We must change the way we live!
WITH a federal system that grants self-governance for ethnic conurbations already in existence, any movement from the domain of one ethnic group or fraction into another need no longer be seen as a sponging of one upon another. While it allows a secure cultural geography for one set of citizens to realize the best of their language and culture, it does not remove citizenship from others who, it must be assumed, would not travel outside their own protected cultural geographies to seek to impose their natal preferences.
Properly speaking, what such a system provides for is that people should be free to translate Shakespeare and Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and Boris Pasternak or Ngugi wa’thioing’o and to their mother tongues even if it is just to hear how it sounds or feels. Once allowed their protected cultural geographies, people who govern themselves should have more confidence to function within a common morality that covers others. It helps everyone living in a multi ethnic society to develop a multi-cultural and multi-lingual impulse without feeling imposed upon. The so called National Policy on Education which presumes to recognize only three supposed national languages simply becomes, in essence, a hindrance to the kind of national consciousness that is envisaged here. The existing format abets ethnic supremacist tendencies and the happenstance of ethnocide. Given the pattern being proposed, the big deal is that every mother tongue becomes a national language, granted its means of self-development in its secure cultural geography. Where such a secure cultural geography is not feasible, whatever arrangement makes it non-antagonistic to the communing ethnicities must be devised within a democratic space. In the national scheme, those like the Edo, who enjoy a cultural geography that is all their own ought always to stand by other ethnic groups and fractions across the country who do not have it but are struggling to have it. The differences between Edo fractions which unconscionable politicians are exploiting to climb to or remain in power, would necessarily be overcome by the re-drawn welfare map and in a way that fits the national mode to the prescribed transference of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy. The presumption that such secure cultural geographies engender tribalism will no longer hold or follow.
By the same token, the refusal to design a welfare scheme that is fair to all can be seen as the source of the happenstance which makes every unionized ethnic group appear a threat to all others. Where education, health, employment and pensions have been taken care of through a national policy shift from mere objectives and directive principles to fundamental rights, it removes the pressures that predispose the folk in every ethnic group to see others in zero-sum terms rather than as co-workers in the national vineyard. Those who demand free education and free health treatment for all under age eighteen are, in this regard, the true builders for a future in which it is possible for every community to live on a universal and universalized ethos. Modern Nigerian music is proving it that what is shared across ethnic boundaries is always a source of unusual creativity and in a manner that, without any special prods, and without annihilating or denying the differences, makes interfusion possible. It actually makes a virtue of cultural differences especially because the pressure of who gets what when and how is removed from the process. Who, anyway, wants to live in a country where there are no differences but only sameness. It would be boredom overplayed. The real catch here is to be prepared to appreciate the individuality of elements in the melting pot so that social cohesion is not bought at the price of grave injustice or sustained prejudice. Those wishing to create zoning formulas and quota arrangements, assuming that you need artificial props to maintain diversities, are working too hard, on this score, for processes that no efforts can actually reverse. Once a cultural geography is marked and given its due, those who come into it must be granted citizenship of the language and culture unless they prefer to turn their back on their host culture. A back turned is like trying to build walls up to deny the birds access to the rice field. Pure waste! Those who think, in the circumstance, that they need some ethnic props or ladders to climb to wealth and power would forever be advised by inexorable interaction with other people, to prune undue beefing of cultural individuality. It is like the necessity which politicians are forced to accommodate when they buy into the necessity for geographical spread in the formation of political parties. They are forced, without abandoning their differences, to invite the larger country into even their most parochial performances, if they mean to be relevant in national leadership. Once shared welfare is made the touchstone of interaction, and a national ethic exists that accommodates all comers within the ambit of any particular cultural geography, all citizens are released for the defence of particular units in a manner that defends the whole. All are released, so to say, from the need to fix a pernicious morality for others and a benign one for self. Anyone wishing to reduce diversities in the circumstance would be too easy to see as seeking to make a norm of inequities, rupturing relationships with others by removing merit and transparency from national processes. As with all designers of inequities, sooner than later, irrespective of whose side they are on, their rooting for spoils in a situation of imbalance that they ought to remove, fouls up social conditions for every one. The golden rule of fairplay simply demands that every ethnic group or fraction be granted self-governance within its sphere so that the freedom to borrow and improvise is not unduly hamstrung. Nothing is fairer. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. It is still the most ideal framework for development as the recent national conference under Goodluck Jonathan’s administration has affirmed. Although there is still so much debris to clear to get there, it does need to be made the central plank in our national self-apprehension: that no group be placed under subjection to another. No one should be a subject in a country of the freeborn.
