(This article was first published on Nigeriaworld.com on May 5, 2001. It is republished here unedited)
In 1300, as the Byzantine Empire was declining, the Turks in Anatolia began to conquer neighboring regions and by doing so, founded what was later known as the Ottoman Empire. Through war, alliances, and outright purchase, the Ottomans in 1481 had expanded into much of Europe’s south. The Ottomans evolved a unique military and administrative system called the devsirme. Under the system, Christian youths from the Balkans were drafted and converted into Islam and subjected to a lifetime service of the Sultan. In the reign of Mehmed II, all members of the government and the army, both Muslim and non-Muslims, were required to accept the status of personal slave of the Sultan. The ruling class was sworn to absolute obedience and power was perceived to be indivisible.
The reign of Suleyman I, the man the Europeans called “The Magnificent” brought about the golden age of Ottoman Empire. He conquered Hungary, annexed Tripoli and extended the empire to the Persian Gulf. Added to Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Algeria that his father, Selim I, conquered when he defeated the Mamluks in 1516–17, the Ottoman Empire became one of the most dominant powers on earth. After Suleyman’s rule, the Ottoman Empire began to decline. The reason for the decline was attributed to the lack of abilities on the part of the Sultans that came after Suleyman. Other reasons were the ever-increasing power of the devsirme class, the conflict this created within the ruling class, and the decline of Ottoman controlled trade routes, among others.
In the 17th century, a series of reforms were put in place to arrest the decline but they were too weak and too narrow. Meanwhile, powerful nation — states cropping up in Europe began to form alliances to drive the Ottomans off the European continent. The 18th century saw more decline as corruption crippled rural administration and feudal-like states came up to compete for power. There were unrest in the cities, unemployment and famine. Very few technological innovations that were fueling European prosperity made their way to Ottoman Empire. An attempt to adopt western style systems and reform government was frustrated by a reactionary revolt led by Mustafa IV in 1807.
As Ottoman Empire returned to its old ways, the internal situation became desperate. While Ottoman was at war with Russia and England, local authorities began an open opposition to the central government. Sultans like Muhmud II, Abdulmecid I and Abdilaziz enacted a series of liberal and modernizing reforms. In 1876, Abdulhamid II agreed to the first constitution in any Islamic country. But the decline persisted unabatedly. In 1878, Ottoman Empire signed the Treaty of San Stefano that forced it to give up Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Cyprus and others. In 1908, young Turks revolted. After the Balkan war of 1912–13, the Ottoman Empire was expulsed from Europe. Defeated in World War I, a revolution in 1922 led to the overthrow of Mehmed VI Vahideddin, the 36th and final emperor of Ottoman. Thereafter, modern Turkey was formed.
With minor alterations, this is definitely going to be the story of the Sokoto Empire. The Hausa/ Fulani caliphate that produced the likes of Prof. Jubril Aminu is on the same sloppy path as that of the Turks’ Ottoman Empire. The only problem is that history teaches us that men learn nothing from history. It has been proven time and time again that the more history repeats itself, the more the price doubles.
Prof. Jubril Aminu’s lecture at the Fourth Champion Newspaper’s Better Society Lecture Series was an indication of the readiness of a people to follow the discredited path. His point of view was that of the dominant faction of the Nigerian ruling class who believed that God, in consultation with the British, divined Nigerian unity. Somewhere in their imagination is this assumption that in their hands were placed the charge to protect and preserve this unity. The sultans of the Ottoman Empire thought the same.
Out of ignorance or self-delusion, they are unable to see that the country called Nigeria as it is presently constituted is not a nation. Aminu is finding some faults in the integrity of those who are fighting for true federation. To him, they are making Nigeria a laughing stock of the world. He wondered how people could partake in a political process and turn around to question the very basis of Nigeria’s corporate existence. In his voice, in his words, one could feel his fears. He has this false hope that those clamoring for true federation will soon fizzle out with their hysteria. The sultans of the Ottoman Empire said the same too.
The Aminus of Nigeria have no sense that something has fundamentally changed in Nigeria. They are still lost in their old understanding of the mechanics of the forces acting in Nigeria. Their slogan that Nigeria is still of the same people, one nation, one destiny, is yet to sound in their ears like a broken record that it is. They are scared that the growing army of national conference agitators, the battalion fighting for resource control, the brigade shouting and demanding the devolution of power and the gang preparing for secession are going to wreck their beautiful country.
That is what it is. They are not worried that their country has been unfair to so many for so long. They do not have a sense that their country needs an immediate mouth-to-mouth resuscitation? They are not seeing any of those signs. They are just going about like a sliced worm battling to stay alive. The same action the sultans of the Ottoman Empire took.
