Pope Francis speaking to a crowd of people that gathered at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican on February 14, 2014, said, inter alia:
“Living together, in unity and love as a people is an act, a journey! It means to cultivate the habit of saying… ‘I am sorry; please pardon me!’ Living together grows in fertile soil of hearts of persons of contrite hearts, who never end the day without making peace and asking for forgiveness. To make peace – does not generally need deep discourse… It is not the duration that is important but the quality of living together in unity of love and peace.” (Pope Francis, Rome February 14, 2014).
Although said in the context of sustained love of living together in marriage life, the above discourse of Pope Francis is very relevant for our situation in Nigeria today. This is because, all said and done, Nigeria, as a nation-state is a marriage – indeed a kind of forced marriage since colonial era. The country is now about sixty years old into this marriage since political independence in 1960, yet it hasn’t much to show about it. Nigeria as a nation-state has not been able to cultivate any love-story as such to live and tell about itself to its citizens or children of diverse backgrounds.
In whatever case, the blame of the failure of Nigerian state today cannot continue to be located at the doorpost of the mistakes of the colonial past. Rather, it is the failure of Nigerian leaders of our day to recreate their country as a love-story; a love-story of a nation-state that all Nigerians, irrespective of their tribe, religion or philosophical persuasion, will be proud to identify with, recount with admiration and sense of dignity. The Nigeria of the dream of majority of its citizens has never existed and may not come to exist unless something urgent is done today to salvage the present most precarious situation of the country.
The question therefore, we have to ask ourselves, as Nigerians today, is, ‘why have we as a nation-state, sixty-years after political independence from Britain, not yet able to fix our country and make it a home, a loving-home indeed for all its citizens?’ ‘Why has Nigerian state, almost immediately after independence in 1960, turned into a scene of theatre of violence, bloodbath, killings of innocent citizens, insecurity of life and property, corruption, reign of recklessness and impunity, breakdown of rule of law and order, all orchestrated by the failure of its political leaders and security agencies?
For me, answering these questions, constitute the significance in our Nigerian situation today, of the above citation from the discourse of Pope Francis on living together in unity and love, freedom, justice and peace. As a fractured country, it is clear that we cannot achieve these noble ideals of a nation in Nigeria today, without revisiting the founding-story of the country as a nation-state by invoking national reconciliation for true healing and political restructuring to emerge in the country’s political landscape.
Without true and sincere reconciliation, healing and political restructuring, no political elections in Nigeria today will ever achieve the desired result. Without sincerely addressing these fundamental issues that have been dragging the country all these years from achieving greatness, the problem of Nigeria as a fractured, violent and bloodletting country will continue to multiple even if we hold hundreds of elections today. And if things continue with the rate they are going today, who knows, in no distance future, there may be nothing again called Nigeria. God forbid!
In discussing this topic, our article focuses its’ attention on some fundamental issues, Nigeria, as a nation-state, in retrospect, needs to confront itself with before deciding either to go for elections in 2019 or to embrace first, true national reconciliation, healing and restructuring of our political system.
Basic Issues before Elections 2019
There is an Igbo adage, which says, “Onye na amaghi ebe immiri siri mara ya adighi ama ebe ono ko ya n’ahu.” Which literally translates, “One who does not know where the rain begins to beat him may not know when it gets dried up in his body.”
The failure to see the link between the ongoing murderous activities of Boko Haram cum Fulani Herdsmen terrorists’ groups across the country, and the continued denial or unwillingness of Nigerian state to address the underlying issues that led to the Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970), is the major reason the country is fast losing its soul and essence as a nation state. Put in another way, the neglect of our founding story as a nation-state and continued denial of atrocities of the Nigeria-Biafra War in relation to the present state of things in the country, almost 60 years after political independence, have remained the original sin – the most serious neglect and mistake of Nigeria’s political class and leadership.
In fact, one would have expected that the renewed incessant killings of innocent citizens, especially, in the North-East and Old Middle Belt regions of the country by the Boko Haram and Fulani Herdsmen terrorists’ groups, could have forced the Nigerian political class and leadership to revisit our founding story as a nation-state and address the Biafran question. Because, in the final analysis, this could have helped us as a nation-state in constant-war with itself to address the question of true reconciliation, healing and political restructuring of the country for a new Nigeria of our dream to emerge.
