As a politician and a three term member of the National Assembly, I cannot but be disturbed by the floundering state of security in Nigeria in recent times. I know a lot of our compatriots also feel the same angst, consternation and confoundment. It is indeed disheartening that innocent Nigerians are being murdered in a manner that is too serial and sectarian for comfort.
It is even more discomfiting that a large number of those killed in many of these attacks are youths. Youths are the real resource of a nation. By these killings we are squandering not only our wealth but our future.
Up till now, no one is yet to fathom the goals being pursued by these attackers. What is known is that the attackers have been meticulous in their strategy by choosing to hide under the cover of our diversity to cast their terror thus creating a hiatus in our national unity.
So, to the extent that each time these terrorists attack, we are quick to stand apart on the threshold of Christian-Moslem or Southern-Northern divide, we continue to lose the war against terrorism in our country. I doubt if this country had ever been as divided as it is today. Yet, ironically, this is the time we need to stand together as a people- more than ever before – to fight the boggey of insecurity plaguing our land. Then we can fully address the poverty and inequities in our polity; issues that know neither tribe nor religion. I believe that a more pragmatic approach to solving the menace of terrorism in our country is to reinvent those social and communal values that bound us in the past.
As far as history can guide my thoughts, most of the communities where we have problems of terrorism today have had centuries old history of social and communal relationships and co-existence. The Berom have for centuries accommodated and lived with the Fulani in Plateau State, the Hausa in Kano State have over the years, accommodated and lived peacefully with the Igbo, the Kataf in Kaduna State and the Kanuri in Maiduguri have also had age long histories of accommodating non-natives in their communities. These were communities that thrived on the strength of association, friendships, and interdependence. Jos once used to be the hub of hospitality in the whole of West Africa. Kano became a great city of commerce because of its association and friendship with people from other places. Kaduna was once a flourishing city known for its intellectual enterprise. All these are no more, and that begs the question: where and when did we get it wrong? Where did we miss the turn?
I recall with nostalgia my days as a member of the 1978-1979 National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) set. I served in the old Bauchi State, which is now Bauchi and Gombe States. At the same time my elder brother, Rowland now Professor of Surgery was serving in Song in the old Gongola State now Adamawa and Taraba States and his fiancée ( now his wife of several years) was also serving in Numan now in Taraba State. I also had friends in Bauchi, Gombe, Kano and of course Jos. That meant I was perpetually on the move between these cities. The hospitality I experienced was unparalleled. The elder brother of Yayale Ahmed, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Head of Service (HOS), Alhaji Yelwaji Azare of blessed memory adopted me as his son; and I was treated as such. A political icon from Cross River State, late Chief I.I Murphy, gave me a note to his political associate, Alhaji Ibrahim Dimis, then a serving Senator who also threw his home open to me. I could go there anytime. Not to talk of the person I served directly under in the Nigerian Police, Senator Nuhu Aliyu who was then an Assistant Commissioner of Police. He retired as Deputy Inspector-General of Police and I had the good fortune of becoming his colleague in the 5th and 6th Senates. He made me a member of his household.
I lived in a flat on Yakubu Wanka Street, Bauchi with Justice Shehinde Kumuyi, current Chief Judge of Ondo State; Oyewale Akinrinade, who was Majority Leader in the Oyo State House of Assembly during the aborted Fourth Republic and a senior lawyer based in Ibadan and Ibrahim Muktari, the current Secretary to the State Government in Katsina State. Life long friendships were struck. Our flat had no locks. We travelled everywhere and when we come back everything would be intact. These same Almajiris, who today are being linked to the security problems in the country, were the ones protecting the flat. They ate your cooked food when you travelled but touched no other thing. In fact, they would be the ones to report themselves to you, good naturedly, that they ate the food because it was getting bad. So where did things go wrong?
I do not want to imagine that for whatsoever reasons that Nigeria cannot stand as a country. If we look at it critically, almost every other country in the world is plural just like us. Apart from perhaps the Koreas I know no other country that is completely homogeneous. It is commendable that the federal government has taken some measures- most of which military- to arrest the menace of terrorism in the country, but I believe that social therapy will also go a long way in combating the cancer of terrorism which has eaten so deep into our social fabric. For one thing, the situation that we have on our hands now did not come about because of a general collapse of law and order, thus necessitating just the deployment of military strategies to restore normalcy. The situation came about due to a collapse of communal values – those values of friendship, inter-personal trust, sanctity of human life and accommodation that once made us a people. This was the same position held by the late Senator Gyang Dantong who was consumed by the crises in his senatorial district in Plateau State. Senator Dantong was a fine gentleman, and a pillar in the National Assembly. I remember he often harangued about the declaration of states of emergency in some parts of Plateau State, insisting rather that the situation required more of a social solution than military intervention.
A social solution to the problem of terrorism in Nigeria will mean that the younger generation especially unlearns certain negative perceptions and prejudices against others and relearn values that unite us. Since we know that a lot of these criminal acts of terrorism are actually being committed by the youths, substantial efforts should be made to re-engineer their mindset to rekindle to those values that enabled communities thrive in plurality. Our diversity can be, and indeed should, be our strength if the political class is creative and honest about the good of all and not just power for the sake of it. What is the benefit of power if it does not create a secure and equitable society where all can equally and fairly compete for resources and opportunities?
Of course, bad governance and corruption are catalytic to the problem. To this end, it is important to stress the point that only a government that is respected by the people and seen to be transparent, can take up this task of social healing. Concomitant to this is addressing the issues of poverty and injustice in the midst of plenty. We must make our enormous human and natural endowments work for our people and give them a sense of ownership of government. Until government touches the most vulnerable amongst us, security will remain the challenge of our time.
Victor Ndoma-Egba, Officer of the Federal Republic, is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and current Senate Leader.