Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo’s recent warning in Dakar of a possible Arab Spring style revolution in Nigeria aired what could be the frustrations of a nation buffeted on all sides. Boko Haram, the Salafist group seeking the overthrow of the Nigerian state and a revolutionary transformation of society, has become the current chief torturer of Nigeria. It has managed to become etched in the consciousness of Nigerians and the international community given its horrendous atrocities to advance its revolutionary plans to Islamize Nigeria. Its strategies however suggest that its main focus is to carve out an autonomous Islamic political space in northern Nigeria. The game plan to drive out non-northerners from the north has failed. So far, it has failed to instigate retaliations from southern communities that have been restrained in their response to the aggravated killings in the north. However, consistent with revolutionary combat orthodoxy, it has frustrated the military enough to lure it to fall into the trap of adopting scorched earth operations in its combat. This has not prevented President Obasanjo from publicly criticizing President Jonathan’s soft approach. In turn, the former president has been ferociously attacked on the outcome of the [indiscriminate] killings by the Nigeria military of their innocent compatriots, mostly old women and children, in Odi and Zaki Biam under Obasanjo’s command.
The [indiscriminate highhanded] reaction of the Joint Military Task Force in combating Boko Haram has been counterproductive. It has left innocent civilians confused, as the choice between connivance with Boko Haram or support for the military’s pursuit of quick victory has become a Hobson’s choice. Meanwhile, quiet talks began in late November 2012 between the Federal Government and Boko Haram in Dakar, Senegal. The talks have drawn the ire of many who are convinced that Boko Haram would not be dissuaded from its long-term goal of creating an Islamic state in northern Nigeria. The northern elite seems lost on the way forward and often speaks from both sides of the mouth. It is politically expedient to use the Boko Haram as a bargaining chip for more budgetary resources for the north, while calling for dialogue between the federal government and the Islamic fundamentalists. This also ensures that the Boko Haram would not come calling later against prominent northerners who canvass military action against it.
The brutal reality of Boko Haram has brought to the fore the imperative for serious conversations on the future of Nigeria. It has also been a decisive element in Nigeria’s dubious decision to lead the proposed ECOWAS military expedition to seek to dislodge the Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) and Salafist groups that have taken over the Sahelo-Saharan region in northern Mali. Yet, the paradox is that Boko Haram has emerged at a time when the unending discourse over the structure of the country and the nature of governance itself has reached a historic deafening crescendo. Boko Haram has thus accentuated the urgency to address in a comprehensive manner the broad gamut of elements, forces and factors relating to the future of Nigeria.
The conversation has been long, predating the Goodluck Jonathan administration and going as far back as the days of the General Abubakar Abdulsalam hold over regime. It has also been futile so far. There are emerged polarities on institutional and ethno-regional lines. At the institutional level, the Legislature, conniving with the Presidency, has adduced the logic that as elected representatives of the people, it is the repository of the sovereignty of the people. Legislators have assumed the mandate to amend the constitution to reflect the wishes of the Nigerian peoples. Many Nigerians however see legislators as status quo forces that have become a sinister part of the problem. The Legislature or, in local parlance, “legislooters”, by its kleptomaniac tendencies, reflected in indefensible salary pay structure and perks that make them better remunerated than the Senators of the federal congress of the United States of America, elicit popular cynicism. The Legislature is therefore not seen as best suited for the kind of radical changes that many Nigerians hope would salvage the future of the country. Such is the misgivings about the self imposed mandate of the Legislature to amend the constitution that elite civil organizations and powerful social forces in the South West region have called on their representatives in the House of Representatives and the Senate to boycott the process. The reality however is that the large segment of the core north seeking to preserve its preponderant political stature and role would be better served by a limited amendment of the constitution that was imposed by the northern oriented military dictatorship of late maximum ruler General Sani Abacha.
