The less you say, the less risk you run of saying something foolish, even dangerous. In 1825, a new czar, Nicholas I, ascended the throne of Russia. A rebellion immediately broke out, led by liberals demanding that the country modernize–that its industries and civil structures catch up with the rest of Europe. Brutally crushing this rebellion, Nicholas I sentenced one of its leaders, Kondraty Ryleyev, to death. On the day of execution, Ryleyev stood on the gallows, the noose around his neck. The trapdoor opened but as Ryleyev dangled, the rope broke, dashing him to the ground.
At the time, events like this were considered signs of providence or heavenly will, and a man saved from execution this way was usually pardoned. As Ryleyev got to his feet, bruised and dirtied but believing his neck had been saved, he called out to the crowd, “You see, in Russia they don’t know how to do anything properly, not even how to make rope!”
A messenger immediately went to the Winter Palace with news of the failed hanging. Vexed by this disappointing turnabout, Nicholas I nevertheless began to sign the pardon. But then: “Did Ryleyev say anything after this miracle?” the czar asked the messenger. “Sir, the messenger replied, “he said that in Russia they don’t even know how to make rope.”
“In that case,” said the Czar, “let us prove the contrary,” and he tore the pardon. The next day Ryleyev was hanged again. This time the rope did not break. Learn the lesson: Once the words are out, you cannot take them back. The momentary satisfaction you gain with your biting words will be outweighed by the price you pay.
The foregoing story titled, “Always say less than necessary” was lifted from chapter four of Robert Greene’s “48 Laws of Power”. It is one lesson that many Nigerian politicians have refused to learn to our collective detriment. Anytime there is a crisis, without even interrogating what the issues are, many of them would take to the media in a bid to outshout the other; not necessarily because they care for the victims but essentially just to score cheap political points. The danger is that their biting words, which in most cases earn them the applause of an unreflective mob, have contributed to the spiral of violence that now defines the current season in Nigeria.
It is in that context that I want to commend the Governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, for the maturity with which he has handled the tragedy at Ile-Ife, despite provocations from two sides: One, a section of the Yoruba establishment that was goading him into making inflammatory statements that could have resulted in reprisal killings; two, reckless officials of the federal government, including the Police, who have evidently taken sides, given their sectional actions and irresponsible utterances.
Notwithstanding the much known Ife-Modakeke palaver that has given the town notoriety, there is something about Ife that is unique. It is a town that when people visit, they hardly want to leave. The University may have a lot to do with that. In all the years that I have known him, for instance, whenever Harvard University Professor, Jacob Olupona says he was going home, it isn’t to Ute in Ondo State (where his parents hailed from), it is to Ile-Ife where he built his country home. My friend and former classmate, Charles Ukeje, now a Professor in our Department (International Relations) at Obafemi Awolowo University arrived Ife with his Igbo parents when he was only three years old. Today, Charles not only speaks better Yoruba than me, he can also speak in Ife dialect, the town where he has built his home.
In his piece last Saturday, Chief Dele Momodu (Bob Dee) wrote about the allure of Ife and the generations of people from other cultures and ethnic groups that have found home within the community. So, the tragedy at Sabo is not about Hausa-Fulani “invaders” coming to disturb the peace of Ife; it is about the travails of a people that have domiciled within the community over many generations and have been so accepted that Ife is the only place they know as home.
On Monday, Governor Aregbesola inaugurated a six-man committee with a strong emphasis that it was “not an inter-ethnic, inter religious or inter regional conflict by any stretch of the imagination. It was just an ugly development, a breach of public peace, masterminded by hoodlums and criminals resulting to loss of lives and property”. He went even further: “While not denying the political and economic roots of conflicts in our land, every infraction of the law is primarily a law and order matter. Even while we seek political solutions to a problem, the first line of approach is law enforcement…Some people, for reasons best known to them, might decide to fan the embers of discord, division, even separation and incite one group against another, with a false narrative of Yoruba-Hausa conflict and call to arms. They are wrong and have to be unhinged in their bid to promote needless strife and protracted inter-ethnic crisis.”
I have read several writings that Yoruba people are not cowards. That is true. But Yoruba people also have an uncommon sense of justice, even in instances where their own people are involved: “Ejo ko le je ti eni, ki a ma moo da”. Therefore, in a crisis involving even a thousand people, I have no problem if 200 persons are arrested and they come from just a section so long as there is fairness and transparency in the process. The problem begins when those whose responsibility it is to restore order come with a biased mindset and discrimination in the application of commonsense. That was what happened at Ife and unfortunately, that has become the pattern under President Muhammadu Buhari.
