Saturday, January 30, 2021 6:33 am
By Salihu Moh. Lukman
Background – Cries of Victimisation and Ethnic Profiling
In the wake of the controversy around the purported eviction order to Fulani herdsmen by Ondo State government, in January 2021, Nigerian social media was full of messages with all manner of allegations of unfair victimisation against sections of the country. Choices of messages being shared depend on ethnic background, such that almost every major ethnic group in the country had messages that seek to expose cases of victimisation. For instance, among many others, there was this message supposedly written by one Price Ifeanyi Sunday who claimed to be disturbed about the case of victimisation against Hausa-Fulanis with the submission that “If Tunde commits a crime in the North they will tag the culprit Tunde, if Emeka commits crime in Lagos they will blame only Emeka but if Musa commits a crime in the East or South West they will tag the crime Hausa-Fulani, nobody will mention Musa. The victimisation of Hausa-Fulanis in southern Nigeria is going out of hand. It is time for the Northern elites to speak up”
Such messages are conveniently presented with often hypothetical identity of Nigerians bearing them. In this particular case, Prince Ifeanyi Sunday, who from the name, appear to be an Igbo man from the South East Nigeria, is the bearer. Whether there is a person bearing that name or not, the objective is simply to demonstrate that there is victimisation against Hausa-Fulanis and if Prince Ifeanyi Sunday, an Igbo man can acknowledge it and speak out, why is the Northern Hausa-Fulani elites keeping quiet? The choice of Prince Ifeanyi Sunday as the bearer of the message may have to do with the fact that the trigger of the clamour about victimisation of Hausa-Fulanis is from the Yoruba populated South West based on the tension between the Yorubas and Hausa-Fulani communities given the sad criminal activities of people allegedly identified as Fulani herdsmen. The case of a hypothetical Igbo man is coming few weeks after alleged attacks on Fulanis in Ebonyi State, South East Nigeria, an allegation that is hardly resolved before the controversy of the purported eviction notice to Fulani herdsmen by Ondo State government.
The message in question by Price Ifeanyi Sunday can only be interpreted to mean inciting the Northern elites against the Yorubas in the South West. There are similar inciting messages against the South West political leaders suggesting that those of them that are members and leaders of APC have sold out. Even PDP leaders may not be free from such accusations. Interestingly, there is also the underlying tension between Yorubas and Igbos living in the South West. Just recently, following the unfortunate destructions that happened in Lagos State as a result of the EndSARS protests, there were wild allegations against the Igbos living in Lagos alleging that they are the ones that carryout the destructions. Reports of so-called agenda to destroy Lagos, Yorubas and the South West were all over the place.
In the midst of all these, there are also cries of visctimisation against the Igbos and people from the South East, which is always a subject of political debates in the country. The question of political marginalisation of the Igbos is a constant item for leadership negotiation across all our parties. Similar to the cases of inciting messages aimed at mobilising leaders from the South East to initiate political responses, which could strengthen the political influence of the region in national politics, there were so many instances of media reports accusing leaders of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and other political leaders in the South East of betrayals championed by the separatist group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Therefore, ideally every discerning Nigerian, should have been able to situate the projected solidarity by an Igbo person (Prince Ifeanyi Sunday) to Hausa-Fulanis in the context of all the dynamics of ethnic relations in the country. Recalling that since the mid 1960s, following the overthrow of the First Republic and the civil war that followed, relations between the Hausa-Fulanis in the Northern part of the country and Igbos in the South East region of the country is anything but cordial. Tense relations between our major ethnic groups is responsible for why at different times and in many instances, there are cases of ethnic and communal violence, often resulting in ethnic profiling of criminals. Even activities of criminals are now very common reasons of profiling our ethnic groups thereby associating them with some crimes. The case of Nigerians accused of illegal drug businesses with cases of arrest and execution of convicted Nigerians in other countries are there. There are also cases of cybercrimes involving Nigerians both locally and internationally.
