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Nigeria, averting paradox of development

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Muhammadu Buhari

According to historian Ian Morris, it is possible for humanity to retrogress to the state of nature given certain condition. It is also possible for it to attain El Dorado if a different set of conditions comes into play. Anything is possible given the right condition. To prove his point he posits three questions in his classic, ‘Why the West Rules-for Now’.

First question: Why does the West lead the world today in capital, science and military? His answer: The West leads because the Industrial Revolution took place there. This singular event gave it an unprecedented edge over China that led the pre-Industrial Revolution world.

Second question: Why then did the Industrial Revolution take place in second-rate Europe rather than the leading China? Answer: In the last two centuries leading to this event desperate condition in Western Europe favoured critical thinking and creativity. Europe was fragmented as its empires warred endlessly among themselves over primordial sentiments. The lack of unity meant that each rival must find a way to be self-sufficient or perish. Hostility pushed Europe to the very limits of its ability.

But in monolithic China the reverse was the case. Highly centralised administration under an emperor propelled it to rapid growth all through the Dark and Middle Ages. With time, however, this same centralisation became a liability as new ideas, innovations and possibilities were shut out leading to a reversal. China stalled even without knowing it. It took a humiliating defeat at the hands of little known Japan to wake it from its contented slumber. Morris calls the Chinese dilemma paradox of development, defined as a situation where every solution, at some point, becomes the problem.

To demonstrate how centralisation killed China, Morris states that the European voyage of discovery that greatly prepared the ground for Industrial Revolution wouldn’t have been possible in China for three reasons (1) Christopher Columbus dared not embark on such a grand project without the express approval of the emperor, (2) The corrupt bureaucracy would have frustrated him from seeing the emperor; and (3) Conformism that comes with centralisation would have stifled and killed the creativity in him.

But in a disunited Europe rivalry, which seemed to work against the larger society worked to his favour. When one crazy monarch drove him from his palace, the young navigator had the privilege of turning to the next for audience. Eventually, it was a woman that had the grace to listen to his wild tale. Columbus made his voyage and Europe never remained the same again.

Morris then asks his final question, namely, but why did the Industrial Revolution take place in the British Isles instead of France? Once more he bends his great mind to explaining how the catastrophic consequences of the French Revolution, followed immediately by the costly Napoleonic wars, retarded France. But we’ll take our leave of Morris suffice we come away with two lessons relevant to today’s Nigeria.

Lesson one: In the timetable of history what favoured a civilisation in one era could kill it in another. This is so because every reality changes both within itself (content) and from one form of reality to another (structure), according to Professor Donald Nwoga. As no condition is permanent, our response must never be iron-cast and rigid. Adaptability is strength. Demands made on society by new ideas in production, technology and security mean that we must constantly upgrade the system or it becomes toxic. Federalism is adjustable; so too is unitary. This is the vertical approach to development.

And lesson two: What works for one country could destroy its neighbour as no two countries have the same history and necessity. Lee Kuan Yew used this horizontal approach in building Singapore. He blatantly rejected Western liberalism as that could lead to religious riots among his Malay Muslims. He also rejected sharia not to collide with the Chinese and Indian. No country should blindly copy its neighbour without first looking at its own internal dynamics. Democracy is adoptable and can be tailored to suit the cultural milieu it finds itself. It is the failure of African leaders in domesticating democracy that made it repugnant to extremist Mungiki, Al-Shabab and Boko Haram sects.

A Stalled Nigeria
Centre-centric federalism could have served Nigeria prosecuting a civil war, 1967-1970. But rolled into peace time, it becomes problematic as the constituents are left penniless in the face of growing expectations. This is seen in the clamours for state police. It is evident in the violent agitations for resource control and Biafra. The Nigerian National Shipping Line, NNSL, refineries, Nigeria Airways, coal corporation and railway are all moribund or managing to trudge on.

It is no progress when young Nigerians graduate into nothingness; just as their parents are forced into what the esteemed Audu Ogbeh calls a second childhood. In a typical African family the adult members don’t perpetually depend on their old father for basic necessities as we have it today. Likewise, state governments relying on Abuja for monthly allocation are experiencing a second childhood. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan responded to these aberrations instituting the 2014 National Conference where Nigerians could sit as compatriots and fix their country.

