When Chinua Achebe wrote his seminal work, “The Trouble with Nigeria,” he blamed it squarely on leadership. He made the book brief, hoping that Nigerians would not have any problem reading it. But apparently, they didn’t. Or if they did, like in the case of Kadaria Ahmed, they misunderstood the leadership Achebe meant.
Kadaria Ahmed’s recent intervention following last weekend’s attacks on Northerners in Shasha, Oyo State, did not scratch the surface of what afflicted Nigeria. I agreed with her that violence is not the way to follow and that everyone must do their part to dissuade killings and destruction of properties.
Beyond that, what Kadaria’s intervention did was simply to apportion blame to the media. As much as the media shares responsibility when things go wrong, she wrote as if the media is not a product of its environment.
More troubling, she wrote as if she wanted to use her blame of the media to protect the people who have real power to do what is right for everyone in the country. Her thesis was quite dishonest in her decision to absolve the real culprits – leaders – leaders, like herself, Gov. Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna state, and so many others.
Kadaria did what the elite are good at doing – throw the little guys under the bus. It was the fault of the extremists, the hoodlums, and the ones propelled by emotions. Meanwhile, the real extremists, hoodlums, and those driven by emotions are those in government houses across the country. Those little people with guns and machetes on the streets were just learning from the Ogas at the top.
Who will ever be more extreme than Gov. El-Rufai of Kaduna state, who went to West African countries to pay foreign herdsmen who killed his people in Kaduna? Who will ever be a more dangerous hoodlum than a governor who warned foreign election monitors that they would go back home in body bags because they were in Nigeria to monitor elections and make sure elections were free and fair?
Who will be more dangerous than Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi who, amid the tension already in the country, felt it was appropriate to have Fulani herdsmen continue to carry AK-47 when elements within them were proven to be involved in kidnappings and killings across the South?
The violence the elite in Nigeria are wrecking on the society is worse than those Boko Haram and the bandits have done. It is just that nobody is counting. Nigerian prison is full of innocent people who are victims of that elite’s violence. The greed, corruption, and indulgence of the elite are responsible for the immeasurable violence in the heart of the masses. The elite’s celebration of “might is right and woe to the weak” is what the bandits adopt in their little world of influence. The ransom elected officials in Nigeria collect every month in the form of security votes, allowances, and bribes are over 1000 folds more than what all that the kidnappers in Nigeria have ever gotten in two decades. The only difference is that while elected officials stay in air-conditioned offices to kidnap using the pen, the kidnappers in the bushes use guns.
The people that we call extremists today are the people who have decided that they would no longer play the games that we have been playing for over sixty years. Today’s media democratization means that even if the mainstream media blacks out the dispossessed and unheard voices, they would find an outlet underground. At their peak, the mainstream blocked Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adam in the UK. It did not stop his message from spreading. And it did not stop the violence.
Kadaria’s intervention was just an effort to deflect the blame and provide cover to the wicked, corrupt, and lazy people who cornered political power in Nigeria without an iota of idea on what to do with it. In all she wrote, she did not mention Buhari’s name. The man on whose watch the country is going to the dogs did not get even a passing mention.
How long ago has this inherent danger of herdsmen conflict with farmers been going? A chronicle of excuses given why President Buhari did not intervene in the last six years would fill up a 24-by-24 container. When Buhari blamed the killer herdsmen on foreigners from Libya and some West African countries and at the same time urged Nigerians to accommodate them, that was when Kadaria should have screamed. When Buhari’s spokesman told Nigerians worried about herdsmen destroying their farms to choose if their lives were more important than their farms, that was when Kadaria should have punched the air and yelled. I saw her do that when the killings going on in her home state of Zamfara became unbearable. But even at that scene of carnage at her home, she was not consistent. And it continued.
Leadership is not something you show when it is convenient or when the people you consider your folks are in dire need of it. Leadership is not a part-time job or a per diem gig, like driving Uber. Leadership is something you show every day, everywhere, and every way. It is not something you reluctantly assume after the people have cried themselves hoarse, like the kind of leadership Buhari has offered Nigeria. Leadership is a calling that entails sacrifice, not a position to indulge in comfort. Leaders don’t go in counting what they would gain for being leaders. They go in agonizing what they would do each day to improve the condition of the masses. Leadership is not about flying private jets, first-class but about leaving the flag of your country flying high in the sky and in the hearts of your people. In all these counts, Buhari has been a failure. As for Kadaria, I will let her use her tongue to count her teeth.
