Soyinka, Tinubu and the Sentinelese wisdom, By Segun Adediran

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Segun Adediran
Survival International, an organisation that works in partnership with tribal peoples to protect their lives and land, “just because they live differently, writes about the Sentinelese people as the most isolated tribe in the world. “They live on their small forested island called North Sentinel, which is approximately the size of Manhattan, and is part of an island chain that is also home to another uncontacted tribe, the Shompen. They continue to resist all contact with outsiders, attacking anyone who comes near.
In November 2018, John Allen Chau, an American missionary, was killed by members of the Sentinelese tribe while trying to convert them to Christianity. His illegal attempt at contact could have wiped out the entire tribe by introducing new diseases such as flu to which the Sentinelese have no immunity.
The Sentinelese have made it clear that they do not want contact. It is a wise choice. Neighbouring tribes were wiped out after the British colonised their islands, and they lacked immunity to common diseases like flu or measles, which would decimate their population.”
Though largely primitive, the Sentinelese understand one thing: the law of survival or the natural right to live. The United States Constitution understands it as the “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I was at the PUNCH Newspapers’ 50th-anniversary lecture delivered by the Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka on Thursday, March 2, 2024. The lecture titled ‘Recovering the Narrative’, was expectedly deeply thought-provoking, strikingly fearless, but unexpectedly effortlessly understood. The man came down to our level, no doubt. I must immediately admit that the 89-year-old icon did not bring or add anything significantly to the national question or the intellectualisation of the historic question of ‘Which way, Nigeria’, but the literary giant graciously coined new words, phrases and sentences for us that I am sure, will become potent tools in the hands of pundits on Nigerian politics for a long time to come. For me, an indelible and unforgettable takeaway was his brutally frank declaration: “Let nations die, that humanity may live!” Put differently, let Nigeria die, that Nigerians may live!
Soyinka’s lecture reflects the story of the Sentinelese tribal people who know who they want and how they want them. Anthropological reports say that they “have suffered horrific violence and diseases brought by outsiders in the past.” They have also kept every contact with foreigners to a minimal level because they are aware of the horrific experiences of other uncontacted people who were wiped off by the diseases they had no immunity to.  The supremacy of survival over any other human instincts.
The story of Nigeria is not different from the Sentinelese. Many ethnic nationalities feel more strongly ever than before that they have suffered horrific violence, deprivation, humiliation, misery, injustice and underdevelopment as a result of Lord Fredrick Lugard’s “mistake of 1914” as the late premier of Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, put it. His counterpart in the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, profoundly said that Nigeria “is a mere geographical expression”. Even the colonial overlord that succeded Lugard, Hugh Clifford, described the political concoction as a “collection of self-contained and mutually independent native states, separated from one another by great distances, by differences of history and traditions, and by ethnological, racial, tribal, political, social and religious beliefs”. More than 110 years later, Lord Lugard’s horrific mistake still hunts Nigeria. Why?
Worse than the mistake of amalgamation,  was the tragic arrest of federalism by the khaki boys who ran the country between 1966 and 1979, most of whom had been promoted beyond their mental capacities. The young and naive military rulers, (former president Olusegun Obasanjo humbly admitted to that in his extempore speech at the PUNCH black-tie dinner), were ignorantly idealistic, recklessly radical and insolently brash in thoughts and actions. They thought the founding fathers who settled for federalism as an antidote for centrifugal forces and fissiparous tendencies made a ghastly mistake. They thought that federalism was to beautify Nigeria as a lady applies eye makeup and scented unguents for beauty. They were wrong. No federalism, no viable Nigeria!
Historically, theoretically and realistically, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, sacrosanct about the corporate existence of any artificial political entity, which Nigeria is. The political-military-business axis of the ruling class has fed fat on the numbing fallacy that Nigeria is unbreakable. This is how World Population Review puts it. “There are several possible reasons for a nation to come to an end. Some countries merge to form (or reform, in the case of East Germany and West Germany) a single country. Other countries split apart—for example, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), dissolved into 15 smaller countries in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Some countries have been annexed, such as when the growing United States of America absorbed the fledgeling Republic of Texas in 1845. Others have been conquered outright and assimilated, as happened when Vietnam absorbed the kingdom of Champa. Finally (and least catastrophically), some nations have remained intact and simply adopted a new name, such as when Ceylon “died” and was reborn as Sri Lanka in 1972.”
Let nations die, that humanity may live!
As constituted and as it is run today, Nigeria does not meet the criteria of a state, not even to talk of a nation. Any political scientist with a high sense of fidelity to vocabulary will never describe or refer to Nigeria as a nation. I never did.
As Soyinka alluded, since  1960, Nigeria has been moving in a vicious circle from a fragile state to a crisis state to a failed state and back. It set out dangerously as a fragile state in 1960 with a three-regional federation with one of the three regions overbearingly and menacingly choking the other two individually and collectively. The details of the 1962 to 1965 Western Region crisis, the 30-month-long civil war and the long-stretch military rule need not detain us here. What should worry us is whether or not President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is now a turncoat in reinstalling federalism. Does he know that returning the country to its natural forte, federalism, is no longer a choice, but an existential reality? Is he aware that like the Sentinelese, many ethnic nationalities are ready to defend their land, and their values even with their blood now? Is he aware that the detained Nnamdi Kanu and acerbic Sunday Igboho are just poster boys of millions of Nigerians who are ready “to protect their lives and land” like the Sentinelese?
Let Tinubu acknowledge that the present political structure won’t take his government too far no matter the profundity of his ideas; the sincerity of his intention and the audacity of his courage. Only federalism can save Nigeria. Soyinka has spoken: let nations die, that humanity may live. Thumps up for Soyinka.
Segun Adediran, a former chairman of PUNCH Editorial Board wrote via olusegunadediran@gmail.com

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