The Guardian
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Hold it: Dialogue, dialogue and dialogue, please!


It is undoubtedly a thing of joy that President Muhammadu Buhari is back certified healthy by his doctors to face the gigantic burden of administering a complex country that Nigeria is. It is a land of varied and contending interests. From the tone of the government that is in the air since his return, particularly from Monday when he addressed the nation, it is reassuring that he is back strong and reinvigorated. The Senate was promptly notified that he was back at his desk. With the health issue put behind us we can confidently say as he settles down he will have sufficient presence of mind to reflect again on the burning issues which have been with us for some time and which have not been satisfactorily settled. As John Keats makes the world to realise in his enrapturing poem, Ode to a Nightingale, the solution to life’s problems is not escapism. That is, you don’t run away from a problem in order to solve it. There is a similar saying among our people as well which I am sure Their Excellencies, John Oyegun and El- Rufai won’t mind translating into English for me in due course.

It is worthy of note that the President had daily briefing on goings-on back home in Nigeria while he was in England. He certainly must have observed that ethnic suspicion and hostility took a worrisome turn in his absence. To put an end to such a development, it is not the manifestation alone that you tackle but more importantly the cause and the cause rings deep down. Give it to him: Yemi Osinbajo did very well within what the circumstances permitted him. Methinks, however, that the President’s Monday broadcast attempted to tackle only the manifestation not the cause and in the process missed a public golden opportunity to douse tension. The speech writers could have done a better job, making a political capital of his return, especially as it was the first broadcast in nearly four months of anxiety. It ought to have been a broadcast of rejoicing not just over the President’s recovery but even with Nigerians themselves, given the complexities and the primitive nature of the Nigerian politics. With the return ill-omen waves driven by suspicion and mistrust blew over, losing their sting with no harm inflicted on the nation. The President’s address was combative, and not conciliatory, one to calm frayed nerves. The tone was harsh. If Buhari was abroad and could not fully gauge the mood of the country and what a relief his return meant to the land we cannot say the same for his aides and speech writers. It was not for nothing that public functionaries were trooping to London; it was to reassure us all. Besides, his aides ought to have remembered that Buhari is a soldier, only in politician’s civilian gab. While in service he was a combatant and he never tires in regaling us that he was in the trenches during the war during which he crawled on his chest. As the saying goes, once a soldier always a soldier. The aides ought to have taken the script from him and professionally toned it down.

A conciliatory address is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of tact and strength. It would not have taken away anything if the speech had contained one or two paragraphs stating that in due course his officials would work out a mechanism to meet with the aggrieved youths to hear them out and educate them on the evolution of the country and to where certain pronouncements and actions could lead a nation. All youths at a certain period of their lives and development enter the age of idealism, the age of dreaming and longing. It is driven by what is called the melancholic temperament. It can be seen as the age of rebellion. There is nowhere this is more demonstrated than in the universities. For the youths in the said age bracket, the world is upside down and they must straighten it. It is, therefore, not an age for which you deploy tanks and bayonets. The last period is the age of reflection. It is an age governed by what is called phlegmatic temperament. It is the age the old man watches the youths and shakes his head and smiles. He has seen it all. He looks back and takes stock and thinks seriously about what he may still need to do before he is called away. It is a period aptly captured by Sunny Ade in one of his lyrics.

There are not many who have problems with the oneness of Nigeria. It will be wrong to interpret calls for the restructuring of the country to mean agitation for her dismemberment. Emeka Anyaoku will never participate in a plot to dismember the country. He is too refined for that. You can almost touch the air of polish and simplicity all over him. The calls are a way of working out a mode of co-existence the President referred to in his address. Indeed, the argument advanced by everybody for the restructuring is that it will make for a stronger, stable and prosperous union. Restructuring will involve devolution of powers to the federating units so that like fingers of one hand, they will work independently and yet collaboratively.

We cannot continue to live in denial of our diversity. We are peoples with different cultural backgrounds. There are different aspirations, there are different interests. There are linguistic differences. We do not have the same worldview. Giving the different units a great measure of autonomy to plan their lives according to their own light will make for harmony. It will make for competition and with competition ensues the unfolding of talents and abilities compelled by necessity or by learning from others. It is being said by the frontline leaders in the calls that it is ridiculous that all roads lead to Abuja at the end of every month. Because Nigerians live largely on government patronage, the private sector is also largely affected. If Abuja sneezes, the private sector catches cold. No state can claim feeling fulfilled in the present arrangement hence complaints and agitation. A stable and harmonious political system is one in which all the parts and units are convinced they are better off in a union than they would be outside of it. No woman would think of walking out on a union in which she is happy and in which she feels fulfilled. The few who are pressing to pull away can be educated on why they are better off in the union than outside of it. Why, for example, are we not going to cajole them by saying, o.k. young men, why do you not allow us to restructure into true federalism first and we see how far that takes you? Are you o.k. with that? Go and sleep over it and you come back on so so date.

