OBJ/IBB: Beginning of the end? By Adagbo Onoja

At a time when even a former minister would glibly say that after Sudan, Nigeria is next to break-up, it is right and proper that individuals like General Obasanjo and IBB are making public efforts by way of a joint statement last Sunday calling for a peace process. It is not possible for Nigeria’s two most wily Generals to enter the arena as anything but masters of tactical maneuvers. Or they wouldn’t be Generals. Even then, at a time like this, the options are very limited. The most important thing is that they have stood up for Nigeria at a very critical time. At worst, the joint intervention of OBJ/IBB would have a galvanizing effect in favour of peace. At best, it leads to peace. Either way, Nigeria should be the winner.

In spite of areas of grave contradictions of their junta politics, it is not commonly believed that Obasanjo and IBB are not committed to Nigeria as one nation.  IBB at least, has said recently that if it meant putting on the khaki again to fight for Nigeria, he would do so. Such statements are not to be taken lightly. OBJ also said in December 2001 that there is no peaceful way out of anybody getting out of Nigeria and we might as well find a peaceful way of living together. So, the two elders are well heeled in the arena.

A crisis situation like we have in Nigeria today requires the unity of the intellectual, the political, the economic, the military and the traditional elite behind the state for anything to be achieved. That unity behind the government of the day has been lacking. It cannot be unconnected with the circumstances foregrounding the emergence of President Jonathan in 2011 as well as the president’s lack luster mobilizational politics but it is time to move on to secure the country in the first case.

Moving on in this circumstance requires a peace process in which all the actors have bought in. Conceptualising such a peace process and convincing all stakeholders to buy into it is probably where the Generals might strike at first. So far, the peace process has not captured the crisis comprehensively. In fact, it could be said that we have we have been living in self denial in terms of what has hit the country. Nobody knows whether this is a strictly local insurrection or something triggered accidentally or an externally organised attack or a combination of all of the above. Without such a clear analysis, the responses have equally been fuzzy. It is hoped that with what the new NSA appears to have started and what the Generals might add, a window of hope may open. Of course, the insurgency is not the only dimension of the crisis. There is also the dimension of the perceptual insurgency which expresses itself in the continuous call for the reconfiguration of the state.

One may not know why the two Generals issued the statement without bringing in other former heads of state and the likes. It is possible others like General Gowon, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari, Ernest Shonekan, Abdulsalami Abubakar, T.Y Danjuma and Aliyu Gusau were contacted but declined. Otherwise, one suspects that all of them coming together at this point could send a very symbolic message. Thereafter, they could resume their elite quarrels but at least, Nigeria would have been saved.

Rounding off a recent piece on Mandela at 94, I asked the question: Who is that man or woman which this crisis must throw up to be able to say to the Nigerians, this is the way forward as Mandela had done in South Africa? I wondered if there is there such a person or if history is no longer about convergence of objective and subjective factors?

In framing the question that way, one wasn’t ignorant of all manner of leaders which the current crisis has thrown up, either as Christian leaders, Muslim leaders, regional or ethnic leaders. However, almost all these leaders were going around in the night, holding secret meetings, scheming and stringing what one called cabalistic alliances when the challenge is to mobilise Nigerians against an unanticipated threat and turbulence. The question was whether the Nigerian State would have had someone or some people of standing in the society speaking clearly and unambiguously for it had it been confronted by a more monstrous challenge like Apartheid. There is, therefore, something to commend in the positions of the two Generals even as we have not been told what it entails at this point in time.

John Odah and the agenda of organic radicalism

As far as I can remember, Professor Claude Ake pioneered it among radical activists in Nigeria, at least in the contemporary context. That is the idea of radicals returning to their communal roots to try to operationalize or be true to the principles they believe in. There is no better way of making the struggle acceptable to the larger populace than that. For Ake, it was a principled struggle for him to have led the struggle for electricity facility for his Omokwu community of Rivers State.

Then it was the turn of the late Tajudeen Abdulraheem who, though based outside the country, made it a point to come back to base to show to the government how to build and manage a secondary school. It was not just how to build and manage a school but how to make the welfare of the indigent collective to count in social policy. The late Taju was the last sort of person to think of organic responsibility. He had been a ‘troublesome’ Rhodes Scholar at Oxford after a first degree in Political Science from Bayero University. He was a world man, a man who was at home with most African Heads of State, speaking raw truth to them in the most frank manner. Only for him to surface as an MDG ideologue in the employ of the United Nations in addition to his sustained involvement in Funtua, where he grew up. It was not humility. It was organic radicalism.

It was, therefore, such a pleasant surprise learning that one of Nigeria’s leading labour activists, Comrade John Odah, had gone to deliver a special address to the Idoma National Forum at the Och’Idoma’s palace, Otukpo recently. Reading through the text of the speech, I could not but come to the conclusion that the labour veteran has opened a new flank. Hitherto, radical politics in Nigeria has oscillated around many wrong angles of praxis. One of such is leaving community engagement unattended to. Instead, most comrades were confined or busy advocating the revolution somewhere far from the real theatre which is the community level. Most times, this was understandable as radical politics in Nigeria hasn’t got the culture of professional revolutionaries who lived only for the revolution. Additionally, the burden of anti-military/anti-SAP struggle in Nigeria have been so heavy on many activists in the students, academics, women, labour, human rights arena it left no time to devote to the communal base.

This is the news in John Odah’s ‘manifesto’ to the Idoma National Forum. The core of that presentation, could in the context of space limitation here, be reduced to where he argued, among others, that “The need for clinics and hospitals could drop to less than half of present demand level if we get the nutrition consciousness of our people right, if we do something urgently about voter education or if we conscientize very, very vigorously on public health issues, in short on the MDG. Mobilisation is the resort of the poor and we are poor”

According to him, it would be a giant step forward if a platform like Idoma National Forum would move away from working within its elite self to working with and among the people, raising popular consciousness on day to day problems of existence of the masses. There is a reward for that: this platform will then transform into a popular front for the people’s liberation from a life of drudgery, fear and want based on quality and timely information provided the people by their own sons and daughters outside of the orbit of deceit and partisanship.

Even if only it is his point about raising the nutrition consciousness of the people, Odah has made a critical intervention. The paradox in most Nigerian communities is the abundance of the very type of foods the people need but then they don’t regard those as foods as such. Hence, in the case of most Idoma land, they keep on eating pounded yam and garri when there is relative abundance of vegetable, fruits of different types, grains, cereals, legumes, nuts and what have you.

What John Odah has succeeded in doing is putting forward the evidence that ethnicity need not be a basis for offensive or conflictual or violent relations in all cases. We can equally use it as a platform for positive and developmental mobilisation. This is what we call emancipatory ethnicity and it is unique to radical activists. Activists of other tendencies have difficulty handling identity generally and ethnicity in particular.

It is apt to watch keenly watching how Idoma National Forum will take up the challenge of a more radical view of ethnic nationalism to the point of being an example to others.