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How North is destroying itself —Turaki

A prominent Middle Belt leader, Professor Yusuf Turaki, speaks to ISAAC SHOBAYO on the insecurity in the different parts of Nigeria, especially government negotiation with bandits, among other national issues.

 

APART from Nigeria’s economy which is in a shambles, one of the biggest problems confronting the country is insurgency arising from banditry, Boko Haram and kidnapping. What do you think is the way out?

Banditry, Boko Haram, kidnapping and the likes happening in Nigeria today are not insurgency. Insurrection occurs when a group of people rise up against a legitimate authority or government. The target of banditry is not the government or any authority, but the people. Boko Haram is an Islamic sect whose primary target is the people who do not accept their religious ideology, but not the government. The primary target of kidnapping is also the people and not the government. What is happening in Nigeria, especially in the Northern states is that, there are some sectarian groups fanning the embers of ethnicity, religion and culture against certain groups of people. These sectarian groups do have many sympathizers among some religious, social and government institutions.

Nigerians as a collective people and as government have deliberately refused to address the issues of anarchy and divisiveness among Nigerians. The fundamental problem for Nigerians is that they do not have a national ethic. A national ethic is an ethical structure, which is a code of conduct that can moderate the attitudes, behaviours and social practices of all Nigerians. A national ethic when developed should replace the current state of powerful and divisive negative sub-national values and interests as generated by Nigeria’s primal social factors, such as ethnicity, religion, culture and regional settings. Each of these generates its own values and interests that are at variance and are also not harmonised to create a new national common-ground values and national values, goals and interests to guide and moderate the attitudes, behaviours and social practices of Nigerians, regardless. Currently, the major problem is Nigerians do not have a developed and an acceptable national ethic, national identity and national ideals and values that all Nigerians can identify with and subscribe to. Generally, Nigerians are not patriotic and loyal to the country as a sovereign state. Nor does Nigeria have an emerging and harmonised national social unity of all Nigerian peoples. What is on the ground are the divisive groups that seek to protect, promote, project, defend, or impose their subnational values, identities and interests upon the rest of Nigerians, either peacefully or violently. Such subnational groups have emerged to advance their interests above the unity and peaceful coexistence in Nigeria. For example, Nigerians speak at variance with each other as it is being reflected in the existence of the following groups: Niger Delta militants, MASSOB, Bakassi, ACF, IPOB, OPC, Afenifere, MBF, Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen, bandits, kidnappers, etc. There is nothing wrong with each group seeking to protect its ethnicity, identity, history, religion, region, culture, ancestral land, among many others. It is only wrong when these subnational groups and their values go against the spirit of nationhood, citizenship and national harmony, unity and peaceful co-existence.

What is wrong is human corruption of God’s diversity and creation. Historically, and even today, the generality of Nigerians and the political culture of Nigeria have favoured the promotion of subnational values and interests, thus making nation building and national integration an impossible task. Nigerians are yet to develop positive national values. Currently, Nigeria is being torn apart by these subnational values, interests and forces, and the current political culture is not helping matters, but provides a platform and a negative ideology of chronic ethnocentrism, primordialism, regionalism, religious and cultural bigotry and endemic corruption. These are the subnational values and interests that have held the country hostage, thereby making Nigeria an underdeveloped state.

What compounds the anarchy and divisiveness in Nigeria is the presence of a weak state. Nigeria at the moment does not have transformational political leaders that can guide Nigerians towards creating a viable and conducive society. Historically, great nations have been built by visionary transformational political leaders. At the moment, Nigeria does not have such quality leaders.

 

Do you subscribe to the idea of negotiation with these elements as a way out of the problem?
Any negotiation with sectarian groups or anarchists is a sign of weakness. Sectarianism could be crushed, but should not be seen or recognised as formidable and a force to be reckoned with. It is also a sign that there is a government within the government.

The dubious and unwholesome practice of negotiation with militant anarchists has put more resources into the hands these anarchists. The funds they get are ploughed back into purchase of arms, thus increasing their strength and geographical spread. From the attitude and practices of some government officers, it gives credence to the accusation that some government officials are behind the social anarchists. For example, it was stated that Kaduna State governor paid foreign Fulani a huge sum of money so that killings in Southern Kaduna would stop. But today, Southern Kaduna is the slaughter slab of the same group. Could negotiation be a government ploy of putting more resources into the hands of social anarchists? It is sad to note that the victims of social anarchists are often left to fate. Consistently, the governments have failed to address and solve the problem of social anarchists. If the anarchists have successfully infiltrated the government, the army, the police, etc., it means that social anarchy would be unsolved.

In the North, the persistence and spread of anarchy is a sign of the collapse of law and order, traditional and religious institutions, the abdication of the political elite as the conscience of the people. The governments of the Northern states have shown no will to solve the problem of anarchy in their states. The collapse of education is a fodder to breeding anarchy and the return to the jahiliyya (primitive) era. No doubt, the implementation of full Shariah in some Northern states is a booster to the rise of social anarchy, among other factors.

