The American political scientist, John Mearsheimer, in the book, The Great Delusion – Liberal Dreams and International Realities, draw attention to how our capability for critical thinking and reasoning as humans distinguishes us with all other creatures and makes it possible to dominate our planet earth. It is also the same capacity for critical thinking and reasoning that enables us to create body of ideas ‘about how the world works. Yet there are significant limits on our ability to reason, which have important consequences for social and political life. One such limitation, our inability to agree about what constitutes the good life, sometimes leads individually as well as social groups to hate and try to hurt others, which in turn causes the others to worry about their survival.’
As Nigerians, the problem of hate is making us lose our humanity so much that notion of survival both for individuals and groups is more about our ability to defend and rationalise our inclinations even when lives of other citizens are in danger. Our instinct to rationalise unacceptable realities has worsened and is certainly extinguishing our humanity to the extent that there is hardly any difference between leaders and followers as well as educated and illiterate citizens. If anything, our education is making most of us to become leading campaigners and promoters of our disagreements and why we should hate each other on accounts of our ethnic and religious differences. But as Mearsheimer asked, ‘First, are our preferences rational, and do those goals promote our survival or make some other kind of sense? Second, are we acting strategically to achieve our goal?
Do we even have any goal and if we do, what is our goal? Is it possible in any way that our goal includes promoting crimes or rationalising it at all? It is very worrisome that as supporters in one or the other of the ongoing campaigns to promote ethnic and religious hatreds, we are blinded and deafened by all the distaste for each other that has taken over national conversation. We are unable to see anything good associated with our so-called competing ethnic and religious groups. Everything is about casting aspersion on religious and ethnic groups outside the ones we belong. We profile each other in ways that suggest there is scarcely anything good about citizens belonging to other religious and ethnic groups. Everything anyone coming from other ethnic and religious groups other than the ones we belong pronounces or articulates must be interpreted to confirm our beliefs in how bad other ethnic and religious groups are.
It is so difficult to have any meaningful or objective national conversation on issues that touches on our ethnic and religious inclinations. It is almost as if no interrelationship exists across our different ethnic and religious groups. Yet, almost every day, there are very good reports of inter-ethnic and inter-religious marriages in the country. There are interesting accounts of many of our national leaders being married to spouses from different religions. There are also cases of celebrated children of serving leaders married to either leaders or children of leaders from other ethnic groups. The most recent is that of Rt. Honourable Dimeji Bankole, former Speaker of the House of Representatives who married Dr. Zainab Shinkafi-Bagudu, daughter of His Excellency, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, Governor of Kebbi State and Chairman of Progressive Governors Forum.
Not long ago, in 2018, there was the high-profile wedding of Fatima Ganduje, daughter of His Excellency, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, Governor of Kano State to Idris Abolaji Ajimobi, son of late Sen. Abiola Ajimobi, former Governor of Oyo State. These are important positive signpost of interrelationship across our major ethnic divides widespread in the country. Beyond the high-profile weddings that received banner headlines in our news media, there are many cross-cultural weddings of ordinary Nigerians taking place across the country, which never get reported. At personal level, one is attracted to all these because being Hausa-Fulani married to a Yoruba, one can speak from personal experiences of what it means to successfully negotiate a marriage across our ethnic divide. It is a challenge that requires constant vigilance and engagement of family members to be able to protect and defend the marriage. Part of the reality is that children born in such successful marriages risked being torn apart and made to have identity conflicts because of some dynamic factors that pushes many of us married across our ethnic groups into some unhealthy hegemonic competitions. The only thing that can protect such children is the capacity of parents to make the needed sacrifices to ensure that the success of the marriage is beyond some notional privileges of exercising power within the family.
To the extent that many of us in inter-ethnic marriages are succeeding means that it is possible to set a national goal, which recognises and respect our differences, as well as encourages us to take all the steps required to ensure that good experiences of our co-existence define our realities and not the bad ones. The point is that there are good stories of positive co-existence in the midst of the loud hate noises in the country. Just as there are positive stories of co-existence, we also share all the bad instances of criminal conducts of bad elements from our ethnic groups, across all the divides. The current challenge around the criminal conducts of kidnappers and bandits who based on all the accounts, hide under the guise of Fulani herdsmen, affect every Nigerian irrespective of ethnic and religious grouping, including those of us who are Hausa-Fulanis.
