By Salihu Moh. Lukman
The reported clash between Hausa and Yoruba traders in Shasha, Ibadan on Thursday, February 12, 2021 should be alarming for every Nigerian. Given that the crisis was triggered by avoidable circumstance of a Hausa man conveying tomatoes, which accidentally dropped in front of the kiosk of a Yoruba woman and instead of picking all the tomatoes, the Hausa man decided to pick only the good ones and left the bad ones littered in front of the kiosk of the Yoruba woman. This made the Yoruba woman to go after the Hausa man insisting that he should go back and pack everything. What then followed was exchanges leading to another avoidable situation whereby the same Hausa man allegedly hit a Yoruba shoemaker, Sakirundeen Adeola alias Korex who started foaming and had to be taken to hospital and later died. This led to destruction of vehicles, kiosks, shops, houses and various structures on Friday, February 13, 2021.
At a time when the issue of banditry and criminal conduct of individuals in the guise of herdsmen dominated public discussion in the country, events in Shasha have further inflamed ethnic tension in the country. All the debate now is no longer about the bad conduct of the tomatoes’ carrier but about Hausa/Fulanis vs Yorubas. Could any Hausa/Fulani person have accepted the bad conduct of the tomatoes’ carrier in Sasha? Why is it so easy to debase ourselves into acquiring bad and criminal behaviours of people simply because they are from our so-called tribes or religion? This is almost the same unfortunate mindset that has virtually blocked consideration of any objective proposal to resolve the problem of banditry in the country. On both sides, almost every proposal has suffered the same ethnic labelling without looking at the specific details of the proposals.
Throughout Saturday, February 13, 2021, almost all discussions on social media platforms in Nigeria became a debate between so-called Hausa/Fulani (North) and Yoruba (South). It is no longer about the bad conduct of a stupid man in Sasha. Very respected citizens including political leaders, scholars, civil society activists, religious and tribal leaders have all taken sides based on the need to defend their ethnic groups. There is hardly any moderating voice. How can there be any solution to the problem of ethnic hatred when everyone is a warrior and warlord defending his/her claimed ethnic group?
It is really worrisome, and everyone must be aware of the dangers ahead. It may be tempting for people to argue that let everyone goes his/her way if we cannot peacefully co-exist. Unfortunately, the human cost of breakup may be more expensive than those making noise in the media space could ever imagine. We have communities from all parts of the country who have fully integrated in societies that would become foreign to them in the events of breakup. There are Yoruba in the heartland of current Hausa/Fulani societies. We have Hausa/Fulani in the heartland of Yoruba communities. There are towns in current Northern Nigeria that are dominantly populated by Yoruba. There are sections of our urban communities across both the North and South that are mainly populated by other ethnic groups. Imagine places like Sabos in all our urban setups across both the North and South.
Perhaps until recently, taxi business in most parts of North West and North Central Nigeria was almost the monopoly of people from Osun State. The entrepreneurial drive of our people from the South East is unbeatable. Go to the remotest part of the North as far as the border communities neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon Republics, you will find successful business Igbo men or women. Businesses such as photo studio, printing and similar vocations were practically the monopoly of people from South South especially Edo and Delta. Bakery, restaurant and food businesses are mostly dominated by non-Northerners.
This is the reality. We can refer to animal husbandry, business in tomatoes, onion, pepper as areas dominated by Northerners, especially Hausa/Fulani. With criminality taking over cattle rearing, as a nation, we are recklessly taking steps to destroy the fortunes of millions of Nigerians. No matter our level of anger, we must be able to caution ourselves that destroying the fortunes of our fellow Nigerians simply because some of us are criminals cannot be a viable solution. Why is it so difficult to discuss in terms of arresting the criminals among us? Or why is it that when attempts are made to regulate the conducts of people so as avert crime or arrest criminals in other parts of the country who are sadly associated with our tribes and religion, we translate that to mean attack on our tribes and our religion?
It is difficult not to be personal on a number of these matters. I am a Hausa/Fulani person in every respect. I was nurtured to reject all forms of criminality in all its manifestations. As a small boy, when I committed offence outside my family, I feared the consequences of my parents getting to know that I committed such an offence. It is always better to take the punishment of those I offended than to allow my parents to know it and punish me. Their punishment is usually more severe, in fact worse than if I had offended them. There has never been any time when my parents heard of any report of any bad behaviour I might have displayed to non-family members, and they did not punish me. There were many cases when I got punished by my parents simply because I was suspected to have behaved badly. It doesn’t matter who I offended. All these have helped to make me who I am today.
