When Elders Find Their Voice

831 views | Mahmud Jega | June 22, 2021

The statement put out at the weekend by South Eastern state governors, Ohanaeze chieftains and community leaders, which disowned IPOB and its secessionist agenda, reminded me of several things all at once. For one, “it was long overdue,” to quote a 1984 Supreme Military Headquarters statement that announced Chief of Staff Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon’s promotion to Major General.

It also reminded me of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, in one of his resorts to native African wisdom. Early in his tenure as civilian President in 1999, Obasanjo went to Port Harcourt to address a large gathering of Niger Delta governors and community leaders. Restiveness in the region that Lagos newspapers sympathetically called “militancy” was then at its peak.

One speaker after another told Obasanjo that it was the fault of the youths. On live TV, the president seized the microphone and said, “Whenever something happens, you tell me it is the youths. Where are the elders? You are the only community in Africa where youths lead the elders!”

In Africa at least, there is good reason why youths should not be a community’s leaders or set its agenda. The dynamism, boundless energy and idealism of youth is quite often devoid of experience, maturity, knowledge of community history, learning from the fate of other communities or having a sense of proportion.

During my secondary school days, we used to bandy about the phrase “you lack sense of proportion” and I really thought it was empty. I sat up and had a rethink one day when I read a passage in a book by Bertrand Russell, probably the greatest Western philosopher of the 20th Century. He wrote that “the central element of wisdom is to have a sense of proportion.” For example, is secession the proportionate answer to a feeling of political marginalisation over a six-year period, even when we had a hand in it by voting en masse for a party that did not win the election, a problem that could be corrected in the future?

When the South Eastern elders finally spoke, it again reminded me of a meeting I once participated in to resolve a labour dispute. Tempers were high and some participants were fuming, until the leader of our delegation walked in calmly and said, “In my place, it is often said that things never get out of hand where there are elders.”

Things almost got out of hand in the South East even though the region has elders and statesmen from all walks of life. As the whole world learnt in Things Fall Apart, South Eastern elders have some of the richest proverbs in Africa, “the palm oil with which words are eaten.” For many months, they did not deploy these assets when police stations, prisons and Federal Government agency offices were stormed, citizens from other parts of the country were harassed and killed, and there was a threat to disrupt elections in the region.

The elders knew very well that secession was not the answer, but for a long time they kept quiet. It was either because they feared for their personal safety, or because they never thought that IPOB will go so far, or perhaps because they hoped that the young ones’ misconduct will help to win political concessions for the elders, a good cop/bad cop strategy.

Maybe they were thinking of South Western political leaders and the June 12 crises. Unruly OPC thugs manhandled many Yoruba chiefs that they said did not identify very well with June 12. Many a South Western politician rushed to the newspapers, got himself quoted as saying “On June 12 I stand,” then made a cutting of it and pasted it in front of his house, as insurance. That unruly agitation paid off in 1998 when South West politicians got a major concession in the form of “power shift” to the region. South Eastern politicians hoped that history will repeat itself but it now looks like IPOB attacks have made a 2023 South Eastern presidency less, rather than more, likely.

Still, President Buhari should strengthen the elders’ hand by way of appointments and infrastructural concessions to the region. For, if they gain nothing by disowning IPOB, the secessionists could one day bounce back with a stronger I Told You So message.

FROM KANKARA TO BIRNIN YAURI

Seven very distressing, very traumatic mass kidnap of school children in five different states within six months.

First it was Kankara in Katsina State, where Government Science Secondary School students were herded into the bush at night and were held there for five days. Next was Kagara in Niger State, where 30 Government Science College students and five staff members were taken into the bush for two weeks. Followed in short order by Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe in Zamfara State, Federal School of Forestry Mechanisation at Afaka, Kaduna State, Greenfield University in Kaduna State, tiny Islamiyya school pupils at Tegina, Niger State and then last Thursday, bandits struck at Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri, Kebbi State.

One is tempted to say these are but a continuation of Boko Haram’s agenda to overthrow Western education in this part of the world, already tested at Chibok and Dapchi. The rest of the evidence however suggests otherwise. The North Western bandits are ethnically, ideologically and tactically different from Boko Haram.

They have never espoused a political agenda. They have no central leadership, and they do not target the Nigerian state or its institutions the way Boko Haram and IPOB do. In all negotiations whenever they seize hostages from schools, villages or the highway, their demand is strictly for money. Apart from one reported case where they demanded for the release of a bandit leader in exchange for hostages.

As things stand, no school in the Northwest is safe. 20 mobile policemen were guarding the Yauri school but it was attacked; in how many other schools can we post 20 Mopols? There are more schools in Nigeria than there are policemen and women.

Nothing matters when there is no security. Why not close all the schools, or at least all the schools in vulnerable locations, until security agents wipe out the bandits? If we could close all the schools because of COVID, I think we could close them again because of bandits.

831 views | Mahmud Jega | June 22, 2021

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