Tales The Country Told Me – By Reuben Abati

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“Bros, how country?”

“Omo, we live in perilous times. Ilu le. Country bad.”

“I agree with you absolutely. It has never been this bad in peace times”

“You think Nigeria is at peace? If you call this peace time, then what exactly does war look like? For me, the country is at war already. Nigeria is at a tipping point. I visited my Aunty the other day and I was telling her how politicians are already preparing for 2023, her response shocked me, because she is ordinarily an optimist.”
“She said…”

“She said we should pray to get there first as a country before we can begin to talk about elections in 2023.”

“Hmm. Let us pray if that gives us psychological relief, but I know my country. Nigeria will always survive. When the storm rages and it looks like the country is teetering on the brink, and Armageddon looms in the horizon, somehow Nigeria always pulls back, and finds its feet.”

“I hope so. I pray so too. But I assure you this country is at war. War. War can go by any other name but it is still war. Symmetric war. Asymmetric war. You know what Yorubas call it? Ogun abele. Rogbodiyan. Ruke rudo. Airoju airaye. Ogun gbon misi Omi o to”
“That is civil war.”

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“Okay. Whatever. Translate it as you wish. What I know is that what is going on in the country today is worse than the civil war of 1967 -1970. During that period, the war was concentrated in one part of the country. The Nigerian soldiers that fought to defend the country knew the location of the rebels. International diplomacy was involved. In the end, peace reigned, even if 51 years later the war against Igbos is yet to end.”

“You can say that again. But do you know what my big fear is, following your line of thought? Can you see that the South East is becoming another theatre of war?”
“Yes. I can see that.”

“The government of Nigeria appears to be making the same mistake in the North East about 12 years ago and it got a monster called Boko Haram in return.”

“I can see that”

“History is about to repeat itself, this time in the South East. And what do I mean? You will recall that Boko Haram became a problem shortly after the killing of one Mohammed Yusuf. The Police at the time said he was trying to escape from custody and so, they gunned him down. The reprisal attacks by his followers has now turned the battle into an endless war, that has spread from the North East to the Middle Belt, to the North West, the South West and the South East. Now, in the South East, there has been no peace since they killed that guy Ikonne. Abi na Ikonso of Awomama Village? The war commander of the Indigenous People of Biafra. Deputy to Nnamdi Kanu. IPOB and Commander of the Eastern Security Network (ESN. They have have turned him into a hero.”

“I hear they have even named the Imo State Government House after him. Apparently, IPOB now runs an alternative government in the South East. Naming a Government House that they do not control after one of their leaders.”

“IPOB is a proscribed organisation but it remains very active and untouchable. My suspicion is that many leaders of the South East support IPOB and the ESN. Have you seen any prominent Igbo man coming out to condemn IPOB? They all want to retain their positions of privilege inside Nigeria, but they are not ready to condemn those young Igbo boys who are helping them to continue the civil war and keep the Biafra ideology alive.”

“That is what our country has become. Sad. A country of ethnic militias. The Hausa Fulani have their herdsmen. The Yorubas have their Amotekun and the Oduduwa Nation gang. The Igbos have IPOB and ESN. The South South is for now, the only peaceful part of the country. But when those ones start and add their trouble to it, that will be the undoing of Nigeria because the South South is where the country’s food basket is.”

“The country’s food basket is in the North.”

“You don’t get the point. Oil is Nigeria’s major revenue earner. If militants in the South South join the madness, nobody will be able to prospect for oil in the South South, not even in the deep offshore. Nigeria will have no revenue. The oil majors will shut down and run away. Chaos will follow. There will be no Christmas trees.”

“But to go back to the earlier point about another Boko Haram front emerging in the South East. I noticed that since the murder of Ikonso which the Nigerian Army and Police celebrated, the East has not known peace. There have been attacks on police stations. Attacks on offices of the Electoral Commission. Abduction of students and innocent citizens. Even a prison was attacked in Owerri and the inmates were set free. It looks like there will be no quick end to this. At a point, we were told the Governor of Imo State had to run away to Abuja.”

“Oh, yes. I actually heard from reliable sources that many state Governors no longer stay in their states”.

“But something tells me Igbo militants will not like to turn the East into a theatre of war and get their own people killed.”
“You don ‘t know what you are talking about. This kind of war does not obey normal logic. Many of the boys involved in it are well educated, exposed and far more ideologically oriented than their fathers and grandfathers. You should not expect them to adopt the tactics of 1967.”

“Are you saying IPOB is behind the mayhem in the South East then? What I hear is that it is the handiwork of unknown gunmen”
“Yeah. Unknown gunmen. Just like unknown soldiers. Unknown policemen. Unknown civil servants. In a country of ghosts. You are free to believe the fiction they feed you with. Enjoy the illusion.”
“So what do you think can be done to nip the situation in the bud.”
“What are you nipping in the bud? The security crisis in Nigeria has gone beyond the bud. It has grown flowers and fruits. Nip ke?
“And to think I voted for President Buhari in 2015 and again in 2019. Now I pity the President and I am so sorry for myself. I feel like crying.”

“Omo, wake up! This matter has gone beyond President Buhari.”
“How? The buck stops at his desk. He is Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. He campaigned to address security challenges and we all trusted him to do it given his antecedents.”

“Ër bergi. Leave sewage for LAWMA. Kayamata no good for ugly girls. There is a way the buck will stop at a President’s desk and he won’t know what to do. Have you not seen that President Buhari is now appealing to terrorists to calm down? He used to talk tough. “We will crush them. We will deal with them. No stone will be left unturned”. Baba Bubu don change tone oh. Na beg him dey beg now. Last Friday, he even appealed to local leaders to advise their youths not to work against Nigeria. Before then, he complained that some people are mercilessly sabotaging every government policy. He even begged the Americans for help.”

