A professor of History at the University of Texas, Toyin Falola, tells OLUFEMI ATOYEBI that Buhari runs the risk of losing popularity before the 2019 elections
Do you think the cattle colony proposal of the Federal Government can solve the problem of frequent killings by Fulani herdsmen?
It is a very dumb idea. I think the government is not going to do that because you cannot go to other people’s land and turn it to a colony for people who do not belong there to stay. Government can come to the southern states that have land and speak to the farmers there to plant grass. Someone, who has interest in trucks can create transport companies to move hay to the North for the herdsmen’s cattle. That is a win-win situation where the farmers benefit and the northerners keep their cattle in their region.
There is no power in the world that allows someone to create a colony on someone’s land. Traditionally, land in Nigeria is part of identity. It is part of what our people use to develop themselves. I cannot just go to Kogi State and say that I am giving your land to Fulani people. The Oyo State governor cannot go to Ogbomoso and tell the people that he is giving their land to Fulani people; that action is a recipe for disaster.
There is something else that the government must do quickly, which is to disarm people with AK-47 rifles. The government, through the police and the army, has the power to disarm them. That has to be done fundamentally. You and I cannot carry guns and be moving around. Why are these small Fulani boys allowed to carry guns on people’s farms and they are not arrested?
There is something we call the nuclear option in politics. If everything has been tried and it does not work, people in Benue State and other areas, where Fulani people are killing, will buy weapons to protect themselves. They will turn themselves into militia and protect themselves and we will have a state of anarchy. If I am a Tiv, Igala or Igede, what am I going to do? Am I going to allow them to be killing my people? Instead of reaching a state of anarchy, the government should disarm everybody.
The other way out of it is the boycott option. If the people in the South refuse to eat beef and suya in three months, the business of these Fulani people will collapse.
People have also come up with the idea of restructuring as a lasting solution to the problem. What is your idea of restructuring?
Restructuring can come in two ways. The government can manage it or the people will do the ultimate thing by restructuring the system. You don’t need permission to restructure. You can do it fundamentally. As citizens or a group of people, you can decide how you want to live. The system can also restructure itself.
But the most peaceful one is for the state to do it as an agenda or clever programme. Bear in mind that African history is full of people taking over to restructure their lives. I spent two years in high school and I joined the Agbekoya movement. I did not finish high school because I was part of the Agbekoya rebellion as a teenager. That was a restructuring agenda that challenged giving our cocoa money to politicians.
You saw how the Agbekoya movement restructured the system in Nigeria. The people warned them but they did not listen. For three years, we made the Western Region ungovernable. That forced the government to reduce farmers’ tax and later abolished it. That was a people’s revolution taking over.
If the government of President Muhammadu Buhari is not careful, it will find itself in a situation it cannot manage as the people fundamentally begin to take the law into their own hands. We should appeal to him not to allow that to happen.
What do you make of the special statement issued by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, warning Buhari not to contest again?
Two things culminated in this anger that the Buhari government brought upon itself. Buhari’s policy of using his own ethnic people as heads of security (agencies) of Nigeria and not talking about it means that he has a political agenda. During the holidays, when people wanted to go for Christmas, there was fuel scarcity.
There is nothing that Obasanjo said in the letter that people have not said – the reckless devaluation of the currency, joblessness, unemployment, political mismanagement, and so on – people have complained about them. At the time he wrote the letter, PUNCH Newspaper wrote an editorial where all these were mentioned.
The only thing that is different is Obasanjo’s policy statement – that the All Progressives Congress is not working and the Peoples Democratic is not working; so, we need a third party. The way he structured this third party resembles the APC that he said is not working and the PDP that will not work. Obasanjo had three opportunities to select good leaders. He brought a dying man called (Umaru) Yar’Adua and the weak man called (Goodluck) Jonathan and he was part of the selection process of the man called Buhari. Why should we trust him to select another person?
We don’t know what Bola Tinubu (APC national leader) will do because if he says that he will not support Buhari, the South-West is gone. Already the South-South, South-East, Middle Belt and the Kanuri are gone. The Boko Haram insurgency is a (source of) deep anger of the Kanuri against the Fulani that has merged into the pre-existing Boko Haram issue. The conflict between the Kanuri and the Fulani dates back to the time that the caliphate was established.
Uthman Dan Fodio established the caliphate. When he wanted to conquer the Kanuri, they refused, which led to the collapse of the dynasty and the emergence of the current dynasty. An anti-Fulani movement is already building in the North-East. Once Tinubu leaves him, that is the end of his regime. That is one scenario.
The second scenario is that he (Buhari) controls the whole security apparatus and the Independent National Electoral Commission. He will drop electronic voting and win the election. You don’t have to ask me why. He only has to fill the ballot boxes and he is back in Aso Rock. So, he also has his own nuclear option which is ‘if you don’t want me, I can rig the election’. He has the power to do that. In the next 12 months, there will be no governance in Nigeria. What we are going to have is politicking; nobody will be talking about development anymore. They will talk about it as empty promises, which is what they are clever at doing.
History seems to be in extinction in secondary schools, but it is still a course in tertiary institutions. Are you not worried?
History is back in our secondary schools now, thanks to the likes of Prof. Chris Ogbogbo. We cannot thank him enough. I led a delegation to Obasanjo and later some professors went to (former President Goodluck) Jonathan. They promised to do something about the subject in secondary schools but they did nothing. Buhari said history would be back and he delivered. The Historical Society of Nigeria under Prof. Ogbogbo is putting together a syllabus at the state and national levels. We are grateful that this is back.
Will this syllabus be a replica of the old syllabus that taught the ancient history or will it be an updated syllabus?
It will be a combination of both because they are all useful. The mistake they made in the past was that they did not tell us why they were teaching us what they taught us. I was part of those who drew the history examination for West African Examination Council and I wrote three volumes that they were using in schools but there was a fundamental flaw in what we did. We were teaching the pupils narrative history. We were not telling them the reason for what we were teaching them. The syllabus now must be clear on nation-building.
If the core politicians have failed Nigerians, why are the intellectuals taking the back seat?
That idea has been nursed but Nigerian politics is all about money. On the day of the presidential election, if you don’t have up to N1bn, you have no hope of winning. You man polling booths with police, thugs and you pay electoral officers. I am aware of how much a presidential candidate spent on an election day. The system is over-monetised, even the media. You cannot just call Prof. Wole Soyinka to come and contest because where is the money? We have to remove that money from that process.