National Conference 2014
Victor Hugo agreed that every crowd has a character. It is in our national character to be argumentative. Nigerians would argue and curse you for being rich and still curse you for being poor, to believe the British physician-writer Anthony Daniels. It is difficult for two Nigerians to easily agree on any given topic. But in that conference 492 Nigerians, representing every interest and nationality, were able to sit down for 120 days and agree on over six hundred resolutions through consensus.

Following the opening Presidential Address the conference entered the General Debate where every delegate was given three minutes to address the conference. Matters raised by delegates gave a clear idea of Nigerian myriad problems, which were then harmonised under twenty different headings. Twenty committees, comprising of tested professionals knowledgeable in matters entrusted to each committee, were raised to closely study the problems and proffer solutions.

For those asking what restructuring means, a list of the committees could help them; which includes: (1) Agriculture and Water Resources Committee (2) Citizenship, Immigration and Related Matters Committee (3) Civil Society, Labour and Sports Committee (4) Devolution of Power Committee (5) Economy, Trade and Investment Committee (6) Energy Committee (7) Environment Committee (8) Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Committee (9) Judiciary, Law, Human Rights and Legal Reforms Committee (10) Land Tenure Committee (11) National Security Committee (12) Political Restructuring and Forms of Government Committee (13) Political Parties and Electoral Matters Committee (14) Politics and Governance Committee (15) Public Finance and Revenue Committee (16) Public Service Committee (17) Social Sector Committee (18) Religion Committee (19) Science, Technology and Development Committee; and (20) Transportation Committee.

The committees worked for six weeks to present their recommendations in the Plenary. It is from these recommendations that the Final Conference Report emerged. A report produced by such epical assembly is worth implementing. For the record, the conference never endorsed confederacy or secession. What it did was simply to come up with the ways and means of restructuring our federalism to make it more responsive to the changing times. Let’s take a look at the conference position on the core issue of foreign affairs, for instance.

Foreign Policy and Diaspora Matters
This item was clinically examined and strengthened by the Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari-led Foreign Policy and Diaspora Matters Committee. I was the Deputy Chairman of that committee comprising of Ambassadors Abdulmumuni Abubakar, Fidel Mama Ayogu, Ibrahim Mai-Sule, Yusuf Yaro Mamman, Isa Aliyu Mohammed, Vincent Sunny Okobi, BM Sani, John K Shinkaye, Suleiman Zubairu and Professor Akin Oyebode; among others.

Nigerians are disproportionately menaced and killed in the Diaspora. In looking at this problem our committee saw the hazards of posting rank and file civil servants and non-career diplomats to foreign missions to man our national interests. By training, they are ill-equipped to handle foreign relations. Our committee therefore recommended that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be empowered to create separate (1) Nigerian Foreign Service (2) Foreign Service Academy; and (3) Foreign Service Commission. These three bodies would be responsible for the recruitment, discipline and promotion of personnel going to represent Nigeria overseas.

The Nigerian Foreign Service would recruit brilliant young Nigerians through competitive and transparent examinations. Successful recruits would then be sent for training in the academy. Final recruitment into the Foreign Service would only be done when the recruits have successfully graduated from the academy. Only then would they be commissioned as professional Foreign Service Officers for posting to our embassies. To discharge its noble duty the academy must be adequately funded complete with the requisite language laboratory for teaching foreign languages.

Our far-reaching recommendations were not implemented by Jonathan and his successor President Muhammadu Buhari. Then one morning in February this year we woke up only to hear that Nigerians were being attacked in South Africa. Our senators responded by rushing to Pretoria to quell further attacks. But would they also reach Indonesia, Libya, France, etc, to save other endangered Nigerians?

Uchenna Eloh, from Enugu State, was on 17th August 2017 allegedly strangled by the South Africa police. Then at the last count 27-year old Kinsley Ikeri, from Imo State, was on 1st September also allegedly suffocated to death by the same South Africa police; meaning that our legislators failed woefully in their approach considering that Nigerians are still being struck down like sheep without shepherd.

