There is something fascinating about the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. He has this simple way of unravelling complex situations. On Tuesday, some natives of Abuja took over the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport road in protest of what they termed forceful occupation of their land by the Nigerian Army. Several attempts were made by security personnel to dislodge the protesters to no avail until the vice president arrived and pronto, without any show of force, he alighted from his vehicle, meandered through the thickness of the protesters and began to address them.
From the rants and belligerent war songs that pervaded the road, it turned to a convivial song of affection as the villagers reeled out their grievances not in venom but in dialogue. The road from Giri to Tunga Maje had been taken over by the military in what the people described as a forced occupation. The vice president, they asked, should use his good office to prevail on the army from taking over their ancestral land. By the time the man had finished speaking, it was the people soaked in unmitigated happiness and satisfaction that hailed endlessly as they opened the highway for motorists to pass!
How does Professor Yemi Osinbajo do this? How come he is always at home with the people? This is a study definitely in progress for students of political history. Shrewd understanding of the people, intimate ties with things that connect to the people and excellent human relationships are the combined wands employed by this man to solve very critical problems in a seamless manner. Leaders must adopt the Osinbajo model especially in resolving spontaneous conflicts.
Now to the real issues, what exactly is the grudge of the Abuja natives? Reports have it that the Nigerian Army has encroached on the natives’ land, particularly the natives inhabiting areas like Giri, Tunga Maje and Zuba. And the people won’t allow their ancestral domain invaded and taken over by anyone, not even the army. And the result, of course, is the deadly needless confrontations between the natives and the authority. So far, casualties have been recorded and who knows what would have happened if the security details of the vice president acted contrary? It’s time we measure what exactly our limits are. That we wield certain coercive powers does not give us the unfair hammer of oppression. The army’s latest cravings into entrepreneurial ventures as noble as it is are causing very serious problems. Leaving our traditional forte into others’ vault is creating more problems than the panacea we seek to provide. The Nigerian military should limit its ambitious raid and concentrate more on protecting Nigerians from the many issues of insecurity than occupying itself with land grabbing for enterprising ventures.
When you displace a man from his land, you deprive him of his identity. According to DI Gianluca Melis, ‘Land for traditional African communities represents the very gist of their identity. Trees, lakes, rivers and forests are not just mere assets, commodities or potential resources but also repositories of ancestral spirits, sites for sacred rituals, and historical landmarks that tie the individual to particular locations and landscapes. Therefore, their losses produce effects which go far beyond their concrete implications. Often, these populations live real traumas as they see their native territories completely vandalised. It is all but hard to imagine their agony when, for instance, in the Kolongo region of Mali, an irrigation canal and its adjacent road were built: landscapes were marred, houses razed, markets bulldozed and a cemetery was unearthed leaving human remains scattered all around the area.’
The second and perhaps most palpable consequence of land grabbing is starvation. By taking possession of vast plots of territories, investors deprive millions of African people of terrains on which they rely for their very survival. After all, land means food. Even if there is no right to land, the right to food is a formally recognised human right.
The Abuja natives must be allowed to exist as people entitled to their rights of existence. You can’t deprive people of their rights and expect them to applaud you. This is not civility but sheer abuse of coercive powers.