What is the link between Muhammad Ali and the new call to restructure Nigeria? Not Ali’s rope-a-dope, not the flourish of his poesy, or the beastly beauty of his stalking and punching, or the balletic finesse of his footwork.
But his tribalism, especially when he boxed into limelight. Ali was a tribalist as black racist, as an anti-establishment, when he tarred fellow black Joe Frazier as Uncle Tom, when he renounced Cassius Clay, when he embraced Elijah Mohammed in pious defiance, when he threw his Olympic gold medal in the river, in his famous “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.”
But that was early Ali. That perhaps is where we are in the fight for restructuring. Today, it has become a familiar hymn. But it is not new. If we were a nation of intellectual fidelity, if our political elite were sincere in their soul, we would have resolved the matter decades ago, especially after the hurly burly of the civil war. I am for restructuring. The federal system sits a centre like a leviathan in shallow waters, ponderous, stuck and “swimless,” and at the mercy of the nibbling rapacity of a swarm of small fishes.
We cannot sustain a system where the centre owns over half of our money, our power, our morality, our constitution. It is a garishly decorated monarchy, a throwback to our monarchical and feudal loyalties with a despotic shadow of our military past.
It has suffocated the states, and made them beggar units. They clasp bowl in their hands every month to the counterfeit mercies of the centre. The APC highlighted this in the course of the campaign. For all its tendentious politics, the conference in the twilight of the Jonathan era afforded a platform for more robust dialogue. It was therefore a historic error that Buhari tossed it into the archives.
That big, dark vault of nothingness called archives. The time will come when we shall build a museum of suggestions, paradigms and solutions ignored generation after generation. All the ceremonies, tea breaks, lunches, deliberations, perorations, communiqués and tomes of recommendations turn into ashes in a bonfire of time.
It is waste of scarce resources, and contempt for ideas. It impugns the nobility of the project, even if we impute cynical motives to the projects. Out of rottenness, shows the good book, comes out sweetness. That is why in spite of the opportunism of Atiku Abubakar in making the call for restructuring, we pick the idea and ignore the man. After all, he did not broach the idea.
He it was who walked on Buhari’s coattails in his early days as president and even extolled him as the father of the nation. But he lost traction and favour with him, so he executed a pirouette. He wants to fish in the fertile storm in the opposition as their redemption. He decided on his habitual mobile harlotry. He also lost his bid to be chairman of the board of trustees because the APC disavowed that position as antipodal to the presidential system.
Rahab, the first famous prostitute, will go to paradise because she did good to angels. So, I hope Atiku’s leadership in this matter should bolster his career.
If Buhari ignores the call to restructure Nigeria, it will haunt him as he tackles our lopsided being. I expect the call to increase in its stridency in the coming months. The National Assembly lacks the courage or even the depth to push it. This new restructuring fever might be another fight in futility. The cries may make our country a catacomb of echoes, room after room relaying the same calls. But the audiences are dead, with worse than ear infections. They have no ears.
But some of the calls may not emanate from a love for Nigeria, but a love outside it. It is early Ali incarnated, a retreat to what philosopher Francis Bacon designated as the “idol of the tribe.” But there is also an echo of the “idol of the theatre.” This issues out of Plato’s “allegory of the cave” where prisoners mistake shadows for reality and mock the person who sees the real thing. It is the grand illusion of the age. We see things through insular, tribal lenses.
We can see this in the uproar over Biafra, the Bombing hysteria of the Niger Delta Avengers and the rustic barbarism of the herdsmen.
This is part of a global phenomenon. This week, Britain seems likely to endorse BREXIT and yield to the nativist fear about immigrants in Europe. In the United States, Donald Trump has revved up racial phobia in the model of all democracies and stirring up a crowd difficult to ignore. All over Europe from Germany to France to Belgium, parties that hate other people are rising in standing. Even in the UK, UKIP has soared beyond expectations. About two decades ago, the world hailed the birth of globalisation, but the implication for the intercourse of cultures has led to discomfort and distemper. People are at war with reality and embrace lies of comfort. Hell, as Jean Paul Sartre noted, is other people. Men love shadows rather than light.
Sentiment becomes key to appealing to crowds. Oscar Wilde says humans are not rational beings. Humans are sentimental. We rally facts to suit sentiment. That’s the difference between humans and animal. Leaders of such groups deploy both demagoguery and what, for lack of a better word, sociologists call charisma. Pol Pot, Hitler, Bin Laden came from the same pot. They flatter the secret hopes of the followers. In his epoch-making work, Crowds and Power, Nobel laureate Elias Canetti shows, in seductive style, how rulers exploit the paranoia of the mass. But a key to the working of the mass must be found in Eric Hoffer’s classic, The true Believer, and how he has shown that all fanatical followers, whether Christian, Muslim, Labour, Marxist or ideological, fulfill the same pattern in adherence and practice.
This book ought to be read these days to understand what is fueling the rage to be caged either as a herdsman, an Avenger or Biafran in Nigerian society. We may say that these people see themselves as narrow-minded. Quite the opposite. They feel they want to be free. That point was made long ago by philosopher Isaiah Berlin. The terrorist wants to be free to be a terrorist, just like the Biafran or the herdsman.
Many, like me, who want restructuring want it for clear administrative ease. I fear that some want it for nativist satisfaction. We often forget that in any of us is a universal seed. When we walk, we move about with something of the other. Some psychologists have said the racist is often closer to racial harmony than the so-called liberal. Hence Martin Luther thought that the south would be the first to embrace harmony. That theory does not always work. Trump is a New Yorker.
Ali died an evolved man, an apostle of peace and accommodation. He outlasted his bigotry. So, while we want true federalism, we hope those who want state police would not use it to kill enemies. While we want to control resources, we hope it is not a portal to greater corruption. It may even be a gateway to get away from the country.
Are we fighting for true federalism, or some of those rhetoric cloak desire to dismantle this country? Nothing wrong with that, but let us put the facts on the table. So we understand the nature of the dialogue. We either legitimise the herdsmen, the Avengers and IPOBs of the nation, or articulate, in clear language, what we want. We shall know whether we have evolved like Ali, or are still feverish with nativist dreams. We cannot do that without a sincere sovereign conference.