Ethnic profiling in the country is a moving target both in terms of the trigger and the ethnic group affected. At different times, virtually all our major ethnic groups were profiled in relation to crimes committed by Nigerians identified to be from particular ethnic groups. While it was the issues of drugs and cybercrimes with respect to non-Hausa-Fulanis, the case of criminal activities of some bandits and kidnappers among the Fulani herdsmen is the issue today that has led to the profiling of Fulanis in the country. With time, this may shift to other crimes with possible other ethnic groups or even the same Hausa-Fulani groups as the focus.
Failed attempts to Correct Injustice
Problems associated with ethnic profiling get compounded by problems of injustice as a result repressive circumstances especially during periods of military rule. Recalling all the frustrations associated with failed political transitions of the military, both under Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Gen. Sani Abacha between 1985 and 1998. Although problems of political tension between our ethnic groups could be said to be less volatile than what obtains today, reckless and brazenly repressive conducts by the military leadership heightened ethnic tension in the country. Twice, the political transition programme initiated by the military was disrupted with hardly good justifiable reasons. Even when the process, in June 1993, was leading to the emergence of a President who would have successfully won votes from all sections of the country, notwithstanding the fact that both the candidate, Chief M. K. O. Abiola and his running mate, Amb. Babagana Kingibe, were both Muslims, the military leadership of Gen. Babangida provocatively went ahead to annul the election without any convincing reason.
The annulment of June 12, 1993 election further worsened ethnic relations in the country such that although the elections produced one of best electoral results that confirm there is still a good possibility for national unity and coexistence, campaigns for its actualisation sharpened divisions along ethnic lines. This was aggravated by the tight-fisted political transition of the Gen. Abacha administration between 1993 and 1998. Chief Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 election spent the remaining parts of his life between 1993 and July 1998 under arrest.
Part of the challenge that require proper attention in the country is the need to resolve problems of mismanagement of the country’s transition from military rule to the current Fourth Republic. Without recalling all the unfortunate details of the problems created by the annulment of the June 12, 1993, it is important to recognise that more than 20 years into the current Fourth Republic, the tension created in the country are far from being resolved. Prior to 2015, the closest we came to addressing the issues, as a nation, is the appointment of the Justice Oputa Oputa Human Right Violation Investigation Commission under President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 and the 2014 National Conference under President Jonathan Goodluck. Of course, in 2005, there was the National Political Reform Conference under President Obasanjo, which eventually became embroiled in the controversy around President Obasanjo’s Third Term agenda and as a result all the recommendations were therefore never considered.
Inability to address issues of ethnic tension in the country has continued to inflame all manner of political crisis in the country. Coupled with widespread systematic weakening of governance institutions in the country, especially on matters of guaranteeing the security of lives and property of Nigerians, issues of role of political leaders in addressing the challenge became a major political issue. The problem of insurgency in the North East and the spate of suicide bombings by Boko Haram terrorists between 2010 and 2015 compounded the task of managing ethnic relations thereby creating serious security challenge in the country. Before 2015, the Boko Haram insurgents were controlling most parts of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States. Weak response and excessive politicisation of our national security challenges under the Jonathan administration, including the false accusation that opposition politicians were sponsoring Boko Haram, lower the approval rating of the Jonathan administration in the country, which significantly contributed to its defeat in 2015.
Merger of Opposition Parties and Renewed Hope for Justice
Perhaps, more than the low public approval rating of the former President Jonathan administration, the successful merger of the former opposition parties – Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) and Rochas Okorocha faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) – made Nigerians to have stronger belief and confidence in the new party, All Progressives Congress (APC). Part of the negotiated credentials of the APC is that it is a party committed to true federalism, otherwise called restructuring as presented in the Foreword to the APC Manifesto by the former National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. Emerging as a party of change with its motto being JUSTICE, PEACE AND UNITY as provided in Article 3 of the party’s Constitution, the Manifesto of the party, commit APC leaders to the core issues of political restructuring in the country based on reforming government with the objective of ensuring fiscal and political decentralisation.
