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Reuben Abati Speaks on Boko Haram, Biafra & Possible Remedy for Disunity



Reuben Abati Goes to School

Reuben Abati, who was Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to ex president, Goodluck Jonathan, is speaking out about agents of disunity in Nigeria, and a possible remedy.

He expresses his viewpoint in an article titled Biafra, Oodua and the seventh lesson, published in various publications including Guardian:

DEMOCRACY does not necessarily translate into the disappearance of crises and dilemmas, (even trilemmas, quadrilemmas or more) in a country, either developed, developing or perhaps evolutionary. Built into the fabric of the right to choose is also the right to make mistakes and so, across Africa at this moment, in Nigeria, Tanzania, Cote d’Ivoire, Burundi, Guinea Conakry, Rwanda, the lessons are being driven home, as elections are being held or have been held or will be held, that even as democracy spreads within the continent, the tension between stabilization and consolidation, trade-offs and efficiency, pessimism and optimism, ethnocentrism and nationalism, remains a major concern.

Whatever the challenges may be however, both local and international authorities have a duty to ensure that the people learn from their mistakes, build on those mistakes positively, and prevent a relapse to either militarism or militarized democracy disguised either as benevolent democracy or charismatic autocracy, or ethnic revanchism as an option for national movement. The people’s right to make mistakes, oxymoronic as it may seem, is

part of the democratic challenge. In Nigeria, our biggest mistake lies in the strange assumption that our problems will disappear simply through intra-elite displacement or the symbolism of grand gestures. And so, we end up with a boringly repetitive national life cycle.

This leads us to one urgent point: the biggest challenge that the Nigerian state faces today, tearing into the very idea of statehood, and of democracy, is the centrifugal pull from every direction that seems to have become disturbingly incremental. In the North-Eastern part of the country, with the tragedy spreading, with casualties increasing, you have the heart-wrenching Boko Haram menace.

The Haram fundamentalists want a divided Nigeria. They have their own flag and they have made it clear that Western education and technology are sinful even if they use the same technology and intelligence to perpetrate their assault. With their flags and propaganda, they want “out” of Nigeria. Their act of defiance and the evil outcomes have increased since May even if civil society has chosen, all of a sudden, to be less anxious. But it is not a problem that can ever be treated lightly located as it is, in the tragic axis of global terror.

In the Middle Belt, an indigene-settler dichotomy, mutating as majorities-minorities conflict at the heart of Northern community relations, or as pastoralists-farmer confrontation has created seasons of violence and bloodshed with strong allegations of genocide and no sign of immediate abatement. In the South West, the recent abduction of a Yoruba leader, Chief Olu Falae by persons alleged to be Fulani herdsmen has resulted in the exchange of hate speech among Yoruba and Fulani ethnic champions defending territory, rights, and identity.

In Ibadan, the other day, a group of Yoruba elders demanded that Fulani herdsmen should be expelled from Yoruba territory and that should the provocation continue, the Yoruba with their 50 million population will be prepared to exit Nigeria. In the Eastern part of the country, there is a resurgence of Biafran nationalism; young Igbos in diaspora, are insisting on the creation of a Republic of Biafra. The new voice of Biafran nationalism is Nnamdi Kanu’s Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Radio Biafra, and the Igbos campaigning for Biafra in front of embassies in Europe, India and Japan! In the South South, there is a renewed consciousness of oil citizenship, with the Ijaw whose kinsman recently lost power at the centre protesting that they are victims of Hausa/Fulani harassment, and intimidation.

Perhaps the more worrisome is the noise being made about likely secession from Nigeria, by certain elements in the North East (terrorists actually seeking to carve out territory), by latter-day Biafrans, and by Yoruba irredentists. It may not be possible without empirical inquiry to determine how much of this is pure opportunism, posturing or criminal-mindedness (except in the case of Boko Haram where criminality is proven), but it would appear that while seeking to uphold the law against those who challenge the sanctity of the state, the government must nonetheless take the agitations seriously for they speak to something old and familiar which has become resoundingly deeper.

If the matter were to be subjected to referenda across the country, I am not too sure there are many Nigerians today who will vote for the dismemberment of this country. Social scientists advise us not to rule out any possibility, self-determination can be self-fulfilling; and nations have been known to dissolve against all odds, but it seems to me that the majority of Nigerians would rather be Nigerians. Our country has been kept together by the resilience and the optimism of the majority, not the disillusionment of a critical minority. We have not yet reached a point where the idea of Nigeria is lost and forlorn, to the extent that the feeling of self-sufficiency that propels the secessionist instinct may indeed be illusionary. No matter the challenge, I believe that it is the idea of Nigeria that will prevail.

The long and the short of it however, is that this remains a grossly imperfect federation, union and democracy. The country is hoisted on a foundation of ancestral fissures. For 55 years, this country has refused to transform into a nation. It has been hijacked by identity politics, and by ethnic and class determinism. It is sad, very sad indeed, that successive governments have not been able to create an enlightened citizenry and an intelligent elite that can look beyond their own greed. The Nigerian political brain has remained a grossly emotional brain.

