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Summitry And Its Discontents: Political Will, Not Talk, Will Resolve The Unending Jos Crisis

March 12, 2010

Notes on former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s opening speech at a conference: The Settler Question in Nigeria: The Case of Jos-Plateau held in Jos from 15-17 December 2003 (words in bold are mine, for emphasis)

On the topic of discussion, General Obasanjo explained that the choice of the topic is deliberate, contending that Nigeria, like most countries in Africa, is a “native country” as against a “settler country”. In consequence, the effects and the fallouts of the modernization process are bound to create such reverberations as we have constantly witnessed in the past.

He however, pointed out that while conflict in any human organization is normal, the usually problematic issue is the management and resolution of the conflict itself. He also noted that ethnicism or ethnonationalism is not a bad phenomenon by itself. The issue has always been the selfish exploitation of such ethnic differences for personal ends and goals by those who are placed in critical positions either at the community level, state or national level and even at the international level.

Individual differences, communal differences, national differences he observed are natural and should be encouraged where necessary, in so far as it does not lead to the atomisation of the corporate existence of any entity. Referring to Nigeria, he argued that differences must be maintained and emergent conflicts there from must also be managed and routinised without the threat of Biafranisation or Balkanisation to the Nigerian nation-State.

Selfish exploitation of ethnic differences will continue for as long as dodgy (read: incompetent and corrupt) people get appointive offices because those in power were (s)elected into office.

In his opinion, the resolve by Nigerians to be united as one entity cannot be sustained unless individuals and groups irrespective of their religion, ethnic background and region are free to live at will as well as seek political, economic and social recognition without any hindrance in any part of the country.

He lamented that, after thirty-three years of independence, there is still alienation of Nigerians in their country. He recommended that any Nigerian who has lived in an area for upward of ten years or who had been born in that area should have equal rights with indigenes of the area.

According to the Nigeria’s Constitution ethnic discrimination is unlawful. Yet it is rife – subtle in some regions of the country, brazen and violent in others. It’s farfetched to expect politicians, bogged with the politics of patronage – godfathers, family and sycophants – to heed this. Why bother, if it doesn’t line your pocket with money? The health, wealth and security of Nigerians is on the lowest rung of their priorities. Besides, Machiavellian manipulation of ethno-religious differences helps maintain the status quo.

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