“A leader does not dictate to his people as to what they want. Just like the tail does not wag the dog. It is the people that tell their leaders their desires. Buhari daily reminds us of the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson: “When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government”.
The other day, President Muhammadu Buhari shocked most Nigerians when he said those agitating for restructuring and secession were not only naive, but “mischievously dangerous”. He made the statement through the Executive Secretary, Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission, Alhaji Mohammed Bello Shehu, in Zaria, at the Kudirat Abiola Sabon Gari Peace Foundation.
I was certainly not one of those Nigerians who were shocked. I was not because as a close monitor and commentator on national and international affairs, I didn’t expect anything more from him. My thesis is simple, not rocket science: a leopard cannot change its spots. Buhari said he did not understand what the restructure proponents want, or what is to be restructured.
Buhari erroneously believes that the problem of Nigeria is how to make local governments functional and the judiciary independent. As important as these are, the President has merely seen the smaller picture, rather than the larger picture as leader of a haemorrhaging country yearning for urgent rescue. So, for those Nigerians who had heaved a little sigh of relief last week on the little tokenism conceded by Buhari, I sympathise with you.
During his Democracy Day address to Nigerians on June 12, Buhari had appeared to understand Nigerians’ pains, agony and genuine yearning for restructuring. He had said amongst others, that he was not unaware of misgivings causing national discontent in different parts of the country, including allegations of marginalisation and constitution amendment. While saying efforts were on to address these “challenges that this period imposes on us”, Buhari said government was “willing to play a critical role in the constitution amendment process without usurping the powers of the National Assembly in this regard”. He believed that with this process, “we can come out stronger”.
Buhari ‘s summersault in just one week has, therefore, shocked most Nigerians. Suddenly, in Zaria, he beat the drums of war, in a speech that is as provocative as it is unpresidential and unstatesmanly. He berated those who are ‘calling for restructuring and conference or what they call ethnic nationality”. Wrongly believing that Nigerians and the youth who daily agitate for a better nation, including during the #EndSARS peaceful protests are simply separatist secession advocates who wanted to overthrow his lacklustre regime. Describing them as “naive and mischievously dangerous”, because they are “ignorant of war and its consequences”, Buhari challenged parents to “try and educate their children”.
But, Buhari sorely missed the critical issues at stake. He appeared frighteningly ignorant of the dire need for attitudinal change in his strong arm tactic when he declared imperiously like Louis X1V of France, “there is no way we can separate as a country”. Read this around: Nigerians must stay together, whether things are working or not; agitations or no agitations; disaffection or no disaffection; social justice or no social justice; security or no security.
A leader does not dictate to his people as to what they want. Just like the tail does not wag the dog. It is the people that tell their leaders their desires. Buhari daily reminds us of the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson: “When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government”.
Said John Maxwell: “leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them”. Buhari does neither. He is distant to and disconnected from his people. He does not care; does not listen to their cries, woes, pains, pangs, tears, sorrow and blood. He cares not about their genuine yearnings and desires.
Buhari erroneously believes he knows what 211 million Nigerians want. He is making a grave mistake. No ruler in history has ever perpetually dictated to, or held down his people with sheer jackboot. Benito Musolini woefully failed, just like Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Josef Stalin and Vladmir Lenin. Ask the bones of Hitler, Mao Zedong, Pinochet, Gheghis Khan, Pol Pot and Kim Jong. They will tell Buhari how and why they failed miserably to dictate to their citizens forever.
Aside from self-determination agitating groups (a concept recognised anyway by the UN, the EU, the AU, etc), I have not seen nor heard leaders of the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria ask for outright balkanisation of the country. What I hear them say in the South, North, East and West (and which I have also crusaded for over three decades), are restructuring, total devolution of powers and renegotiation of our suffocating Union to enthrone social justice, equity, egalitarianism and mutual religious and inter-ethnic tolerance and respect. They talk about re-engineering the weak fabric of Nigeria to make her stay together as a country.
Buhari must learn from history. Let me give some samples of nations that were once together and have today gone their separate ways. Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro used to be one country. Today, they are separate and independent. The Republic of Venezuela was reformed in 1999 with a brand new constitution as Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. South Sudan declared independence from Sudan in July, 2011. In February, 2008, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. East Timor or Timor-Liste achieved independence from Indonesia in May, 2002. Palau, with a population of slightly over 21,000 (less than a local government in Nigeria) became independent from Micronesia on October 1, 1994.
In the same 1994, Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia after an Haile Selassie-sustained 30-year bloody civil war. In January 1991, Czechoslovakia was peacefully dissolved by Parliament into Slovakia and Czech Republic. Quebec held a referendum to break away from Canada in 1995. The former USSR broke into 15 Republics of Russia, Georgia, Belarusia, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Latvia, Tajikistan, Lithuania, Estonia and Kyrgzstan.
Some of these countries like Estonia (1.92m) are less than two million in population; less than the population of the smallest state in Nigeria. Pakistan, India and Bangladesh used to be one country.
Help me remind President Buhari that many countries of the world enthroned a new constitutional order by enacting brand new constitutions after referenda of the people. Examples are Egypt ( 2012) , South Africa ( 1999) , Morocco ( 2011) , Kenya ( 2010) , Eritrea ( 1994) , Iraq ( 1979) , Iran ( 1979), Bangladesh ( 1991) , Tunisia (2014) and USA (1787).
Help me tell President Buhari that he should struggle hard within his remaining two years in office to force himself into the pantheon of great statesmen in history; not better forgotten dictators, absolutists and tyrants. I wish Nigeria well, or what remains of her. Amen
*Chief Ozekhome, is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.