By Nkem Ekeopara
First, let me underscore the fact that the military-baked Nigerian Constitution guarantees every Nigerian the right to freedom of movement. Therefore, the four Northern Nigeria governors – Babangida Aliyu (Niger), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Sule Lamido (Jigawa), Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano) – who visited their colleague, Chibuike Amaechi `of Rivers State on July 16, 2013, in what a section of the Nigerian media termed “Solidarity Visit,” are entitled to the right of freedom of movement as enshrined in that Constitution. That these governors ran into a swarm of protesters at the Port Harcourt International Airport was unfortunate but was quite in character with politics in Nigeria, which is a “do-or-die affair” and, of course, played not to render service to the people, but for personal aggrandizement, mostly.
That said, I think it is imperative that one reminds Governors Aliyu, Nyako, Lamido and Kwankwaso that onye ulo ya n’agba oku anaghi achu oke, meaning that someone whose house is on fire should not be chasing rats. It is imperative that one reminds the four Northern governors that what is happening in Rivers State is of less importance compared to the security challenges in their region. While one is not proud of what happened in the Rivers State House of Assembly on July 13, 2013, particularly the savagery displayed by one of the legislators, (dis)Honourable Chidi Lloyd, it is quite laughable for these governors to have described the events in Rivers State as “threats to peace, security and democracy” as reported by the Nigerian media.
Perhaps, apart from Governor Lamido of Jigawa State, innocent people have been blown sky-high in the respective domains of the other three governors. The worst of this disregard for the sanctity of human life was the bombing of five fully loaded luxury buses at a luxury bus station in Sabon Gari, Kano, on March 18, 2013, in which hundreds of innocent lives, mainly Igbo lives, were lost. I don’t remember any of these governors describing such a horrific act and similar acts of terror apparently perpetrated by the Islamic fundamentalists, Boko Haram, as “threats to peace, security and democracy” in Nigeria. Governor Kwankwaso even went missing when that attack happened and drew the ire of members of the upper arm of the Nigerian legislature. We have only witnessed a lull in the inhuman activities of the Islamic fundamentalist sect after President Goodluck Jonathan belatedly declared a state of emergency in the worst affected states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. It was belated possibly due to the opposition of the Northern “rulership”. Is it not strange that Governor Nyako was comfortable in being a party to the declaration of the events in Rivers State as threats to peace, security and democracy in Nigeria?
The governors did not only visit the Rivers State governor, but have also been reported to have visited former Nigerian military dictators, namely Retired Generals Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babaginda and Abdulsalami Abubakar. These dictators have had their time in ruling Nigeria. And I do not think that the Nigerian people consider what they achieved during their time as good enough. Therefore, for anyone or group of people to dress these former dictators in oracular robes through such visits, projecting those people as repositories of the magic wand needed to provide enduring solution to the Nigerian problems, amounts to insulting the collective intelligence of the Nigerian people.
Even more ridiculous and quite insulting to the collective intelligence of the Nigerian people is what was contained in the statement the governors were reported to have distributed to journalists before departing Port-Harcourt. In the said statement, they were reported to have said that recent developments in Rivers State had brought to the fore the question of true federalism and the need for institutions to be allowed to perform without undue interference. They were reported to have expatiated that, “As federating units, we must be allowed the space to guarantee our people’s sustainable development as provided by the constitution.”
As I read Nigerian newspapers’ reports of the visit of the governors to Rivers State, I found the mention of “true federalism” by the Northern governors less than soothing. I wondered what manner of true federalism the governors were talking about. And the questions that readily came up were: Does it really make sense for anyone or group to talk about true federalism without throwing the military-baked Constitution now under contentious review into the Atlantic and getting the peoples of Nigeria to come together to discuss if they want to continue to live together and under what terms? Really, should anyone or group of people be talking about “true federalism” without the federating states/zones/regions controlling at least 50% of their resources and contributing the other part of their resources to the running of the centre? Would an arrangement where people control their resources and contribute partly to the running of the center not be a better guarantee for “sustainable development” than the current arrangement where some states/zones/regions are stifling the growth and development of other states/zones/regions?
Regrettably, these governors did not visit the former military dictators to discuss the fundamental issues plaguing Nigeria, notably an unjust structure and a fraudulent federalism. It is obvious to even goat and chicken that Nigeria’s structure is unjustly skewed in favour of the North. There are unjustifiable number of local governments, constituencies and states in the North than in the South. Must we continue to move this historical injustice to every phase of Nigeria’s march to nationhood? Of course, it is as clear as a piece of crystal that the so-called federalism Nigeria practices is as fraudulent as the scam letters that originate largely from jobless Nigerian youths to all parts of the globe. As being reported by the media in Nigeria now as I write (Tuesday July 23, 2013), these governors went to visit these former military dictators to see if the crack in the Peoples Democratic Party, especially in the PDP in Rivers State, could be filled. A section of the media reported they had gone to ask the former military dictators to prevent President Jonathan from truncating democracy in Nigeria. Others believe they had gone on these visits to explore ways of ensuring that power returns to the North and, possibly remains there forever, in accordance with the comments made by the Northern Elders Forum spokesperson, Professor Ango Abdullahi.
Like many other keen watchers of events in Nigeria, one believes that the refusal to address the fundamental issues noted above is not just the greatest threats to peace, security and democracy in Nigeria, which the governors claimed took them to Rivers State, but also the nails that will ultimately fasten the coffin of the Nigerian state before the latter is buried. Therefore, the call for true federalism by the four Northern governors who visited Rivers State on July 16, 2013, should not be taken seriously since that call and their visitation to the former military dictators were not predicated on the aforementioned fundamental issues plaguing Nigeria. If anything, the governors should just be seen as a group trying to eat omelet without breaking an egg. Factually, that call is as worthless as their trip to Rivers State where the pronouncement was made as there are more problems in their states/zones/regions than in Rivers State.