The crisis in Taraba State
If there is one person the North has looked up to in recent times to end the long running rift between the mainly Christian Middle Belt and the so-called Muslim core-North, that person is you.
First, your reputation for straight talk has since become legendary and has made you one of the most respected voices in the country. Second, you remain to date the most powerful army chief the country has produced and a role model to our men and women in uniform. Third, your vast personal fortune has made you a mighty force to reckon with anywhere, any time. Fourth, and related to this, is the fact that you have almost single-handedly bankrolled the activities of the Middle Belt Forum.
These, of course, are not the only reasons why the North, and by extension, Nigeria, has come to expect so much from you. But the combination of these alone is enough to make anyone very formidable.
Sir, five months ago, you gave one of your vintage straight talks. This was on the occasion of the Special Convocation of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, on March 2 during which you were conferred with an honourary degree and during which the university launched its 50 billion Naira appeal fund for the development of its second phase. You set the ball rolling by donating a hefty 2.345 billion Naira.
The North, you said in your acceptance speech, was trapped in a civil war without border and where the enemy remained faceless.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” you said, “we are in the middle of a civil war in northern Nigeria. There is no defined front in this particular war and worse still the enemy is faceless and unknown. There is no immunity for anyone.”
Sir, nearly ten years ago, specifically, November 19, 2003, I wrote you a letter on these pages entitled “Re: ‘The Road to Kigali’” in reference to an eloquent letter my friend and columnist at The Nation, Professor Adebayo Williams wrote to you in Tell of June 1, 1998. In that letter Williams expressed dismay at your silence over moves at the time by General Sani Abacha to transmute himself from a military head of state into civilian.
“Your silence,” said Williams, “is profoundly eloquent. But it is no longer golden…For a man justly celebrated for his seminal interventions in national affairs your current silence over the state of the nation is bizarre, to say the least.”
Williams’ fears were that your silence could’ve led to Abacha’s success which, in turn, would have led to Nigeria’s break-up. I thought Williams exaggerated things a bit in comparing Abacha’s self-transmutation agenda to the genocide in Rwanda whose capital is Kigali. Even then I believed what the professor said of your silence being eloquent but no longer golden seemed even more apt about your silence about what of you thought of the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo all the four years you served in it as the defence minister.
Halfway through Obasanjo’s first term you offered to resign. That suggested you were disenchanted with the administration. However, in an interview in The Guardian on Sunday of December 24, 2002, you belied that impression. “I had no reason to be disenchanted with the administration because the administration was just coming in. So there was absolutely no reason to be disenchanted. It is just that I felt I was not physically fit to cope with the stress of coming into government and I said so to Mr. President. He asked me to think about it. And after some consultations I decided to give it a try.”
Apparently that trial convinced you that Obasanjo’s administration was no good. For, on November 8, 2003, which was barely two weeks after a reception was organised in your honour by the MBF to celebrate your voluntary resignation as Obasanjo’s defence minister – a reception which he attended – you said at Arewa House, Kaduna – and your choice of venue was in itself highly significant – that your former boss had ruled the country in his first four years literally under the spell of a cult-like clique.
That was a most devastating assessment but coming at a time when Obasanjo was already months into his second term it was too little and too late.
Sir, my open letter of November 19, 2003 was to draw you attention to the fact that your silence about what you thought of Obasanjo’s administration until you left helped in no small measure to widen the division in the North along religious and ethnic lines. True, Obasanjo did not create that division and he was not the first to try and exploit it to rule Nigeria. Long before him there was Chief Obafemi Awolowo and several of his disciples, notably the late Chief Bola Ige.
The big difference, however, was that Obasanjo controlled the mighty federal purse and he used it to the best of his ability to try and balkanise the North.
Sir, my open letter of nearly ten years ago was to appeal to you to do everything you can to heal the rift between the two sub-regions of the North in the interest of both the region and of Nigeria because the country cannot remain united and peaceful if its constituent parts remain deeply divided.
This division lays at the heart of the crisis of governorship succession that begun in Taraba, your home state, since its governor, Danbaba Suntai, had a plane crash with his private aircraft about ten months ago. This has created serious political tension in the state over which you cannot remain silent or seemingly indifferent.
What is going on there may not be exactly the same in detail with the constitutional crisis Nigeria faced three years ago as a result of President Umaru Musa Yar’adua’s ill-health, but they are basically the same; Suntai unlike Yar’adua, is still alive. But like Yar’adua long before he was flown to Saudi Arabia for the last time before he died, Suntai, as even the half blind can see, is no longer fit to govern even his household , much less his state.
This was why, I for one, called on Yar’adua to resign on these pages first on September 10, 2008 and then in an open letter to him on December 2, 2009, repeated the same plea.
In my second plea which I made directly to him, I said, “The truth, given the latest complication in your health, is that you cannot cope with the job of governing this country. As I said in my article of last year, I believe you should resign.”
My pleas and those of many well-meaning Nigerians with much weightier voices than mine – well-meaning Nigerians including your good-self – fell on deaf ears and it had to take a last resort to a so-called “Doctrine of Necessity” to price power out of the hands of a so-called Yar’adua cabal.
Sir, your reputation demands that you intervene the same way you did in Yar’adua’s case when you joined a group of prominent Nigerians who, during a much publicised visit to Acting President Jonathan, pleaded with Yar’adua to step down for Jonathan; talk to the Suntai cabal to hand over the governance of the state to Garba Umar, his deputy who has been acting since he was flown abroad for treatment late last year.
This is the only right thing to do even though Suntai is still alive. Indeed it is the right thing to do BECAUSE Suntai is still alive but, as I just said, in no sufficient possession of his faculties to rule the state again. If you do so, it will go a long way to belie the popular belief among Muslims that you are opposed to any Muslim being a governor in the Middle Belt sub-region as defined by religion and ethnicity rather by geography. Your intervention will also eliminate the dangerous prospect of a state without a substantive governor for the next two years.
Your intervention alone will not overnight end the historic animosity between the two sub-regions but it can re-create the much needed opportunity for dialogue between the two since the Arewa Consultative Forum under the late Chief Sunday Awoniyi made such offer in 2000 and the MBF rejected it. It was significant that on that occasion you broke away from the MBF and met with the ACF leadership at the end of which you reportedly promised you will persuade the MBF to realize that its common cause of a united and developed North is greater than the differences between them.
Sir, I urge you to persuade the Suntai cabal to do the right thing because I am not exaggerating when I say only you have the power and the influence in your home state and in the entire Middle Belt to get them to do the right thing, and for that matter, the wrong.
History must not judge you to have maintained an eloquent but not golden silence when some power-hungry cabal seem determined to set the state ablaze against the spirit, if not the letter, of our Constitution.
THANK YOU ALL
On behalf of the families of the late Alhaji Garba Nmanda and Alhaji Yusuf Ibrahim, I would like to thank all those who attended the Wedding Fatiha of our daughter, Fatima Nnakada Asabe Haruna, and our son, Ismail Yusuf Ibrahim, two Saturdays ago in Kaduna. Our special thanks go also to those who did not receive our invitation but came all the same. Thank you all and God bless.