As for the fear of unviable states as a hindrance to such grand scheming for welfare, it may come into the picture simply to dictate a different way of managing society. There are no states that are not viable except in relation to an imposed superstructure. Because no community is unviable which steps up the means to amortize whatever it borrows. As an ultimate issue, this is about governing a country which, knowing that it is already fractionized by different languages is brave enough to design a minima below which no one of the multi-ethnic prongs, is allowed to fall under.
The creativity it calls for blossoms when self-governance is allowed to rest on what, these days, and since Ken Saro Wiwa, is described as resource control. It means having a basis for internally generated revenue which is not hostage to a supervening authority unless in as much as the need arises to pay taxes to a common purse for the purpose of defending common welfare and common services. To think along such lines is to discount the usual adversarial context in which the term resource control is usually discussed. Normally, it is associated with the agitation by oil producing areas for control of, and fair sharing in, the resources from which the whole country derives more than 80 percent of revenue while the Niger Delta is reduced to a place of biocide and genocide. The term resource control is not however to be understood only from such standpoints inundated with notions of resource sharing. The critical factor here is resource development and the autonomous will that each community may exercise to mind its problems before immersion in the national grid. The first requirement for such resource development is to have a fairly objective accounting of what exists within a given cultural geography. The freedom to dream, to map the future, in the light of, and beyond existing capacities, is a crucial ingredient in such accounting. Adding value to the life of every community, in this respect, is not about collecting rent but enhancing the quality, if not the size of what we own. It is about deploying it in a manner that turns self-renewal and self-reproduction into a norm of everyday activism. It is about making the kind of difference that separates the farmer from the hunter gatherer. The economic ideal of the hunter gatherer is a territorial assertion different from that of farmers and ranchers, who are more concerned about the fertility of the soil and the yields that can be coaxed from it through husbandry. It is about the insertion of intelligent labour to god-given space, learning to know what to make of it, surveying the field, threshing it for planting, and overcoming weeds, and having the patience to tend the plants as they grow. The freedom to dream, that is, to rise above the ethic of the hunter gatherer is, no doubt, constrained by what our neighbours want or are doing. It follows that there is so much more we may realize from what we have, or can have, by working out a stable relationship of authoritative allocations with neighbours. It has to be one based on producing for a market, servicing a common pool, rather than waiting for handouts from any tier of government or surveillance. In effect, every community must develop the means, structures, associational and cooperative, distinct from sheer governmentality for generating, sharing and meeting its goals as well as conscientizing any and every tier of government to be conscious of those goals. The society must not be swallowed up by governmentality at local, state and national levels. This must be seen as a law of nature which is not the same as relieving government of the necessity to plug in and be made an instrument and a part of the creativity of the people.
Irrespective of which format we have chosen, the first duty is to develop a knowledge industry without which we would always act blindly. Look around, today! Every state is erecting new school buildings, nice, attractive, serviceable, and in a way that the old ones with torn roofs and pot-holed floors could not have been. The red roofs of Edo state under Governor Adams Oshiomhole give us a sense of how it ought always to be. And made better. This is talking infrastructure. It is a common brag across virtually every state in the Republic, these days. What needs to be added to the school buildings is an educational system to go with it. You can have an educational system even if there were no buildings. But you can have school buildings without an educational system. An educational system requires a tertiary scheme. It must supervene over what happens at the primary and secondary levels. I suppose it was, realizing this that informed the position taken by the Comrade Governor when he said in the recent TheNews Magazine interview, already referred to, that he was determined to build a showpiece University that would stand up to the very best anywhere in the world. Until I read that interview, I had wondered why the Ambrose Alli University in Ekuma was being left like one old Modern school with structures in makeshift formation. What the interview suggested is that a formal revamp of the idea of the University is, as far as his administration is concerned, in the offing. The evident scheme of maltreatment being meted out to the existing University ought not to be seen, therefore, as a matter of a policy imperative. A proper University has to be world-class in the sense in which, as I discovered for myself in Huangshaun in China, the Chinese were building the fit and proper match of a five star campus, even in those decades when they were supposedly so poor that they rationed food and clothing. A people with a sense of the future must be known by how they invest in the institutions for taking the younger generation to higher ground. One expects that beyond the shabby, ramshackle take of the existing tertiary scheme in Edo state, as we find across much of Nigeria, today, a genuine restructuring, is on the way that we can all be proud of.
