Op-Ed: There is nothing like One Nigeria

Okenyi Kenechi

At the backyard barbecues of hate this past weekend, Nigerians grabbed one another by the throat hoping to inject just enough venom that will paralyse the senses. More than ever, refreshing Twitter and Facebook feeds showed the level of toxicity that exists between the North and South.

Many kept up with letters written by angry groups against their association. Some watched the spectacle with a sinking feeling that maybe they’re just spinning their wheels of ignorance. Nigerians who live in a country where life is cheap have become emotionally invested in regional disagreements and poor judgements, especially after the election of the present administration. These disagreements are powered by a degraded form of politics that caters to the voyeurism of power-drunk junkies. It reflects a troubling infirmity in how Nigerian leaders have so far engaged in politics.

For years, religion and ethnicity have played the biggest role in weakening the transformation of the country from its third world status to something better. Nigerians have been exploited to vote along ethnic and religious lines. This explains the inability of political leaders to build a country in a true sense as that would cut off their supply base of cheap votes. They are not for civic duties but self-interest.

There is no difference between how Nigeria is run and how Ponzi schemes operate. Nigeria is, perhaps, the longest-lasting Ponzi scheme ever known to man, because any moment it tilts towards crashing, its strength to hold on is re-energized by the blood of men, women and children in the Niger Delta region whose environment and livelihoods are disembowelled and ruined in order to extract more petro-dollars. The realities of this feeding-bottle union have become clearer in the last five years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. His silence on these issues has created a new wave of political hobbyism.

At no time has the country been this openly polarised than now. Agreed that the country has always had regional differences, especially during election years but its rulers in the past had ways of making it look less pronounced but not the All Progressives Congress, APC. In the last five years, the party has plunged the country into a ditch, both economically, socially and in the area of security. The country’s debt profile rose astronomically within this period with little visible deliverables to show for it. Not done, the party took up another mission, fanning embers of hate and division along ethnic and religious lines.

This explains the reactions in the past week over the decision of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, to dis-invite the governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El Rufai from the 60th Anniversary of its Annual General Conference. The venomous attacks that followed showed that political leaders are only pretending in their warped reasoning that there is something like One Nigeria. There is none. It also shows that change is impossible. The highest body of lawyers in Africa has been divided against itself.

The sins of governor El Rufai are in the open. He has continued to exhibit a disdain for critics and the rule of law. Silas Joseph Onu and Prof Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, had in a protest letter to Prof Koyinsola Ajayi, SAN; Chair, Technical Committee on Conference Planning (TCCP) of the NBA listed just but a few including the declaration of Kaduna by Civic Media Lab, which monitors mortality in Nigeria’s many security crises, as “the most dangerous state in Nigeria.”

According to the organization, Kaduna’s “record of 493 persons killed between January and June, is higher than the reported deaths in the Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorised territories of Borno; 290, Adamawa; 37 and Yobe; 5.”

“Southern Kaduna is the most active site of massacres and mass atrocities in Nigeria. Despite this, when the Governor met with the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Kaduna on 17 August, Governor El-Rufai dismissed the atrocities going on in Southern Kaduna as “media hype”. The previous day, on 16 August, he informed Seun Okinbaloye on Channels Television’s “Politics Today” programme, that he had been unable to visit the sites of atrocity in Southern Kaduna nor extend empathy to the victims because of COVID-19. However, not having found time to show up for victims of mass killings in his own state, on 8 August, Governor el-Rufai found time to travel to Benin-City for the flag-off of the Campaign of his party in the Edo State Governorship elections. Apparently, COVID-19 did not preclude that.

“In April 2020, Bello El-Rufai, Governor El-Rufai’s son, who is also himself a special adviser to the Senator representing Kaduna Central in the Senate, Uba Sani, threatened another citizen who had criticized his father, the governor, with the gang-rape of the person’s mother. When Samuel Ogundipe, a journalist with Premium Times, reported the episode, Bello El-Rufai, parlaying his filial propinquity to a powerful governor, threatened to arrest or disappear Mr. Ogundipe.

“In the run-up to the 2019 General Election in Nigeria, Governor El-Rufai infamously threatened foreign observers that they would “go back in body bags” if they reported what he or his ruling party did not like. He suffered no consequences.

