Ibadan Blast, Makinde And Federalism
By Lasisi Olagunju,
Mr Youssouf Sawane, a Malian money-maker, leads miners from Mali in Oyo State. He was asked by the Nigerian Tribune how much his group was paying into the coffers of the Oyo State government. He answered that he owed the Oyo State government nothing; his business was with the Federal Government. Displaying a remarkable knowledge of Nigeria’s centrist federalism, the Malian said “natural resources deposited in states are owned by the Federal Government…
We are paying to the Federal Government.” The Malian made that statement in November, 2020 – three years, two months ago. But, last week, when explosives allegedly from Malian groups’ mining misbehaviour devastated the length and breadth of Ibadan, it was the Oyo State government and its people that had to carry the can of the resultant humanitarian crisis. That was a classic case of paying for what one did not buy. It is normal with Nigeria.
Until the social media exploded with cries of a deadly blast in Bodija, I thought it was an impudent rainstorm that played pranks with my rafters. Google Map says my house is some 30 minutes drive (14.8km) to the epicenter of last week’s explosion at Bodija Estate, Ibadan, yet the bang rattled my roof and shook my doors. People died in Bodija where it happened; the estate lost a whole street.
Adjoining streets got scarred with mortal injuries – the kind you see only in today’s Gaza. An elderly friend, former minister and ambassador to Germany lives on the street next to the incident scene. I remembered that fact and rushed a call to him that night. An otherwise strong man was heard struggling for words to describe what happened. His building was safe but the bang scrambled his furniture and cracked his things.
A spark in a duplex set off that explosion which shook the entire city. You’ve probably read stories of a butterfly flapping its wings in Asia and causing a hurricane in the Caribbean, South America. It is in a 1990 American film entitled Havana. You’ve also read of a golden butterfly whose death dramatically altered the way the world works. It is in Ray Bradbury’s science fiction short story, ‘A Sound of Thunder.’ Those two works and some others are attempts at explaining the nature of chaos – how small fires lead to conflagrations. Chaos theorists call it the butterfly effect and they have several examples.
One was the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in June 1914 which historians say was the catalyst for the two world wars. Another was the 1945 swap of the serene city of Nagasaki for the arms factory city of Kokura. Kokura was the original target of America’s plutonium bombing but a cloud blocked the B-29 crew’s view of the target. Three times the pilot scanned Kokura, three times the pilot saw nothing. The cloud below stood between the bomb and its intended victim. Because the opened bays must deliver their load of death, the bombsight panned elsewhere to the backup target. Nearby Nagasaki got the horrific atomic bomb and lost some 100,000 lives.
Because of some small men and failure of intelligence, boisterous Ibadan lost its security last week. It is still in shock. Almost all survivors of the explosion spoke of that moment of flash and sudden death. A survivor said he thought “we were being bombed.” A former deputy governor who lost his home said “I thought I was dead.” The living victims’ accounts of how it happened keep sounding like it was another America bombing World War II Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hiroshima received the first atomic bomb, named ‘Little Boy’, on August 6, 1945. The second was ‘Fat Man’ which knocked out Nagasaki four days later on August 9. Explosives, whether low or high, know neither purity nor neutrality nor innocence. Cindered with Nagasaki in 1945 were, ironically, its anti-war Catholics who massed for God at a Mass. They all got incinerated with their Urakami Cathedral. Many unsoiled souls, including a U.K. returnee, died in the Ibadan explosion.
We’ve not heard that those who kept the explosives went with the disaster. All we know for now is that around 7.45pm on Tuesday, 16 January, 2024, Dejo Oyelese Close in Bodija, Ibadan had its own Nagasaki experience. Some foreign fellows warehoused suspected high-order explosives in a building there for illegal mining. No one took note that that was an accident waiting to happen. No one remembered Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and at the worst possible time. As should be expected, something went wrong with those explosives. In catastrophic proportions, they rained devastation and terror on the city. Is somebody asking how many more volcanoes of dynamites are stocked unseen in towns and cities where these miners operate?
We all ask what kind of people would keep military-grade explosives in residential apartments. We forget that some businesses share meaning with daredevilry. Mining is one. In the normal world, the shell of the snail is spared after eating its meat but miners eat the snail with its shell. Only devils do that, and in myths. Go to the precious stone mines in Oke Ogun (Oyo State), the gold mines of Ilesa (in Osun State), Maru and Maradun (in Zamfara). If you are looking for those who eat rams with their horns, they are the operators in those places of blood money. Even vultures do not eat sacrifices with the offering pans but miners do. It is at the mines that you encounter men who munch tortoise flesh and shell. No fellow-feelings, no empathy for man and the environment. They go for money and money only; it is the only matter that matters.
A Malian whose home country has not known peace for almost a decade now because of federalist issues is benefiting from our crooked ‘federal’ structure here. A decade ago, the Tuareg rebels of Mali demanded a federal system that would grant sovereign rights to individual states. But the then government said no. “Mali is a unitary state. The subject of a federal state is not on our schedule…reforms must be done within the framework of a unitary state.” The rejection of that demand birthed today’s Mali of chaos and terror. It is a mini Nigeria.
I call Sawane and his group federal agents. They are instruments of the Federal Government – the man claimed in that 2020 interview that his activity and those of his people were licensed by Abuja. He said so three years ago and there has been no rebuttal from the supposed licensor. Even after the sad event of last Tuesday, the government at the centre has still not said that the man lied.
