By Casmir Igbokwe
There is this story about a Maths teacher and her six-year-old pupil. It is entitled “The 4th Apple.” The teacher, the story goes, asked the child, “If I give you one apple and one apple and one apple, how many apples will you have?”
After a few seconds, the boy replied confidently, four. The dismayed teacher was expecting an effortless, correct answer (three).
“Perhaps the child did not listen properly,” she thought. She repeated the question. Seeing the disappointment on his teacher’s face, the boy calculated again on his fingers and hesitantly replied, “four.”
The teacher remembered the boy loved strawberries. Maybe he doesn’t like apples and that is making him lose focus, she thought. This time with exaggerated excitement and twinkling eyes she asked, “If I give you one strawberry and one strawberry and one strawberry, how many will you have?” The young boy calculated on his fingers again. And with a hesitating smile, he replied, three? The teacher had a victorious smile. Her approach had paid off.
But one last thing remained. Once again, she asked him, “Now, if I give you one apple and one apple and one more apple, how many will you have?”
Promptly came the answer, “four.” The teacher was shocked. “How? Tell me, how?” she demanded in a little stern voice. In a low tone, the boy replied, “Because I already have one apple in my bag.”
What this means is that there are different perspectives to issues. When someone gives you an answer different from what you expect, it’s not necessarily that they are wrong. It could be that there is an angle you might not have understood at all.
Oftentimes, the inability to appreciate these different angles breeds conflict. In families, communities, states and the world at large, conflict defines human existence. Many couples are always at loggerheads with one another. Siblings fight over one thing or the other. People of the same community battle themselves over little misunderstandings.
For instance, for about 20 years, peace went on exile in a community called Isuofia. There are six villages that make up this town, which is in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State. But the head village called Umueze pulled out of the union over a leadership tussle. The other five villages felt Umueze had been lording it over them and wanted a change in the leadership of the town. Umueze people felt the other villages ganged up against them to deny them their rights. They changed their name to Isuanioma and made spirited but failed attempts to be recognised as an autonomous community.
There were different court cases. But one unique thing about this conflict was that there was no physical fight and there was no death resulting from the crisis.
Different moves to bring back peace to the community failed until August last year, when Prof. Chukwuma Soludo convened a peace summit. Soludo, a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, is from the head village, Umueze. At the summit, all the villages agreed to come together as one again. A 22-man committee was set up to examine modalities for peace. This committee came up with a blueprint to ensure an enduring peace in the town.
On February 3 this year, Isuofia citizens, in a general convention, elected an all-inclusive new executive to pilot the affairs of the community for the next three years. The new chairman, Jude Okeke, is from one of the minority villages. The positions are rotational such that nobody feels marginalised anymore. The people have been singing victory songs since then. And in the words of the traditional ruler of the town, Igwe (Col.) C.A.O. Muoghalu, “No union is perfect to the satisfaction of everybody or component parts. It behoves us to live with and operate our union and work hard from within to mould it to our taste.”
This is what is lacking in Nigeria. We have failed to work hard and mould our country to our taste. There is a sense of marginalisation in some sections of the country. But the powers that be do not seem to bother about that.
In his inaugural speech in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari said he belonged to everybody and to nobody. But, in reality, the President behaves like someone who belongs to somebody. Many Nigerians, especially from the southern part of the country, have accused him of nepotism, especially in major political appointments.
His kitchen cabinet, known in some quarters as the cabal, is made up of his close relatives and friends. These people, from Lawal Daura to Abba Kyari, wield enormous power in the Presidency. A prominent northern politician, Junaid Mohammed, in an interview with The Punch in July 2016, said nepotism in Buhari’s government was the worst in Nigeria’s history.
“In fact, in the history of Africa, let me make bold to assert that I have never seen any level of nepotism that has equalled or surpassed this in my entire life,” Mohammed asserted.
The Presidency has laboured to dispel this allegation. They say even the South East, which gave Buhari the least votes in the last election, has four senior ministers. South East has five states and constitutionally, every state must be represented in the federal cabinet. One of these so-called senior ministers is Dr Chris Ngige. His Ministry of Labour busies itself pursuing striking workers every now and then. The other one is Ogbonnaya Onu. His Ministry of Science prides itself in making giant strides to start producing pencils.
Nevertheless, in the security apparatus of the country, there is no concrete explanation yet as to why almost all heads of different security agencies come from a particular section of the country.
Here is the roll call: Minister of Defence, Mansur Mohammed Dan Ali (North); Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai (North); Chief of Air Staff, Sadique Abubakar (North); National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno (North); chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu (North); Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris (North); Director-General, State Security Service, Lawal Daura (North); Controller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali (North); Comptroller-General, Nigerian Immigration, Mohammed Babandede (North); Commandant-General, NSCDS, Abdullahi Muhammadu (North). Only the Chief of Defence Staff, Abayomi Olonishakin (South West) and Chief of Naval Staff, Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas (South South) are from the South.
This scenario has raised a lot of suspicion and acrimony in the southern part of the country. It is such that people now interpret any move by the security agencies negatively. Recently, for instance, the Inspector-General of Police directed that individuals or groups such as vigilance groups, neighbourhood watch groups, watch night men and hunters, who are currently in possession of prohibited/illegal firearms like pump-action guns, should submit their weapons to the police.
This operation, according to the police, is aimed at the full enforcement of the Firearms Act, mopping up and recovery of all prohibited firearms and illegally acquired weapons and to enable the police to deal decisively with herders and farmers’ clashes, kidnapping, armed robbery, cattle rustling, militancy and terrorism.
But many people, especially from the South, interpreted this to mean that the IGP wanted to disarm the vigilance groups from the South so that the Fulani herdsmen would not encounter much resistance while launching their invidious attacks. And people are circulating this on the social media and even calling for outright resistance to the IG’s order.
Again, when the military embarked on Operation Python Dance in the South East last year, a lot of people also misinterpreted it. They saw the military as an enemy such that when soldiers embarked on a medical outreach programme that would benefit the people, there was pandemonium. Parents rushed to schools to evacuate their children believing that the military wanted to inject them with some virus.
The same last year, the Federal Government proscribed the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and tagged it a terrorist group. This is a non-violent group whose main weapon is agitating for Biafra’s independence. Meanwhile, the herdsmen who deserve that appellation have continued to kill and terrorise innocent citizens without much hindrance. The best the government has done is to issue weak orders while the herdsmen continue with their murderous adventures.
President Buhari should restore the trust of some sections of the country by giving everybody a sense of belonging. So far, his actions and answers to nagging existential questions are incongruent with reality and the perception of many Nigerians. Perhaps, he and his acolytes have a fourth apple in their bag, which many of us are not aware of. If that is the case, I apologise.