Anthony Obi OgboColumnsNigeriaNigerian Politics 101: Malami was not comparing – he was wisely threatening and instigating a reprisal

“Until this country undergoes a total overhaul of its governance system, nothing moves – not in north, south, east, or west,” ― Dr. Anthony Obi Ogbo

For three days now or so, Nigeria’s political terrain has been stormy, but there was no natural weather condition. No, there was no rain.  Last Tuesday, state governors from the southern part of the country, met in Asaba and issued a communique in which they demanded the immediate restructuring of Nigeria and the banning of open grazing in their areas of jurisdiction. The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, quickly criticized these resolutions in a fierce attack that generated more attention and controversy than COVID-19

The resolutions further generated mixed reactions from different parts of the country, especially among politicians and the regime’s public servants in the North. For instance, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Abdullahi Adamu, quickly called it a “betrayal of . . . trust“ and accused the group of “playing to the gallery with their demand for restructuring.”

But, among all those who criticized this move, Mr. Malami’s comments seemed to have created unprecedented divisive chaos. Mr.  Malami said that the resolve to ban open grazing by southern governors was equivalent to prohibiting spare parts trading in the north. He cited a possible statutory desecration of their actions, arguing that it “does not hold water” in the context of human rights as enshrined in the constitution. He cited the constitutionality of this resolution within the context of civil liberties expressed in the Nigerian constitution.

But the comment that got analysts and news editorials buzzing was when he compared open grazing and the spare parts trading in the north. Mr. Malami stated, “It is as good as saying, perhaps, maybe, the northern governors coming together to say they prohibit spare parts trading in the North.”

Most editorials and commentaries went wild and even published a long list of contrasts between Southerners who are legitimately doing businesses in the North and the wandering herdsmen in the center of the country’s current security dilemma.  What these observers, however, failed to understand was that Mr. Malami was speaking in parables.  In the context of Nigerian politics, Mr.  Malami was not comparing the open gazing practice by herdsmen of the North and the North-based spare parts dealers from the South. He may have sounded like an idiot, but he is not stupid, and, therefore, carefully weighed every word he said.

Malami was indirectly intimidating Southerners with a vengeful stance that could harm their economic interests in the North.

Mr.  Malami was essentially subtly issuing a veiled threat about the possible rebound, should the governors from the South proceed with their proposal. He was indirectly intimidating Southerners with a vengeful stance that could harm their economic interests in the North. Southern economic values and interests in the North are worth millions. Statistically, the Northern has no tangible interests in the South.

Indeed, Mr. Malami has a reason for using “spare parts dealers” to convey his coded message. You may ask why it was only spare parts that crossed his mind. Yes, he was indirectly reminding the Igbos about the retributive consequences of challenging any policy that does not serve the Northern political interest. “Why Igbos?” one may ask. The explanation is that the Igbos have consistently been actors in the Nigerian political drama, where their lives, homes, and businesses are threatened through punitive governmental policies or exterminated through an organized ethnic cleansing.

Still fresh in the Igbos’ memory is one particular incident in 2013 when northern Islamic police in Kano used an earth‑hauling truck to remove and destroy more than 240,000 bottles of beer seized from supply vehicles and shops owned by Southerners, predominantly the Igbos. Alcohol is banned under sharia (Islamic law). The major concern with Sharia laws operating in northern Nigeria is the lack of respect for due process. The Sharia law is operational in all northern Nigeria states, and unscrupulous politicians and custodians of this legal system have customized it as a repressive tool to pursue their divisive, bigoted religious interests.

Malami was simply challenging them to “bring it on.”

Thus, Mr. Malami had a reason for citing the country’s constitution as it reflects freedom or liberty of movement of citizens within the country. He knew that the constitution he referenced was designed to protect the interest of the North. Wisely, he knew that most other proposals by the southern governors would hardly pass through the protective walls of this draconian constitution.  So, he was not seeking a possible compromise of these issues or challenges presented at the southern governor’s meeting.  He was simply challenging them to “bring it on.”

The North and the South approach Nigerian public-policy matters differently. The northern politicians understand themselves, the politics of the land, and their brethren from the South, whereas politicians from the South are still bewildered by the fallacy of a so-called national character. And this would explain why, in the executive and legislative arms, no Southerner, past or present, has taken any steps to seek the path to a total constitutional overhaul. Thus, no legislation whatsoever has been written or debated on regarding this cause.

Currently, videos of lawmakers from the South are littering social media in a usual Nollywood display, ranting about a constitution and a governmental structure that do not work. The truth is that presidents and governors do not make laws. So, what steps have a collaboration of lawmakers from the South taken to negotiate or legislate a constitutional amendment to pave way for a restructure? And how could this even be possible where these politicians are busy switching from one party to the other to protect their interests from dire communal challenges?

In a comprehensive vindication of Nigeria’s path to economic and political stability, the South could take a mental bubble bath to specifically seek avenues to overhaul the current predatory constitutional structure. It can never be achieved through an unintelligible, pugilistic approach of the “secession” activists – for even a confederacy of this republic into independent regions require a constitutional process. Of course, brothers from the North are in the driver’s seat at the moment, but let it be known that, until this country undergoes a total overhaul of its governance system, nothing moves – not in north, south, east, or west.

♦ Professor Anthony Obi Ogbo, PhD, is on the Editorial Board of the West African Pilot News

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