Why Are We Playing With Fire? - By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, I write movingly today because those who have the platforms to reach a mass audience should rise to rescue Nigeria from those hell-bent on unleashing stupendous terror and horror on our dearly beloved country. It is necessary for me to repeat some of my life history for people to understand the pain and anguish I feel about those toying with our very existence as a nation. I was not born with a silver spoon. I have willingly laboured more for myself and our country than I ever want to receive. I have suffered enough pains, frustrations and denigration like, if not more than, the man next door. You may never know because we are yet to hold a sovereign national conference of the Sufferers Association of Nigeria. Unless you are told in very clear terms, you would never know, suspect or imagine what is buried within the underbelly of a human being.
Growing up was not so simple or easy for me. The primary school I attended was so local and rural that it even reflected in its name, Local Authority Primary School, Ifewara Road, Ile-Ife. From there, I travelled to Inisa Grammar, Inisa for my secondary education. This was a journey from Ile-Ife through Ife suburbs like Ipetumodu, Gbongan, Sekona, to Ede, Osogbo, Ikirun and finally Inisa. I have narrated the route just to show the arduous journey and how many bridges I had to cross as a young boy of eleven years old to go to school. The experience was so harrowing as we had to trek some distance to fetch water from Odo Otin river and had to wake up by 5.00am daily. I regularly escaped from school, running back to my parents. Being the only child of my mum for my dad, they were quite alarmed fearing something terrible might happen to me. I was brought back to Ile-Ife and I landed at Oluorogbo High School. I spent only one year in this school before moving St. John’s Grammar School, Ilode. I never had the privilege of attending any psychedelic schools of those days, as you can see.
As if my background was not chaotic enough, I suddenly lost my wonderful father on June 14, 1973. I was barely 13 and life went from bad to worse. Just visualise being left with a poor and illiterate woman who merely eked a living as a petty trader. My only saving grace was the wisdom she imparted on me from her native education and natural wisdom. My spoken English was a catastrophic disaster. I improved a bit in the written language after reading substantial literature under one of the best teachers ever, Mrs H. Sutton. I sat my first WAEC Examination in 1976, succeeded only in bagging a poor Grade 3. I flunked Mathematics, Biology and Chemistry with straight F9. I repeated the exams in 1977 but disaster struck again as in that evil year exam papers leaked like water inside basket. Though I had no access to what was nicknamed ORIJO (as in Original) at the time, my result was one of the many withheld. It was so bad, my mum felt like my ordeal was spiritual.
I sat the exams a third time in 1978 and it was third time lucky. I also passed the inaugural JAMB exam and became a pioneer JAMBITE at the University of Ife. Such was my incredible trajectory in search of the golden fleece of Bachelor of Arts. It was at Unife (as the University was then called) that I met and became bosom friends with Prince Adedamola Aderemi, who completed my English transformation by teaching me how to pronounce words properly and improve my diction.
1978 witnessed the Ali-Must-Go demonstrations in Nigerian universities. I was naturally disposed to join the A LUTA CONTINUA struggle though I was yet to resume school as an undergraduate. I was working in the University Library at the time and practically fancied myself as a full-fledged student because of my many family and friends who were already studying there. Since then, I have lost count of how many dangerous and deadly demonstrations and riots I have witnessed or participated in. We fought against all manner of oppressive tendencies. Many have been jailed or killed in the process. The sad news is that nothing has changed positively. We’ve never had a respite of one year during which we could say life was indeed very good.
In deep frustration and anger, many of our citizens have blamed everyone else for the woes of Nigeria and reached the illogical conclusion that the solution is breaking up the country called Nigeria. The first costly step was THE BIAFRA WAR. Valuable properties were wantonly destroyed and lives senselessly wasted whilst sadly, these souls ran into millions. At the end of the day, our brave Biafrans surrendered and their participation in the country called Nigeria had to be re-negotiated. But not much ever changed. The marginalisation of Nigerians by fellow Nigerians continued unabated and the frustrations of the different ethnic groups became reinvigorated. Once again, the agitation for the breakup of Nigeria became strident and cacophonous. The exponents of this war-mongering and disunification unfortunately cannot see that lumping large groups of diverse people together as one tribe is not necessarily accurate. Let me give a few examples.
When you say the Yoruba of South West Nigeria, who are you referring to? Would you consider them a single entity united by race, culture, tradition, language or religion? You would be dead wrong. In Lagos State alone, you have different ethnic groups and they hardly see eye to eye. If it were possible, the peoples of Epe, Ikorodu, Awori, Badagry would prefer their separate States. It is a similar story in Ogun State where the Egba and Egbado are not the same despite the similarity in their names. Ditto Ijebu and Remo and Yewa. Please, move to Oyo State which is even more critical because of too many big townships and tribes. I have not even bothered to talk about religion. There are different kinds of Christians, Pentecostals and Traditionalists. Between them there are different sects and beliefs. The same goes for the Muslims who can be divided into Sunni, Shia etc. The story of Nigeria is replete with similar configurations everywhere. It is therefore jejune and over-naïve to assume that all the cases of oppression and suppression in Nigeria will evaporate and vamoose once we dissolve into fragments.
