“I can go back to fight a war to keep this country together even at 71…..some people are saying that should anything happen to President Jonathan, forget about Nigeria and so on. I know those who are saying this. Yes, they are supporters of the President. But I know the President is a sensible person so don’t waste your time saying that the world would come to an end if something happens to your son. Of course he is your son but he is our President. I have always respected these people but these things that they say amaze me. These are the same people that went to school, people who went to universities, people that are educated and people who have held positions of responsibility. There is a doctrine known as the ”Doctrine of Nigeria’s Settled Issues” and nobody should attempt to tamper with them. Number one, I don’t want anyone of us to tamper with anything to do with Nigerian unity. Number two, the republican constitution is also a settled issue, more or less. Number three, the states are the federating units of this country and number four we are a capitalist country. Anybody that wants to talk about this country must make sure that he doesn’t do anything that will disrupt these basic settled issues in our political life. Anyone that is talking about dismembering this country you should not listen to him. If we see such things as ”christian south” and ”muslim north” we should disregard it. Even if such people say it the media should ignore it because you know it is not the truth, so you should not even write it”- GENERAL IBRAHIM BABANGIDA, The Daily Trust Annual Dialogue, Abuja, 26th January 2012.
I have nothing but the deepest respect and affection for General Ibrahim Babangida and those that know me can attest to this. He is not only a great and profoundly good man that has sacrificed so much for our nation but he is also one of the very few truly detribalised leaders who genuinely and honestly loves Nigeria and who passionately believes that the interest of every Nigerian is better served if our country remains as one. I do not for one minute doubt General Babangida’s sincerity of purpose or his deep sense of partiotism. Anyone that can take a bullet to keep Nigeria one must always be given his due respect and honour. Yet despite my personal feelings and affection for the general I am afraid that, from an intellectual and political perspective, I have to respectfully and humbly disagree with him on this issue. I do not believe that there is any such thing as a ”Doctrine of Settled Issues” in our body politic and neither, in my view, is Nigeria as we know it today a sacrosanct, unbreakable or unchangeable union. It is trite that the only thing that is certain in the life of men and nations is change. Whether we like it or not change is like an irresistable tide and, when it’s time comes, it is like a moving train and a raging wind which crushes or blows away anyone or anything that stands in its way.
You either bend with it or you break. I am a student of history and it may interest those that subscribe to this rather arcane and anachronistic theory known as the ”Doctrine Of Settled Issues” to know that Nigeria remains the only mega-nation and forced union of incompatibles that the British colonial masters cobbled together at the beginning of the 20th century that still remains together today. There were actually three in all and the other two, namely the Sudan and India, have broken into two and three pieces respectively over the years. Why should Nigeria be any different? More importantly why should we be told that Nigeria MUST be different? Would this have been so if there was oil in the north?
Again when one considers the delightful and miraculous ”crumbling” of the almighty Soviet Union (another forced artificial union) or the breaking up of the old Yugoslavia and the emancipation and creation of numerous new countries in the Balkans and eastern Europe which came as a consequence of that magnificent change, I ask again, why should Nigeria be any different? The words of the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher are instructive here. In the September 2, 1991 edition of Newsweek she said, ”the lesson of this century is that countries put together artificially will fall apart. National identities will not be suppressed”. Twenty years after these famous words were spoken we are beginning to witness their relevance and veracity in Nigeria. The right to self-determination and to forcefully resist what many feel is an internal colonial system is a legitimate and inalienable right of all free men and women. You cannot hold me down and keep me in your house on your own terms and deny me the right to be free or to say or do as I please. If you do not treat me fairly and if you continue to make me feel worthless and full of fear of your terror and ability to inflict violence on me and mine, then eventually, whether you like it or not, I will leave. No one signed their life or their future away to bondage and none of us subscribed to the view that decisions about our country and our furure can and have been made by our past leaders and heroes and that they can no longer be changed or altered. I say that they can if the circumstances determine that this must be so. And if you do not give us our rights eventually we will exercise them by force and regardless of how you feel.
