Nigeria’s Nationhood: Shasa, food blockage, their lessons, by Professor MK Othman

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Deep Thoughts with Othman

Right from pre-independence to date, the question of Nigeria’s unity has always been on the top agenda of our nationhood.

As always, we play ostrich instead of facing the painful reality of our existence as a nation and how to strengthen and reinforce the weak pillars supporting our nationhood.

Our hypocrisy went beyond the limit when some years back; we stopped teaching history as a subject to our primary school kids. It was only after serious agitation, the teaching of history was brought back about two years ago. Why are we afraid to talk about our past?

Historically, Nigeria is the product of an amalgamation of northern and southern protectorates made by the then British Colonial Governor, Fredrick Lugard in the year 1914.

That single, simple, and perhaps a 5-minute act of the Governor without due consideration and consultation of the people living in the two British Protectorates produced our nation.

Then, “Nigerians” were considered as booty of the British conquered part of Africa; they were seen and treated as backward, incapable of thinking for themselves. Thus, they were coerced and bonded together as one nation, called “Nigeria”.

Oblivious to the implication of amalgamation, the locals accepted their fate and moved on with their lives despite apparent differences. Each of the protectorates was an integration of multiple mini-nations culturally and socially, and some religiously. As is well known, divide-and-rule was the fundamental principle of governance of the Colonial Masters for survival and maximum exploitation of the nation’s resources.

Through the divide-and-rule system, the seed of mistrust, suspicion, intolerance, and discord was planted in Nigeria for Nigerians. After gaining our “Independence”, the seed started bearing fruits, with the slightest provocation between our ethnicities, regions, or religious differences, we go for each other’s throat. Thus, the nation has witnessed several ethnoreligious crises with calamitous fatality and destruction of personal properties all over Nigeria.

The number of these crises is in hundreds with various degrees of causalities, for instance, Abubakar Abdulkadir in his paper titled “A Diary of Ethno-Religious Crises in Nigeria: Causes, Effects and Solutions” listed 22 most violent crises between 2001 and 2011, which happened in different parts of Nigeria.

He started with communal clashes at Owo, Ondo state on March 13, 2001; clashes between Oodua People’s Congress and Northerners at Idi-araba, Lagos state on 2 February 2002; communal clashes between the Ijaws and Itsekiri of Delta state on 12 May 2001, and so on, and ended with post-2011 election violence all over northern Nigeria on 16 May 2011, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2040860.

Unfortunately, in the last decade, this ugly trend of ethno-religious crises continued to engulf the nation with reckless abundance. It is within this context that the recent Shasa market crisis in Ibadan is added to our shameful diary of ethno-religious crisis in Nigeria.

Shasa market is a major market for perishable goods like pepper, onions, tomatoes, and other food ingredients in Ibadan.

Most of these goods are transported from the northern part of Nigeria and thus, the transporters and sellers are predominately northern people and fluently communicate in the Hausa language, these categories of people are considered as “settlers”.

The buyers of the perishable goods are predominately Yoruba and considered “indigenes”. Despite many years of business interaction with mutual benefits, the seed of mistrust and suspicion always bears fruits. This year’s case was heightened by Igboho’s threat to “Armed Fulani herders” to vacate Yoruba land.

A typical Yoruba man hardly distinguishes “a Fulani man from a Hausa man”. The Shasa crisis resulted in the touching of several vehicles, motorcycles, and shops, looting of personal properties belonging to “settlers”.

The lives of more than 20 people were lost in addition to the displacement of 1,000 people, including women and children. This caused a chain reaction resulting in food and meat blockage to the South by the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuff Traders and Cattle Breeders Association.

It was the first time; we are cataclysmically moving in this direction. Although; the food blockage was better than violent retaliation against Southerners residing in the North. It made devastating impacts on the maddening threat of starvation.

The prices of foodstuff and meat in the south skyrocketed to high heaven until Governor Yahaya Bello brokered an amicable settlement. This type of ethno-religious crisis has been perennial, retrogressively challenging the survival of our nationhood. While the crisis was ongoing, our elites are unperturbed and the commoners from both sides of the divide bear the brunt.

Each time the crisis happens, investigation committees are set. Today, we have volumes of committees’ reports of causes, consequences, and preventive strategies of ethno-religious crises dusty away. We are only waiting for another cycle of the crisis to erupt for another volume of the report a vicious cycle. Any lessons?

I have two key lessons; the crisis affects mostly the commoners irrespective of their tribes or religion depending on the location of the crisis.

The crisis adds to their misery, devastates their means of survival, reduces their productivity and increases their poverty.

The elites are united, working together to maintain their elitist lives irrespective of their differences. They only shed crocodile tears, pretend to show concern, and do nothing until the next cycle. Can the commoners ask; who are the people in the IDP camps?

Who receive freebies after the crisis? It is high time the commoners shine their eyes and shun such violent crises.

The second lesson is for the elites. Here I am quoting Peter Turchin, a founder of a new transdisciplinary field of Cliodynamics, which uses the tools of complexity science and cultural evolution to study the dynamics of historical empires and modern nation-states.

He said “…Commoners’ lives grow worse, and the few who try to pull themselves onto the elite lifeboat are pushed back into the water by those already aboard. The final trigger of impending collapse, at some point rising in­security becomes expensive.

The elites have to pacify unhappy citizens with handouts and freebies and when these run out, they have to police decent and oppressed people. Eventually, the state exhausts all short-term solutions, and what was, therefore, a coherent civilization disintegrates.”

Words are enough for a wise, elites must prevent Nigerian nationhood to disintegrate as we will all be consumed by the inferno. May God prevent it.

Professor Othman writes from NAERLS, ABU Zaria, and can be reached via email: mkothman@gmail.com.

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