The youths were not born during the First Republic which up till now is Nigeria’s reference age. In a union with a feature of inferiority or superiority complex, there can be no genuine harmony. What works best is a feeling of equality, equity, love, mutual respect and justice. Another ingredient is the recognition of the eternal law of life that in giving lies receiving. In other words, the law stipulates that the right to take lies in giving. I have hinted before also that in forging a harmonious and peaceful nation out of a heterogeneous society, the political arrangement must be such that takes into account the spiritual Law of Homogeneity which makes all creatures to feel at home among their own kind; it is infinitely easier for all peoples who have a lot in common to live together than those from whom they differ significantly. Therefore, the nearest to giving us a nation of our dreams is true federalism.

Where there are questions, there must be answers. There is no way the youths would not ask questions, not in the present day with their education. And there are always answers to every question. It is better to reinforce the beautiful arguments for the unity of the country than to resort to employing the same shibboleth to shut out a debate on its non-negotiability. Professor Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Laureate, said in a recent article that the only thing not negotiable in life is freedom of choice. Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, speaking in Abuja at the presentation of a book last December, Nigerian Federalism: Continuing Quest for Stability and Nation-Building, said: “What I find odd and somewhat unhelpful is the argument of those who say that we cannot renegotiate our union and who proceed from there to equate every demand for restructuring with attempts to break up the country. I believe that every form of human relationships is negotiable. Every political relationship is open for negotiations, without pre-set outcomes. As a democrat and businessman I do not fear negotiations. That is what reasonable human beings do. This is even more important if a stubborn resistance against negotiation can lead to unsavory outcomes.”

The constant Northern star said just last June: “The current federal structure should be freely discussed by allowing the federating units voice their grievances with a view to finding workable solutions that would protect the rights and interests of all.” He went on: “The country could not afford to allow bottled-up frustrations of the people to explode into violence, and threaten not only innocent lives, but also harm the country’s economic assets.”

The call for restructuring is an old one. It predated the present constitution. At the time the Abubakar Abdulsalami Administration was winding up, there had been trenchant agitation for a sovereign national conference by NADECO and Afenifere to discuss the restructuring of the country and it was in deference to Abdusalami and his Administration that they had to hang their gloves. The Head of State specially sought the co-operation of Abraham Adesanya’s organisation of which Bola Ige was key figure to help see the back of the military, and after their departure go back to their trenches and reopen their agitation. He did not want the disengagement of the military delayed. The present constitution was therefore meant to be a temporary instrument to hold the country together at the time for the military to disengage from government.

Many leading lights of APC were in the vanguard of the agitation. Bisi Akande wrote a book titled Restructuring: Nigeria’s approach to true Federalism. In his characteristic blunt manner, he said in it: “Today, in Nigeria, all powers are already with the central government. At one time or the other, the central government has been tyrannical, inefficient and impotent and it is so much constituting a weight of big burden on the states’ path to progress. Evidence has shown that the rulers at the centre are not necessarily better educated; neither are they more politically experienced nor more patriotic in any way than those operating at the states. Hence, the need for a review.” Elsewhere in it he said the review was urgent and imperative. Similarly in his lecture at Babcock University in 2003 Bisi Akande spoke in the same vein.

Senator Abraham Adesanya said in the Foreword: “A nation is a plebiscite by its people. But some people would want us believe that once people elect their representatives they have lost all sovereignty. That certainly is not the theory of social contract. Nigeria with its abundant human and material resources has not been able to be what it should be because it has neglected the route to harmony, development and prosperity. It is a settled matter in Political Science and Art that any multi-ethnic nation could only make progress by practising federalism as operated in America or India. We have to be talking of true federalism in Nigeria because we have perverted the concept. The fact of the whole idea of advocating ‘True Federalism’ is the reality of a false ‘Federalism.’”

Bisi Akande was the first national chairman of APC. Restructuring was the electoral waves on which they overwhelmingly rode to power. John Oyegun who succeeded him was a prominent member of NADECO in Europe. So was Bola Tinubu. In the book Akande featured the memorandum of NADECO abroad as he did the memoranda from North-Central and the East. It must be such bewildering discordant tunes that APC is confused to the extent it is even without qualms denying its own manifesto! Consider the public figures behind the calls for restructuring: former President Babangida; Atiku; Emeka Anyaoku; the old soldier Ayo Adebanjo; Edwin Clark; General Akinrinade; Olu Falae; Prof. Jerry Gana; Aare Afe Babalola; General Nwachukwu; Ndubuisi Kanu; Ukiwe; Horsfall; former Governor Ezeife; and many more space is constraining me listing. Are these people whose views do not carry weight anymore?

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