Some of us will ever continue to, more easily, gravitate towards a genuine comrade in power than we would toward some fellow tribesmen or fellow Christian in power. But as Professor Munck aptly captured the dilemma therein in the case of those he called Marxists, “it would be a curious form of idealism which would allow a Marxist to dismiss a concept for which people are prepared to die”. Ethnic and religious identities are the two most dominant concepts or ideologies for which people are prepared to die or have died, especially in the post Cold War. That compels everyone – Marxists and non-Marxists, realists and idealists, radicals and conservatives alike to pay attention to how best to manage ethno-religious diversity.
It is in this sense that Bishop Kukah was serving an early warning function in his homily at the burial of Sir Patrick Yakowa, by drawing our attention to the desirability of quickly getting out of the dogma and sense of otherness which portrays those outside our own ethno-religious circle as the enemy, the inferior and the one who cannot be entrusted with power. And to embrace a notion of diversity that says that everyone has something to contribute.
It is understandable he focused on Kaduna State but the exclusion on ground of religion or ethnicity is one of the manifestations of the fallacy of democracy in many states across Nigeria. I don’t know the details of how this plays out in states like Adamawa, Bauchi, Nassarawa, Niger, Taraba and Kwara, all in the old North but I know those of Benue and Kogi aside from Kaduna. (As aggravated as it is in Plateau, it is not included here because Plateau is, in the final analysis, traceable to Nigeria’s hopeless definition of the citizen against which Bala Usman, Segun Osoba and Okwudiba Nnoli warned us in 1978).
The most charitable thing anyone can say about the three states above is that exclusion there is embarrassing to decency. But more embarrassing is the violent silence of the senior citizens cum statesmen in those states. In the case of Kaduna, some elders or stakeholders ought to have perceived the hostility of exclusion to peaceful inter-group relationship, homily or no homily from a Kukah. In other words, is it not baffling that no stakeholders and statesmen ever kicked against it or worked on and popularized deliberate strategies out of colonially inherited traps in inter-group relationship in a place like Kaduna State since? Don’t they know that every ethnic or religion related violence that breaks out diminishes their moral authority, whether in Kaduna, Benue, Plateau, Kogi or wherever?
In spite of everything, the Sardauna never closed his eyes to grumblings and that made him the all time referent in terms of a more systematic manager of diversity throughout the old North. Recently, in the course of a completely different project, I asked a traditional ruler in central Nigeria whether the old North can be restored with all the violence and deep gulfs. He said such could only happen if the late Sardauna of Sokoto were restored to power. For someone who made his name via opposition to the Sardauna, that was an enigmatic reply. But he cited what the Sardauna did in response to their own petitions against exclusion of his kingdom in the politics of their emirate. Today, I know of only one monarch who intervenes behind the scene in a North Central state to ensure that rotation among senatorial district is followed. In Benue, George Akume and Iyorchia once toyed with positioning an Idoma successor. The OBJ –Atiku War created an atmosphere in which the idea could not fly.
Rotation is such a serious issue that the embryonic National Association of Nigerian Students, (NANS) adopted rotation of key positions as an article of faith in 1978, much, much earlier than NPN’s zoning. It was simply because exclusion of any sets of people from power, particularly social, cultural or numerical minorities, is an act of injustice and it would prick the conscience of all humanists, be s/he a liberal, Marxist or man/woman of God. Everywhere in the world, minorities feel very weak and they seek assurance. In serious societies, they are granted assurances via affirmative actions or what is so appropriately called positive discrimination by the Americans. Our brand of politics is too crude and unreflective. We must keep the power permanently, thereby challenging the reality of the humanity of the other group. I can’t remember the source of this crisp wisdom but I have heard it many times that one of the sages said that if power is so sweet, then it must go round. The same thing if it is so bitter.