Let me say categorically that there is no way any part of Nigeria can break away or sack others without anarchy. Firstly, to break up a country, there must be a referendum of sorts because the leaders of this gambit must seek the mandate of the people to know if they want to take such a monumental step or not. No one in Yorubaland for example can say with autocratic confidence that he’s been mandated to declare a Yoruba or Oduduwa Republic. Such a person would languish indefinitely in fantasyland. I also believe there is no such thing as a monolithic North. There are so many ethnic groups representing the geographical spread called Northern Region of Nigeria. The three regions of Northern Nigeria cannot be collapsed into one by fiat without resulting in fiasco at this time and age. The same can be said of the South South where I partly come from paternally. If the dream to break up ever comes to fruition, there would be cries of marginalisation, sooner rather than later. Even under the government of President Goodluck Jonathan, we heard those who grumbled about Ijaw domination. The Igbos clamouring for Biafra would have been the most pitiable and laughable had it not been tragic. They draw up a map which includes the South South who have not been consulted as to whether they would want to join with people they have a natural distrust of. Indeed, their agitation and inclusion of the South South States demonstrates the tomfoolery of their actions because it is the same subjugation they complain about that they would seek to impose on the South South.
Lest we forget, we must also examine the fallacy of thinking that having our home man or woman in power would turn our part of the country into Eldorado. It is never so. We only need to examine the various hometowns, not even States, of our former leaders to see that this is only but a mirage. For the first time, a leader from Niger Delta attained Presidential power, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (2010-15), did the South South transform into a modern-day wonder? Why are we fooling around in the name of secession as if that is the talismanic wand to crumbling our monumental challenges?
Let me warn without any fear of contradiction that Nigeria cannot afford to go through a second civil war just to massage the ego of any over-ambitious person or persons. Those calling for war should first put and push their children forward. It would be ungodly to use poor kids of the proletariat as cannon fodder. Anyone who has ever seen the effect of wars on human beings, animals and vegetation would never call for war, again.
I led a delegation to Sierra Leone in 2001 and the trauma of what I saw did not leave me for a long time. Through the protection of God and the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), my friends and I were able to navigate our ways through the dangerous forests of Mange and Port Loco. We saw humans in various stages of dilapidation and` destruction. I personally met and spoke with a few rebel leaders encouraging them to be merciful by laying down their arms. The degree of human suffering was despicable and disheartening. We visited the Nigerian peacekeepers who described their harrowing experience in the bush. We prayed never to encounter such atrocity and brutality in our country Nigeria.
I repeated a similar peace mission to Liberia where our soldiers controlled ten out of the 15 counties in the war-torn country. I visited our peacekeepers and we exchanged very useful information about the effect of war in a country already impoverished by poverty and ravaged by diseases. God forbid, with our humongous population, the whole of West Africa will collapse and sink into the abyss if we ever allow the selfish gladiators to have their way.
Lastly, those calling for war now forget that the youths of this country do not share their negative vibes about Nigeria. They see this country as a prospective world power. They dream of a nation that is technologically advanced and self-reliant where people of diverse ethnic groups and religions come together to contribute to nation building. They ignore tribe and religion in their relationships. They do not care where their leader comes from as long as he or she has the acumen, capacity, ability and competence to lead. This is why Acting President Yemi Osinbajo is receiving accolades everywhere now. We, the ageing, decrepit generation, had better look back and not destroy the future of our kids because of our own failed past, bloated egos and self-aggrandisement.
The solution to our problems does not lie in splintering, or in any structural re-configuration. It lies in capable, competent and incorruptible leadership. Our much-maligned Constitution, despite its many failings, has already provided a viable structure. It is the implementation of this lofty Constitution that is our bane.
I leave you with a powerful note of caution from a piece making the rounds on social media, which was forwarded to me by a Sierra Leonean friend:
Timely Warning To Nigerians!
OMAR BANGURA (not sure of identity) from Sierra Leone has this to tell Nigerians…
“I don’t think you guys know what you are playing with. You can call each other names and laugh about it now but when you end up inciting hate …. and a real civil war starts in your country you will regret what you are doing now. Your religious and political leaders are trying to divide you between religious lines and you are helping them do that rather than standing up and say we are all Nigerians never mind our tribe, region or religion. That’s the only stand that will save your blessed nation.
The foreign powers pushing the government to take certain decisions will abandon you when you start killing one another and reject you from running to their countries so be careful. Our 11-year war in Sierra Leone was not even based on religious or tribal difference and see what we did to our country. The worst conflicts are those based on tribal and religious differences. See Central Africa, Bosnia, South Sudan and Rwanda. To have a better knowledge of this, please watch the documentary/movie called “Hotel Rwanda” or “Sometime in April”. My heart bleeds when I read what you guys are saying because I know what this will lead to. You will be the losers all of you whether Christian, Muslim, Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa. Stand as one and save your nation together because you have only one Nigeria that has the potential to lead Africa.”