We seem to have lost the national battle to emotions fed by ancestral memory, creating a gap between knowledge, and desire. It is why MASSOB, Nnamdi Kanu, Radio Biafra and Biafra Voice International (BVI) are the new faces of Igbo nationalism, and not Aka Ikenga or Ohanaeze Ndigbo. It is why disgruntled elements in the North East insist on pulling down the country. It is why citizens of a defined oil territory continue to blackmail the Nigerian state. Nnamdi Kanu does not necessarily speak for all Igbos, and neither the Afenifere nor the Yoruba Council of Elders can determine the Yoruba emotion but they throw up ideas that cannot be ignored. It is the duty of government to address the dangerous ideas of disintegration, dismemberment that issue from those political brains, not to ignore or traduce them.

The key message is that this is not yet a nation. Kanu’s protest and the frustrations in the Niger Delta or the Yoruba anger over the humiliation of an iconic figure, or the angst of the people of the Middle Belt, or the widespread concern about the arrogance of power, escalated since independence, should be a wake-up call. Those who feel defeated politically are drawing attention to subliminal fears about ancestral injustices, inequities, and inequalities in the Nigerian democratic space. The more they perceive an attempt to appropriate, exclude and marginalize, the more vociferous they are likely to be. In the long run, nobody may secede (General Gowon is right on this score), but the inequities of the Nigerian state must be addressed.

The man who will save Nigeria is that leader who will engage Nigerians proactively on the issues of inclusion and cohesion, and thereby grant to every citizen, a sense of ownership beyond ethnic identity, a sense of belonging, and confidence in the Nigerian identity. When people relate to the state from a position of fear, and exclusion, they create the kind of problems we witness.

One, poverty, not necessarily material poverty, is at the heart of the problem. Two, the failure of the moral dimension is also a veritable cause of national dysfunction. Three, when the people have jobs, and the economy works and education is taken seriously as a tool for empowerment and progress, there will perhaps be better citizens. What this means is that developing a state that works and a leadership that believes and cares, and focuses on governance responsibilities is where the priority lies. To move Nigeria forward, these are the fundamental issues to address. How to go about this is the responsibility of those to whom we have entrusted our mandate. It was the main assignment yesterday, the same today and the compass for tomorrow.


  1. kesh

    October 30, 2015 at 10:51 am

    After issuing lies as statements for GEJ, you now want to go back to writing. Go and chill and enjoy the money you stole as spokesman. I lost my respect for you when you started contradicting yourself. You are a snitch

    • Tito

      October 30, 2015 at 12:15 pm

      Big time snitch. Turn coat Abati. We are so not interested in whatever he has to say.

    • meems

      October 30, 2015 at 12:52 pm

      So sad you cannot even comprehend a simple article.

    • NG

      October 30, 2015 at 12:56 pm

      @nnenne Kesh’s comment is SAD true, but taken from another angle, there is an element of a true picture to it.
      Abati is taking this position because of his recent history. If he was serving in the government of today, he will not sound so objective. This is the tragic reality of our nation and I guess of many nations, but particularly, of African nations-Primordial emotions are still ruling our judgments and influencing our actions.

      A more serious dimension to the tragedy is the lack (actual and deliberate) of self-awareness on this fact and therefore absence of shame in living according to their dictates.

      True, there was a nation but no more today and the readings are not good on possible recovery on lost opportunities. What are the basis for hope?

    • nene+

      October 30, 2015 at 1:54 pm

      And your most reverenced Lair Muhamed issued what?????

    • Tito

      October 30, 2015 at 2:41 pm

      Madam, what does Lai Mohammed have to do with the topic?! Focus on the topic and stop derailing.

    • Ashley B

      October 30, 2015 at 5:26 pm

      Guys………………… hate to admit it, but Abati is Right in his analysis!! Ever took a moment to wonder or assess if hes now a changed man. u know as they say ”Hindsight Vision is 20 20”

      And Finally, perhaps maybe just a Quote from one of the Greats below, would help us grasp better what ABATI is trying to say

      “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

      “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

      “Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.” —-Albert Einstein

      my 2 cents!!

  2. nnenne

    October 30, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    Good morning Kesh.
    Is this all you can comment after reading this beautiful article?
    I agree 1oo%. Division is not the answer, yet, our union is no where close to perfect.
    The government should listen to the voices of the people, explore ways of making things better. Performance improvement is life – long, unending.
    The national conference was a great idea.
    When are we going to start implementation of its recommendations????

  3. Tosin

    October 30, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    Amen. May God show us the way to improve.
    Let us “talk about it” and “be about it” and may God grant us peace

  4. Cindy

    October 30, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Hmmm…..influential Nigerians. Do as I say but not as I do.

  5. 'Deola

    October 30, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    At the heart of the Nigerian problem is the absence of a good idea or story that would make everyone want in. That good idea seems to be emerging in this generation with Nigerians identified for movies, music and educational pursuit oustide of the country. Until we create that American dream kind of society, I mean something that speaks to everyone’s ambition : That whoever you are, you can succeed through force of will, and without godfathers or connected families.

    The idea that you can trust the system and that if you do your best, irrespective of your ethnicity or social or religious status , and put in the hard work , it would ultimately payoff. To me, this seems like the environment that government should strive to create for everyone. A national story that sells the Nigerian dream and our planned aspirational positioning in the world, not the sleeping giant we usually hear these days.

    I know that kind of environment can’t happen until we create a unique educational system that meets our needs and obe that competes with those of other countries. An educational system that is creative and nurtures inquisitive and self critical citizens and employs scietific method to problem solving than the religious miracles currently being sought by most to solve issues. An educational system that can produce world class engineers, writers, medical doctors, and artistes. so we can be sought after all over the world as experts, and not the other way round, were we import experts.

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