What do the Nigerian people have to do to be heard by their government? As you read this, President Jonathan is busy trying to impose amnesty on a bloodthirsty jihadist group that feels insulted by the idea. For all we know, the recent bloodbath in Baga — 200 bodies and still counting — may be partly Boko Haram’s way of avenging the slur!
But the more frenzied the holy warriors’ killing and maiming spree in the name of a merciful Allah, the stronger the commitment to dialogue with them. Admittedly, the precedent was set by Jonathan’s deceased boss, Umaru Yar’Adua, with his programme of amnesty for militants of the Niger Delta who had taken to arms, kidnapping and sabotage to press home their demands for fiscal federalism, also known by the misleading shorthand “resource control.”
Still, it is clear that the aims of one militant struggle, its excesses notwithstanding, can be met by constitutional means, and those of the other only by scripture.
So the answer to the question that begins this essay is obvious: the people must take up arms, form themselves into militias, and wage murderous campaigns that lay waste to entire neighbourhoods, towns and regions.
Only bloody violence, for Nigerian governments do not hesitate to crush peaceful protests with tanks and bullets. For merely singing and drinking “pure water” in the streets, Jonathan rolled out the tanks to quell the January 2012 petroleum subsidy scam protests. If “we, the people” are to be heard, we must speak with guns and bombs and oceans of blood in our hands. Even better if we can block the flow of petro-dollars to the treasury or render an entire region of the creaky republic ungovernable.
Reminds you of that time-worn phrase, “the balance of forces,” and it explains the government’s double standards in its treatment of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra. While Jonathan bends over backwards to placate Boko Haram, he is vigorously prosecuting MASSOB’s leader, Ralph Uwazurike, together with six of his comrades, for treason. So amnesty for Niger Delta militants and Boko Haram but death for MASSOB because … well, MASSOB is not shutting down oil wells nor trying to establish with bombs, bullets and tears the New Jerusalem east of the Niger.
What, then, is Jonathan telling law-abiding citizens if not that they must first become bloodthirsty militants before he listens to them? Otherwise, why has he been so eager to set up advisory panels on every imaginable problem but the most important: that of making a genuine nation out of the mere “geographical expression” or “mistake of 1914” called Nigeria? In just three years, Jonathan has set up so many committees it is hard to keep count.
A partial list: the General Danjuma presidential advisory council on ways of cutting the behemoth federal government to size; the Justice Belgore committee on review of outstanding constitutional issues; the Adamu Fika committee on review of the reform processes in the Nigerian public service; the Lateef Adegbite committee on public awareness on (sic) security and civic responsibilities; the Steve Oronsaye committee on rationalization and restructuring of federal government parastatals, commissions and agencies, essentially a replication of the Danjuma committee; the Sheikh Ahmed Lemu panel on the civil disturbances that trailed the 2011 general elections; the panel of governors of the Niger Delta to strengthen the Niger Delta Development Commission and make it accountable; the Nuhu Ribadu special task force on petroleum resources, as well as several ministerial and legislative committees.
On 4 April, Jonathan set up a committee to advise him on “the feasibility or otherwise” of granting amnesty to Boko Haram. Twenty days later, he constituted the Turaki implementation committee in the hope of restoring peace to the northern region.
But Boko Haram’s goal of an Islamic republic amounts to a total renunciation of the constitution, of the basic governing principles of the federation. Their jihadist cause is certainly not a matter for dialogue among a few handpicked individuals reporting to the president. It is, rather, part of the National Question, different aspects of which have every corner of the country seething with barely containable fury.
If Jonathan could think and act for a moment like a bold statesman, rather than as a squeamish politician, he would seek nominations directly from the public and set up forthwith a preparatory committee for a Sovereign National Conference.
Its terms of reference, loosely stated, would be to consider the feasibility or otherwise of convening a Sovereign National Conference wherein Nigerians, as citizens, would for the first time decide on the terms of peaceful co-existence; agree on the structure and fundamental objectives of the state, and devolution of power from the centre to the federating units; collate opinions from different ethnic, socio-cultural and professional groups on the modality of the conference, including a specific time frame for its activities culminating in a people’s Constitution subject only to ratification by plebiscite; the manner of ensuring stability of government during the period of the SNC until the elections to usher in the new republic.
But, of course, Jonathan will not do the most needful thing in our country today, so I will remind him of those prescient words of John F. Kennedy: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent change inevitable.”
Professor Ifowodo, a poet and lawyer, currently teaches literature in the United State s of America. He can be reached via email@example.com