The statement made last week by Alhaji Mujahid Asari-Dokubo, leader of the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force, that President Goodluck Jonathan must be allowed to do a second term in 2015 or there would be no peace in Nigeria has generated a lot of dust, with Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State asking for his arrest for treason, while the House of Representatives asked that he be investigated by the security agencies.
Not done yet, Asari-Dokubo responded the next day by daring anyone to arrest him and risk the dire consequences of the disintegration of Nigeria. Ordinarily, an individual would not dare make such a statement for fear of the consequences. But Nigeria has become an unusual country, where unusual things happen.
Opinion has been divided over whether he should be arrested for his inflammatory and inciting statement, compounded by his arrogant challenge to the nation. Like everything Nigerian, the issue has become a divisive issue of North versus South and Jonathan’s sympathisers versus Jonathan’s detractors.
But it is good to look at a few similar acts and how they were resolved so as to better know how to approach Asari-Dokubo’s claims. In 1994, based on the annulled June 12, 1993 election results, which showed that he was the winner, Chief M.K.O. Abiola declared himself the President of Nigeria at Epetedo, Lagos. He disappeared after that announcement, but was arrested immediately he reappeared. He never returned to his home alive. Abiola died mysteriously in detention on July 7, 1998, at a time most people were hopeful that he would breathe the air of freedom and a solution found to the mindless annulment of an election that was free by all standards.
On November 10, 1995, writer and environmentalist, Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, MOSOP, was hanged. Saro-Wiwa, with some of his kinsmen, was accused of inciting the people to kill some of their kinsmen who were seen as sabotaging their cause by supporting the government.
Two major factors made the arrest and death of Abiola and Saro-Wiwa easier: One, an iron-fisted military dictatorship was in power. Two, both men led non-violent campaigns – they had no militias.
Another man has faced a similar fate but is lucky to be alive: Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, the leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra. Because his campaign has also been non-violent, he has been arrested a couple of times, detained and charged for treason. But he is lucky to have started his campaign after the end of military dictatorship.
Soon after the military withdrew from power in 1999 the O’odua People’s Congress, which broke into two factions, became a terror in the South-West. As well as bloody confrontations between the two factions, there were crises in which, the Hausas, Igbos, and police officers especially, were targeted and killed. For example, speaking on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Network Africa on September 10, 1999 over the OPC’s involvement in the crisis that claimed many lives at the Nigerian ports, Apapa, Lagos, the factional leader of the group, Dr Frederick Fasehun, acknowledged that the OPC participated in the crisis, in his word, to “solidarise” with their Yoruba kinsmen who were being marginalised at the ports. He argued that the seaports were in Yoruba land, and so the Yoruba should rightly dominate them. Many people were shocked at that ugly turn of events from the Yoruba ethnic group, who were hitherto seen as fighters for justice. Human rights lawyer and crusader, Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), was so appalled by the orgies of violence against non-Yoruba that he announced that he had severed all links with the OPC and would no longer defend the group in court. In all this bloodletting and incitement, Fasehun was never arrested, neither was Chief Gani Adams, the leader of a break-away faction of the OPC.
A few years after President Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in on May 29, 1999, the Niger Delta became restive. Oil facilities were bombed. Foreign oil workers were kidnapped. Many security men were killed. Nigeria’s oil export plummeted. The security operatives tried to contain the violence but achieved little result. Obasanjo decided to change tactics: He used a presidential jet to fly Asari-Dokubo to Abuja for talks. After the talks, the violence continued. Then the Obasanjo government arrested him and charged him for treason. The situation seemed to worsen. He was in detention until President Umaru Yar’Adua took over, and released him on June 14, 2007. Yar’Adua later introduced the Amnesty Programme, in which the Niger Delta militants were asked to renounce violence, hand in their weapons and be pardoned as well as having themselves and their communities taken care of by the government. With that, peace returned to the oil-producing Niger Delta.
On October 3, 2010, a former Kaduna State governor, Alhaji Lawan Kaita, was quoted as saying: “Anything short of a Northern president is tantamount to stealing our presidency…The North is determined, if that happens, to make the country ungovernable for President Jonathan or any other Southerner who finds his way to the seat of power on the platform of the PDP against the principle of the party’s zoning policy.”
On December 15, 2010, while the campaign for the presidential ticket of the PDP was at its peak, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar said in reference to Jonathan’s decision to contest the primaries in spite of claims that there was an agreement in the PDP for power to rotate between the North and the South: “Let me again send another message to the leadership of our great country, especially the political leadership, that those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable.”
It was seen as an inciting statement. But Abubakar was never arrested. The government knew that arresting him at that time would have been interpreted as suppression of the opposition. In addition to his status as a former vice-president, the fact that Jonathan is from the South, while Abubakar is from the North, at a time the North felt aggrieved over the loss of the Presidency, made that option fraught with danger.
Again, in March last year, Lawan Kaita was quoted as saying: “We hear rumours all over that Jonathan is planning to contest in 2015. Well, the North is going to be prepared if the country remains one. That is, if the country remains one, we are going to fight for it. If not, everybody can go his way.”
None of these men was arrested or even questioned for treason or incitement, despite that there have been killings, which some have linked to such utterances. Also truly, the nation has been made ungovernable since after the 2011 elections.
During Obasanjo’s tenure, a state of emergency was declared in Plateau State on May 18, 2004 and Ekiti State on October 19, 2006 for crises that were not as grave and grievous as insecurity, lawlessness and impunity that have been the lot of many Northern states, especially Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, and Kano since 2010. But again probably because of fear of being seen as victimising the North, the Jonathan administration has continued to avoid taking that decision.
Even though Asari-Dokubo’s comments left a sour taste in the mouth, the question is: If it is true that what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander, on what basis or moral grounds should he then be arrested? It is apparent Asari-Dokubo was emboldened by the fact that those who made similar statements in the past were treated like the untouchables. The nation must not allow itself to be cowed into allowing people go away with treasonable statements and actions for whatever reason. Just like Chinua Achebe said: “It is the fear of causing offence that makes men swallow poison.”
We have failed to face the bitter truth that in the past 14 years, our country has been degenerating into impunity. Might has become right. Some people have become above the law either because of their status, their ethnic group, religion, or the amount of violence they and their supporters are capable of unleashing on the nation. Security officers are killed in their numbers with wild abandon: from Bayelsa State to Kano State, to Borno State and Nasarawa State. Kidnappers terrorise the South-East, South-South, South-West, and even the North. No week passes without the Boko Haram bombing one town in the North.
Ordinarily, for the state to keep every other group and individual under its authority, it should have the upper hand in matters of force of arms. But different groups have realised that if they can prove that they have the capacity to wreak more havoc on the land than the security agencies can contain, they will be offered amnesty rather than punishment. And so, more groups have embraced this method.
A state starts to fail if groups within it have more capacity to cause harm than the state can contain. Nigeria must pull itself from this path fast, or the consequences may be grave.
Written by BY AZUKA ONWUKA (AZUKA.BRAND@AUGUSTCONSULTING.BIZ)