Four facts, before I proceed:
- I believe in Nigeria and respect our Constitution even as I also believe it is deeply flawed and incapable, in its present form, of creating justice, equity, security and economic progress for our country.
- The injustice and inequity in Nigeria today cries out to the heavens. This injustice is against both Nigeria’s broad mass of citizens of all tribes and tongues at the hands of a selfish and incompetent political elite, and also against specific parts of our country by the Government of President Muhammadu Buhari. It manifests in the evident double standards in the actions of that government in relation to national security and criminal justice.
- The most important challenge Nigeria faces today is a failure of leadership. Contrary to popular opinion in some parts of the country, there is nothing impossible about unifying Nigeria on the basis of equity and justice (there can be no real “unity” and peace without justice) and creating prosperity for all 200 million of us. Northern Nigeria, which has produced heads of government for 48 years out of Nigeria’s 61 years of independence, has suffered the most from poverty and, now, insecurity.
- As regards the Southeast region in particular, we must recognize the role that the leadership shortcomings of its political elite has also played in creating current conditions in the region vis-a- vis the rest of the country.
Based on all the foregoing, without prejudice to the obligation of the Nigerian authorities to protect the Nigerian Constitution unless and until it is lawfully amended or replaced, and without prejudice to any issues regarding the manner in which Nnamdi Kanu was apprehended, I call on the Federal Government of Nigeria to understand the full sensitivity and long term implications of his rearrest and impending trial and ensure that Kanu’s rights are fully respected in this process. I condemn the violent attack on Sunday Igboho’s residence by security (and possibly other) forces, the Government’s increasingly obvious tendency toward the totalitarian repression of dissenting voices in the Nigerian polity.
I urge President Buhari and his Government to focus the same quantum of energy he has put into suppressing Kanu and Igboho into (a) addressing the root causes that have created the Nnamdi Kanus and Sunday Igbohos of Nigeria in order the create a truly enabling environment for the stability and unity of Nigeria, and (b) the existential crisis of terrorism in the Northern states of Nigeria that has claimed the innocent lives of thousands of compatriots in that part of our country. Silencing and criminalizing essentially political agitations against the injustices inherent in the Nigerian state cannot be made the only priority of national security, while real terrorism that daily claims huge numbers of Nigerian lives in the northern and other parts of the country is aided and abetted by state or state-approved actors.
Finally, President Buhari needs to decide if he is the President of Nigeria and all Nigerians equally, the President of parts of Nigeria, or President of a Nigeria that exists in his worldview merely to serve vested and parochial interests. His approach to the security threat by killer herdsmen, mainly from outside Nigeria, remains a fundamental security threat to our country. As a leader, he must watch his language carefully, and moderate his instincts. I caution that, if he continues on his current path, sweeping real issues under the carpet because he commands the instruments of state-sanctioned violence today, he will be setting up a massive constitutional confrontation between the northern and southern parts of the country that will further destabilize Nigeria.
Nigeria’s unity should be on the basis of mutual respect, give and take and mutual accommodation amongst all the country’s component nationalities. Our aspirational democracy cannot be turned into a dictatorship that in reality exists to serve vested or sectional interests.This is a most dishonest approach to nationhood and statecraft.
Nigeria needs to be rebuilt on the basis of mutual trust and respect. It is the only basis on which this troubled union can survive and thrive.