Leadership is not about rushing out when a monster is by your door to scream May Day, May Day, danger and danger. Leadership is about having the foresight to see the monster when it is still a baby. Leadership is to stop those cuddling the baby monster when its teeth were not yet out and dripping with blood. A leadership team without vision is doomed to lead by fire brigade approach.
Beyond this, the most fetal trouble with Nigeria is our penchant for waiting until a scourge gets to our doorstep before we do something about it. The elite like Kadaria are suckers for that. It doesn’t concern them until it concerns them. When kidnappings started in the Niger Delta and the victims were expatriates, elite like Kadaria thought it was not their problem. When it got to the Eastern part of Nigeria, everyone had a boogeyman – that it was the Igbo problem and it was happening because they liked money. But people are essentially people.
Some Fulani herdsmen quickly figured out that it was easier to kidnap people and collect millions instead of spending days and nights in the bushes for peanuts. It was a lot easier for them, too – they have got the guns and are allowed to flaunt them. Also, nobody would think it was them. After all, they do not like money.
Perhaps the most haunting, the most devastating of Nigeria’s maladies is still the original sin- that is, the tendency to blame the group for the sins of a few. Kadaria forgot to mention that. It first manifested itself in a major way in the interpretation and reaction to the coup of January 15, 1966. Over fifty-five years after, we still have not come to terms with the simple fact – that a group of army officers, the majority of who were Igbo, on their own planned a coup without consulting ordinary Igbo people in the street.
They decided to kill political leaders, most of whom were non-Igbo. For doing so, thousands of innocent Igbo people, whom the coup plotter did not consult, were singled out and killed. Even after a counter-coup, when scores of Igbo officers were killed in a revenge killing, including the then head of state Gen. J. T. Aguiyi-Ironsi and his host in Ibadan, Lieutenant Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, the bloodletting did not stop.
It occurred in all of northern Nigeria in 1966, Kano in 1980, Maiduguri in 1982, Jimeta in 1984, Gombe in 1985, Kaduna & Kafanchan in 1991, Bauchi, Kastina, & Kano in 1991, Zango-Kataf in 1992, Funtua in 1993, Kano in 1994, all of Northern Nigeria over Sharia Law implementation in 2000, Kaduna over the hosting of Miss World beauty contest in 2002, all of Northern Nigeria over Danish cartoon of Prophet Muhammad led to killings in 2006 and 2007, Adamawa in 2012 where Gov. Nyako offered to buy the coffins for 43 killed, and so on and so forth.
Until Nigeria atones for this original sin of blaming the group for the sins of a few, we are doomed to repeat it. Geography is the only thing that would be changing. Every part of Nigeria will experience being refugees and depending on foreign charities for survival while other parts of the country keep going to school, falling in love, and getting married. Until we atone for this original sin, the concept of Nigeria as a nation would remain an illusion, even for those leading the country.
Kadaria, in her article, referred to Rwanda’s genocide. Rwanda is still atoning for its sins of 1994 when it killed 800,000 citizens in 100 days. Fifty years after ours, we have not even acknowledged that it was a sin. We have not even started atoning for the sin. We have no monuments built for those we killed at the places they were killed, as a reminder to those who killed them that it was wrong.
We still do not have their names written on walls that would never crumble. Just like everything in Nigeria, we hope that the sin would fizzle out. Sins do not fizzle out if they are not atoned; instead, they multiply like viruses. Atonement is the only vaccination against sins.
Twenty-five years after the massacre of their own people, Rwanda is a better country because the people who took control of the country after the genocide made a deliberate choice to punish the culprits, atone for the sins, and build a fair and just society. In our own case, the people who took over continued the war by other means, holding themselves and the country down.
Pray if you like or record a crying audio message like Kadaria, things won’t get any better until what affects people in Sokoto becomes a concern of people in Port Harcourt, and what affects people in Sagamu becomes of concern to people in Maiduguri. But more importantly, until Nigeria ceases to be the most unjust society where the elite who failed Nigeria are beneficiaries of that failure, things would be going from bad to worse. To put it in the simplest of Peter Tosh’s terms, “There won’t be peace until there are equal rights and justice.”
Where there is systematic injustice, as we have in Nigeria, what changes are the colour, gender, ethnicity, creed, religion, sexual orientation of the victims? In such an environment, pursuing others and having others pursuing you is a matter of turn by turn. The victims change depending on the time in history that the historian started their pontification. To break the cycle, we need atonement.
Maybe Achebe did not explain this leadership thing very well. But I doubt it.
Let me go and read the book again.
By RudoIf Okonkwo
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