Surely, for a proper University system to exist, we need to have in place, a creative interconnection between the so-called Ivory tower, the government bureaucracy, and the local community, as it may be unionized or co-operativized to be. A keen relationship must be maintained between the present lives of the people, the future foretold by the mobilization of knowledge, and the planning stratagems at the disposal of a younger generation. Beyond homilies and washer-words, it is important that any envisaged University system, in the circumstance, should be one that links the weight of knowledge in the world to the necessity for the locality to interact with that larger world from which it absorbs challenges and in which it must intervene beyond mere self-sustenance. Tertiary institutions are pointless if the local communities cannot dredge, interrogate and re-make their histories, through creativity of a special vintage, different from the banal everyday conundrum of myths and hearsay. They can do better than merely re-inventing the wheel, by domesticating it; that is, by refurbishing the invented wheel to make a higher performance possible. What the times dictate, because of the difficulty of access to new technologies, is to challenge the history of the immediate environment, develop answers to local problems in the light of what is known of the larger world. The rationale for such a University system is to have a place where the doldrums of every day shallowness is not in command; and to be able to take society beyond patchworks of poorly examined or even unexamined myths that pass as a basis for solving problems across time and space. We must imagine, define, and demand beauty, diligence and efficiency, as features promoted by tertiary institutions until the values become obvious and available enough to be absorbed as norms of everyday life.
Certain moments in history demand sequestration of knowledge industries, without undue exposure to the ravages of the streets and unconscionable boardrooms. We need to give them the confidence of the duly consulted with a capacity to intervene in good and bad times. Research and development are expensive undertakings. Setting infrastructure for their pursuit has to be part of the everyday progression of tertiary schemes to enable people head off deterioration in their every day performance of critical tasks. It is important to stress this because in the circumstances in which we live, with the borderless global arena impacting on the old village life with virtual imperatives, there is a need to have and appreciate the solid sense of an identity that enables every hamlet and every village, town or city to consider how to respond to the impingement of the world on everyday life. At a most basic level, prudence demands that we ask: how much of what the rest of the world can give us is good for our genuine self-sustenance. And how much of it can we produce for ourselves to void the idleness induced by our waiting for the rest of the world to dream and do things for us? We need always to fight for the relative freedom to be able to ask such questions and to organize ourselves to consider how much of what we consume from the arsenals of the larger world we can produce for ourselves in order to escape the impositions of those whose interests do not necessarily tally with ours. When a local government, state government or national government is coming into office, we should judge them critically by how much of the resources we have they are prepared to conserve, improve upon, and re-produce to enhance our capacity to compete with the rest of the world. How much of what we consume on a daily basis can we conceivably produce for ourselves to prevent the drain of trained manpower to cities where the prospects are not so auspicious. The bottom-line is that we deserve to live in well built villages, towns, and cities and therefore must induce and defend the local organizations for constantly planning and re-planning them. How could we possibly expect to have democratic superstructures at national levels if our hamlets, villages and towns, are seedy undemocratic bastions! Why should unelected local governments be allowed to entrench reactionary patterns stilted in favour of control by individuals in higher tiers? Without a rule-governed framework that cannot be over-powered by Ministers, Governors or Presidents, those who are searching for leaders, as some messianic forces of nature, are living in a fool’s paradise. Democracy must be rule-governed enough to obviate undue interventions and assaults on the local frame. Just as our consumption patterns need to be sustainable, and our production systems raised to levels that trump the easy drain of our resources, we need to match our system of recruiting leaders to the requirements of free, inexpensive and fair elections. We must organize in cooperatives and such associational formalities that turn local self government into instruments for meeting needs and challenges. In these days in which governments, local, state and federal tend to be distanced by elite proclivities and even by constitutional instruments from servicing the aspirations of local communities, a more people-centred form of unionization is called for that cuts across party-driven partisanship; and one that is objective enough to make civic leadership feel responsible for deteriorations, and therefore to charge itself with the necessity to improve our life chances. Once upon a time, the precept was that local governments should be truly local. There is no reason why we should not continue to insist on this being the case. Autonomy must be measured by not allowing the unelected to overcome the elected. It is actually about having unions, associations and agencies around us which can project the will of the people outside what the governments can or may do. A people reduced to what only governments plan or can do, without a will outside the routine bungle and muddle of unchecked bureaucracies, is soon hostage to stratagems and spoils. Therefore, not only for Ikolo Esan, but for all communities determined to rise in assured freedom and development: let us wish and work never to be so trapped: so that the dreams we put to work would always come to fruition. I thank you for listening.
• Ofeimun presented the speech above to Ikolo Esan at Egua’e, Ekuma.
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