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Which institution upholds the unity of Nigeria?

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The Senate

The Senate

“He announced that you were the best thing that had happened to the 83rd congress. I countered with the statement that I was glad to hear that coming from a staunch democrat, to which he replied, ‘your father and I don’t like to be thought of as republican or democrat, rather as good Americans!’”

The above speech-mark was a paragraph out of a letter from young George Bush who later became the 41st President of the United States to his father, Senator Prescott S. Bush, on his chance encounter with then Senator Lyndon Johnson who later served terms as President.

Years back, in Lagos, while reading about President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal at my late friend’s house (Muheez Olayinka Bello, how I miss him), I gathered that – even as a Republican (Nixon), many democrats lobbied on his behalf for a presidential pardon from his successor Gerald Ford. There was massive bipartisan display of emotionalism for nationalism and not partisan parochialism. No wonder President Ford signed the pardon which amnestied President Nixon.‬

Recall before then that – as Chairman of the Republican National Committee, George Bush transmitted a letter to President Nixon to resign his presidency when it became obvious that he had been involved in an abrasive cover up and manoeuvre in his involvement of the Watergate affair.‬

Not surprisingly, due to a strong institution, Nixon (president) resigned his presidency the next day.
We need not be awe-struck by such warm, pristine principles from men of sterling qualities in the political atmosphere. Politics, like many other institutions of state is a noble profession and genuine democrats rise above partisanship when push comes to shove, they are always driven by a sense of mission for the growth of country.

The other day, the world watched the Republican harangue of “madam secretary,” Hillary Clinton at a joint committee set up to investigate her role at Benghazi, and the flowery praise at session end by  the committee Chairman (Republican ) for her efforts during the session.

You would have imagined that the snarling posturing would have continued at the joint press conference, but it didn’t. National interests overrode conceited interests.

National interests for the governor of State of Lagos are first-rate. He recently doled out monies to three states affected by insurgency. That is a big brother attitude that should be commended and imbibed by other private and governmental folks if they mean well for Nigeria. Action is needed to bail out situations that are in desperate straits, humanitarian efforts are needed more than ever and the avoidance of beer-parlour talk without the beer.

Institutions are built to last, should not be hijacked and outlive individuals and groups. Allied to the above, stable institutions encourage the emergence of leaders to tackle challenges, solve problems and promote world peace.

What drives world economies is the institutions inherent in those countries. One dares to think that there are investors willing to plough resources in a coup-prone country. That surely will be a bad investment, because theories about strategic risk and management do not work in unstable political environments.

It was Simon Abah in his article, Which region will benefit if Nigeria disintegrates, The Guardian, Friday September 12, 2014, who enthused: “I have watched several political analysts, with good intentions, argue for the establishment of a strong institution in Nigeria as a replacement for strong leadership but others have argued against that proposition. They advocate strong leadership.
Although both arguments are reasonable, I believe that strong leaders are needed to set the strong institutions up in the first place because there are no guarantees that successive leaders will not dismantle the institutions they inherit.”‬

Weak institutions and weak leaders send countries underground; very strong ones do the opposite. Remember – Manuel Noriega – the deposed military ruler of Panama? Panama had weak institutions under him, enough for him to overplay his card, arming street thugs to protect his interests, laundering money on behalf of crooked drug cartels, installing puppet presidents and scuttling the pursuit of democratic values without batting an eyelid.

Compare this to the United Kingdom with strong institutions and to the late 1990s when Glenn Hoddle as head coach of the English national team made an offhanded speech about people with disabilities and despite his plea for forgiveness – was asked to resign his appointment.

In Nigeria, we have yet to see politicians with clear-cut political objectives; institutions of state are so poor and one wonders which institution holds the unity of Nigeria better?

The police force isn’t Simon-pure because of the corruption of the rank and file. Crime rate is high, people are machine-gunned down without forethought and citizens are scared to do business with the police. With a suspicious citizenry, how can the citizens and police work side-by-side to pursue national interests?

