Restructure Nigeria before we all die

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From Suyi Ayodele

My sense of patriotism would not allow me to call Nigeria a failed nation. Yet, everything points in that direction. Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State warned as far back as March 2022 that a dollar would exchange for a thousand Naira. They called him names. What is the situation today? I asked Google this question: “What are the indices of a failed nation? This is the answer the search engine gave: “Common indicators include a state whose central government is so weak or ineffective that it has little practical control over much of its territory; non-provision of public services; widespread corruption and criminality; refugees and involuntary movement of population; and sharp economic decline.” Pray, which of the factors listed here is absent in Nigeria of today? When broken down to “failed State”, Google defines a failed State as having characteristics such as: “the presence of an insurgency, extreme political corruption, overwhelming crime rates suggestive of an incapacitated police force, an impenetrable and ineffectual bureaucracy, judicial ineffectiveness, military interference in politics, and…” If Nigeria is not yet a failed nation, it is definitely not a nation in good health. Unfortunately, it appears our new husbands in Abuja are the pallbearers we have been waiting for!

Nigerians are going through a very difficult situation at the moment. No one is spared the pains and agony traversing the land. Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), is the most unsafe city in the country today. That should ring the alarm in the corridors of power. What is happening in Abuja, especially with the spate of kidnappings over there finds its roots in the saying of our sages. The wise ones of old once said that any wind that affects the one selling pap (ogi), will render the yam flour seller empty (iji to damu ologi ti so elelubo di ofo). If Abuja is under constant attack of kidnappers, where else is safe in Nigeria? On Friday evening, two vehicles were attacked on the Akure-Ikere Ekiti road by gunmen suspected to be kidnappers. Nobody knows how many occupants of the vehicles were taken into captivity by the gunmen. The story is the same all over the country. Early journeys are becoming prohibited. Late travelling is completely forbidden. Commuters and drivers alike must first calculate before they venture out to the roads. Non-state actors in the nation’s security architecture have taken over. Our security agents, try as they may appear, are overwhelmed. You can’t blame them. Many of them will dare not venture to go after the criminals making life difficult for all of us. Why? What the policemen, for instance, are holding in the form of guns become like mere kiddies’ toys in the face of the sophisticated weapons in the possession of the felons. It is a case of a child suffering from convulsion and another suffering from real epilepsy. There is no basis for comparison.

Nation Under Siege is a 2013 Nollywood film directed by the ace filmmaker, Pascal Amanfo. Initially named Boko Haram, before the title was changed, many rose against the film because it was regarded as being insensitive to the religion of some people. While the controversy over the propriety of the title raged on, we forgot the thematic preoccupation of the work. Today, Nigeria has moved away from the siege of Boko Haram and other insurgent groups. Descendants of Boko Haram are living with us and cutting short lives. Abuja is at the centre of it all today. But I can take a bet; sooner than we all expect, what is happening in Abuja will be replicated in all cities, towns and villages. Life was hellish in the last two weeks of December 2023 and the first week of January 2024 for residents of Benin City, Edo State capital. That was the period when cultists virtually took over the ancient city. And it is happening all over the federation. One begins to ask: who is in charge? And really, is there anybody in charge of Nigeria at the moment?

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A friend told me last week that “it is uncharitable for anyone to blame President Bola Tinubu for the happenings in Nigeria today.” He said so and looked at me directly to read my reaction(s), or hear my comment. I responded, shaking my head, by saying that I agreed with him even though I also know that “it is most idiotic for anyone to absolve President Tinubu from all that has happened to Nigerians since May 29, 2023”. I would have said more but I realised that he is slightly older in age. It beats my imagination that we still have fellas who feel that President Tinubu should not carry the can of blames for the woes and calamities that are befalling Nigeria. While it is true that Tinubu is not the sole architect of the current situation, nobody can argue that the president is not part and parcel of the problem right from the beginning of this political dispensation. More than anything else, President Tinubu midwifed the lethargic government of General Muhammadu Buhari; a government which took the nation to the bottom of economic woes and insecurity. For the eight years that the Daura-born retired General ruined Nigeria, not a whimper was heard from Tinubu. Eventually, when Tinubu took over power in May 2023, rather than chart a new course for the nation, he took the baton and made a dash to the finishing line, carrying the baggage of rudderless leadership of Buhari alongside. Nothing has changed except that our situation has moved from bad to worse, while we wait helplessly for the worst to happen. So, why should we then excuse Tinubu from the present calamities.?