Given the fact that a good section of the leaders of the party who were in the defunct ACN were part of the political agitation in the country for restructuring and resource control, public expectation was high in terms of the kind of initiatives to be produced by the APC government. Although details of the commitment of the APC on matters of restructuring were outlined in the party’s manifesto, loose public interpretations of the specific commitment of the party to political restructuring have been subject of national debate. Unfortunately, as a party, very little was done to popularise the true details of what the APC position and commitment to restructuring are. To some extent, this has resulted in some unfortunate campaigns against the APC, its leadership and especially the APC controlled Federal Government led by President Muhammadu Buhari since its inauguration in May 2015.
Noting that the 2015 elections demonstrated that the APC’s acceptability in the South East is weak, it was hardly any coincidence therefore that between 2016 and 2017, the separatist group of IPOB under the leadership of Nnamdi Kanu started the so-called campaign for the creation of Biafra. The South Eastern part of the country became the centre of activities for the group. Activities of the group created so much tension in the country, and on September 18, 2017, a Federal High Court in Abuja declared the group a terrorist organisation, thereby proscribing them. The group attempted to resist the proscription through some activities, which resulted in the arrest of Nnamdi Kanu and charging him for sedition, ethnic incitement and treasonable felony.
Activities of IPOB produced the unhealthy dynamic in the country whereby youth groups from the Northern part of the country began to campaign against not only IPOB but also against the people of the South East. For instance, on June 8, 2017, a so-called coalition of youth groups from Northern Nigeria issued what they claimed as ultimatum to all Igbo citizens in Northern Nigeria to leave the North on or before October 1, 2017. Combined activities of IPOB and so-called coalition of youth groups worsened the ethnoreligious tension in the country. Many leaders and groups had to intervene to ensure that the situation didn’t degenerate into violent conflict in the country. Unfortunately, however, political tension associated with ethnoreligious activities of groups such as IPOB and so-called coalition of Northern groups still dominates the polity.
APC True Federalism Committee
These were the background that made the APC National Working Committee, in July 2017 to set up the APC Committee on True Federalism with Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State and Sen. Olubunmi Adetunmbi, as Chairman and Secretary respectively. The Committee initially had a limited membership of ten (10) but was later expanded to twenty-seven (27), covering all sections of the country, all interest groups and given more time to consult more extensively across the country. Its terms of reference include making recommendations to advance the unity, national integration and collective well-being of the country.
In discharging its mandate, the Committee identified thirteen (13) issues based on the review of reports of National Conferences, including the 2005 National Political Reform Conference and the 2014 National Conference. The 13 issues identified are – Creation of States, merger of States, Derivation Principle, Devolution of Powers, Federating Units, Fiscal Federalism & Revenue Allocation, Form of Government, Independent Candidacy, Land Tenure System, Local Government Autonomy, Power Sharing & Rotation, Resource Control and Type of Legislature.
Having outlined these issues, the Committee invited memoranda from Nigerians and held public hearings in all the six geopolitical zones of the country. Besides, it organised dedicated public hearings for women, youth, civil society and physically challenged groups, which held between September 18 and October 9, 2017. Based on all the submissions from the public hearings, the Committee made the following recommendations:
Beyond the 13 issues, the Committee made additional recommendations on 11 issues, which are considered necessary to strengthen Nigeria’s democracy and make it functionally appealing to wider sections of Nigerians. These 11 additional recommendations, all came from the submissions received from Nigerians from all the public hearings across the six geo-political zones. The 11 additional recommendations are:
A. Demand for affirmation of vulnerable groups – recommended that vulnerable groups (women, youths and physically challenged persons be given adequate attention in terms of appointment in government jobs and political positions, including creating dedicated advisory role at all levels.
B. Citizenship – recommended a comprehensive review of all constitutional provisions on indigeneship and residency status to eliminate all the pervading primordial sentiments on citizenship and indegineship so that ethnic affiliation begin to give way to birth and residency.
C. Ministerial appointment – recommended amendment to section 147 (3) of the constitution to remove requirement on the President to appoint Ministers from every state who must be indigene of the states.