While the civil service promotes national ethos, many have complained that the service isn’t nationalistic enough. National assets in their care are so badly managed that benefits from those assets do not filter down to the nation’s citizens.

The nobility of the civil service notwithstanding, many in that sector have been accused of indulging in self-interest and larceny. They are able to live in luxury under the protection of their privileged status.

The major religious institutions have not fared any better, with clerics heaping scorn on personalities sacred to others. In many institutions leading clerics must come from a particular ethnic group and deputies perpetually from another.

The spiritual card indicating the puritanism of candidates is heralded before elections in many places. This practice  was the chief reason a late former governor couldn’t be governor and for the elevation of his principal to the office of vice president and whose death in a Helicopter mishap was celebrated to a frenzied pitch by some people who felt he was of the “wrong” faith.

You can imagine the situation in my neighbourhood in Port Harcourt where, very nearly close to each other, there are two religious homes for members of a particular faith; one for the northerner and another for the south-westerner. The northerner hardly ever worships in the religious home superintended by the south westerner and vice versa. And clerics from southern Nigeria can hardly be allowed to lead the northerner in holy rites in another place.

It is easy to deduce why countries that hold doggedly to religious teachings without liberalism are backward, cannot solve their internal challenges without help from outsiders, and why free open societies are successfully industrialised.

Nigeria’s political institution should have corrected the malaise, but it hasn’t because politicians cannot dissociate themselves from religious can’t even with the knowledge that politics and religious tenets do not mix: “state affairs must be separated from religious affairs … the Almighty Creator is not a politician.”
Again, Nigeria’s political figures assume wrongly that democracy is about voting only and not about discussion. They get subsumed in the euphoria of: “I won the election,” and conclude erroneously that legitimacy is all about voting, while collaboration with the people becomes an ignored commodity.

Many have concluded despairingly that it might take us years to inherit the beautiful legacy of ‘government of the people by the people and for the people.’ as they do not truly know the meaning of democracy, having been offered only a perverted version of that form of government.

The judiciary is trying all it can, but the systemic arm-twisting by other arms of state which have failed to allow the independence of the judiciary, has led many to compare it to a witch-hunting institution and a tool for the rich.

Educational institutions should bring education to poor children because all children should have the same starting point in life. But when proprietors decide to make their institutions money-making foundations then the gap between the rich and the poor can only continue to widen. Schools now are a great source of revenue, to create elitist institutions that only the rich and favoured can attend.

Only a handful of the press have a national outlook and only a handful come together despite biases which are allowed to rally national causes.

Many have argued that the military (armed services) is the last unit holding the unity of Nigeria together. The anomaly caused by the intervention of the military in politics and the backwardness of state notwithstanding, soldiers are more businesslike than the political class and have been in the forefront of solving problems.

Who fought militancy caused by the political class?  The military. Today the gaucheness of the political class has led to high profile kidnappings that are so unprecedented in the annals of our country’s history and are quickly overtaking those in Latin America at the moment.

Which unit is currently fighting the insurgency which they didn’t help create and has even given a timeline to end insurrection? Unlike the political class, leadership for the military is destination-bound. They work with diverse classes of the Nigerian people in the barracks devoid of ethnicity and religiosity and consider end goals. They make impact on issues that matter.

Which unit gave the people from the oil-bearing region of Nigeria the much needed identity they craved and received pre-and-post civil war? And, further, lost men and resources to keep Nigeria one?

The Nigeria state needs to celebrate the military and her men soldiering to keep us safe and dying for causes championed by people who enjoy perverting glorious institutions.

I wonder if all institutions of the Nigerian state, just like the military, can jointly rally countrymen in a united Nigeria for nationalism.

And like Olu Jacobs, “I wonder! I just wonder!”

• Abah, Port Harcourt. abah_s@yahoo.com 08023792604; 07035017922



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