Those who have farms are being affected by activities of these criminal elements too, notwithstanding our Hausa-Fulani lineages. Nevertheless, those of us whose farms are located in the Northern part of the country and not in the Southern part are also faced with the painful reality of these criminal elements. If anything, the report of activities of bandits in the North West and North Central confirm that the problem of taking over forests by bandits also affect the North in the same way, if not worse, which should make all of us to be equally interested in pushing our government to tackle the problem. The reality is that, if care is not taken farming activities has already been disrupted in the North on accounts of criminal conducts of these bandits and kidnappers. The level of disruption is such that hunger is about to set in as most law-abiding citizens can’t go to farms due to all the threats of kidnappings and its associated consequences, including possible loss of lives. Unfortunately, given all the hate campaign going on in the country, all public debates are reduced to expression of support for one ethnic group against the other.
The point is, across our ethnic and religious divides, we share both the good and the bad. Part of the problem is that we want to have what we believe is good alone and we don’t want to cooperate with each other to solve the common problems. And whatever is bad is interpreted to be associated with other groups, which then lead us to believe that possible measures against groups outside us is what is required. There is therefore always the tendency to locate what is bad outside us and imagine that we can monopolise what we believe is good even as it is clear that whatever is bad can only find its way into our society with the support of local collaborators. There are alleged roles of traditional, religious and community leaders, including security personnel in the criminal acts of banditry and kidnapping in every part of the country. This is not in anyway being raised to defend or rationalise these criminal activities but to emphasise the need for unity in the country in order to resolve the problem.
One of the chapters in his recent book, Talking to Strangers, the Canadian journalist and author, Malcolm Gladwell, asked the question “What Happens When the Stranger is a Terrorist?” This seems to be at the heart of our current national debate in Nigeria, which was activated by the order of Ondo State government of January 18, 2021 that elicited the response of Mallam Garba Shehu of January 19, 2021. All these have produced chains of events in the country, including actions by one Sunday Igboho in Oyo State issuing ‘quit notice’ to Fulani groups to vacate parts of Oyo State. Although Oyo State government has condemned the pronouncement of Igboho, already there are reported attacks of Fulani settlements in Oyo State. Threat of arrest of Igboho allegedly announced by Mallam Garba Shehu is yet again generating more campaigns promoting ethnic hatred in the country.
The conclusion by Malcom Gladwell, about strangers being terrorists, which is exactly the problem manifesting itself in the forms of banditry and kidnapping in Nigeria need to be recognised by every Nigerian irrespective of our differences. ‘Whatever it is we are trying to find out about the strangers in our midst is not robust. The “truth” … is not some hard and shiny object that can be extracted if only we dig deep enough and look hard enough. The thing we want to learn about a stranger is fragile. If we tread carelessly, it will crumple under our feet. And from that follows a second cautionary note: we need to accept that the search to understand a stranger has real limits. We will never know the whole truth. We have to be satisfied with something short of that. The right way to talk to strangers is with caution and humility.’
It is almost predictable that our hatred for each other will make us to dismiss the cautionary appeal of Malcolm Gladwell. More worrisome is that some of our leaders and public officials are completely possessed by what is clearly the anger in the land. Worst still, is that there is hardly any social or political enquiry taking place or if there is, everything is about rationalising and reproducing the current public anger and hatred for each other. It is very painful that as Nigerians, we are highly blinded and deafened by our anger against each other. Notwithstanding our anger, we want one of our tribesmen and women to rule the country in a democracy whereby such a person must win votes from every part of the country, including from groups we hate and also encourage them to reciprocate the hate.
Everything has become toxic, which as the American journalist and blogger, Ezra Klein in the book, Why We’re Polarized drew attention to how the toxic reality ‘compromise good individuals with ease. They do so not by demanding we betray our values but by enlisting our values such that we betray each other. What is rational and even moral for us to do individually becomes destructive when done collectively.’ If it is rational and moral to consider proposals to arrest and prevent criminal activities of bandits and kidnappers at state level, why is it impossible to consider a uniform proposal nationally, especially given that the problem affect all citizens from every part of the country? This could be as a result of what Ezra Klein identified as the logic of polarisation, which is ‘to appeal to a more polarised public, political institutions and political actors behave in more polarised ways. As political institutions and actors become more polarised, they further polarise the public. This sets off a feedback cycle: to appeal to yet more polarised public, institutions must polarise further; when faced with yet more polarised institutions, the public polarises further, and so on. …we exist in relationship with other political institutions, that they are changed by us and we are changed by them…We don’t just use politics for our own ends. Politics uses us for its own end.’
