(Vanguard of Sunday, March 28, 2010)
I was at Benin on March 18 to speak at the 8th triennial conference of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria. I was asked to speak on Nigeria at 50 – Issues and Challenges. I likened the mystery that is Nigeria to an elephant that three blind men encountered and reported authoritatively on. The first spoke of the smoothness of the elephant because he touched and caressed the tusk.
The second said how soft the elephant was because he felt the tail; and the third reported on the tree-trunk hardness of the elephant because it was its legs he embraced. You see, an elephant is not an insect; it is not a rat. For those who can see, it is a very large animal with a long flexible trunk, prominent ears, thick legs, and pointed tusks. Those who know say it is native to Africa and South Asia.
Even those who have never seen it live have the benefit of technology and what it has done in bringing images to our living rooms at the press of a button. So, even children in the Tundra know, from pictures and films, that an elephant is a giant among animals; in fact, the giant. But its presence in animal kingdom is not because of its tail or its tusk or its trunk. It is because of the worth of its weight, bulk and volume.
It throws them around in the forest, shaking the trees to their roots with its bellicose bellowing. That presence is what makes giants giants. But where you have a giant that is a paper weight, if it has any weight at all, or is not even conscious that there is something called weight, then those who look at what it loses through inaction will make all manner of suggestions to awaken it to its failings.
That is how I see what Muammar Gaddafi of Libya said about Nigeria splitting up into a Northern Muslim part and a Southern Christian part, and for which we have been hanging him. We have done this by calling him names, doubting his mental state, revisiting his adventures in contracting unions that collapsed before they took root. We even branded him as a confirmed terrorist and a financier of bombed planes.
The only defensible thing we did, as far as I am concerned, was the recall of our ambassador in Libya, sensible in the sense that that is what diplomatic stuff is made of. If you have a little misunderstanding, you register it by asking that your representative there comes home until relations are restored. But if what I think the stuff of Gaddafi is made of can influence my analysis of him, then he will call our bluff. Not because he wants to taunt us, but because he has every reason to wonder what type of people we are.
And the type of people we are is the type of people Gaddafi sees us to be. That perception, whether we like it or not, can never be focused by our way of seeing things, doing things, but Gaddafi’s way of seeing things, doing things. The way Gaddafi sees things, does things, cannot be imposed by forces outside of his make-up. He is from Libya, the 4th largest country in Africa and 17th largest in the world, but with a population about a third of that of Lagos State.
There are two cities of note, Tripoli and Benghazi, accounting for 88 per cent of the population of the country. Think of Port Harcourt and Warri, being close to the ocean and you have an idea of the two cities on that part of the Mediterranean coast that belongs to Libya. Outside the cities in Nigeria bordering the Bights of Benin and Biafra, picture to yourself a land mass that is all desert, almost more than double the size of all other geo-political zones – south west, south east, north central, north west and north east – sparsely populated.
That is Libya for you, rich in oil reserves and few in population, compared to Nigeria, rich in oil reserves and heavily populated. In 1969, Gaddafi, our object of analysis, was 27 years old. Our civil war was three years old. The ruler of Libya, King Idris, was away in Greece for medical treatment. Gaddafi, a captain, led a coup that deposed the king. With the revolutionary council that established the government, he settled for structures that reflect his perception of governance and has sustained them over the years.
He does not run a complicated outfit. The main religion is Islam. Even the sect that is in charge is Sunni. He does not have the problem of Iraq where the Sunnis and Shias are slaughtering themselves. The only language he accommodates is Arabic, spoken by at least 80 per cent of the population. For the whole period he has been in power, Gaddafi has been more at home in his country, changing his abodes in tents in the desert than visiting the large cities of the world to relate to other leaders he may share visions and thoughts with.
Now, tell me, if he wants to proffer solutions to problems outside his domain, will he go outside the simple arrangement in a country which is the only one in the whole world with a national flag of just one colour – a green field—with no design, no insignia or any other details! If he has to tell us what he thinks we should do, why should he accommodate in his simple make-up a country with 521 languages, more than 250 nations, a population that is more than half of the whole ECOWAS sub-region?
How can he focus a country with beliefs that are more political than religious? How can he be told that Islam to us is more a political weapon to access power than a route ordained by God for us to access heaven? Gaddafi’s upbringing is too simple to enable him put himself in our shoes and see the big picture, the elephant that is more than a tree-trunk, a tusk and a tail. But his advice is one that must be put on the table if we want to stand as the only federation that survived after others packaged at the same time about a hundred years ago had collapsed.
We can avoid the splitting up of the country into a North and a South because it is not true that there is a Muslim North and a Christian South. In fact, of the 52 major groupings which Chief Obafemi Awolowo identified when he fought for true federalism for Nigeria based on our disparate ways of life, at least 30 of them are from the so-called Muslim North. It is only the people of the South that know that there is nothing like Southerners outside reference to a geographical location, just as there is nothing like Northerners outside a geographical reference point.
Unfortunately, in addressing the problem of living together as an integrated people, we are pre-occupied with scoring political points, pushing to retain the power to control. We fought a war of secession between 1967 and 1970. We remain in one piece. But the issues raised that time that led to that war have still not been resolved, and they are part of why America says we cannot be a state to reckon with by the year 2015.
My speech at the Benin Trade Union Congress conference zeroed in on packaging a solution for the Nigerian problem, just as Gaddafi is proffering his simple solution to a complex problem. But if we deny that problems exist and we opt for the cosmetic solutions in the name of amending the Constitution instead of coming together to discuss serious restructuring of this country, then we must await the consequences of our bold effort to undermine the simple way to express diversities through political structures to reflect them. When the come comes to become, we may then be boldly faced by the truth of whom, between us and Gaddafi, is the mad one.
(Published in Vol. 3 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 471 – 474; Lagos, 2011).