By Edwin Madunagu
Those, like me, that are not experts or authorities in any field of knowledge but are compelled by the nature of their commitments and daily engagements to “dabble” into virtually all subjects, usually “cultivate” – or, rather, may consider “cultivating” – teachers in critical areas of their needs. The learners will, of course, not always announce their “cultivated” teachers or let the fact of their being “cultivated” be known to the teachers.
Rather, the learners follow their teachers through available mediums other than the classroom. Furthermore, the teachers cultivated in any field need not be – in fact, should not be – the only teachers in that field; the important thing is that the “cultivated” teachers are followed as closely as a diligent student follows his or her teachers in classroom settings.
But, then: Just as a learner in classroom setting can disagree with his or her teacher, a student in the type of “distance – learning” we are talking about can disagree with his or her “cultivated” teacher. The only difference is that in the latter situation the learner is freer since the teacher, in most cases, is unaware of the relationship into which he or she has been “cultivated”, and there is absolutely no sanction for such disagreements.
In the academic discipline called History my cultivated teachers include Professor Obaro Ikime, a frontline academic, an activist public intellectual and an ordained clergy in the Anglican Church. I am happy that Ikime survived the critical health condition he passed through a couple of years ago – just as he survived his shocking incarceration in 1990 by the military regime. I am also happy he survived his premature retirement from Ibadan shortly after regaining his freedom.
Obaro Ikime’s main areas of interest – or rather, the areas I have found most useful – are ethnic relationships and Niger Delta history. Whenever he applies the knowledge he has acquired in his studies in these areas to a contemporary national issue and takes a public position Ikime becomes truly controversial. It is this attribute, as much as his intellect, that led me to cultivate him.
This essay is however not about Ikime or the process of “cultivating” him, but about his ideas. I recalled some of them when I started the current review of my series of essays on popular-democratic restructuring. The particular publication that came to my mind was the collection of his lectures and seminar papers titled History, Historians and the Nation.
In the series of articles, which ended last Thursday, I proposed a popular – democratic restructuring of Nigeria’s system of governance and political economy. The main features of the proposed structure are collective presidency with rotational headship at the federal level; regional integration, grassroots development with popular control and participation; and genuine anti-poverty and employment programmes through the redeployment of the nation’s resources to the masses.
This column has consistently argued the impossibility of ethnic separation in Nigeria – peacefully or through war. But this is not an argument against the existence and reality of ethnic marginalisation in the country. The holistic popular-democratic restructuring I have proposed is aimed, in part, at addressing and redressing this marginalisation.
To see, prima facie, how far my restructuring proposal can advance my objective, I conducted a quick research on the number and distribution of Nigeria’s ethnic groups. I consulted old and new sources. One of the newest listings came from the late Chief Anthony Enahoro and the Movement for National Reformation (MNR), which he led.
This listing appears to have been adopted by the pro-National Conference (PRONACO), which in 2006, produced a draft constitution for the country. The shortest list I saw in my brief research has 42 ethnic groups while the longest has about 200. The Enahoro – MNR – PRONACO list, one of the longest, has less than 200.
Now, why did I go through this exercise? I had, in my popular – democratic restructuring, proposed the recognition (and empowerment) of local government areas and their council wards as centres of grassroots development and popular-democratic practice.
In this setting I believe that ethnic and geopolitical marginalisation will begin to decline provided: governments at various levels are not controlled, or at least not dominated, by predators; and provided: a real war on corruption and state robbery is engaged.
To assess my claim objectively, you should not confuse concepts like “regional integration” and “local autonomy” with “ethnic separation”. My research convinced me, once again, that the Nigerian population is so ethnically integrated that almost all local government areas in the country are mixed in population.
Therefore? There simply has to be ethnic cohabitation – however far the geopolitical restructuring goes. Ethnic co-existence must therefore be held as a fundamental principle of national existence and development.
It was at this point that Obaro Ikime “spoke” to me through his book, History, the historian and the nation: the Voice of a Nigerian historian, a collection of 15 of his lectures and papers, first published in 2006. The particular paper to which I make reference here appears as Chapter 13 of the book. It is titled Inter-ethnic harmony and the development of Delta State.
It was presented at a “Retreat of Political Office holders and Permanent Secretaries” in Delta State government held in Warri from May 31 to June 2, 2000”. Ikime was invited by the state government to deliver the paper.
While I shall be selective in presenting some key propositions contained in the paper – dictated by my immediate need – I commend the entire paper, indeed the whole book, to the reader. I shall, before long, attempt a more systematic appreciation of this book. In the inter-ethnic harmony and the development of Delta State, Ikime said: “I am an Isoko man – and proud to be so, though both in Nigeria and in Delta State, I belong to a minority group.
I did not make myself an Isoko man. God did. We all need to remember this truth as we relate one to another”. I would add: Ikime also did not decide who would be his neighbour. Ikime’s declaration appears in the subsection titled Inter-ethnic disharmonies in Delta State.
Ethnic conflicts, disharmonies and tensions, were, of course, not caused by particular governments in office but various governments have worsened and exploited them in various ways, or insensitively ignored them.
Ethnic tensions and conflicts “vitiate meaningful development” and “they arise usually, though not always, when a peoples sense of justice is outraged” (emphasis Ikime’s).
Ikime goes on to tell us that whatever else he says “with regard to the subject of ethnic disharmony, this aspect of the peoples’ sense of justice being outraged is the core of my submission”. He copiously elaborates and illustrates this proposition.
All ethnic groups – big and small, developed and under-developed, advantaged and disadvantaged – “are a product of history’, submits Ikime. “Historical events have created all the basic human groupings – countries, religions, classes – and all the loyalties that attach to these.
It is the events recorded in history that have generated all the emotions, the values, the ideals, that make life meaningful, that have given men (and women) something to live for, struggle over, die for”. (This is a quote from sources, which were not named in the version of the paper I possess).
Ikime’s “attitude to inter-ethnic and inter-group tensions and conflicts is determined by knowledge that in inter-group relations, we are not dealing with saints and sinners, but with sinners all!” Again, the author goes on to elaborate.
Obaro Ikime offers this fundamental proposition: “Quite a bit of the inter-ethnic tensions of today have their roots in History. Our peoples need to know that history. It is not that knowledge of that history would remove the tensions and conflicts.
It is, rather, that both people and government can more meaningfully seek accommodation when they have knowledge that some of their present problems are the unintended results of History, not the criminal machinations of their neighbours, it is often easier to elicit a greater willingness to seek justice and accommodation without loss of face”.
And further down: “Empires rise and fall. Those advantaged by today’s political arrangements could lose that advantage when those political arrangements change. A constant reference to the day when circumstances favoured one group over another cannot, and does not, solve the problems of today. If anything, such constant reference intensifies those problems.”
What is in a name? asks Ikime. Quite a lot, he argues: “The names we give to political groupings like local governments can be problematic and conducive to strife and so inimical to development”. The location of the headquarters of geopolitical entities can cause the same problem.
While not opposing the continuing existence of the traditional institution, Ikime strongly argues that the role and authority of traditional rulers in governance should be localised and the headship of traditional rulers’ councils should be rotational. I agree, and thank Obaro Ikime.
• To be continued