That has always been the case in all our homes. Anyone who was truly brought up based on our old Hausa/Fulani traditions, couldn’t accept to defend any wrongdoing with the ease with which foul and criminal conducts of so-called Hausa/Fulani are being debated. We were raised to be good ambassadors and a mark of leadership required that we are capable of being fair. It was such orientation that made me to understand that if I want my parents to be respected, I must show respect to others. And my parents must similarly also demonstrate their unhappiness when they received information that I or any of my siblings wronged others. It doesn’t matter the person. In a similar manner, my parents demonstrated the same disposition to punish other children. Likeness or love is defined in our old societies in terms of being able to discipline wrongdoing. No parent can claim to love any child if they don’t have the attitude to discipline their child’s wrongdoing and at the same time accept others to punish their child for wrongdoing. Inability to discipline wrongdoing is regarded as destructive to the child and to the family, rightly so.
What has really changed? One hears of responses of political leaders to all the debates going on in our country and it is difficult not to worry that either our political leaders don’t understand the full weight of the challenge facing the nation or we have all just abandon our sense of justice. Most people, including our political leaders, today recklessly respond to all reports about wrongdoings of citizens with references to ethnic and religious differences. Yet, in all this madness, we have people who want to be elected to rule societies whose complexity is beyond attracting votes of one ethnic groups. Do these aspiring leaders really want to be elected or they want to conquer citizens, especially those that have already defined themselves in terms of ethnic credentials?
In all of these, there are hardly meetings by our leaders taking place to debate and come up with resolutions which could represent some common understanding of what needs to be done. It is all business as usual. If there were meetings, misrepresentations about what happened in Sasha for instance would have been clarified. The other time when Ondo State government decided on what needs to be done to stop activities of criminals in forests, it was given ethnic colouration. Even when follow up efforts were made to clarify the matter, ethnic champions and warlords continue to insist on unqualified protection of ethnic groups, which could imply tacit protection of some criminal elements.
Since the beginning of January 2021, there are so many alleged communal attacks in the country, which are subject of public speculation with all the tensions they generate. Sadly, we have cases of political and sectional leaders riding behind information related to all these conflicts, some of them unconfirmed, to mobilise hatred in the land. While it is important that all law-abiding citizens dissociate themselves from all the campaigns of ethnic hatred going on in the country, we must caution our political leaders to wake up to the responsibility of providing political leadership on a matter that has taken over every political debate. As it is today, it is impossible to debate any issue in Nigeria without the attempt to interpret it along ethnic and religious lines.
In the 1970s, 1980s and up to 1990s, once there is any issue threatening the peaceful co-existence of the country, the tradition is that our national non-governmental organisations will convene meetings to review situations and decide accordingly. Trade unions, civil society, women, students, youth and even religious and traditional organisations will meet to take decisions. Eventually, those decisions taken on the platforms of these non-governmental organisations provide the parameters for policy demands and negotiations with government.
The requirement to meet and take decisions were not some distant considerations but the need to guide members across the country in terms of what needs to be done to guarantee safety of life of members in every part of the country. This is not a matter that should be driven by sentiments. Our organisations were conscious of the fact that a threat to a member in any part of the country is a threat to all members across the country.
Before Shasha, there were many reportedly alleged cases of communal violence across the country. Till today, there is hardly any reported position or proposal taken by any of our national organisations. All we have is clamour by ethnic bullies and warlords mobilising support against ethnic groups they considered as their enemies. Even leaders of national organisations have become not more than ethnic bullies and warlords. Once leader takes a position based on ethnic sentiments without the humility to consider positions of other members who are part of organisations he/she is leading, such a leader is nothing more ethnic bully or warlord.
The few cases of deliberations in the chambers of the National Assembly, for instance, were even more worrisome as members just adopt positions based on ethnic consideration, may be expectedly so. We could justify this with the argument that this is largely because there was no initiative to guide the position of members by their parties. This is not just a problem of one party. All the parties are guilty. Certainly, because APC is the governing party it has to take more responsibility. We must appeal to our leaders to rise up to the challenge of developing proactive responses to the problems of insecurity being compounded by ethnic hatred in the country. Our parties must wake up to take all the necessary steps to take decisions, which should guide the response of every leader and member. This is not just a partisan matter.