“Oh, God. The Nigerian situation has never been so scary as it is today. But the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces cannot become a motivational speaker when the people are dying daily. He should leave motivational speaking to Fela Durotoye and Pastor Paul Enenche. He should not spoil their market.”

“What else do you want him to do? On April 27, he asked for the assistance of the United States. He told US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken that the US should relocate the African Command in Stuttgart, Germany near the Theatre of Operation in the Sahel and Gulf of Guinea, but the US Pentagon has now blinked at that request. They say the US cannot afford it and that Nigeria opposed the idea of AFRICOM in 2007.”

“Well, of course, the US will blink at the idea and that is beyond Secretary Blinken. The US is primarily interested in its own strategic foreign interests. It may have been a good idea in 2007 to locate AFRICOM in Africa. But 24 years later, the world has changed and America’s interests have shifted.”
“But the US European Command is also in Germany. Why take the African Command there?”

“Bros, America will decide what is in its best interest. No country does Father Christmas diplomacy. The only country I know that does Father Christmas International Diplomacy is Nigeria. To address the challenge of insecurity, Nigeria must help itself, even while foraging for external help. The government of Nigeria has a responsibility to protect the people. It is the very minimum that any government can do.”

“My view is that the time has come then for President Buhari to set up a War Cabinet.”

“What is that?”

“Simple. I am not saying he should change his Ministers. I know some of them are your friends and you will not like to miss the muna muna you get from them.”

“These ones? Na Araldite government oh. Shishi dem no dey give. Before you ask sef, dem go tell you say nothing dey. Nothing. Nothing. But na dem dey chop pass.”

“Na today? But my point really is that the President should set up a National Defence Council that will meet on a daily basis, do a regular audit of the security situation in the country, and advise government accordingly.”

“You just want to create another problem. Before you know it Femi Falana and co will say the Defence Council is illegal, unconstitutional, null and void and therefore of no effect whatsoever. And they will threaten to go to court. They will say it is a duplication of the functions of the National Security Council.”
“No. I don’t think so. The strategy for security is different from the strategy for war. And a National Defence Council is not illegal. It is not unlawful. It is in the Constitution. Check Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution. Check the Third Schedule of the same Constitution.”
“What does the Constitution say? Tell me about it.”

“Tell you what? This is the problem with you Nigerians. You all have Holy Books, the Bible and the Koran which you carry about 24 hours. You have the Bible at home. You have it in the car. You have it in the office. When you return home in the evening, you read the Holy Book, pray with it, and keep it under your pillow to protect you from witches, wizards and village people. Many of you even go about with talismans: a small copy of the Koran, the rosary, and anointing oil. But the Constitution of Nigeria, the same document that elected Nigerian leaders use to cheat and abuse you, a document that spells out your rights, you don’t have it, you don’t read it, you don’t know your own rights and yet you complain. My friend, go and buy a copy of the Constitution.”

“I am not a lawyer. Why should I read the Constitution?”
“You read the Bible. Are you a Pastor? You read the Koran. Are you an alfa or Sheik? The same way every Holy Book is available to everyone: Bible or Quran, it is the same way we all have the right to know the laws that govern us.”

“Do you want to tell me about this your war strategy or not? Don’t let us deceive ourselves, please, there is no difference between the National Security Council and a National Defence Council. It will still be the same dem dem. These guys have no answer to our problems”.
“I agree. But my other point is that this moment calls for national unity. We all have a role to play.”

“In principle yes, but have you heard that the Federal Government wants to reduce the cost of governance and that the starting point is to cut the salaries of civil servants?”
“What madness is that?”

“The statement was credited to the Minister of Finance and Budget Planning, Zainab Ahmed.”

“Come, do they now add small marijuana to Shisha?”
“I can’t answer that question. I am not in a position to know what combination the Minister of Finance takes and whether or not she even takes Shisha.”

“We are thinking of how to achieve peace and stability and some people want to cut salaries? What do they want to cut? The same minimum wage that many states have refused to pay? The same minimum wage that can not buy a bag of rice? A Kongo of rice is now N1, 000. If government cuts salaries, they should expect that other things may be cut too, along with such a stupid decision.”
“Like what?”

“Like the heads of stupid people. Na so revolution dey start! What happened to Oronsaye Report? Why not cut all the leaky buckets in government? Cut the cost of governance. In the midst of this COVID-19, headline inflation is now 18%, food inflation is 23%, unemployment is 33.3%. It will be the height of madness to cut people’s salaries. Abi I dey craze?”

“Come to think of it, yes. You don kolo. Kolo- men- tal. But you mentioned COVID-19. I hear the Federal Government has now imposed new restrictions. The Presidential Steering Committee has decided that effective from Tuesday, May 11, all event centres and night clubs should remain closed till further notice. Weddings and religious gatherings can be held at 50% capacity of the venue. Meetings should be held virtually.”

“My honest opinion, I think the intervention does not go far enough. They should tell us more about what they know that we do not know. Especially now that we are hear armed robbers are now attacking the Presidential Villa and Pastors are telling the Congregation to have an escape Plan B. Armed robbers don enter Aso Rock oh!”

“Like seriously? No. No. No. Bros, you make it sound like Nigeria is finished. I am done with you. May 11 is the 40th anniversary of the death of that absolute genius, Bob Marley. Can you listen to one of his evergreen songs and calm down? Good cure for this madness.

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