It was about 57 years ago that the Emperor Hale Selassie of Ethiopia delivered a riveting speech at the United Nations General Assembly calling for an international ethos of collective security. If you’ve ever listened to Bob Marley’s hit song “War,” you very much know the gist of the speech. With a tweak here and there, the speech very much addresses Nigeria’s need today. We could say the same for Selassie’s country, which just descended into a civil war. But that’s a matter for another day.

Selassie delivered the speech in October 1963, in the shadows of an escalating nuclear race and an increasingly freezing Cold War between the US-led NATO and the Russia-led Warsaw Pact. It was also at a time when many non-European countries had just obtained independence from colonial rule or were fighting for it. And those who just obtained their independence were seeking to add their voice to international affairs.

It was in this context that Selassie told the august gathering: “The great nations of the world would do well to remember that in the modern age; even their own fates are not wholly in their hands. Peace demands the united efforts of us all.” For Nigeria, in place of great nations, we just need to substitute the great and not so great power players, whether individuals or groups.

Selassie said also that: “The preservation of peace and the guaranteeing of man’s basic freedoms and rights require courage and eternal vigilance: courage to speak and act — and if necessary, to suffer and die — for truth and justice; eternal vigilance, that the least transgression of international morality shall not go undetected and unremedied.”

And then there is this component of the speech, which Marley popularised: “that until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; that until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes; that until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; that until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.”

That’s saying a lot. First, (there is) the matter of collective security. One of the most dismaying tendencies of Nigeria’s major political actors is the seeming unawareness that the bell of insecurity is tolling for everyone. To the extent that there is an awareness, the utterances and actions often seem to suggest that there isn’t.

One of the most promising developments in Nigerian politics recently is the rising nonpartisan voices of Northern leaders and groups against the (Muhammadu) Buhari administration. Most often, the concern is with the government’s inability to rein in the incessant mass killings in the country, especially the core North and Middle Belt. A recent case is the massacre of farmers in Borno, their only offence being that they were doing their part to feed a hungry nation.

The Northern Elders Forum reacted viscerally. A statement issued by its director of publicity and advocacy, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, was unequivocal in laying the blame on President ’s leadership. “Under this administration, life has lost its value, and more and more citizens are coming under the influence of criminals,” Baba-Ahmed said in the statement. “We do not see any evidence of a willingness on the part of President Buhari to honour his oath to provide security for Nigerians. In civilised nations, leaders who fail so spectacularly to provide security will do the honourable thing and resign.”

There can’t be a stronger expression of disapproval. Yet, notable Northern leaders expressed hostility to the #EndSARS protests, which were also against killing with impunity. To address the protests, prominent Northern leaders met in Kaduna, among them governors and other political, religious and traditional leaders. Judging from the communique read by Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State, who is also the Chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum, the protests were primarily a subversive attempt at regime change.

Despite its subsequent exploitation for criminal ends, the protests were actually a spontaneous outpouring of pent-up frustration among Nigeria’s youth. If the goal was to force Buhari out of office, that’s much the same thing that the NEF specified in suggesting his resignation. In effect, there is solidarity between the NEF and the #EndSARS protesters. In contrast, what is notable about the Kaduna communique is that those Northern leaders saw the protests as anti-North rather than pro-reform. That is dismayingly parochial.

Nigerians from all walks of life know and assert that Nigeria’s governance needs drastic reform. If that reform begins with a pressure-induced resignation of an ineffectual president, that’s for the good of the entire country, the North included. Blind allegiance to individuals and groups has been the bane of Nigerian politics. It explains why a number of federal officials trooped to the Kaduna meeting, oblivious of the fact that their commitment is to Nigeria, not to a region. Among those officials are Senate President, Ahmed Lawan; presidential Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari; and Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu.

Buhari himself has hinted that he saw the #EndSARS protests as #EndBuhariPresidency. In his comments on Joseph Biden’s victory, for example, he said that’s the way people should change a government they don’t like. It was an obvious jab at #EndSARS.

But Buhari’s tenure will be over in a little over three years. It would be misguided for thousands of young Nigerians to risk their lives and sacrifice their comfort to get him out now. In fact, while the Northern Elders Forum sees Buhari’s departure as a solution, #EndSARS protesters see the problem as systemic hence the advocacy of reforms that transcend Buhari.

The Nigerian Senate recently called for and received memoranda on a 13-point agenda for revising the 1999 constitution. Though cynics see this as a ploy to deflect the increasingly loud advocacy for broad-based reform, it is reasonable to see it as the only practical way out of the current quagmire.

Yet, what becomes of the effort will depend almost entirely on whether those in charge approach the task with Selassie’s exhortation in mind. The exercise will be meaningless without all-around commitment to justice, equity and collective security.

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Selassie speaks to Nigeria
Selassie speaks to Nigeria

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