D. State constitution – recommended that state constitution is not a priority.
E. Role of traditional rulers – recommended that each state explore ways of incorporating traditional institutions into their governance models based on which respective House of Assembly enact appropriate laws.
F. Community participation – support all efforts to promote increased community participation in governance within the framework of two-tier federation.
G. Minimum wage legislation – recommended that each state should be free to decide its remuneration based on its resources and productivity
H. Elections – recommended that every tier of government should have autonomy in conducting its own elections
I. Governance – recommended review of scope of immunity granted to Governors and Deputy Governors
J. Judiciary – recommended the creation of State Judicial Council to exercise the function of National Judicial Council in relation to state courts.
K. State alignment and boundary adjustment – recommended that section 8 (2) and (4) of the constitution be amended in order to subject any request for boundary adjustment to a referendum as the case with creation of states and local governments under section 8 (1) and (3) of the constitution.
The full report of the Committee was submitted to the APC National Working Committee on January 25, 2018 organised in four volumes are:
· Volume 1: Main Report. – http://pgfnigeria.org/2018/01/29/volume-1-report-of-the-apc-committee-on-true-federalism/
· Volume 2: Legislative, Executive and Other Action Plans – http://pgfnigeria.org/2018/01/29/volume-2-report-of-the-apc-committee-on-true-federalism-action-plan/
· Volume 3: Project Communications Report & Online Survey – http://pgfnigeria.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Volume-3-Project-Communication-and-Online-Survey.pdf
· Volume 4: Summary of Memoranda and Analysis of Data – http://pgfnigeria.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Appendix.pdf
Volume 2 contained proposed legislative bills for either constitutional or amendments of all the relevant laws based on the recommendations contained in the report of the APC Committee on True Federalism.
Renewed Agitation and Leadership Contestation
For three years since presenting the report to APC National Working Committee under Chief Oyegun, the recommendations are yet to be considered. It was however presented to the party’s National Caucus and the National Executive Committee. The decision was that leaders of the party will study the report and dedicated meeting to debate and take decision will hold. The consideration to hold dedicated meeting to consider adopting the recommendations of the Committee may have been lost in all the chains of leadership crisis being experienced by the party since 2018, which set in with the contest to nominate candidates for the 2019 general elections.
Largely because the issue of restructuring is so contentious in the country, there are many political leaders in the country that don’t want to entertain any consideration for initiatives around political restructuring. To even get APC to agree to setup the APC Committee on True Federalism, Chief Oyegun, then as National Chairman had to emphasise True Federalism as the focus of the work of the committee. Even with True Federalism, Chief Oyegun had to insist on reviewing the draft report of the committee before its adoption. It is also to the credit of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, the Committee Chairman who ensured that other leaders of the party, including President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yomi Osinbajo are consulted before the Committee concluded the report. In other words, from the feedbacks prior to the adoption of the recommendations by the Committee, leaders of the party were disposed to considering the recommendations contained in the report.
To have succeeded in getting to this point of producing recommendations for governance reforms as contained in the report of APC Committee on True Federalism, is not a small achievement by a political party such as APC with membership as diverse as the country. Arguably, it is the first time in the political history of Nigeria that a political party, not government, is undertaking such extensive national consultations on a contentious political issue such as true federalism or restructuring. Being the governing party, and able to successfully come up with the recommendations contained in the report of the Mallam Nasir El-Rufai led Committee on True Federalism, further raised expectations about the potentials to move the country forward such that issues of ethnic relations would be prioritised based on initiatives to minimise grievances arising from governance issues in the country.
There appears some belief among political leaders that ethnic tension will always be part of the character of politics in the country. Such belief may be responsible for the attitude of indifference and unwillingness to consider proposals for governance reforms bordering on true federalism or restructuring. However, given all the issues around perceived injustice against sections of the country, rightly or wrongly, every governmental action may be vulnerable to problem of ethnic labelling, which could add to the rising political tension in the country. Most times, it is more a reflection of leadership contestation in the country, which has to be constantly managed. Poor management of these issues can weaken the capacity of government to resolve important governance problems, which may not necessarily be caused by ethnic factors but could easily be given ethnic interpretation leading to profiling of a whole section and ethnic group. Even when genuine efforts are made to address the problems, the efforts could also be interpreted in ethnic terms.