Coincidentally, earlier on the day the barrel bombs of Abuja’s miners exploded in Ibadan, killing and destroying all on their way, Oyo State governor, Mr Seyi Makinde, was at the University of Ibadan begging friends of the Federal Government to get their knees off the neck of Nigeria and allow its rebirth as a true federation. Makinde declared at Chief Bisi Akande’s 85th birthday lecture at the University of Ibadan that there was “a strong link between the trio of fiscal federalism, restructuring and state policing, and running a government that places the people’s interest first.” He stressed that it had become imperative for the country to consider the path of constitutional reform to accommodate these ideas if the government would begin to benefit the people.
Perhaps if Nigeria had been a proper federation, a track of legal and illegal miners would have been properly kept and an Oyo State-owned police would have uncovered the ‘bombs’ before they went off. And, perhaps those alien wasps of death would not have nestled undetected in the canopy of elite Bodija Estate. The United States where we copied our federalism does not suffer such maladies. American states have considerable control over their lives and resources. That is why they prosper and their country continues to brag and swag as the strongest of the superpowers.
Miners in Nigeria have zero respect for their states of operations. Abuja is where their bread is buttered and that is the shrine where they worship. Our constitution vests ownership of lands in governors, yet it forbids states and their governors from controlling mining on those lands. The Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act forever lurks as Abuja’s waiting hammer against errant states. Its Part 1, Sections 1 and 2 are a study on how not to structure a federation: (1) “The entire property in and control of all mineral resources in, under or upon any land in Nigeria, its contiguous continental shelf and all rivers, streams and watercourses throughout Nigeria, any area covered by its territorial waters or constituency and the Exclusive Economic Zone is and shall be vested in the Government of the Federation for and on behalf of the people of Nigeria.
(2) All lands in which minerals have been found in commercial quantities shall, from the commencement of this Act, be acquired by the Government of the Federation in accordance with the provisions of the Land Use Act.”
That law gives no role to states in the extraction – or even in the regulation of extraction, exploration and exploitation of all mineral resources in their territories. If a governor thinks he is clever and wants to dodge that bullet by investing in this sector, he will have to ‘dobale’ for the minister in Abuja for licences to operate in his own territory. And, if you are a state governor and you feel aggrieved by the unfairness of what you see and you want to go to court for redress, think twice. The law has been carefully structured to take care of such audacity. Cases on mines and minerals can only go to the Federal High Court. The court of ‘the enemy’ has exclusive jurisdiction on mine and mining matters.
Nigeria is the only federation on earth where everything is warehoused in the pocket of the central government. But it has not always been like this. If our ancestors read the Malian in Ibadan as he said he paid mining dues to only the Federal Government, they would shake their heads in surprise and sadness. Nigeria became a federation in 1954 through the Lyttelton constitution with all the regions retaining all rights and powers that have now been taken from the successor states. Even before 1954, the country was not as choky as it is today. Africa’s preeminent historian, Toyin Falola, dug into mining matters thirty-two years ago. I read his ‘An Ounce Is Enough: The Gold Industry and the Politics of Control in Colonial Western Nigeria’ (1992).
I have read that piece like four times in the last two years. It teaches me that miners of all ages are the same in behaviour. It also teaches that Nigeria has not always been this structurally crooked with no respect for law and its enforcement. Falola takes us through the bumpy roads of colonial construction of legal frameworks for the mining industry. Illegal miners existed but they were not allowed to ply their trade as if the law did not exist to take care of their criminality. There were laws against the kind of illegality that birthed the Ibadan tragedy. There were licences for miners and dealers. Every inch of the road from the mines to the gold market was policed with the law. There was the Hawker’s Licence for those who wanted to trade in the products manufactured by goldsmiths.
Significantly, unlike now that all licences are minted and sold by the big boss in Abuja, the colonial law vested the power to grant this licence in the Resident. The Resident was the equivalent of today’s state governor.
My old university teacher, Professor Adebayo Williams, described the Ibadan tragedy aptly as the apocalypse. It was an accident that should not have happened if Nigeria had been a country ruled by the law. But if you are a compulsive scorner of wise counsel, you will make seers of your advisers. If you are deaf to sacrifice, you will vindicate the diviner. The diviners here are Governor Makinde and all who believe in having a proper federation that would make invasions from Mali and elsewhere impossible.
It was nice reading words on federalism from the governor. But his sermon that day were to the deaf. In his audience were scorners of truth, sniggerers of wise counsel – people who flapped their ears as he finished speaking. They are very comfortable that day and today with Nigeria’s structure of unfairness because they have seats in the royal court. The Yoruba among them think their capture of Abuja must not be upended by any talk of justice and restructuring. They think their old call for a structural reappraisal of Nigeria should be dead. I wish they listened to Christian revivalist, Vance Havner’s three-word counsel: comfort precedes collapse. The dry winds of harmattan will soon land from the north to whip loin-clothed backsliders back to their senses.
There is no escaping the snares of Nigeria as it is. Without the country restructuring as the Oyo State governor advised, there will continue to be bad news north and south. Bandits will rule the day; kidnappers the night. The Federal Government will continue to license felons to wreck the states and their ecosystems. The states will remain broke, broken and prostrate and useless to their people. Local and foreign vultures will continue to tug at the entrails of the comatose behemoth. Criminalities of various hues will keep their foot on the pedal, driving the country towards certain death.
May the souls of those who died in the Ibadan explosion rest in peace. May their families and those who lost property there be comforted; may the wounded be healed.
(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 22 January, 2024)