Therein lies the difficulty, how do we move our politics out of this polarised equilibrium? Both citizens and political leaders get trapped in the deceitful consciousness that the solution lie in our bias preferences, which encourages us to further polirise our society and our citizens. As our society and nation is more polarised, the problem of criminality gets bigger and overwhelming. Unfortunately, rather than pushing leaders of political institutions and actors to strengthen their relationship in the country in order to initiate uniform responses in tackling common challenges across the country, we seem to be more disposed to getting them more polarised. Regrettably, for our leaders to continue to enjoy our support, they must identify with our divisive choices. Otherwise, the electoral prospects of our leaders will remain in jeopardy. This is a reality, which has imposed the leadership of hatemongers.
There has to be a way out of this mess. Our political leaders and our party need to assert their authority in mobilising alternative responses, which should inspire Nigerians to rise above the current high wave of ethnic and religious hatred in the country that is weakening our capacity to arrest and prevent criminal activities. No doubt every Nigerian must be worried about what is going on. Much more troubling is the fact that pronouncements of Mallam Garba Shehu on these issues tend to unfortunately accentuate our polarisation. While recognising that it is necessary for government to make some public responses to most of these developments, should it come from the office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President? Being a matter that may require clarifications bordering on both issues of interpretations of the law and policy of government, one would have thought it is better handled at ministerial level. Besides, given the nature of such issues, a strategic approach should have been to allow for instance the Minister of Information to continue to manage the responsibility of communicating positions of the Federal Government, since the issue is not just about position of the President. It also involves the need to engage state governments.
The way things are, it is difficult not to conclude that mandated agencies of government are unable to discharging their statutory responsibility as required because once the President spokesperson makes public statements, capacity to initiate any response may be obstructed. At this point, as APC members and as Nigerians, it is important to appeal for moderation in the way this issue is being managed. With the level of polarisation in the country, crazy responses from people such as Sunday Igboho and their likes in every part of the country are further worsening the situation. That can never be the goal of the government.
The other issue is also the need to strengthen our politics to be able to manage this kind of difficult realities. So long as we are going to remain as a country with all our diversities, there will always be this kind of difficult challenges requiring skillful and careful handling. This may require that our political parties are able to intervene when problems of our polarisation get activated to the level of manifesting as a threat to our peaceful co-existence as a nation. As a party, APC has a good experience when it comes to managing problems created by ethnic polirisation in the country. This is because in 2017 when the madness of Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB and the so-called Arewa Youth got heightened so much that there was the senseless ultimatum to Igbos to vacate the North and national debate on restructuring was producing all manner of proposals including maps of break-away parts of Nigeria, the APC National Working Committee under the leadership of Chief John Odigie-Oyegun initiated internal consultations leading to the appointment of the Mallam Nasir El-Rufai led APC Committee on True Federalism. Although yet to be implemented, the report of the Mallam Nasir Committee on True Federalism provides a standard template of how a party in government should handle difficult challenges of polarisation.
Certainly, if the party was able to move recommendations contained in the report of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai Committee to the level of implementation, the current levels ofmisplaced anger against the APC and the Federal Government in the country would have been moderated. May be the challenge we have today present a golden opportunity for APC to be able to initiate processes of implementing the recommendations contained in the report of the APC Committee on True Federalism. What may be required in the circumstances is for the APC Caretaker Committee led by His Excellency Mai Mala Buni to initiate internal processes of consultations both within the party and across the executive and legislative arms of government. Given that there already exist APC tripartite consultative committee, chaired by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo with both the party Chairman, HE Mai Mala Buni, Senate President, HE Ahmed Lawan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiala and PGF Chairman, HE Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, Secretary to Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Gida Mustapha and Chief of Staff to President, Prof. Ibrahim Agboola Gambari serving as members, the initiative to commence processes of implementation can be started.
We need to appeal to our leaders and our party to rise to the occasion of this challenge facing our dear nation beyond the current public anger. Our leaders should be reminded about the words of Malcom Gladwell in the book, David and Goliath to the effect that ‘much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of …lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty. And second, that we consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong. We misread them. We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the source of great weakness. And the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors. And create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seem unthinkable. We need better guide to facing giants.’
While it is tempting to continue to interpret our current disagreements based on our deep momentary anger and hatred for one another, it may be the true catalyst for our attainment of greatness. That can only happen if our leaders are able to insulate themselves from being among the drivers of public anger and hate based on which they are able to painstakingly lead the country in a new direction of unity and national co-existence. May God guide our leaders to lead us in a new direction that can guarantee peaceful co-existence founded on love for each other across all our ethnic and religious divides. Amin!
This position does not represent the view of any APC Governor or the Progressive Governors Forum
* Salihu Moh. Lukman is Director General. Progressive Governors Forum,