Whether it is in the mass murder of the Shiittes in Kaduna by soldiers or in the violence against the Agatus in Benue State or in the lawlessness being perpetrated by some herdsmen in the South-east, the Buhari administration has created a situation in which the response of the federal authorities to any of these tragedies is defined by how they classify the victims. And it would seem that federal officials have also learnt to read the famous body language of the president as one that speaks only for a particular group. That is not the way to restore law and order in a plural society.
In his very revealing interview in PUNCH last Sunday, Mojeed Owoyemi, the vulcanizer (tyre repairer) whose alleged beheading was said to have triggered the Ife violence, knocked the bottom off the false claim that some Hausa people murdered a Yoruba man, hung his head on a pole and danced with it. But the vulcanizer also said something very instructive: “When the crisis started, the two sides were throwing stones and bottles at each other. We thought that the whole thing would soon stop but we were wrong. Suddenly, we started hearing gunshots and the Hausa also were shooting arrows. I ran away from the scene because in that type of situation, anybody could be shot.”
While I have lived in this country long enough to know that there is more that unites us as a people than what divides us, I am also aware that what most of our leaders promote is what divides us because that is the only way to sustain their private advantage in a system that is very much skewed against the people. That is why it is so easy for them to incite violence and reprisal killings either by what they say (write) or what they do. But we cannot continue that way.
Last Friday in Abuja, Dr. Munzali Ahmadu Dantata, scion of the famous Dantata family of Kano and former Director General of the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism, hosted a reading of his novel, “Tammunnde: Hope on the Horizon”, which revolves around a Fulani family that followed their herd to Okitipupa village in Ondo State where they resided for decades. As one would imagine, a novel around Fulani herdsmen in a season like this was bound to provoke serious debate and it did; especially with the executive members of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) led by their president all in attendance.
The highlight of the session for me was when Brigadier General Salmanu Bala (rtd), a friend of the author who was at the event, gave an interesting anecdote of a trip they once made to the Southwest during which they got lost while trying to locate the village they were going to. He said at a point when they were getting frustrated, they saw some young Fulani men with their cattle and they heaved a sigh of relief, thinking that their problem was solved. As it turned out, the Fulani men could only speak Yoruba!
In extrapolating from the General’s summation about where would be home to such Fulani people, Dr Lizi Ben-Iheanacho, a Director at National Council for Arts and Culture, Abuja, posed a question: “When it comes to Nigeria, where exactly is home? I am sure if anyone had asked the Igbo people who were killed in the pogrom in the sixties before that madness started where their home was, they would probably have said Kano, Kaduna and those towns where many were born. But all of a sudden, they were uprooted to go to places many had probably never been to before as their home. I am from Imo State but I have lived my adult life in Abuja where all my children were born yet they dare not claim Abuja as home. How do we build a country under such circumstances?”
What I took away from the session is that there is a yearning by many Nigerians for us to build an inclusive society where every citizen can claim wherever they reside as home without any threat to their lives and livelihoods. But such would not happen in a situation in which public officials identify, and take sides, with particular groups even on issues that border on law and order. Without any doubts, the federal officials who converged on Ife did so clearly not out of any patriotic duty but because of their ethnic affinity with the residents of Sabo whose pain and loss, I must add, I also share. Due to their clear bias and partisanship, the police have now allowed the tragedy to be unduly politicized with the potential to undermine national security.
It is indeed unfortunate that government, at all levels, tends to take peaceful co-existence for granted for the simplistic reason that people have lived together for centuries and should be left that way. Thus, when changing social and economic circumstances force cracks in longstanding communal relationships, the authorities are easily caught off guard. Even in routine law enforcement, what is embarrassingly missing is a sociological grounding of the very law enforcement personnel we send out to contain communal disquiet in the dynamics of the environment they have to deal with. The inconvenient truth is that because we have for long neglected education, there remains that untouched critical mass of our citizens in the urban ‘native’ settlements and rural areas who interpret reality principally along ancestral ethnic lines.
It is therefore little surprise that when economic conditions harden, age long communal harmony is torn apart as many of our people tend to see their adversity in the face of the “enemies” next door. Even members of the elite are not immune from this sectarian consciousness. Just check the exchanges on WhatsApp and other social media platforms on burning national issues and you will realise how badly divided Nigeria has become.
I doubt that either the federal government in Abuja or the various state administrations have cared enough to insist on a clear understanding of the internal security issues that have been thrown up by two factors: the Buhari administration’s undisguised parochial disposition in dealing with national issues and the dire economic conditions in the country. The two are interwoven. When a national leader is deemed, rightly or wrongly, as discriminating between different groups in the conduct of public affairs, that becomes a breeding ground for intolerance that hoodlums can easily feed on, in moments of crisis.
