Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Everything in human existence is negotiable, experts on negotiation tell us. Everything. Ask Herb Cohen, for instance. His great and influential book, You Can Negotiate Anything, says it very well in its title. We even negotiate with death, and may succeed in getting an extra-time. Social scientists that theorise on identity also tell us that forming identities such as nations involves a negotiation. Nations are products of negotiation and consent by its constituent groups. After many years of encounter with such liberal ideas in one’s formal education, ideas that suggest that we can agree to come together as well as agree to go our separate ways (and seeing this practised in the politics of many countries around the globe), why wouldn’t one be shocked to hear the president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, proclaim that Nigeria’s existence as one and undivided nation-state is non-negotiable? After studying democratic systems and making public presentations on the protection of democratic rights, wouldn’t it be absurd for one to remain silent when a democratically elected president of a country makes such a proclamation? What is the attitude of a scholar to such negation of what is considered normal in a civilized practice of democracy? Should a Nigerian scholar proclaim democratic freedom as if it is something meant for other countries other than their own?
When I learnt about Buhari’s proclamation, I was, indeed, worried. Worried because he was in danger of slipping into dictatorship and introducing a ruling style that was designed to frighten people of conscience and enlightenment into silence. Of course, the worry that many Nigerians had when Buhari was campaigning to become Nigeria’s president was that he once ruled as an unbending military dictator and that they were not sure that he had changed, even though he was retired from the army. That fear could have been rekindled by that proclamation, which suggested clearly that discourse over Nigeria’s existence was a no-go area, or that it was beyond the power of Nigerians to create and dismantle the nation-state, if they so desire. In other words, Nigerians become some kind of prisoners of the nation-state. I have always thought that people create nations, not the other way round!
Nigeria was created by foreign invaders from Britain who fought the different indigenous groups, destroyed their systems of self-government, and imposed a colonial rule. But this invasion was first of all an economic adventure very much describable as a thievery of the economic resources of African peoples. African groups were not colonized because the colonial invaders liked the colonized. No, sir! The colonizers were not sent by God to conquer, exploit and rule Africans. Britain invaded Nigeria because it saw that it was the easiest way of getting hold of the economic resources of the different African groups and using them in enriching the hub of the British Empire. It was a clear case of a big fish wanting to swallow another in order to grow bigger and stronger.
Nigeria came into existence as a business enterprise – and, indeed, its history so far indicates the defence of this business idea it acquired from its origin. It was first started as Royal Niger Company, which, in need of protection, had to obtain military security from Britain, with the support of the imperial majesty. Gradually, the idea of expanding and colonizing the entire area was muted and actualized. Obaro Ikime’s book, The Fall of Nigeria, carefully details the process of the British military expansionism, showing that what is today Northern Nigeria was forcefully brought into this union with the southern part. The British colonizers could not sustain the myth that colonizing Nigeria was for the interest of the colonized groups, even though it presented British systems as superior in the process of brainwashing African elites to continue this mentality and to oppress their peoples.
With the exit of Britain from Nigeria or what was falsely represented as Nigeria’s independence, the elite that inherited the British colonial property called Nigeria needed to demonstrate that they would not endanger this British (business) interest. Britain always stood by to make sure that this business interest was protected, helping to install overseers they thought were cooperative, providing military aid whenever necessary (as in the civil war) and providing the kind of advice that served to sustain the kind of government it wanted.
But there is also something very interesting: rulers of Nigeria over the years were not just mere overseers of a British economic satellite, but also gangsters on a business adventure or those found ready to protect the sharing of the economic interests seceded by Britain. These rulers were mainly army generals who fought “to keep Nigeria one” only as an excuse for sharing Nigeria’s resources among themselves and their supportive friends. When they talk about Nigeria’s indivisibility, it is only because any alternative arrangement or the disbandment of Nigeria would mean the loss of the booty. These people could be said to have re-conquered Nigeria and would unjustly keep its resources to themselves while fooling the entire population with their false statements about their patriotism.
In the configuration of Nigeria as a business venture, why, you would ask, would any privileged cattle entrepreneur not think that the entire country is their cattle grazing field and insist that their cattle hands could take the cattle anywhere they like in the country, while hiring and keeping a militia to massacre communities that resist this free grazing? Viewing the self as part-owner of the business enterprise called Nigeria, the owners of free-ranging cattle and oil blocs would support any inflexible approach to the question of Nigeria’s existence as an undivided entity.
When people proclaim that Nigeria’s existence is not negotiable, study them and their proclamation closely. You would find something other than patriotism there. Patriotism towards Nigeria ought to recognize that there can be no Nigeria without Nigerians. It is, indeed, criminal, not just paradoxical, to think that one can protect Nigeria by slaughtering many Nigerians.
I proceed to ask crucial questions: is Nigeria made in Heaven? Was it God that created the country called Nigeria? What makes anyone think that Nigeria’s existence cannot be negotiated by Nigerians? Was it a holy message someone received from God? Recently, Bishop Oyedepo, the General Overseer of Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) was quoted as stating during his sermon that if it was God’s will that Nigeria should break up, God should please let that happen without delay. The Bishop obviously spoke in the context of the growing frustration among ordinary Nigerians occasioned by declining economy, injustice, insecurity and massacre of communities by Fulani militia, with the Federal Government being unable to protect these populations. His prayer implicitly conveyed an earnest sense of urgency and a plea for God to help to prevent further bloodshed. It is shocking that some Nigerians, probably pursued by the overzealousness to please those insisting the Nigeria’s oneness is non-negotiable, called for the arrest of the bishop, that he was “inciting” people to ask for the division of Nigeria! Has the bishop, as a citizen, not got any rights, within democratic principles, to suggest that Nigeria be divided? Who put Nigeria together in the first place? Was it these people seeking to protect the oneness of Nigeria and their inflexible rulers? Right, if God decides to answer the bishop’s prayer, are these over-zealous and falsely politically chauvinistic Nigerians going to arrest God? Doesn’t this indicate that the opposition to the discourse on the re-negotiation of Nigeria’s existence is fast moving into greater absurdity and that the totalitarian system may already be a powerful system of terror ravaging Nigeria?