Without addressing this fundamental issue, it will amount to the greatest joke of the century for the country to embark on elections 2019 without reconciliation, healing and political restructuring. This is our take in the present article:
What Nigeria needs most today before embarking on the much-talked elections 2019, is national reconciliation that would lead the nation to true healing and political restructuring. Choosing the contrary will no doubt complicate the precarious situation the country presently finds itself. No serious nation would dare venture into political elections amidst reign of terror as we have it in Nigeria today. As things are today in Nigeria, the question of national reconciliation for healing and political restructuring takes precedence over and above the ongoing campaigns for elections 2019.
In other words, in the face of Nigeria’s present reality, of what use will be the 2019 elections without national reconciliation, healing and restructuring of our political system? With too much bloodshed in the land, violence, insecurity of life and property, renewed ethnic divisions and religious bigotry, what type of elections does the country expect to have in 2019? With too much frustration, anger, hunger, unemployment, ethnic-hate and religious persecutions, military and police brutality, disrespect to rule of law and order even by those in corridors of power, in fact, national unrest and acrimony of all sorts, of what use will be 2019 elections without reconciliation, healing, and political restructuring of the country?
Moreover, will holding elections in 2019 under the supervision of the present lopsided federal government, really usher-in the Nigeria of our dream? Will the present administration that has proved itself incapable of discharging the basic functions of governance, such as provision of security of life and property of the citizens, be trusted to conduct credible, free and fair elections in 2019? Will going for elections in 2019 without healing our past and present wounds and memory as a nation-state, really change things for better in the country today?
Personally, I do not think so! There is another Igbo proverb which says, “ana zotagodu ala tupu azoba ute.” Which literally means, “You first secure the land before going for the mat.”
Today, as things are, Nigerian state is not secure. The country is NOT in safe hands. This is why it is today more than ever, immersed in total turmoil of violence, terrorism, bloodletting, political instability, economic crisis of highest order, mutual mistrust among its diverse ethnic and religious entities, all caused by a failure of leadership at the center. Any election conducted in Nigeria today under this tensed and violent atmosphere may cause more bloodshed and insecurity of life and property than what the country is seeing already. In fact, no credible elections worthy of its name, may flourish in Nigeria today without first, our addressing the underlying issues that have brought the country to its present pathetic state of hopelessness.
Therefore, the fundamental question and issue here is, ‘how did Nigeria degenerate to this lowest elbow of a failed nation-state?’ How did we get to this point of near hopelessness as a nation-state? This is the crux of the matter!
The answer to this question is not far-fetched. The fact is that Nigeria is a forced marriage of peoples of different nations, ethnic-entities, religions, cultures, and philosophy of life, who have been hostile to one another before been forced into a union, yet to work by Britain. The fact that we have not sat together since independence in 1960 as a people of diverse backgrounds, to sincerely reevaluate our founding story as nation-state for better cohesion and healthy mutual co-existence, leaves much to be desired. The fact that as a nation-state the country has opted to use of arms and violence against its own citizens or groups who question the rationale for maintaining the existing political structure, has remained the bane of the failure of the Nigerian state to recreate itself.
Since the amalgamation in 1914 of North and South Protectorates of Nigeria by the British and the political independence of 1960, Nigeria as a nation-state has continued to witness on regular basis, incessant killings of its own citizens, ethnic-hate, divisions and religious bigotry. The country since its creation by Britain, has never found its soul as a nation-state that is neutral and home to all its citizens.
Unfortunately, these things are happening under the watch of the so-called Nigerian political leaders and their foreign sponsors. They appeared incompetent or rather unwilling to address the situation. Nigeria, it would seem was conceived and clothed at independence in 1960 with unjust political structures, culture of incompetent leadership, mediocrity, ethnic and religious irredentists oligarchy. These have turned the country into a ‘theatre’ of bloodbath, pogroms, ethnic-cleansing, religious bigotries, violence, Islamist extremists’ terrorism, and Machiavellianism of the political class and ruling oligarchy.