Recent events in the country especially with the purported eviction order by Ondo State government arising from initiatives to control and prevent instances of kidnapping and banditry by protecting Forest Reserves in the state has generated renewed ethnic tension in the country. Consequently, the debate became longer about controlling and preventing crimes of kidnapping and banditry. Everything became about whether or not the Ondo State government should reverse its decision even if that means protecting the criminals. By the time Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) facilitated a meeting with the Fulani groups and the resolution was reached whereby the Fulani groups endorsed the decision of the state government and agreed to comply with the decision of the Ondo State government, the interpretation became that Ondo State government has withdrawn its eviction order.
The task of managing our volatile politics is simply a case of either our political leaders are able to initiate active ways of controlling the narratives of how citizens interpret government actions or government accept the distractive accusations of ethnic biases to all government initiatives. Perhaps, it also needs to be noted that it is not by accident that ethnic tensions are higher around the periods of elections. Once elections are approaching, expected leadership projections will always produce ethnic tension resulting in all manner of ethnically induced interpretative conclusions of every government initiative and decision of political leaders at all levels.
With hardly any exception, ahead of elections, almost everyone become sucked into the politics of ethnic contests. Every government initiative and almost all actions of political leaders get interpreted in ethnic terms. The best description of this reality was provided by Graeme Gerrard and Benard Murphy in the book How to think Politically when they argued that “We assume that citizens should be informed. But they also need to be knowledgeable and even wise. Today we are inundated with information – but knowledge and wisdom remain as scarce as ever. Thanks to the miracle of digital technology, we are drowning in oceans of data, facts and opinions. What we need now is not more information but more insight, not more data but more perspective, not more opinions but more wisdom. After all, much of what is called information is actually misinformed, and most opinions fall short of true knowledge, let alone wisdom. Even a superficial glance at the state of contemporary politics will dispel any illusion that the explosion of information has led to wiser citizens or politicians or improved quality of public debate. If anything, misinformation is winning out over knowledge.”
There is no better description of our national reality defined by ethnic tension and the politics of hatred it has produced. While it is true that ethnic politics will always be part of our national life, it is important that our leaders are able to have the confidence to engage it beyond the defensively weak strategy of blockades against governance initiatives on account of suspicion that such initiative will favour any single ethnic group other the ones we belong. Once initiatives are not taken to control and manage the manifestation of ethnic politics in the country, all ethnic groups will be vulnerable almost to the same degree.
Given our political history and all the accumulated grievances of sections of the country, controlling and managing ethnic tension is a determining electoral factor, which should be taken seriously by all political leaders irrespective of our ethnic background. On the other hand, no matter how well a leader performs, once such a leader failed to meet the expectations of sections of the country on account of poor management of ethnic relations, the leader may only be remembered based on all the unpopular choices he or she made while in power. For instance, President Obasanjo is only remembered today for the Third Term agenda he attempted to impose on the nation. President Jonathan is mostly associated with problems of insecurity. In the particular case of President Jonathan, not even the case of convening the 2014 National Conference and his magnanimous decision to concede defeat in the 2015 election even before INEC declared the results surpass the poor management of security as the defining credentials of his leadership in the rating of many Nigerians.
As things are President Buhari had done what no leader has ever done in the political history of this country to the effect that on June 6, 2018, he conceded to the demands of many Nigerians, especially from the South West that June 12 should be the country’s Democracy Day. Since 1999, only South West governments controlled by the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD) and later ACN, observed June 12 as Democracy Day. The Federal Government and all other state governments outside the South West only recognise May 29 as the Democracy Day. Although being a Hausa-Fulani, which is the ethnic group accused of perpetrating the June 12 injustice, President Muhammadu Buhari took the bold decision of declaring June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day. In addition, he conferred the highest national honour Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), on late Chief MKO Abiola, the standard bearer of the June 12, 1993 elections posthumously as well as also publicly apologising to the family of late Chief Abiola.