That is why I admire Aregbesola’s position on the Ife tragedy. In the enforcement of law and the protection of order, the relevant authorities must be blind to the ethnic costume of criminals. But in the management of diversity in a federal state, our leaders in Abuja must never pretend to be blind to the competing sensitivities in our diverse society.
Meanwhile, when all the issues surrounding the Ife crisis have been resolved, nothing would delight me more than for the Ooni of Ife, whose efforts on this crisis are quite commendable, to rally all Yoruba sons and daughters to contribute towards rebuilding Sabo not to appease some irredeemable ethnic champions in Abuja but to demonstrate to the world the enduring value of a precious Yoruba virtue: OMOLUABI! But apart from that, the Ooni should also consider inviting leaders of the Hausa community to his palace, breaking bread with them and letting them know that Ife is their home too.
Above all, it will help us a lot if all the critical stakeholders across the country, including those with access to the media, play more positive roles in promoting peaceful co-existence and national unity.
Against The Run of Play
…President Jonathan himself admitted as much to me in the course of our lengthy chat, saying, “Go and check the results from Kano. The presidential election and that of National Assembly happened on the same day and same time. The National Assembly result reflected that about 800,000 people voted but that of the presidential reflected a vote of about 1.8 million. I had reports of what happened but I decided that for such to be accepted, it meant that those who called themselves my supporters must have colluded. I was betrayed by the very people I relied on to win the election.”
However, Prof Mohammed Kuna, Special Assistant to the INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, begged to differ. “There is nothing particularly special about the Kano result; it is a general trend as many voters were more interested in the presidential election than in other elections. That was what happened across the country and you can go and do the tabulation,” argued Kuna, who maintained that the use of card readers had made the election more difficult to rig. “With the card reader, it is no longer possible to return results that are higher than the accredited voters. If you analyse the results nationally, you will discover the same trend.”
The foregoing is from my coming book, “Against The Run of Play: How an incumbent president was defeated in Nigeria” which will be released after a public presentation in Lagos on 28th April. A few posers: Why did Ahmed Adamu Muazu refuse to read the statement prepared for him after Jonathan had conceded? Whose script was Godsday Orubebe playing at INEC results collation centre and why/how did the plan collapse? Why does Asiwaju Bola Tinubu still believe that a Muslim-Muslim ticket, with him running with now-President Muhammadu Buhari, could still have won the 2015 presidential election?
Yet there are several other questions: What were the intrigues surrounding the emergence of Prof Yemi Osinbajo as the APC presidential running mate and what role did Rotimi Akeredolu play in that? What did Nasir El-Rufai say about Tinubu and the South-west in his ten-page memo dated 30th June 2012 which he sent to Buhari? Who addressed Aminu Waziri Tambuwal as “you this Hausa boy”? What was the real problem between Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and Dame Patience Jonathan? How did Diezani Alison-Madueke contribute to the defeat of Jonathan and what role did Presidents Barack Obama and Francoise Hollande as well as Prime Minister David Cameron play in that?
More questions: Was the concession by Jonathan a jump or a push? If the former, was it out of altruism? If the latter, was Jonathan coerced by some Western powers as insinuated in some quarters? Did he simply concede out of a personal conviction that it was the right thing to do, having been defeated at the polls? Even more importantly, against the backdrop of the pervasive notion that it was virtually impossible to defeat an incumbent president with all the resources at his disposal, how did Jonathan lose the election?
You will get answers to those questions and many more as I take readers through the issues that led to the defeat and concession of a sitting president in Nigeria. You will also read the insights of many political leaders with whom I had interviews, including Muazu Babangida Aliyu, Gabriel Suswam, Aminu Bello Masari, Kashim Shettima, Tambuwal and El-Rufai. And then, there were Okwesilizie Nwodo, Abdulrahman Dambazau, Matthew Hassan Kukah, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, Osita Chidoka, Mohammed Bello Adoke, Emeka Ihedioha and Alhaji Mahmud Yayale Ahmed. Of course, there are also revealing insights from President Olusegun Obasanjo and former Senate President David Mark as well as Buba Galadima, Amaechi, Muazu, Tinubu, Kuna and several others. Just watch out!
To chair the Lagos ceremony is former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar while the unveiling will be done by the former Cross Rover State Governor, Mr Donald Duke. Interested bookshops and sales outlets should direct all their inquiries by email to email@example.com or call 08077364217.
For Adverts Inquiries Or News Updates, WhatsApp: 08083609209; To Publish Your Articles Or News Stories, Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
READ ALSO! Confusion As Nigeria’s Naira Tumbles Again