The Nigeria Governors Forum recently adopted ranching as a solution to the atrocities being perpetrated by killer herdsmen. Do you see this as part of the solutions to the problem, more so that those fingered to be behind the menace are alleged to be foreigners?

The post-independence government of the Northern Region of Nigeria created ranches, but such have been abandoned. The North had a very good opportunity to perfect ranching, but sadly that was abandoned.

But is ranching the solution to the atrocities of the killer herdsmen as you have asked? My answer is emphatically no! We have a good history of cattle-rearing in Northern Nigeria, especially in the Middle-Belt area. The practice then was the Fulani cattle-rearers who moved into the Middle-Belt areas with their cattle, usually consulted and negotiated with their host communities on how to live and rear their cattle. This practice was done during the dry season after harvest of crops. The general practice was that during the rainy season, the Fulani cattle rearers would return to the far North until another dry season. Cattle rearing and farming did not mix in the raining season. This type of arrangement was good for both cattle-rearing and farming. Fulani da Shanunsu sun zo cin kara (The Fulani and their cows have come to eat the corn stocks). Gradually, some Fulani cattle rearers chose to stay permanently in the Middle Belt. But the Fulani of that era were peaceful unlike the herdsmen of today. Today, the herdsmen come as foreigners with guns and well armed to invade, kill and occupy the ancestral lands of the aborigines. How do the aborigines, who own the land, view a herdsman as a friend or a foe? Is he a terrorist or a Nigerian citizen? Has he come to kill and takeover the land or as a peace loving Nigerian? With this psychology of fear and dread of the herdsman, how could Middle-Belt people leave with people who seem not to have human values of respect, equality, freedom and rights?  The question is: where are the ranches to be created and who are the main owners of the ranches? Creation of ranches for Fulani in the ancestral lands of Middle Belt aborigines would institutionalise perpetual crises and conflicts. The far North has vast lands where enough ranches could be created to cater for Fulani herders as suggested by Kano State governor. Should ranches be created in the Middle Belt, then such ranches should be in the hands of Middle Belt people.

The law of immigration and its sociopolitical consequences forbid making foreigners owners of the land. What we are hearing from the Northern political class is that the militant Fulani herdsmen are foreigners. Such violent foreigners should not be given any land in Nigeria. Otherwise, they might use their foreign influence and power to enslave the natives. The ranches would have all amenities, schools, water, electricity, roads and after a while, the surrounding aborigines would become economic slaves of the ranch owners. If the ranches are means of effecting immigration or transplanting some people into other areas then such an agricultural policy should be rejected outright because of its duplicity.

 
But Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed, said Fulani herdsmen carrying AK-47 do so for self-defence. He also said the foreign herdsmen have the right to live anywhere in the country. This statement generated controversies. What is your take on this, especially considering the atrocities being perpetrated by these elements?

I do not take issues with comments made by people. Every human is free to speak, but it must be from knowledge, wisdom, truth and not falsehood. I heard that the governor had explained himself. This matter is for the government and law enforcement agencies whether it is permissible for Nigerians to carry such arms for self-defence. Are foreigners exempted by the Nigerian government? Criminals and those who break civic norms cannot be allowed to live anywhere in Nigeria. Nigerians should resist constitutional misinterpretations of any kind in order to accommodate criminality or a section of lawless people. The fact that foreigners carry arms in Nigeria as alluded speaks of two things: a weak government or collusion. Or it could be a ploy to carry out a sinister agenda. Nigerians have already raised the alarm of Fulanisation of Nigeria.

When a country has a weak government or that it patronises a section of people that fan evil and social chaos, it is possible that it can allow or even invite such people to inflict harm on some of its citizens should this fulfill its sinister agenda. The state of affairs in Nigeria now is rife with suspicions and latent hostilities among ethnic, regional and religious groups.

 

Amidst all these, do you see President Muhammadu Buhari  addressing the challenges?

Listening to Garba Shehu, Femi Adesina, Lai Mohammed, MBO and APC one would think that Buhari is the best president Nigeria has ever produced. But the facts on the ground give terrible prognosis of the state of affairs: the increase in endemic corruption, social anarchy, unsolvable insecurity, collapse of economy and education. One has to be very critical of political propaganda and cult of personality.

Buhari is a human being endowed with both strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses of Buhari are very glaring as exposed by his position as president of a diversified country like Nigeria. Nigerians have accused him of nepotism, aloofness and fanaticism. Nigerian politicians, academics, bureaucrats and sycophants have one thing or the other to say about him. As president and also my president he deserves my respect.

Buhari promised Nigerians during his campaigns to tackle three Goliaths: corruption, insecurity and economy. Under Buhari’s leadership, these three giants have succeeded all the more in strangulating Nigerians. The political pundits are predicting Nigeria as a failing state.
The mystic and the personality cult accorded Buhari by his followers and admirers are irreconcilable given the increasing endemic corruption; unsolvable and pervasive insecurity, the collapse of economy, infrastructure and education, increasing polarisation and divisive ethnicity, regionalism and religion, and the current national debate on Fulanisation of Nigeria.

