By Owie Lakemfa
WE are a troubled people. Except for Boko Haram, Nigeria is not at war. But in another sense, we are; we are like a man fighting himself and wondering why peace continues to prevail. From various parts of the country, different groups are making calls and declaring their intention to create their own ‘republic’. In the last few months, I have been decreed, without consultation or my consent, into at least four of these imaginary countries. One group tells me I will be a citizen of a futuristic “Biafra Republic”; another says I am zoned into the “Ijaw Republic”; yet another has me in the “Republic of Niger Delta”; while a fourth says I will belong to “Bendel Republic”.
Such challenges to national sovereignty and unity are not unexpected in a country laid prostrate by the heavy blows of insurgency, kidnapping, armed robbery, mass unemployment, hunger, want, misery and a parochial political class. Unemployed youths will always find ways of expending their energy, and the poor will always devise ways of seizing crumbs from the rich even if it means kidnapping them.
Unfortunately, the educated allow the illiterate to set the political agenda which is why elite and professors who should show the way, have become followers or supporters of divisive groups and kid demagogues. It is even more pathetic when the elders gathered in places like the Senate to carry out the rituals of cosmetic Constitution amendments which do not address fundamental issues, do not take into consideration the feelings and basic interests of the populace.
I find it difficult differentiating between people who are declaring these ‘Republics’ without consulting the people who will constitute the citizenry of the supposed new countries, and parliamentarians who carry out constitutional amendments without consultation with “We the People”.
But all these are not my main worry; my primary concern are twin issues. First, is the fast depleting tribe of conscientious, conscious, intellectually- endowed, patriotic, Pan-Africanist and humanist Nigerians. The tribe of the knowledgeable Nigerians who commit their lives to social change and justice. The tribe of those who conscientise the citizenry and hold Nigeria together not just as an indivisible entity, but also as a nation capable of steering Africa towards development.
Within three weeks, we lost Professors Abubakar Momoh, Funmi Adewumi and Toure Kazah. Just last Tuesday, August 8, I received another of those messages I dread: Abdulraufu Mustapha, Professor of African Politics, Oxford University, passed away. I was a teenager in the then University of Ife when I first heard of Raufu, one of the young committed lecturers in the Ahmadu Bello University who outside the lecture halls, were building youths that would radically transform our dependent neo-colonial economy and country. Raufu and his comrades had built the student organisations: the Movement for Progressive Nigeria, MPN, in ABU and the Anti-Imperialist Youth Front, AIYF, in the Bayero University and were churning out patriotic youths with the burning desire to change society. They were attacked by the authorities and accused of “Teaching what they are not paid to teach”. But they were courageous and selfless; losing their jobs was not part of the worry of such men and women who were ready to lay down their lives for change in the country.
The students Raufu and his comrades like Yahya Hashim, Jibrin ‘Jibo’ Ibrahim and Ntiem Kungwai mentored, and those of us from other parts of the country, linked up under a national umbrella, the Patriotic Youth Movement of Nigeria, PYMN, which I was privileged to lead in 1981.
Under the Raufu generation, we were taught to fight injustice wherever it raised its head whether in the country or outside it. We were engaged in serious campaigns against backwardness in Nigeria, and colonialism in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, and for the survival of the pro-people governments in Guinea Bissau, Angola, Mozambique and, of course, Cuba.
Raufu was instrumental in the capability of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, to produce the 1981 “Nigeria Students Charter of Demands” and encouraging us to join and build organisations such as the Women In Nigeria, WIN, and the Youths Solidarity on Southern Africa, YUSSA. He treated me like a beloved kid brother. As a Youth Corper in Kano, I spent many nights in his home in Zaria; in fact, it became a transit camp for me whenever I travelled to my Lagos home.
In later years, he was quite active in building the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU. At a point, comrades wanted him to take the post of ASUU National Secretary which was his for the asking. He declined. In those days, I went looking for him to ask why he would decline. He told me that in the academic world and ASUU, he would not be well respected and efficient unless he had a PH.D, so he needed to do so before accepting such an offer. He was involved in the anti- dictatorship struggles of the early 1990s.
Raufu was author of books like Sects and Social Disorder: Muslim Identities and Conflict in Nigeria; Turning Points in African Democracy; Creed and Grievance: Muslim-Christian Relations and Conflicts in Northern Nigeria; Ethnic Structure, Inequality and Governance of the Public Sector in Nigeria; Structural Adjustment and Multiple Mode of Social Livelihood in Nigeria and Gulliver’s Troubles: Nigeria’s Foreign Policy after the Cold War which he co-authored with Adekeye Adebajo.
This brings me to my second worry: that as we continue to lose these outstanding warriors of common good, uncommon intellect and unmatchable commitment to the poor and downtrodden, they are not being replaced. Rather, we witness the mass defection of the youths my generation mentored and trained, to the centrifugal armies of ethnic jingoists, tribal warlords, religious fanatics and unaccountable civil societies with loyalty to foreign donors.
When a collection of Arewa Youths called a press conference, not on mass poverty, the hunger in the Internally Displaced Camps, lack of habitable shelter, schools or health centres, but to give an ultimatum to our brothers and sisters of Eastern origin, to quit the North, I was quite sad. Not so much about such a behaviour, but more about the group leader, Shettima Yerima, one of the youths my generation had mentored over the years to play lead roles in national revival as a vehicle for transformation and social change and to fight for justice for all irrespective of origin, religion or social status. He had been part of our struggles for a better Nigeria, even participating in street protests. I wondered what had gone wrong. Is he hungry or in search of relevance? Rather than despair, those who want a better tomorrow for Nigeria and Africa must be willing to fight for it. No turning back.