Water bill: So the Fulani are once again the culprits

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Tunji Ajibade  

Nigerian politicians advocate federalism but by their action they consolidate the existing unitary arrangement. This pattern  seen among state governors applies at the federal level as well, and lawmakers sent to Abuja fast-track the process. It’s there in how each lawmaker strives to get the Federal Government to shoulder more burdens. The news these days is always that lawmakers sponsor bills to get the FG to establish tertiary institutions in their areas, thereby giving Abuja more responsibility.

It’s the same way lawmakers have given their votes to some private organisation that called itself Peace Corps, a busybody that eyes taking over the job of the Nigeria Police. Years ago, lawmakers had empowered another private organisation, the Civil Defence Corps, to share the job of the police and thereby give more responsibility to the FG. Now that a Water Resource Bill arrives the floor, one that could give the FG more responsibilities, the same lawmakers and some ethnic champions are sending insults, blaming ethnic group other than theirs for its introduction. Here, I neither argue for nor against this bill. My point is that those who promote unitarism with their action at the state level as well as through the bills they pass in the National Assembly,  cannot turn around to insult tribes other than theirs over a bill that strives to achieve the same goal. Whoever insults any tribe – Fulani, Igbo, Ijaw, Hausa  – insults me as a Nigerian. As such those who promote unitarism, and then insult other ethnic groups for promoting unitarism in the shape of Water Resource Bill shouldn’t expect some of us to not point out the absurdity of their narrative. If they think they can demonise an ethnic group and everyone will accept it, rather than pursue their own agenda that promotes the federalism which they advocate, they’ve got it all wrong.

I wonder what people who insult other ethnic groups think they add to national discourse regarding the challenges confronting the nation. Any pedestrian can insult. Some of these people are highly educated, but their submission is street-level. It is to the extent that educated people make arguments that are the type one would expect uneducated people to make. I’ve sat with some wise but no so educated Nigerians, and I hear them question those who blame ethnicity for each of Nigeria’s major challenges. Though they aren’t so educated, they have enough insight to realize that our diverse ethnic configuration isn’t  the cause of our problem.  Rather it’s the elite who mismanage nation and resources, only to turn round and deploy the ethnic bigotry whenever it suits their purpose.

I’ve paid attention to some of the comments made by ethnic champions, people who see diversity as Nigeria’s foremost challenge rather than the leadership problem that the nation really has. Every step taken at the federal level, in the view of these ethnic champions, is an attempt to promote one ethnic group as against the interest of their own ethnic group. They have the right to express their views. But in doing so they forget there are Nigerians who put question marks on their arguments, as well as their assumption that they can insult tribes other than theirs over every issue and it’s fine.

First, if these ethnic champions can accuse one ethnic group of using bills such as the Water Resources Bill to pursue ethnic agenda, they inherently admit they themselves have been laidback. These ethnic champions and their states  send lawmakers to Abuja without an agenda on supporting only bills that promote federalism and restructuring which they advocate, but they accuse who have agenda. Lately, the Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Elrufai,  said to these ethnic champions that they should get their representatives in Abuja to introduce bills that promote restructuring? I had stated similar things on this page in the past few years, noting that these lawmakers pass bills that promote unitarism only to turn around to insult other tribes over the outcomes of the unitarism which they themselves promote. Only die-hard ethnic haters wouldn’t see this contradiction.

By accusing a tribe they never credit with any level of intelligence, ethnic champions unwittingly admit that the accused are so smart and so organized that they use, according to them, a Water Bill to promote their agenda at the federal level. Meanwhile, promoting one’s interest is normal in a nation with diverse ethnic nationalities such as ours.  Interest powers politics anyway.  Pursue yours, I pursue mine. For the drivers of the pull and push as well as the constant tension in a nation are the significant entities, be it ethnic-based, religion-based, or the political parties. Economic interests are not left out as well. Obviously, ethnic champions who demonise any ethnic group for pursuing their interest don’t know the first letter in politics, let alone Political Science.

In Nigeria, we know by now what the accused ethnic group pulls and pushes, at least going by the accusations made by the accusers. This ethnic group is also accused of having an agenda. What’s wrong in having an agenda, and what’s wrong in pressuring  the system such that it works in one’s interest? In any case, only those who are organized have an agenda. This shows they mean business, they are clear as to what they want, and they have identified what they need to do in order to get it. But what do the ethnic champions who insult others want? What’s their agenda? As I write this, I don’t know. Why? Because they advocate federalism, but their action and the bills they support in parliament in Abuja increasingly hand over powers to the FG. Rather than work on their own agenda and strategise  as how to ensure its implementation, ethnic champions devote their time to insulting those who already have theirs. So the questions still have to be asked: What is the agenda of these ethnic champions? What harmonization of their action, comments, and support for federalism/restructuring bills have they carried out in order to ensure they pursue such with the kind of single-mindedness that the ethnic group they accuse has exhibited?

From the manner state governments willingly permit the FG to do what they also have the power under the Concurrent List to do, they and the ethnic champions within them have no agenda with regard to the promotion of federalism in Nigeria. What do they expect will happen when they, for instance, call on the FG to set up Commissions  that oversee their geo-political zones such as the Niger Delta Development Commission, and the rest of  the Commissions that the six geo-political zones now outbid one another  to have the FG set up for them? When LGAs fail to carry out tasks as given them in the Residual List, we willingly hand over their tasks to the FG rather than tweak LGAs to make them effectively carry out the tasks which the constitution allots them. Lawmakers from the states go to Abuja to pass laws that add to the responsibilities of the FG in the name of bringing ‘federal presence’ to their areas. This way they promote unitarism in one breath, and in another accuse the FG of promoting unitarism in the name of Water Resource Bill, adding to the mix insults to a certain ethnic group.

I find this approach to the issue of restructuring absurd, and it makes me wonder if we actually give careful thought to some of the things we do and promote. The view I express here is what I have considered for a long while, and I’ve thought that  maybe I’m the only Nigerian thinking in this manner. This lasted until I saw a comment made by Chief Anthony George-Ikoli who was at one time the Attorney General of Bayelsa State. Commenting on the Water Resource Bill, George-Ikoli remarked that states “must set an agenda for its legislators. The time for sitting idly in Abuja whilst noxious legislation is passed is at an end. Rather than wait for these types of pernicious legislation to be thrust upon us and then begin to scramble for a reactionary response, our legislators must act proactively to repeal the current laws that act against the interest of Federalism…” Need I add anything to what erudite George-Ikoli submitted?

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