What does it take to guide the position of party members? Wouldn’t a meeting of one of the national organs of the party be sufficient enough to guide the position of party members especially elected representatives? In the case of APC, our Caretaker Committee should be able to convene emergency meetings to begin to strengthen the process of engendering sustained peaceful co-existence in the country. It is important to re-echo the words of American political scientist, Steven Levitsky in the book How Democracies Die who argued that ‘When norms of mutual toleration are weak, democracy is hard to sustain. If we view our rivals as a dangerous threat, we have much to fear if they are elected. We may decide to employ any means necessary to defeat them – and therein lies a justification for authoritarian measures. Politicians who are tagged as criminal or subversive may be jailed; governments deemed to pose a threat to the nation may be overthrown.’
The level of intolerance in the country on account of our ethnic background is beyond imagination. The source of it borders on how issues of justice are compromised in virtually every part, affecting every section of the country. In the circumstance we find ourselves as a nation, we should begin to campaign that any political leader who overtly or covertly defended criminality must be regarded as either a criminal or one with intention to commit crime too. Why should we allow any form of defence of criminality to dominate political debate and contest in the country? This is the main reason why we vilify every political leader that is not from our tribe, which then produce some fear in us that made us not to allow ourselves to be defeated by such candidates. Given that ethnic groups are being tagged as criminals, there is all manner of political mobilisation based on ethnic undertone.
As we move towards 2023, this is going to be a serious problem. It is important that our parties are able to consider new approaches that should challenge our political leaders to become leaders and champions of peaceful co-existence. With all the attacks against APC, it has the best potential of coming up with initiatives that can push political leaders to work for peaceful co-existence in the country. This is because apart from being a ruling party with the responsibility of providing political leadership, it is also a party that has committed itself to bringing about political change in the country. As a member of the party, I am always proud to acknowledge the fact that our leaders don’t shy away from recognising problems.
In the current circumstance our nation find itself, recognising the problem should revive the commitment of our leaders for the unity of Nigeria founded on peaceful co-existence based on justice. This should mean that, if in the past our politics overlooks situations whereby political leaders recklessly engage in politics of ethnic hatred, why shouldn’t a party of change take steps to sanction political leaders who promote it? Part of the advantage APC has at the moment over other parties is the fact that we are in the process of reconstituting our leadership at all levels. For the party to be able to exercise this advantage and gain the appeal of Nigerians, it should consider taking all the necessary steps to ensure that ethnic bullies and warlords are disqualified from emerging as leaders at all levels. Or put differently, only candidates with proven commitments to our peaceful existence as a nation will be qualified to hold party positions at all levels.
The disappointing reality is that this may not happen if meetings are not taking place. There is no way any party or any group can come up with the kind of required response without meetings. Through meeting positions of all groups and sections of the country can be considered. We must therefore appeal to our leaders to prioritise the need for meetings and ensure that when meetings hold honest and open debates take place. Without debating and taking all the necessary steps to produce leaders in our parties who are committed to the unity of the country founded on peaceful co-existence based on justice, it is almost predictable that candidates for elections would largely be ethnic bullies and warlords. Once candidates are ethnic bullies and warlords, political competition will continue to be characterised by violence.
As things stand today, issues of national unity and peaceful co-existence are being taken for granted. Largely because they are being taken for granted, it would appear that we only consider initiatives that can guarantee sustainable national unity when there is threat to national peace. Once those threats are lowered, our leaders just returned to status quo even where there are already proposals on the table to facilitate political negotiations. Those proposals simply become shelved and political debates returned to the control of ethnic bullies and warlords. We need to appeal to our political leaders to take all the steps required to move our nation forward, away from these politics of ethnic hatred. The only way our children and Nigerians can be maximally and confidently competitive in every sphere in our contemporary knowledge driven world is when events in our country are inspiring citizens beyond the clamour for ethnic hatred.
Instead of hating each other, can our leaders take steps to begin to push us to love each other? The need to guarantee justice at all times, irrespective of who is affected is about the only route for peaceful co-existence in the country. Once that is compromised, the foundation of our democracy will be eroded. The burden facing our political leaders is to begin to take every necessary step to move our people and our nation from all parts of the country towards ensuring fairness in every part of the country. The basis of fairness must be such that to love ourselves, we must love others. Once we can’t guarantee fairness, we should delete the word love in our vocabulary. Therefore, we must demand that our political leaders should show love to themselves by ensuring fair conduct of all citizens as a basis for citizens’ love to leaders and the nation. Happy Valentine!
*Salihu Moh.Lukman works for the Progressive Governors Forum, Abuja
*This position does not represent the view of any APC Governor or the Progressive Governors Forum