A few weeks after last year’s presidential election was won and lost, while Nigerians and the world awaited the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari, I wrote an article, suggesting to then incoming government the need for the healing of wounds inflicted on the nation by the acrimonious and pernicious electioneering. I had stated that the Buhari government needed to embark on reconciliation and unification across the country, so that the grievances and disappointments brought about by the election and the result therein would be forgotten. Reconciliation, at that time, was more important than whatever programme or intentions of the incoming government.
Yes, during the run-up to the general elections of last year, the country was polarised, first, along North and South divide, and, second, along Christian/Muslim parts. Whether we believe it or not, while the majority in the North, irrespective of political affiliations, wanted President Buhari to take over the Presidency, majority of the voters in the South wanted ex-President Goodluck Jonathan to be reelected. Also, the support for the two presidential candidates then was along religious line, as most Christians rooted for former President Jonathan while most Muslims backed President Buhari. As it were, Nigerians became enemies of one another over the presidential election, to the extent that a woman in Lagos stabbed her husband to death because he supported a presidential candidate other than hers. The outcome of the election was also an issue, as those who supported ex-President Jonathan felt bad while those who backed President Buhari trotted around in swagger. In a country so divided, with the losers standing small and the winners standing tall, what was, therefore, needed was leadership, where the winner was not only magnanimous in victory but also reassured the losers that politics was over and everybody was equal, with a true promise that all Nigerians will get their due, in the spirit of fairness, equity and justice.
Many people, especially those who felt that the victory of President Buhari was the conquest of those who supported former President Jonathan, had written to tell me, in response to my article, to keep my advice to myself, saying that the incoming government did not need suggestions from me, since I never wanted a change of the status quo, in the first place. Unfortunately, just like the pro-Buhari supporters at that time saw my advice and the need for reconciliation unnecessary, the President Buhari government, directly or indirectly, did not heed it. At a time when the losers needed assurances that their political affiliations and candidate’s support would not be used against them, what Nigerians heard were comments that suggested that those who were against the President Buhari presidency should rather go on exile.
To be sure, President Buhari himself told the world that those who gave him 95 per cent votes and the ones that gave five per cent should not expect to get equal measures. South East electorate were constantly told that they committed the worst crime by supporting ex-President Jonathan. And the initial appointments made by President Buhari were skewed in favour of the North, to the exclusion of a section of the country, the South East, which never got any post among the Service Chiefs, President Buhari’s personal staff or kitchen cabinet or head of parastatals. Indeed, the conquistador attitude was so inherent that the losers in the presidential election became lepers, who were avoided, shunned and punished. The situation was so bad that even when people called for truth and reconciliation commission, the All Progressives Congress (APC) not only vehemently rejected it but also made a caricature of it.
It’s apparent that the problems, bedeviling the country now is a result of the failure of the Buhari government, in particular and the APC, in general to manage their victory well, reconcile Nigerians and ensure that whatever mutual suspicion, arising from the elections was left behind. Today, the Niger Delta is boiling, with the resurgence of militancy. The South East is restive, with Igbo youths, agitating for the actualisation of Biafra. Herdsmen, whether Fulani or not, are on the loose, wreaking havoc in communities where farmers are resisting and protesting the destruction of their crops by cattle. Crimes that have ethnic and religious colouration are now rampant and more pronounced in the country. I believe that in a country, where the past mistakes and/or actions are forgotten and forgiven, a militant group, as the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), will not return to the creeks and trenches, blowing up pipeline, as a way of registering their disappointment and grievances. I know that in a country where unity exists, Igbo youths will not, through various groups continue to talk about or agitate for a separate independent country from Nigeria. I believe that in a country, where reconciliation had been wroth, herdsmen and farmers will not find it difficult to get a common understanding on how to rear cattle, without violence and killings. I know that in a country, where all Nigerians see one another as one, no Muslim would kill and behead an Igbo Christian woman, on the allegation of blaspheming Prophet Mohamed, as we saw in Kano. I think that in a country where reconciliation has been thoroughly done, Muslim youths would not descend on a Christian man because he ate while they were fasting, as it happened in Kaduna. In a country, where there is reconciliation and open-mindedness, no accused would be presumed to be guilty until found innocent, as in the case of former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki and Director of Radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, to the extent that validly granted bails were frustrated and ignored. In a reconciled nation, soldiers will not shoot and kill protesters, who were not armed, as the case of pro-Biafran agitators in Anambra, Delta, Imo and Enugu. In a unified nation, the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, will not order the “disarming” of a group (pro-Biafra), who everybody knows is not armed or violent and be mum on herdsmen, who openly bear arms. These are the things partly heating up the polity and bringing Nigeria to the precipice.
There is a way out. The Buhari government should take measures to reconcile Nigerians. Part of the reconciliation is to, for instance, have dialogue with the Nigeria Delta Avengers. Meeting with these aggrieved Nigerians is not a mark of cowardice but strength, especially since the government had indicated interest in negotiating with the “true” Boko Haram for the release of the abducted Chibok girls. The “crush them” mentality will not solve any problem. In the same token, a meeting with the pro-Biafra group would help. And the release of Nnamdi Kanu and other political prisoners, including Dasuki, by respecting court orders on bail will douse tension.
The late President Musa Yar’Adua saw the need of reconciliation, which prompted him to talk with former militants and initiating the amnesty programme. The late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, recognised reconciliation and got Yoruba elders to persuade the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) to stop the June 12 trouble for the country to move on. These were presidents with all the authority and power of life and death, but who looked at the bigger picture and dropped personal ego. This is what we need now. Nigerians must be reconciled because therein lies the ticket to progress.