In other words, the primary aim of political structures and gladiators Nigeria was clothed with at independence in 1960, has remained the same till date. It is as if we got political independence from Britain in 1960 only to be enslaved, recolonized, once again by our fellow citizens – the most favored ethnic and religious group in the country.
Back to the metaphor of ‘marriage-love’: Nigeria from its conception as a nation-state by Britain in 1914 was never intended to be a ‘working marriage’ of ‘equal-partners’, where unity, love and justice would reign. At independence in 1960, the country was never intended by colonial masters to advance the welfare of indigenous Nigerian populations. Rather it was a marriage of convenience meant to serve the continued foreign interests of the colonial masters.
This is the essence of the ‘unholy alliance’, Britain entered with the Sunni Muslims Northern Nigerian Oligarchy at independence in 1960. Since then, atrocities upon atrocities have been committed in Nigeria against people of other ethnic-nationalities in the Middle Belt and Southern regions. The most egregious examples of such atrocities are the Biafran pogroms (1967-1970), Boko Haram terrorism against indigenous populations in the North East as well as the ongoing ethnic-cleansing in the Middle Belt region by the marauding Fulani Herdsmen terrorists and militants.
These things are happening under the watch and seemingly connivance of the present federal government and security agencies such as the military and police. What is clear in Nigeria today is that the common masses have no longer, state security protection. It is like saying that the country has descended into a state of ‘Animal Farm’ of George Orwell’s novel.
Again, Nigeria at independence in 1960 inherited an unjust political structure and vision of a nation-state that our political leaders have since proved incapable to address. This is in spite of the fact that few years after independence in 1960 Nigeria experienced the first post-independent Africa worst genocidal war against a particular ethnic-group and region of the country. Since then one would have expected that the civil war could have forced Nigeria to sit-back and reevaluate its essence of being as a nation-state.
Instead of addressing the issues that led to the massacre of over 3.5 million of its citizens – mainly Igbos from the former Eastern region during the Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970), our political leaders and their foreign sponsors have been behaving as if everything is normal with Nigerian state!
In other words, the atrocities of the Nigeria-Biafra War, which could have made the country and its leaders to sit-down and reevaluate our forced marriage as nation-state, is still swept under carpet by the Nigerian state. Since after the war in 1970, political leaders and elites of the country have chosen to sweep under carpet this most horrendous crime of a state against its own citizens of a particular ethnic and religious group, barning the teaching of history in schools to hide the atrocities of the Biafran pogroms from future generations. They think that by so doing, it will be forgotten and the country will continue with business as usual.
Unfortunately, fifty years after the civil war, the ghost of the wounds of the war, in particular, the Biafran pogroms (1967-1970), have continued to hunt the country till today. This is so because of the unwillingness of the political leaders and those at the corridors of power to address the root causes of that war, make restitutions where necessary and create a new vision for the country where every citizen would feel belonged and at home. Again, Nigeria as a nation-state is still very far from these noble ideals of a state.
This is the root cause of what the country is presently experiencing at the hands of Boko Haram and Fulani Herdsmen terrorists, who carry out their murderous activities across the nation unchecked, and with tacit connivance of the present federal government.
Fundamental Questions for Those Campaigning for Elections 2019
Sometimes, I ask myself, are all those people who have started to kill themselves, malign one another, doing all sorts of unimaginable things in preparation for 2019 elections, really live with the rest of us in this same country Nigeria? Are they from Nigeria or are they from another planet earth? This is because it beats one’s imagination to think that people will be killing themselves for the 2019 elections without really reading the handwritings on the wall.
It is only someone from another planet earth not close to Nigeria, and who is totally, ignorant of Nigerian reality and history that will be preaching and gearing up for elections in 2019, without, first, confronting himself/herself with the fundamental question: ‘Under what political climate and structure are the 2019 elections going to take place?’ Put in another way, ‘how does one think that the present administration in Nigeria which operates on the principle of 97percenters against 5percenters of those who voted them into power in 2015, are going to conduct ‘free and fair’ elections come 2019?’
