The Nigerian economy is already suffering a backlash from the incessant and multifarious layers of insecurity scourging the nation. The nation which has projected a GDP growth rate of about 3percent per annum in the last four years, has hardly reached above 2percent and the challenge of insecurity has opened a negative floodgate of de-investment, low industrial capacity, poor Foreign Direct Investment, poor capital in-flows and high inflation (11.22percent) for a country which population is growing at 3.4percent per annum.
This catalogue of woes has been dangerously characterised by a very lingering security threat of kidnapping, armed robbery and murder of genocidal proportions allegedly perpetrated by foreign Fulani herdsmen in their quest to allegedly invade and capture land belonging to indigenous farmers in Nigeria for settlement and expansion, without the government of President Muhammadu Buhari showing ability to stop them. There is also the Boko Haram terrorism that has refused to go away after ten years.
This perhaps prompted former President Olusegun Obasanjo to issue a stern warning to the Buhari Government to rein in the terrorists following the latest in the stream of killing by suspected Fulani militia of the daughter of Afenifere leader, Ruben Fasoranti, Funke Olakunrin. Obasanjo on Monday, July 15, wrote yet another damning letter to Buhari demanding the president to rise up to the occasion and address the Fulani menace warning that if the situation is not handled carefully, the nation may degenerate into a situation where other Nigerians will resort to aggravated violence in reprisal against the Fulani for their alleged atrocities.
Senior lecturer with Baze University, Abuja, Sam Amadi has warned that the country is in dire economic straits and the situation could worsen in the coming days if the government does not show enough resolve to address the matter and win public trust.
He told BDSUNDAY in an interview that there is no country that can grow at a reasonable rate with massive violent conflict, with war, with threats of insecurity at the level that is ravaging Nigeria, adding that the crisis is about to diminish the modest economic growth Nigeria has recorded.
“The crisis will affect food supply, it will affect the mobility of goods and people, it will affect investment, and it will even affect domestic productivity in terms of industrial capability and not just growth. It will also slow or stagnate or even worsen growth prospects in the future. We are not just going to have rough time now, but rough time in the future. Part of what will determine that future is the investment in human capital.
“But we are dealing with cattle and dealing with kidnapping and being rancorous. Even the brain power meant to develop the economy is diverted to dealing with these elementary conflicts, so it is a bad time for the country and it will even be worse if we don’t put these matters on the front burner and deal with them decisively,” he said.
Obasanjo in his letter had warned Buhari of the unimaginable consequences of his alleged nonchalant attitude to the Fulani herdsmen crisis, a situation that put President Buhari in awkward position being a Fulani himself.
“The issue I am addressing here is very serious; it is the issue of life and death for all of us and for our dear country, Nigeria. This issue can no longer be ignored, treated with nonchalance, swept under the carpet or treated with cuddling glove. The issue is hitting at the foundation of our existence as Nigerians and fast eroding the root of our Nigerian community.
“I am very much worried and afraid that we are on the precipice and dangerously reaching a tipping point where it may no longer be possible to hold danger at bay. Without being immodest, as a Nigerian who still bears the scar of the Nigerian civil war on my body and with a son who bears the scar of fighting Boko Haram on his body, you can understand, I hope, why I am so concerned.
“When people are desperate and feel that they cannot have confidence in the ability of government to provide security for their lives and properties, they will take recourse to anything and everything that can guarantee their security individually and collectively,” Obasanjo said.
Obasanjo said further that the government has failed to deal with the Boko Haram menace despite all the spurious claims of defeating the insurgents as they have continued to wreck havoc on the Nigerians in the last four years. “Say what you will, Boko Haram is still a daily issue of insecurity for those who are victimised, killed, maimed, kidnapped, raped, sold into slavery and forced into marriage and for children forcibly recruited into carrying bombs on them to detonate among crowds of people to cause maximum destructions and damage.
“Herdsmen/farmers crises and menace started with government treating the issue with cuddling glove instead of hammer. It has festered and spread. Today, it has developed into banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery and killings all over the country. The unfortunate situation is that the criminality is being perceived as a ‘Fulani’ menace unleashed by Fulani elite in the different parts of the country for a number of reasons but even more unfortunately, many Nigerians and non-Nigerians who are friends of Nigeria attach vicarious responsibility to you as a Fulani elite and the current captain of the Nigeria ship,” he told Buhari.
