By Rafiq Raji, PhD
As Muslims across the World start their month-long fast – abstinence from eating, drinking, smoking, and sex from dawn till sunset – this week, Nigeria’s leader, Muhammadu Buhari, should take advantage of the calm and grace therein to reflect on his stewardship thus far. One in particular, his less than ideal response to the wanton violence of Fulani herdsmen – mostly from north-west Nigeria – forcefully taking pasture for their cattle in lands not their own. That is, if you choose to ignore the dismal state of the economy out of utter dismay; for on that great matter, he has floundered quite well. Farmers in the north-central and southern parts of the country – where pasture is relatively more abundant – who resisted the unruly behaviour of the marauding herdsmen have been attacked and killed. President Buhari is Fulani. He understands the issues. While I am reluctant to be one of those reading his now fabled ‘body language,’ there is a sense you get about his passion for the environment. President Buhari wants to revive the Lake Chad, fast drying up. Himself a cattle-owner, he surely wishes there could be more pasture for cattle in northern Nigeria – the part of the country he hails from. Could this be why he has been blasé about the issue? For he has been less than enthusiastic in taking on the marauding herdsmen, especially when you consider how impassioned he and his aides get about the renewed militancy in the Niger-Delta region or the so-called ‘south-south’ geopolitical zone of Nigeria. Incidentally, former President Goodluck Jonathan is also well-placed to placate the so-called ‘Niger Delta Avengers.’ Just like the Fulani elite know who the marauding herdsmen amongst them are, so do the elite in the Niger Delta know those amongst them who have returned to their errant ways. The perpetrators – whether Fulani or Izon – are known to their respective kinsfolk.
Firstly, I would admonish the militants in the Niger Delta to give peace a chance. In that regard, President Buhari must also adopt a pacifist stance. That said, most Niger Deltans live in abysmal circumstances. The culprits? Nigeria’s leaders. All of them. On a visit to a small town – a village really – in one of the oil-producing states years ago, I was astonished when upon waking up in the morning, I couldn’t find a well to fetch water – I arrived the previous evening after my first-ever and dizzying speedboat ride. Furthermore, I was told if I needed to relieve myself, I would have to use a plastic bag or an old newspaper page, which I would throw into the river afterwards. Taking that in my stride, I would be in for another rude shock. To brush my teeth, it happened the same river which I had not too long ago availed of my ‘relief,’ was the same river from which I was to get water for the purpose. Looking towards the riverbank, I saw villagers taking their bath, washing their wares and engaged in other ‘sanitary’ activities. I did not brush my teeth. As I departed the ‘town,’ I could not help but think how dreadful they must feel about the state of their affairs. There is no military solution to the renewed militancy in that part of the country. If President Buhari does not want the vulnerabilities of the Nigerian Armed Forces to be further exposed, he should take the reconciliatory approach of his predecessors. The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is a veritable and much more robust way to get around some of the greedy leaders in the region who have stymied efforts by the central government to distribute a portion of the region’s wealth to ordinary Niger-Deltans. What has been started – rehabilitation of ex-militants through educational and technical training grants and monthly stipend payments for the period of their transition to a more befitting way of life – should be made better, not diminished.
Incidentally, the Niger Delta issue has set a precedence. A North-East Development Commission (NEDC) is now about to be set up. And justifiably so. The Boko Haram insurgency has caused a lot of devastation in north-east Nigeria. But now other hitherto subdued regional aspirations have sprung up. Igbos in south-east Nigeria want more development in their part of the country. President Buhari has not appointed as many Igbos as he should into government positions. Nigerians in the so-called north-central geopolitcal zone could find reasons to agitate as well. After all, the victims of the wanton Fulani herdsmen violence in that part of the country deserve some ‘rehabilitation’ as well. Yoruba leaders in south-west Nigeria have always advocated for a return to the positively competitive regionalism of the immediate post-independence period of the 1960s. Surely, the government is not about to wait till there is some violence there before acting proactively. One little problem though: even if there was a consensus on a return to regionalism, a constitutional amendment – almost always scuttled by unpatriotic incumbents who seek to elongate their tenures in office through the process – would be required. State legislatures are unlikely to endorse a constitutional amendment that may abolish their existence. There is another way. And the current Constitution would do just fine. In the face of non-viable and mostly bankrupt federating states, regional development commissions similar to the NDDC and soon-to-be established NEDC, might be a less controversial approach. Each of the six geopolitical zones should have a development commission. The federal legislature should take the lead on this – a “Regional Development Commissions Bill” perhaps? What about the thirty-six federating states? Their many failings were amply discussed in an editorial by BusinessDay – the leading business newspaper in Nigeria and publishers of this column – on 2 May 2016 titled: “Collapse the states now!” The editors put it succinctly: “Nigeria’s expensive but broke federal structure is buckling and things are gradually falling apart.” A solution is urgently needed, clearly. I suggest regional development commissions.
Also published in my BusinessDay newspaper back-page column. See link viz. https://businessdayonline.com/2016/06/regional-agitations-regionalism-and-development-commissions-ramadan-kareem/