a disgrace. It is this that gives me hope that if we get people into leadership who can do the hard work of building systems, we will witness something magical – Nigerians will surprise the world and make this nation deliver on its enormous potential.

I also see glimmers of hope in the forging of a Nigerian identity in the long run. Maybe we might not do it, but our children will definitely do. My cousins on my mum’s side are about two generations older than I am. When they were going to get married, their Ekiti parents were very insistent that they must not marry an Ijebu or certain other Yoruba tribes. They didn’t trust the Ijebus and those other people (since they were old enough to remember the conduct of the Ijebu during the Kiriji War), they insisted and cited many examples to justify this. These same people today are only interested in knowing if the person I want to marry is Yoruba or at least Delta. They still don’t like Ibos or Hausas (by Hausa, they mean any northerner by the way) but can now live with any Yoruba or Delta/Edo person. It might not seem like much yet, but I know it’s a huge quantum leap for these people who just two decades ago would never accept a Yoruba partner that wasn’t Ekiti. That is their generation, and it is a dying one. My generation will be even less interested in the tribes of the spouses of our children, especially the increasingly urbanized ones amongst us. Social indices like these, more than any other hard facts are an indicator that the identities are forming albeit slowly. We will not lose our ethnic identities, no. But just as an Ijebu man can now see himself as Yoruba without any conflict, someone from any ethnic group would be able to be from their tribe and Nigerian without any qualms.

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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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