He said further that perception may be as potent as reality at times adding that whatever may be the grievances of Fulanis, if any, they need to be put out in the open and their grievances, if legitimate, be addressed; and if other ethnic groups have grievances, let them also be brought out in the open and addressed through debate and dialogue.
Obasanjo accused Buhari of poor management or mismanagement of diversity which, on the other hand, is one of Nigeria’s greatest and most important assets. He said that as a result, “very onerous cloud is gathering. And rain of destruction, violence, disaster and disunity can only be the outcome. Nothing should be taken for granted; the clock is ticking with the cacophony of dissatisfaction and disaffection everywhere in and outside the country. The Presidency and the Congress in the US have signalled to us to put our house in order. The House of Lords in the UK had debated the Nigerian security situation. We must understand and appreciate the significance, implication and likely consequences of such concerns and deliberations.
“No one can stop hate speech, violent agitation and smouldering violent agitation if he fans the embers of hatred, disaffection and violence. It will continue to snowball until it is out of control. A stitch in time saves nine, goes the old wise saying.
“To be explicit and without equivocation, Mr. President and General, I am deeply worried about four avoidable calamities; abandoning Nigeria into the hands of criminals who are all being suspected, rightly or wrongly, as Fulanis and terrorists of Boko Haram type; spontaneous or planned reprisal attacks against Fulanis which may inadvertently or advertently mushroom into pogrom or Rwanda-type genocide that we did not believe could happen and yet it happened.
“Similar attacks against any other tribe or ethnic group anywhere in the country initiated by rumours, fears, intimidation and revenge capable of leading to pogrom and violent uprising beginning from one section of the country and spreading quickly to other areas and leading to dismemberment of the country.
“It happened to Yugoslavia not too long ago. If we do not act now, one or all of these scenarios may happen. We must pray and take effective actions at the same time. The initiative is in the hands of the President of the nation, but he cannot do it alone.
“Like in the issue of security, government should open up discussion, debate and dialogue as part of consultation at different levels and the outcome of such deliberations should be collated to form inputs into a national conference to come up with the solution that will effectively deal with the issues and lead to rapid development, growth and progress which will give us a wholesome society and enhanced living standard and livelihood in an inclusive and shared society.
“The President must be seen to be addressing this issue with utmost seriousness and with maximum dispatch and getting all hands on deck to help. If there is failure, the principal responsibility will be that of the President and no one else. We need cohesion and concentration,” Obasanjo had told Buhari.
Sam Amadi concurred with Obasanjo saying “we need to take Obasanjo’s warning seriously, I don’t think it is political, the letter is policy oriented. Genocide, state disintegration, civil wars and are not scripted like a movies, it happened to be an accumulation of happenstance and wrong decisions that create the momentum and then create the hysteria and create a fait accompli and then people are engulfed with crisis.
“Therefore, there is the need for deliberate de-escalation and that starts with leadership. The leadership should change the mindset and the mindset should be that of recovering the state from the avalanche of conflicts and disintegration and it is easy to start with some kind of a more communicative state, a state that talks to the citizens and provide justification for what they do and not a state that is feudal or neo-feudal, not a state that believes that it has a manifest wisdom. Modern states are going to contest with all non-state actors on the control of the state, on control of narratives on control others.
“The Nigeria state should move out of its narrow confines and start talking, we have got more ethnic and more religiously divided. Symbolism should come in; people should have a sense of belonging. The president should look at the staffers in the Villa and they should be much more diverse, those who man security and politics architecture should be very diverse, that is one way of pulling out of the precipice otherwise we may see ourselves grounded in an avoidable violent conflict.
He also believes there is the need for some kind of conference but not sure whether it is the type that Obasanjo is calling for. He said however that at the minimum, the president can create an informal group that dialogues periodically cut across parties, cut across ethno-religious groups, made up of people who are manifestly patriotic and intelligent, whether they are formal or not.