“As you may know, on 9 December 2019, Quartz Africa named Governor El-Rufai at the head of a “powerful” group of Nigerian state governors who “now regularly use security agents to arrest & intimidate journalists & activists who dare to question their actions or attempt to hold them accountable.” One of the most prominent victims of this is University lecturer, Abubakar Idris, better known as Dadiyata, who was abducted from the gate of his house in Barnawa, Kaduna, on 1 August 2019 and has not been seen since then. At 10:16 Hours on 23 December 2019, one of Governor El-Rufai’s sons, Bashir, issued a tweet gloating over the disappearance of Dadiyata, in which he signed off with the line “Dangerous lines in the public space have consequences.” The Kaduna State government has not much acted as if the disappearance of Dadiyata is of much concern to it.

“Many other critics of Governor El-Rufai have been luckier, but only because they ended up in prison or detention. These include university lecturer Dr John Danfulani. Digital activist, Stephen Kefason, was abducted from his home in Rivers State on the orders of Governor El-Rufai and detained for over five months. Luka Biniyat, a journalist with Vanguard Newspaper, was also detained and, at the instance of Governor El-Rufai, fired from his job for writing a report the Governor didn’t like. The same thing happened to Segun Onibiyo, another journalist with the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, FRCN.

Going further, the duo explained Mallam El-Rufai has great intolerance for lawyers and the legal profession.

“In 2016, when he was visited by the then President of the Nigerian Bar, A.B. Mahmoud, SAN, Governor El-Rufai threatened to the NBA President to abduct Kaduna lawyer, Ms. Gloria Ballason, because she had criticized him in a news article, a perfectly lawful act of exercising constitutionally protected speech. Ms. Ballason sued to protect her rights and in May 2017, secured a judgment of the High Court of Kaduna State, which found that the Governor had indeed violated her rights. The High Court awarded also damages against the Governor. He refused to pay up. Instead, he instigated another round of violations of the rights of Ms. Ballason, instructing the Kaduna State Police Command to blockade her law office in Kaduna at the end of 2019. In July 2020, the High Court of Kaduna State presided over by Honorable Justice Hannatu Balogun again found Governor El-Rufai and the Police in Kaduna State under his direction, in violation of the right of Ms. Ballason to practice her vocation as a lawyer. The High Court specifically found that they had violated the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

“As the proceedings were pending in February 2017 in Ms. Ballason’s case, Governor El-Rufai arranged to abduct one of her clients, Audu Maikori, from Lagos. Mr. Maikori, himself a lawyer of some distinction, was transported to Kaduna on the orders of Mallam El-Rufai, where he was detained and tortured, first at the police before being sent into detention. Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal have found that the conduct of the Governor constituted egregious violations of the laws and the constitution. There is presently pending an award of N10.5 million against the Governor for the violations inflicted on Audu Maikori. Governor El-Rufai will not comply or pay up”.

Nigerians watched with mouths agape during the eve of the presidential elections in February 2019, when Mallam El-Rufai, who was a quest on Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, programme said that election observers will leave in body bags. He also announced on 15 February 2019, that “66 Fulanis” had been massacred in an Adara settlement in Kajuru Local Government Area in Southern Kaduna.

“The Police as well as the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), denied that any such incident happened. When Dr. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, one of our leading members and former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, challenged Mallam El-Rufai to provide proof of his claims, the governor sought to procure his abduction with an order in a case that did not have a suit number.

“You may argue that it is a good thing to offer Mallam El-Rufai the platform of the #NBAAGC2020 so that he may be subjected to some examination by the participants. However, as you can see, those who have criticized him so far, many of them well placed members of our Association, have suffered untold persecution from Mallam El-Rufai or his family. When these members of our Association fought for their freedom and against their own persecution by Mallam El-Rufai, neither the NBA nor its leadership showed up. If you ask our members to criticize him now, will you protect them when Mallam El-Rufai levies his inevitable retribution and persecution or will you offer us all balaclavas so that we will ask him question with our faces fully covered?” they queried

The sharp ethnic and religious colouration the El-Rufai’s dis-invitation by the NBA took is part of the method Nigeria has used to cover mountains of injustices meted out on the citizens daily. It has failed to embrace engagement as a way of fostering unity, the reason being that it is not entertaining enough to pique the interest of ethnopolitical/religiopolitical hobbyists whose brand of politics lacks profound moral obligation.