The hard question is: does Nigeria have transformational political leaders to solve amicably these myriads problems facing it? We must go beyond Buhari, the APC government, political parties in order to find enduring solutions to Nigeria’s problems and challenges. Nigeria needs a new political culture that transcends its current structure that is built upon three political pillars: ethnicity, religion and regionalism, the formidable three Goliaths that have obstructed Nigeria from moving out of a Third World to becoming a First World country. The British colonial masters built the Nigerian political order and culture upon the foundations of ethnicity, religion and region. And Nigerians are stuck in this colonial mold.

 

From all indications, Nigeria has never been divided as we are experiencing today…[cuts in]

If Nigeria is increasingly becoming divisive, its root problem is not now, but in a remote historical setting. There are some people who hate history and would not want any historical analysis. And thus, they become eclectic with no concrete solutions. Nigerians suffer from the social psychology of latent hostility which each ethnic, religious and regional group has built up from British colonial policies towards them. In my book, The British Colonial Legacy in Northern Nigeria: A Social Ethical Analysis of the Colonial and Post-Colonial Society and Politics in Nigeria, I examined British colonial policies, administrative practices and attitudes towards different ethnic and religious groups.

Divisive ethnicity and religion in Nigeria has roots in how Nigeria was created by the British.  I will just give you some highlights as I espoused in the book: “Practices of Inequality and Injustice abound everywhere in Nigeria. Persecutions, discrimination and marginalisation of people based upon ethnicity, religion or region abound everywhere in Nigeria.  This was how the British planted this: Prescribed inferior-superior statuses and socio-political roles of ethnic/tribal groups; practices of tribal injustice and inequality against certain groups; provisional unequal opportunities to ethnic/tribal/religious groups in economic matters, social access and mobility, and recruitment into civil service; denial of full participation or representation in government, political freedom, equality and human dignity and rights to certain ethnic or religious groups; the general neglect or failure to develop certain ethnic groups and areas.

 

As one of the prominent Middle Belt leaders who have been clamouring for restructuring as a way out of the current logjam, do you really believe restructuring will solve the myriad of problems confronting the country?
If the political class rejects restructuring for any political reason, the unbearable circumstances would force Nigerians to restructure themselves. The necessity of restructuring is based upon Nigeria’s primal history and the question of people’s sovereignty, equality and the historical freedom of all peoples that make up Nigeria. The State or politics cannot hand over or determine sovereignty to a people. For example, each ethnic nationality that constitutes Nigeria existed prior to the creation of the Nigerian State. Should questions of constitution and sovereignty arise, they are not determined by the State or politicians, but by those who created both the state and constitution. The prevailing circumstances in Nigeria have in themselves raised serious questions of both sovereignty and constitution.

 

Is the Middle Belt part of the monolithic North?

The Middle Belt is part of the geographical Northern states. It was never historically monolithic nor is it now monolithic? The then Protectorate of Northern Nigeria and then the Northern Region of Nigeria was abolished on the 15th of January 1966 and subsequently broken into states and political zones.

Historically and geographically, the then Northern Region of Nigeria could be classified into two broad regions: The far North, consisting of Hausaland and Kanuriland, which comprised the Hausa, Fulani and Kanuri. This region was predominantly Muslim. The South of the North or Middle Belt consisted of well over 250 ethnic groups and languages and was predominantly traditional and now has a large presence of both Christianity and Islam. Both the Far North and the Middle-Belt are very heterogeneous and not monolithic. A brief historical and geographical background is necessary for a clear understanding of the then Northern Region of Nigeria. The region then had six empire builders or social reformers.

The first were the African ancestors of the ancient Hausaland, Kanuriland and the Middle Belt. They built the following primordial social factors: ethnography (ethnicity, history and identity); geography (land and territory) religion; and culture.

These were the primordial social factors which the African ancestors used to build Hausaland, Kanuriland and Middle Belt. They form the foundations of traditional African society before the arrival of the subsequent empire builders.

With this in mind, how could we have assumed that the North is monolithic?  This is what is happening in the Northern states. Since the early 1980s, the Middle Belt has suffered a lot in terms of violence, discrimination, marginalisation within the politics of the North. The violence, killings and other forms of social upheavals are meted in larger proportion against the Middle Belters. Who are doing these against them? Are they the Yoruba, the Igbo or the Southerners? None of these, but Northerners. Northerners are destroying the North. Who do you think is a friend and a brother to the Middle Belters, are they Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen, or the bandits, or the kidnappers? Those who are messing up and menacing the Middle Belters, where do they come from? Of course, from the far North. For example, in some parts of the Middle Belt, the herdsmen have invaded, killed and occupied the ancestral lands of some ethnic groups and the government is silent about it.

The greatest mistake of the British colonial administration in Nigeria was its connivance with the NPC government of the Northern Region of Nigeria to reject the creation of a Middle-Belt region.

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