But these killings could have been averted had our resident Foreign Service Officers in South Africa, as recommended by the conference, understudied the true cause of Nigerians’ unease relationship with their host country and properly advised Abuja on the right response. As long as Nigerians live in that country the Federal Government has a big job to do in ensuring South African internal security.

The conference further endorsed Section 171 (1) (2) (4) (5) of the constitution as well as the recommendation of the 1995 conference. That in the appointment of ambassadors and high commissioners, the president should make the bulk of such appointments from career diplomats in the Ministry at the ratio of 30% for non-career to 70% for career diplomats. Non-career diplomats so appointed must be persons of high standing in character and learning. This is because competent diplomats defending Nigerians abroad are as crucial as our professional army defending citizens at home.

Similar problems, be it farmers/herdsmen conflicts, state creation or fiscal arrangement were adequately addressed by the various committees.

Restructuring Mindset
Donald Duke and Ben Murray Bruce, two Nigerians of repute, have decried the dearth of critical thinking and creativity in the Nigerian desperate narrative. Today we are yoked with youths who complain of being frustrated by witchcraft while enjoying cell phones built by their South Korean counterparts. But suppose the complainants are not reading and experimenting as much as they are praying and fasting?

Morris warns that power no longer flows from the altar and temple but library and laboratory. Read him as saying that countries with more churches/mosques than laboratories/schools will grow weaker this 21st Century while those with more laboratories/schools than churches/mosques will become stronger. As long as critical thinking is concerned, this is how a great reformer attempted to change mindset in northern Nigeria.

The Sanusi II Initiatuve
Emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi II recently made two pronouncements. He told the northern rich to stop building multi-million naira mosques and start building academies for Muslim girls. In his view the oppression of women was traceable to socio-political and cultural factors rather than the Islamic religion that favoured women’s advancement. You are forgiven concluding that Sanusi II and Morris belong to the same school of thought.

Secondly, he cautioned the northern poor to stop marrying multiple wives they could hardly feed. He quarrelled the medieval interpretation of sharia that gave a man the right to beat up his wife and children. His pronouncements caused him no small troubles but Nigerians thanked him for speaking out. But what possibly prompted his reforms?

Sanusi II must have detected stagnation in the Islamic North. Sharia, which united his people following the 19th Century jihad of Usman Dan Fodio, seems the problem today. Islamic fundamentalism, child marriage, high divorce rate, crushing poverty and illiteracy must have convinced him of an imminent rut. Elsewhere, the outcry against sharia is deafening. In India the Supreme Court ruled against “Triple Talat.” Sharia empowers a man to instantly divorce his wife by simply saying the word “talat,” or divorce, three times not minding the incalculable damage such divorce has on the woman.

With a Ph. D in Islamic law, Sanusi II comes across as an exceptional genius in his ability to detect disaffection among Nigerian Christians and Muslims alike. The West, backed by the Anglican Church, is pushing to legalise homosexuality as human right in Nigeria against majority will. In the other polarity, the Al Qaeda-inspired Boko Haram continues to kill Nigerians in their thousands. Could there be a thing like conspiracy of civilisations? Historians would say no, only a clash of civilisations. But I define conspiracy of civilisations as the mutual agreement between 21st Century Christianity and Islam in the destruction of Black Africa.

If the reforms of Sanusi II succeed, Christians unease with permissive democracy could find inspiration in a reformed sharia with a human face. After all, and as Hugo would say, if God is infinite then everyman irrespective of creed is part of His infinity. But if they fail, those Muslims desirous of progress might defect. Arabs fleeing the burning Middle East have already set the pace turning their back on Islamic countries for the West.

Human response to any given condition is constant: If it is favourable people endure; but unfavourable they migrate. The Sanusi II initiative could be an attempt to change attitude as a necessary step in upgrading sharia. That is restructuring.