Listening to those privileged and pampered sons like Aminu baffles any careful observer of history. That country of theirs is exhausted and is moving to de facto irrelevance. The fooling around is over. The challenge is now on those of them saying yes to one Nigeria to say why and provide concrete roads to it. Otherwise, the wind is blowing all the Aminus away. This is no longer their father’s Nigeria. This is a wiser one where the demand for right, respect and freedom is yet to peak. Putting up desperate resistance like the one Aminu is doing will not secure peace. What Aminu’s side needs is deeper thinking, less arrogance and an acceptance of a fundamental change in the landscape.
If you ask Aminu, he will say that he speaks for the custodians of Nigeria. He speaks from the position of wisdom. To Aminu, the call for a sovereign national conference is a little more than a civilian version of Aburi. “Even for the military,” Aminu said, “Aburi failed and we know what followed it, shortly in 1967. At great expense, we all found out that there was no peaceful way to divide the country then, and that is even truer today.” The Aminus of Nigeria are still locked up in the past. They have not heard that the solutions of yesterday become the problems of today. No matter how much Nigeria tries, Nigeria cannot afford a forced union. Nigeria will remain an illegitimate nation until a negotiated union brings about its rebirth. This is a lesson the sultan of Ottoman learnt.
“National Conference, just like Aburi, will lead to war”, says Aminu.
Why did Aburi lead to war? Wasn’t it because Aminu’s side reneged on its terms? Doesn’t Aminu think there would have been war without Aburi? The same way, with or without a national conference, there will still be consequences for Nigeria’s refusal to find a purpose for its existence.
Aburi was a bad deal for Nigeria, the Aminus would say. Just like resource control, I suppose? To the Aminus, Yes! They are all unfair. They all go contrary to the goals of the brilliant Britons who had the foresight to create Nigeria and put the nation in the hands of the Aminus. So what does the Aminus think should be done? “The only available option is through the amendments as provided by the constitution itself”, said Aminu. But sometimes, the constitution is not really a constitution. Sometimes, an amendment is not a solution. Sometimes, no amount of reinforcement will save a building without a strong foundation.
After the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the United States of America began as a nation. It drafted its Article of Confederation, which the states ratified in 1781. In 1786, the failure of the Confederate to meet its domestic and foreign obligation led to the demand for a reconsideration of the provisions of the Articles of Confederation. In May of 1787, a Constitutional Convention began to seat in Philadelphia with the sole goal of drafting a new Constitution. The purpose of the exercise, as explained by the preface, was “… in order to form a more perfect union…” …Something the sultans of Ottoman forgot.
What Nigeria has is not a people’s constitution. A constitution that is not drafted by the people under their own will; a constitution that is not ratified by the people under their own will is not a constitution that should be amended. It is a piece of paper that should be thrown away. The search for a people’s constitution is the first step. It is the strong foundation Nigeria needs. And it can only come through a Sovereign National Conference. Those who are defending this present order, this hopeless constitution are the same people who ran for office without knowing what were the provisions of the constitution. Where else in the whole wide world have you heard such folly?
“Nigeria is heading towards a unitary system which I personally think is the answer which is where we are heading to eventually”, said Aminu. To him, those in opposition are just power seeking local elite. The same people who brought down the Ottoman Empire?
As a member of the dominant faction of the Nigerian ruling class, I expect Aminu to hold his position. It is for his benefit that Nigeria maintains the status quo. Unfortunately, the storm that has emerged as a result of years of running a huge and expensive federal government that costs so much and works so badly is here to stay. No amount of intimidation can quiet it. Though it may not yet be clear to people like Aminu, never in the annals of Nigerian history has so much forces converged to challenge the hijacking of the government by a privileged few at the expense of the wretched many.
What are these converging forces going to do? That is one question that the Aminus ask themselves as they go to bed each night. We don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine. But I tell you what, more and more people are coming to the same conclusion arrived at by a one time disgusted Nigerian some 35 odd years ago. In his disgust, he said “the Federation of Nigeria is today as corrupt, as unprogressive and as oppressive and irreformable as the Ottoman Empire was in Eastern Europe over a century ago. And in contrast, the Nigerian Federation in the form it was constituted by the British cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be considered an African necessity. Yet we are being forced to sacrifice our very existence as a people to the integrity of that ramshackle creation that has no justification either in history or in the freely expressed wishes of the people.”
Prof. Jubril Aminu was observant enough to see that countries in Western Europe are coming together under a strong European Union. What the learned professor did not see was the years of development of these countries as independent units with their distinguished identity. He did not see numerous attempts in the past to establish a forced union within the same confederating units that failed. The most bizarre of Prof. Aminu’s observation was his display of intellectual dishonesty in denying the emergence of over 40 new nations in Europe in the last 50 years. Such a phenomenon is negligible in the eyes of those who are in denial of the real truth behind the contemporary history of the world.
There is no doubt that Professor Jubril Aminu is miseducated. The same way the leaders of Ottoman Empire after Suleyman I were. And as it is in all of history, we pay the price, not just for our mistakes but also for our miseducation.