As much as I am amongst those that have criticised the Goodluck Jonathan administration forcefully, objectively and vigorously over some of their policies in the last few months let me make two things clear. Firstly my criticisms are borne out of my concern for our country and nothing else. I have nothing against Mr. President personally other than the fact that by not getting it right he is playing into the hands of the ”born to rule” northern cabal who believe that he does not have a right to be President simply because he is an Ijaw man. The overwhelming majority of the Hausa- Hulani intelligentsia and elite do NOT belong to this cabal and are indeed decent, law-abiding, rational and patriotic Nigerians. However there is a small, powerful and strategically-placed cabal that do espouse this Hitlerite philosophy and do believe that no southerner should have the right to rule in peace without being told what to do and without being teleguided and controlled by them. This small but strategically-placed group have sworn to make the country ungovernable for Jonathan and we are now seeing the results of that threat. For the record let us just warn these ethnic supremacists that they must not misconstrue the position that some of us have taken when it comes to this government and its policies as an endorsement of their deeply conspiratorial and despicable ethnic agenda. I should also add that Jonathan must not die under any mysterious circumstances. If this were to happen there would be no Nigeria left afterwards and by the time it is all over they will know that it is only when you kill a madman that you will know that he has friends and family. The new Nigeria has no place and no room for those that believe in the “born to rule” philosophy or those that subscribe to any form of Boko Harm or Taliban-style islamic fundamentalism. We will not tolerate it, we will not bow to it and we will resist it with every fibre of our being.
I have said it before and I will say it again- if Nigeria is not a place that every ethnic nationality is regarded as being equal and is treated as such then let there be no more Nigeria. There is nothing that is sacrosanct about a forced union of incompatibles. If you are in a bad marriage you get out of it before you kill each other. The Lugardian ”poor husband of the north” cannot force the ”rich wife of the south” to remain in this unholy and iniquitous union for much longer unless the terms are right and unless there is equity and justice for all. The mistake we made in 1967 by not standing on Aburi will not be repeated. The days of the master/servant relationship that we have witnessed between the north and the south for 51 years of our national existence are long over and they shall never return again. This country is moving forward and she is not going back and if Presdent Goodluck Jonathan can just get his act together and vigorously resist the hegemonist giants in the land he would have my full support and that of millions of others. This is the time for a new vision for our country. It is the time for new leaders who are ready to stand up and speak the truth about our precarious state of affairs and about the direction in which our nation must go. It is the time to talk about the convening of a Sovereign National Conference and to answer the Nationality Question. It is the time for courage. Let us not take our unity for granted or treat it as ”a given”. Nigeria must change, she must be restructured, she must be reformed and she must make every single ”Nigerian” believe that he or she can get to the top regardless of their nationality or faith.
On a final note permit me to point out the fact that it does not help when you have a northern Governor of Central Bank who seeks to create a subtle but clear intellectual justification for the existence and activities of Boko Haram by telling the Financial Times of London that ”there is clearly a direct link between the very uneven nature of distribution of resources and the rising level of violence. When you look at the figures and you look at the size of the population of the north you can see that there is a structural imbalance of enormous proportions. Those states simply do not have enough money to meet their basic needs whilst some states have too much money”. The subliminal message and signals are clear to the discerning. Yet it does not stop there. Thisday newspaper (28th Jan. 2012) reported that that same individual said that ”attempts to redress historic grievances in Nigeria’s oil-rich south may inadvertantly have helped create the conditions for the islamic insurgency spreading from the impoverished north-eastern region of the country”. I am astounded by this contribution and having read it, it is now very clear to me that President Goodluck Jonathan was absolutely right when he told us that there were secret members and sympathisers of Boko Haram at the highest levels of his government. The Governor of Central Bank’s rationalisation and attempted justification of the shameful and unacceptable activities of the murderous islamist sect Boko Haram are an eloquent testimony to that fact. Yet he is not alone. The northern Speaker of the Federal House added insult to injury by saying that Boko Haram should be ”forgiven” for their sins and called to the table for ”dialogue and negotiations”. And this was just a day after the Kano bombings. Mr. President apparantly took his advice because just a few days later he reached out to Boko Haram on CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera, asked them to identify themselves and attempted to open a dialogue with them. In return, and predictably in my view, he was rebuked, spurned, treated with contempt and disdain and told to ”repent and become a muslim” before any form of dialogue could begin. So much for the advice, counsel and rationalisations of the ”insiders” and secret members of Boko Haram within our government. My advice to Mr. President is to identify these fifth columnists, name and shame them publicly and weed them out of his government before it is too late. The longer he waits the more dangeous it will be for him and for a united Nigeria. Let us pray for our country.
•Fani is former Aviation Minister.