Furthermore, how does one think that the present administration in Nigeria, composed mainly by the same people from one particular ethnic-group and Islamic religion, are going to conduct credible elections in 2019 that will usher-in the ‘new Nigeria’ of our dream? The present administration, where the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary, all the Service-Chiefs, National Security Heads, Police, Paramilitary, Immigrations, Customs, INEC, EFCC, DSS, etc., are all headed by the same people of a particular ethnic-group and religion, in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country Nigeria, will need a miracle to conduct a free and fair elections in 2019.
In fact, from all look of things, one can conclude that it was in anticipation of rigging 2019 elections that the present federal administration from the beginning, made its appointments notoriously lopsided. This is also the reason why the Presidency is presently fighting tooth and nail to see that the National Assembly does not succeed in reversing the order of elections, and that presidential elections come first before that of National Assembly, State governors and States’ Houses of Assembly.
Again, what type of elections does one think may hold in Nigeria today under the present situation of things in the country: inequity, total breakdown of law and order, bloodshed, Boko-Haram and Fulani Herdsmen Islamic terrorism, military and police brutality, and the government’s seemingly incapacity to address these things?
It is therefore utopia for anybody to think that 2019 elections supervised and conducted by the present federal government will bring any positive result or change that will usher in the dream-nation of majority of Nigerian citizens today. From the goings on so far, nobody should be in doubt that all machinery have been put in place by the government in power to ensure that it succeeds itself either by hook or crock.
The elections are already ‘rigged’ before they are conducted. It is therefore, a waste of energy for anybody to spend his time and money hoping that something positive will come out of the 2019 elections under the present dispensation.
All this means that, as things are today in Nigeria, we should first, opt for national reconciliation, healing and political restructuring of the country before embarking on anything called elections at the federal level. The country’s political structure and machinery today, are rotten inside-out that no elections conducted with it will be produce a different result from what we know already as a people and nation-state since 1960.
By the way, any knowledgeable individual knows that most of the problems with Nigeria today can be traced back to those decisions reached and structures of governance put in place by the then Federal Military Government during and immediately after the Nigeria-Biafra War. All the Nigerian Constitutions formulated by different military governments since after the return to civilian regime in 1979, including 1999 Constitution perpetuate lopsided government and existing political structure of the country. Unless the existing structure is addressed courageously with determination, the solution to Nigeria’s present problem is not in sight.
Furthermore, the continued stay in power, domination of Nigeria’s political scene by the ex-generals and their successors, religious irredentist and ethnic-supremists, is one of the major problems dragging the country from embracing the challenges of national reconciliation, healing and political restructuring that will usher in a new Nigeria of our dream.
The onerous task today before embracing the national reconciliation is how to bring these ex-generals and their cohorts to the table of dialogue. These ex-generals supervised the Civil War atrocities (1967-1970). Till today, they would want us all to continue to live in that mindset of war situation of victors and vanquished, fifty years after the civil war.
Therefore, before embarking on any elections today, the ex-generals need to be convinced that we are no longer in a war situation, that this is 21st century and not Medieval era of masters and slaves. And that as a people, we need to begin anew to renegotiate the essence of our being together through a process of reconciliation and healing of our past wounds as a nation-state.
Once more, looking at the way Nigeria as a nation-state has been degenerating on daily basis, we may conclude that what the country needs most today before embarking on elections 2019, is national reconciliation for healing and political restructuring to take place. Presently, there is nothing on the ground to favor any credible election in Nigeria today without reconciliation and political restructuring.
Therefore, any relatively conscious person, who is sincere to himself or herself knows that any talk for elections in 2019 today in Nigeria without first, the healing of our historical memory as a deeply wounded divided nation-state with faulty political structure, cannot yield any positive result. It is insensitive on the part of our politicians and those at the corridors of power to be talking of elections 2019 without, first, addressing the issue of healing the wounds of our historical memory and renegotiating the country’s existing political structure.
Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic Priest. He lives in Rome where he is a Professor of missiology (mission theology) in a Pontifical University. He can be reached by email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.
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