The argument of those who claim the mandate of ethnic groups, including ethnic minorities across the middle belt, core north Christians in alliance with the preponderantly Christian middle belt, and who seek the convocation of a national sovereign conference, is that the direct sovereignty still resides with the peoples. Direct sovereignty of the people, they emphasize, is superior to any delegated or institutional acquisition of sovereignty. They note that Nigeria remains an imposed political experiment that in half a century of its existence has only manifested a potential of being, instead of a consummated being. The hope is in transforming the repressed potential before the country becomes a perpetual stillbirth in the second half of its first century of a bare meaningful existence. These protagonists in what has become the national discourse of the deaf survey contemporary graveyards of defunct experiments such as Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia and the Soviet Union and warn about the continued dangers of taking things for granted. The leading lights of this group counted among their ranks the venerated Chief Anthony Enahoro, the man who proposed the bill for the granting of independence to Nigeria and who died struggling to restructure the federation to assure its longevity.
Ahead of a future restructuring of the federation, the governors of the South West and Lagos States, with the exception of Ondo State, have taken advantage of belonging to one party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), to begin a process of political integration of the region. The blueprint of this project revolves around integrated infrastructure to advance synergetic economic development in the zone. The South West constitutes one of the six geo-political zones that many have proposed as the balanced future political structure of the country. This structure is expected to condense the current unwieldy and economically unviable thirty-six state structures into six geo-political and economic zones that would infuse a much-required resilience to governance. The constituent six zones would be strong enough to generate internal resources for their respective developmental goals. This would wean the new zones or states away from total dependence on federal handouts. The corollary is that with reduced financial dependence on the federal government, the exclusive list of federal powers would be considerably whittled down. States or zones would engage in constructive competition for development rather than struggle for handout from the federal government. Most importantly, it would defuse the current do or die approach to gubernatorial and presidential elections.
It is this context that the resurgence of the activities of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) is significant. Its open engagement in the political life in the South East and proven leverage to influence that emerges, as governor in these states is well known. Before his demise, Odumegwu Ojukwu, leader of the unsuccessful war of Biafran independence who passed away in 2011, had anointed MASSOB leader Chief Ralph Uwazuruike as successor to the traditional leadership of Ndigbo. The public march of proud formations of Biafra War veterans in October in Aba behind fluttering flags of Biafra led to the arrest of over 200 of the veterans. In June, media reports stated that a combined team of the Army, Police and SSS killed more than 16 members of the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) when they raided MASSOB offices in Onitsha and its environs in Anambra State.
Permanently bogged down by whatever is perceived as the most immediate security challenges, the state continues to pretend that all is well. This is unhealthy. The state must rise above the transient political interests that drive current pretenses. It can do this by acknowledging that the nation faces profound life threatening conditions that require fundamental structural realignments and societal reorientation. This is the gist of the recent diagnosis by the Central Bank Governor in his much-vilified observation that 70% of the totality of accruable state resources is dedicated to servicing the state machinery. That is 70% of what is left after the entrenched thievery by all manner of state aligned gangs. These gangs begin from the Legislature to the scions of the old guard brigands. This new generation of the national scourge includes the sons of the current chairman of the ruling party, People’s Democratic Party (PDP), as well as of his predecessor in office (The PDP Chairman has disassociated himself from the business deals of his son). These high placed vermin have been exposed as the main drivers of the organized fraud milking the state of billions in fuel subsidy scam. The list of new generation thieves read like who is who in Nigeria’s power circuits. Given the ugly realities, perhaps the political class can surmount the unlikely will to begin seriously to face the difficult choices that face the country. A first step is to open up the constricted political space by commencing with the required urgency the process of fashioning a new nation through an open, transparent comprehensive constitutional review process. This process must reflect a sober realization of the perils that the immediate future faces. Its outcome must be validated only by the massive participation of all major stakeholders in the floundering Nigerian enterprise. Otherwise, the violence meted out by Boko Haram, compared to the coming revolutionary seasons, would be child’s play. Current conditions and official attitudes are the real harbingers of the actualization of Obasanjo’s warning about imminent revolution.