Dangers of Negative Consensus
In the First Republic Obafemi Awolowo, Premier of the Western Region and leader of majority Yoruba tribe, wept with Eastern minorities for the creation of COR (acronym for Cross River, Ogoja and Rivers) State. He was also sympathetic to the aspiration of northern minorities for a Middle Belt Region. But the same Awolowo did everything in his power to suppress the creation of Mid Western Region for his regional minorities.

Nnamdi (Zik) Azikiwe reciprocated by pushing for the creation of Mid Western Region while stiffly opposing any suggestion for the creation of COR State. He was the leader of majority Igbo tribe that dominated the Eastern Region. Zik also supported northern minorities in their demand for a Middle Belt Region.

Ahmadu Bello wanted both Awolowo and Zik cut down to size, fully aware that what united the two was their common desire to fragment his behemoth Northern Region. As the undisputed leader of majority Hausa/Fulani tribes, Bello heartily supported the creation of COR State and Mid Western Region while fiercely quelling the agitation for a Middle Belt Region.

The point is that there was a negative consensus among Awolowo, Zik and Bello, and to some extent the majority tribes they led, to liberate minorities from internal colonialism. The status quo remained, as none would restructure his region. Then things backfired. Awolowo fell apart with his deputy Samuel Akintola. Bello and Zik colluded in jailing Awolowo, thinking they had undone him, before creating the Mid Western Region. But by then their rivalries had polarised the army resulting in needless coups and a civil war. It took the efforts of the great General Yakubu Gowon, himself a minority, to liberate minorities through state creation.

History urges a different course this Third Republic. We must restructure by implementing conference report to avert a paradox of development, with reason. Restructuring will (1) Ensure equity for marginalised groups (2) Free the centre to concentrate on core Exclusive matters (3) Empower states and Local Governments Areas to excel in areas they have comparative advantage; and (4) Pave way for regional collaboration among states and geo-political zones with similar prospects and problems.

I am also one to caution against over-restructuring, as opponents of restructuring genuinely fear, to the extent of endangering Nigerian unity as that could also lead to a paradox of development. Our safety valve remains the conference report. But there is no way 180 million Nigerians can wait indefinitely for the needful.

Conclusion
Having achieved unassailable feat as Deputy Governor, Acting Governor, Governor, Vice President, Acting President and President, Jonathan ultimately lost the golden opportunity of being crowned father of the nation in his non-implementation of the conference report. He was more interested in a “second tenure.” In my estimation that was his greatest mistake as he could have implemented those recommendations requiring only his executive power while initiating processes for others that needed the attention of the National Assembly and a referendum.

So what is expected of Buhari? Regardless of whether Jonathan instituted the conference or not, Buhari must objectively implement the report for the following reasons: One, the same choice of implementing conference report or going for a second tenure that faced Jonathan is what now stares Buhari in the face. Restructuring will earn him a greater achievement in the annals of Nigeria than a second tenure considering his age, pedigree and centripetal insinuations.

Two, Buhari’s dogged determination to fight corruption to a standstill is highly appreciated. But it must be understood that his transparency campaign is one side of the coin. The other side consists largely of corrupt political, administrative and fiscal systems he must equally dismantle by implementing conference report without which his coin cannot qualify as a legal tender.

And three, a retired army general, former military Head of State and now civilian president, Buhari is to Nigeria what Charles De Gaul was to France and so cannot be compartmentalised to the North or South. He is above. The best legacy this quintessential statesman can bestow on Nigeria is to make it strong again through restructuring. Only a virile Nigeria can equally benefit the majority, minority, Christians, Muslims, his own All Progressives Congress, APC, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and other parties irrespective of which is in power tomorrow.

Deng Xiaoping of China restructured rather than channelling scarce resources into suppressing dissidents. His country prospered. But Pieter Botha of Apartheid South Africa dissipated immense resources suppressing black resistance rather than restructuring. His country lost heavily till Frederik de Clerk came along and released Nelson Mandela from prison, implemented dramatic changes pressured by domestic nationalists and international exigencies and yielded power to black majority. De Clerk rode into the golden sunset of history a world hero.

Buhari must take heed not to repeat the Botha mistake. The resources currently deployed in suppressing militants and secessionists could take Nigeria to the next level.


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