In taking these bold steps, President Buhari was unambiguously clear that the objective was to correct the injustice of the past. This was contained in his speech while presenting members of Chief Abiola’s family with the award of posthumous national honour when he stressed, “We cannot rewind the past, but we can at least assuage our feelings, recognise that a wrong has been committed and resolve to stand firm now and ease the future for the sanctity of free elections. Nigerians will no longer tolerate such perversion of justice. This retrospective and posthumous recognition is only a symbolic token of redress and recompense for the grievous injury done to the peace and unity of our country.”
Alh. Babagana Kingibe, the running mate to Chief Abiola and another veteran of the struggle for the actualisation of the result of June 12, 1993 elections in the country, late Chief Gani Fawehinmi were conferred the national honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON). These are important milestones, which the government and our leaders would have consolidated by activating the processes of considering other governance initiatives to manage problems of volatile ethnic politics.
The Big Window of Opportunity – Report of APC Committee on True Federalism
Recommended governance reform initiatives contained in the report of the APC Committee on True Federalism present a big window of opportunity for the nation and APC leaders in particular to develop the capacity to manage our volatile politics laden with ethnic and religious influences. To be able to manage our volatile politics, we need to strengthen our governance institutions. Inability to proceed to initiate processes of strengthening governance institutions in the country as contained in the recommendations of APC Committee on True Federalism will continue to subject our leaders to often unfair accusations of ethnicity based on wrong perceptions. And if care is not taken, no matter the achievement of our leaders, public recognition of the tenure of our leaders may be dictated by perceptive judgements of poor performance based largely on bad management of ethnic relations.
Therefore, all APC leaders have a responsibility now to protect the achievements of APC leaders and governments, especially the Federal Government and President Buhari. APC leaders need to overcome the current lethargic attitude against initiatives for true federalism or restructuring. Although, no matter what any political leader is able to concede, there will always be the strong presence of political demands by ethnic groups, it is important to appeal to our leaders to consider the bigger picture, which is about responding to national challenges and strengthening the capacity of governance institutions in the country to serve Nigerians.
The recommendations contained in the report of the APC True Federalism Committee have potentials to strengthen the capacity of government institutions at all levels to respond to most of our security challenges, for instance. Most of the recommendations will elicit wide range of disagreements from many groups and interests across the country, a debate to consider them will raise hopes and almost everyone will most likely find something appealing as much as there will be cases of strong objections to some of the recommendations. It is important to understand that debating the issues doesn’t mean it is a decision for implementation. Debating these issues through our processes of law making as enshrined in our constitution is a fundamental requirement.
With a tripartite consultative committee, chaired by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo with both the party Chairman, HE Mai Mala Buni, Senate President, HE Ahmed Lawan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiala, PGF Chairman, HE Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, Secretary to Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Gida Mustapha and Chief of Staff to President, Prof. Ibrahim Agboola Gambari serving as members, the initiative to activate consideration of provisions of the APC Committee on True Federalism can initiated even if it means identifying the less contentious recommendations and commence processes of implementation.
As a party committed to change, the best way to demonstrate that should be to move the country to the level of active engagement to consider recommended initiatives. Ensure that we operate a truly federalist system of government and our democracy is both representative and responsive should be a shared objective of every political leader in the country. This is not a task for only President Buhari. As much as being the leader of the party and President of the Federal Republic, he has a crucial role, every leader of the party is also responsible. The advantages of considering the recommendations contained in the report far outweigh all the fears that has held the nation tied to the current volatile politics of ethnic tension. May God guide our leaders to lead us in a new direction that can encourage and strengthen them to consider governance reform initiatives that can fortify our institutions and therefore guarantee peaceful co-existence founded on love for each other across all our ethnic and religious divides. Amin!
-Salihu Moh. LukmanP, rogressive Governors Forum, Abuja. This position does not represent the view of any APC Governor or the Progressive Governors Forum