In Northern Nigeria, in particular, the issue of access to power is something that should have been taken more seriously because they have become sources of frequent violence. If the truth be told, fear of a perceived “Christians need not apply” attitude essentially drove northern Christians to a problematic embrace of the ditching of zoning in 2011, the consequences of which are still unfolding. Yet, nobody appears to appreciate making this the point of departure with a view to achieving reconciliation as part of the restorative project. Are we so blest?
Bishop Kukah is being of immense utility to the society and our senior citizens because he is saying what they should be saying as moral guarantors. His is, in several ways, a continuation of the progressive tradition of intellectuals like Mahmud Moddibo Tukur who, several years ago, released his essay, “Example of a Just Solution to the National Question: The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics”.
Now, we do not have to go the defunct USSR to learn models of just management of ethnic diversity because, somehow, the larger Nigerian elite have since come up with the very apt response to the problematic in the idea of rotation of power among the senatorial districts at the state level and between the North and the South at the national level. Why is this not working in the states?
They have also come up with the Federal Character Commission. The idea behind it is line with the principle of federalism itself – the idea of equal spread of opportunities and basic standards everywhere as a check against the concentration of facilities in any place, thereby leading to the rich versus poor states syndrome which is always a source of conflict. It was to prevent the situation in which some people must drive several kilometres to buy Omo whereas some only need to walk a few steps and it is abundant. Typically but tragically, we have successfully reduced the FCC to another just another bureaucracy, A queer quota guard in federal recruitment. And even in that, we are still lost.
The experience of exclusion and the absence of spread of equal economic and social opportunities have left Christians in Kaduna, Igbirras in Kogi and Idoma in Benue feeling stranded, with many of them seeking creation of own state as the only solution because, as the late Aper Aku put it, “no group of people accepts permanent servitude”. Continuing, he said at the “State of the Nation” conference at ABU, Zaria in December 1983 that, “political frustration on the part of the group that may not lead and pride on the part of the group that must lead can bring about national paralysis”. While Southern Kaduna got a circumstantial opportunity that it just lost in the passage of Patrick Yakowa and while the Igbirra in Kogi made progress when Onukaba Adinoyi Ojo advanced to be recognised for the governorship in the last gubernatorial election, the Idoma have not, owning partly to their unusual elite fragmentation and attitude of ‘permanent enmity’.
Such an inference could be a case of blaming the victim but there is this story that when, in the twilight of his power, IBB visited a state where an Idoma General was his host and he asked him if it was true his people were looking for a state, the General reportedly said he was not aware and IBB reportedly kept quiet thereafter. Some of these stories are not dismissed more for their entertainment value than the substance because there is no way a discussion between IBB and his host in a staff car would become public knowledge since drivers of staff cars and orderlies know how to keep sealed mouths in these matters. There is an official confirmation though that Idoma big men were not united on creation of Apa State under Abacha even though the panel really wanted to please Ambassador Edwin Ogbu, Nigeria’s former Permanent Representative to the UN who was the Och’Idoma then. A man who was at the centre of that exercise told me in Tokyo in 2001 that I was blaming the wrong person on the issue when I joked that he was among those who denied us a state.
Idoma biggies sabotaging Apa State earlier on is probably what David Mark wants to atone for on their behalf by putting states creation on the agenda although I don’t know when Nigeria would overcome its present confusion to be able to create new states. Rotation of power along senatorial districts at the state level is a very adequate alternative in the search for diversity management formula if we have a consensus minded elite. Or well organised and disciplined political parties.
Another alternative is the kind of arrangement contemplated at some point in 1999 in which all states experiencing exclusion of certain ethnic or religious groups from power would, by convention, be allotted two ministerial positions, all of which would permanently go the excluded group from such a state but with the unwritten proviso that, at any time the entrenched ethnic group in such a state feels the ministerial positions were more attractive, they were free to swap. I don’t know what happened to the discussion but I know that something like that informed Atiku Abubakar prompting OBJ to cede all three ambassadorial positions, career and political, to the Idoma in the case of Benue in late 1999.