A senior journalist, in a private chat with me shortly before I commenced this essay, summarised the Tinubu leadership and what Nigerians brought upon themselves when they elected the man who answers the chieftaincy title of Jagaban, as president thus: “Nigerians don’t know those they gave power to. People that kidnapped a whole Lagos.” What does this tell us? President Tinubu and his gang of power-wielders today stole the hearts of the people with their reformist agenda while in opposition, and when also in ‘opposition’ within their ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). They told us that the solution to our problem is “true federalism”, which they argued, convincingly, would only be achieved through restructuring. By restructuring, they said that Nigeria must go back to its first love where, and when, each state or region, took its own destiny in its hands. One of the key elements of the much-talked-about restructuring is putting in place a security architecture that would ensure that as much as each crime is local, the solution to tackling it is also sourced locally. In essence, state policing is the base of a good security network. That was their stand then. Now, they are in power, what have they done in that direction? What has happened to the idea of restructuring and economic emancipation of the various states from the strangulation of a powerful central government?

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I grew up in the countryside. In my town in those days, we knew who to ask if, for instance, a goat was missing, especially a day to the market day. If on the other hand, someone’s yam tubers were dug up by an unknown individual, the elders knew the man to call to ask if he saw someone going to Lagbaja’s farm. That is local policing. Every community knows the criminal elements in the town. The criminals themselves are aware that the people are not ignorant of their (criminals’) activities, and as such, they conform. States’ governors are called “chief security officers” of their states. Good appellation. But when the chips are down, a state Commissioner of Police (CP), is not answerable to his host governor. Every CP waits for the Inspector General of Police (IGP) in Abuja to give the directive before any action can be taken. This is why it is absolutely impossible for any governor today to deploy policemen or any other security agent to any troubled spot in his state! The entire South-West was under the siege of killer-herdsmen for almost two years before the late Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State (may God bless his soul) rallied the other state governors in the region to establish the Amotekun security corps to tackle the menace. For the advocates of “Tinubu should not be blamed for the happenings in Nigeria today”, let them tell us what Tinubu’s Lagos contributed to the Amotekun initiative. What was his attitude and that of his protégé governor in Lagos towards the establishment of Amotekun? From all indications, the centralised security architecture we have today cannot address the spate of insecurity in the nation. Whatever fear one might have before that state governors and their ilk might highjack state police to the detriment of opposition has paled into insignificance in the face of insecurity in the country. The old advocates of restructuring are now in power. President Tinubu must take that bold step of restructuring our security architecture same way he took the bold step of removing petroleum subsidy and floating the Naira! If he could drastically take those steps which have brought majority of the Nigerian populace to an economic nadir, he may as well tackle the menace of insecurity in the selfsame manner to ameliorate their fears.

The criminals in Abuja are becoming more audacious. They no longer wait on the highways to kidnap. They now go into people’s homes to pick them up like chickens in a poultry cage. Abuja is the seat of power. At a time, some criminals threatened to kidnap General Buhari from Aso Rock Villa. The teeth-picking General responded by doubling his security personnel. Criminals stormed Kuje Correctional Centre, a distance of less than four kilometres to the Villa, and freed their members. Nothing happened. Not even the soldiers who dismounted their roadblocks on the Kuje Prison Road, hours before the attack, were punished. We heard, again, that insurgents took delivery of a weapon that could allow them to shoot down the president’s jet and that the government had to pay a huge ransom to repossess the equipment. The only response from the government then was the usual feeble denial, and the labelling of the news as “fake news and hate speech.” Gradually, kidnappers are taking over, spreading their evil tentacles across the length and breadth of the country. Army estate, security checkpoints; soldiers and civilians’ wives and children are not spared. Both the Army and the Police are giving us conflicting accounts of how the kidnapped victims in Abuja were ‘rescued’. Nobody knows who ‘rescued’ who, and if anybody was actually ‘rescued’ because the Army, in its explanation, said the kidnappers left the victims. To worsen the situation, family members of the victims are also claiming that they paid huge ransom raised through crowdfunding! That is the confusion in Abuja at the moment. The shrine of the combustion-fighting deity is aflame. Who will quench the fire in the king’s palace? The only place which appears safe now is Aso Rock Villa. But for how long? When what is edible gets exhausted, won’t the hungry turn to that which is not edible? If the bold and daring kidnappers in Abuja could successfully raid homes and estates unhindered, what stops them from taking on the Villa?

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If I were President Tinubu, or any of his aides, I would go back and read Lasisi Olagunju’s piece of March 6, 2023, titled: “Bola Tinubu, oun t’o loo da lo da yii o.” The last two paragraphs of the piece are too instructive to ignore. Olagunju’s allusion to the Classics in the case of Tacitus Augustus, the Roman emperor (275-276) sends a powerful message to President Tinubu and what he should do in office. Incidentally, Tacitus ascended the throne almost at the same age as Tinubu. In the last paragraph, the columnist stated that Tinubu “has four years to rebuild this house using the original building plan. He has four years to prove that despite his celebrated moral warts, he would be earnest and dignified in power. Otherwise, he will be remembered as another Nero, a debauched fiddler in power.” This is the gospel of truth for President Tinubu. The alluded “original building plan”’ here is true federalism, and his conjoined twin brother, restructuring. I plead, earnestly, and on my knees: President Tinubu, please, restructure Nigeria before we all die!

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