President of the Middle Belt Forum, Pogu Bitrus, in his reaction, agreed with Obasanjo’s assertion, saying, “if you remember what happened in Rwanda and Burundi, it started just at this level that we are in. Genocide in Rwanda happened when the Tutsis were being stereotyped as the aggressors just like we are now seeing the Fulani herdsmen as the aggressors, we see them as the people killing and devastating the land. Obasanjo’s observations are correct, we are heading to genocide because people cannot continue lying low where a particular ethnic group will lay claim to killing people and committing acts of genocide against other people on the pretext that their cattle have been rustled.
“This has been happening in the Middle Belt and even in the north, the typical Hausa man in Zamfara is also complaining that the Fulani are killing them and if all these aggrieved people react against the Fulani, it will be a genocide of monumental proportion because Nigeria is not a small place like Rwanda or Burundi. Even the South West has warned they will not take the Fulani killings lightly anymore. So the government should take this issue seriously to avert catastrophe,” he said.
Pogu noted that the utterances of President Buhari and Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna State, did not help matters as they two Fulani leaders appeared to have lent support to the activities of the herdsmen, who El-Rufai claimed in 2018 he paid to stop killing Nigerians and who Buhari had claimed come from Libya and neighboring countries. Pogu also said that the situation was compounded by the complicit nature of the Miyetti Allah to the killings adding that the group always claimed responsibility for the killing.
He also condemned the now suspended plot to provide Ruga settlement for the Fulani, stressing that the policy cannot work because, the people to be settled are foreigners from Mali, Senegal, Chad and Niger and their desperate attempt to impose a “grave yard diplomacy” where they will use violence to coerce indigenous people to cede their land to nebulous people who are total strangers.
He agreed with Obasanjo’s call for a national dialogue and pointed out that the situation deserves urgent attention before it snowballs into total anarchy.
However, The Chairman of the Partners for Electoral Reforms, a non-governmental organisation, Ezenwa Nwagu, said Obasanjo and others are raising false alarm adding that Nigeria is not approaching an Armageddon as being predicted. He said that the alarm follows a predictable pattern particularly from disgruntled politicians who have lost power.
“The first thing is that you should go and look for 2004 Civil Liberty Organisation report on the state of the nation. After you have read it you will just see a predictable pattern. With the loss of power in 2015, many people have not recovered and they are creating the impression that the nation will disintegrate. They have not let off since after 2015, it is not going to be Armageddon.
“We are in 2019. In pre-2015, the US or whichever predicted that the country was going to disintegrate, many of our citizens sold their properties and ran away from the places they were living. We are in 2019, the country has not disintegrated. The big question is that those who stoke this ember of disunity, the losers of the elections and their supporters in the media and the civil society and from the pulpits are giving the impression that the country is ungovernable and the media is helping to accentuate the story and create fear in the mind of our citizens.
“It is the responsibility of those who can see through this madness to shut them down and ensure that their voices are not as laud as they want us to think it is. I live in a place where people sold their property and ran away to the east for an imaginary breakdown of the country that is not going to happen. Because people lost power does not mean that that the country will be ungovernable and that is my point. The truth is that the country is not in Armageddon,” he said.
Nwagu agreed that there is insecurity but disagreed with the impression that the country is going to collapse, stressing that the impression is driven by politics. “Everything is driven by politics, and the politicisation of the insecurity is more dangerous. There is nothing that is going on that is completely new. There has been insecurity problem in the country; there was the Jos crisis, the Tiv-Jukun war is going on, the Ebonyi-Cross River people have been at war since the coming of this civilian rule, so why do we want to create an impression that there will be war in the country?” He asked.
Nigeria has perpetually been moving towards a self destruct mode, which prompted some analysts to suggest disintegration. Nigeria is dying slowly, a death far more agonising. But it is really worth saving Nigeria from the precipice and save it from the human catastrophe that may emerge. Nigeria appears to be a great human community that can unite and build its capacity. But the nation can save itself if only President Buhari understands his obligation and seek assistance from the people to pull the nation back from the brink.
Clear lessons abound for Nigeria to learn from. After all, empires and nations have died and re-emerged mostly stronger, albeit in other forms. The Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire are very good examples. In Africa, Eritrea had separated from Ethiopia and South Sudan pulled out of Sudan over irreconcilable differences.
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