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Why the history books matter – Part 2

By Dan Agbese
26 April 2019   |   3:32 am
Chief Obafemi Awolowo, premier of the Western Region, introduced free primary education in the region on January 17, 1955. He threw the doors of education wide open to his people. They flocked in. Poor parents could not miss the opportunity to give their children a better future for free. By 1962, primary school enrolment in…


Chief Obafemi Awolowo, premier of the Western Region, introduced free primary education in the region on January 17, 1955. He threw the doors of education wide open to his people. They flocked in. Poor parents could not miss the opportunity to give their children a better future for free.

By 1962, primary school enrolment in the region had climbed to an impressive 1,250,000 within seven years.

The Northern Region had, if you like, a less impressive primary school enrolment figure of 250,000.

The gap in education between the successor states to the two regions is unbridgeable. The result is that the South-West is the most enlightened geo-political zone in the country today.

Free education remains Awolowo’s enduring legacy in the old Western Region. It became a beacon of light and enlightenment to his people. He did nothing particularly extra-ordinary. He used the ordinary to make the extra-ordinary and draw the line of development in the region on stone. There is nothing magical about legacy. It is simply the ability of the thinking and courageous man to turn what is into what should be – and effect a lasting paradigm shift in societal development and progress.

Legacy is important to every human being. After all, everyone wants to do something for which they would be remembered. This makes enlistment in the history books the ultimate human ambition.

Legacy format detected for design:

It may be unfair but we expect political leaders not to leave office without leaving a legacy; not just something to remember them by but that something that defines them and makes them stand out on the crowded podium of men and women who have been.

A political leader faces a welter of challenges and options to leave his footprints, large or small, on the sands of time. How does he choose his legacy or legacies? He does not need legacies. He needs a legacy.

A legacy is a milestone in human development. It must be defined by the vision and the courage that under pin it and profoundly reflects the leader’s uncommon belief in the possibilities inherent in all human societies. And it must be a thoughtful response to an old or a new problem crying for a solution.

It may be something as arguably mundane such as a regional premier getting his government to pay for the education of the future generations of that region. Or it may be something profound such as Abraham Lincoln abolishing slavery and giving human dignity back to the unfortunate human beings turned into cartel without human or any rights.

Is Buhari thinking of a legacy? Sure. Which president wouldn’t? He seems to be running to the history books with his anti-graft war.

Effectively chaining the rogue of corruption would mean that Nigeria after Buhari would be an incorruptible nation in which honesty is the colourful garland around the necks of its citizens. He has repeatedly sworn that he would put more treasury looters in the slammer before his time in Aso Rock is up. I am drawn to the morbid thought of our prisons being turned into zoos where we could see former movers and shakers of our society in their new habitat like exotic animals. Your children would see the men and women brought down by avarice and corruption.

The problem with the anti-graft war is that it is a war that would continue long after Buhari has served his two terms in office and left the stage to others. What has no end cannot be a milestone. It has been a pretty long time since Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Decalogue. The number six item on it is: Thou shalt not steal. We steal, hence corruption.

Buhari should think of doing something much more fundamental than catching and jailing thieves. He should begin with an honest admission that our federalism, encumbered as it is with a military command structure, is not working. A centralised federalism is both strange and inimical to best practices in federalism. Professor Isawa Elaigwu rightly calls what we have military federalism.

Everyone knows that we have lingering problems with the nature and practice of our federalism. But none of our leaders has had the courage to take determined steps to dismantle this strange and anomalous contraption and relieve our federalism of the burden it was never meant to carry. It has held our country down. Belling this huge cat would be Buhari’s real legacy. Let him be the man who came, saw and courageously demilitarised our psyche and set our federalism and our electoral system on the path of a federal system that works.

Buhari is in some luck here. These three informed reports should set him off on the right path towards the history books. President Obasanjo convened the national political reform conference in 2005. Not much is known of its report because it fell on its face when it was discovered that the president’s primary objective was not to reform our national politics but merely to use the conference to secure a constitutional amendment giving him a third term in office.

President Goodluck Jonathan convoked a national conference in 2014. It was a great gathering of political, business, academic, professional, military and police leaders who had made their marks in their various national assignments and knew what ailed this giant of Africa.

The report is there gathering, as it must, dust on the shelves of the senate of the Federal Republic.

The third report the president needs to see is that of the Uwais committee on electoral reforms. The committee was set up by the only Nigerian leader so far who was honest enough to admit that he was not proud of the conduct of the elections that brought him to into office as president. At his inauguration, Umaru Yar’Adua promised to take steps to ensure we did not walk that path again in the conduct of our national elections.

He kept his promise by setting up the Uwais committee made up of eminent men and women with impressive credentials for such an important national task. Yar’Adua could not do much about the report before his unfortunate death. The little he tried to do was sabotaged by some of those close to him who believed that the status would serve the president better in his second term bid.

Buhari had no hands in any of these reports. That is the beauty of it. Those who initiated them knew our country has problems with the nature of its federalism, among others. They tried to play a part solving them.

Each of those reports contains sensible and pragmatic suggestions on how to make Nigeria a better country – from removing the obstacles to its best practices in federalism to the conduct of fair, free and credible of our national elections.

All that the president has to do is to pick the best recommendations from them and produce an original document that he can use to make constitutional amendments to free our country from the anomaly of military federalism, enhance our best practices in federalism and set the constituent units of the federation free to pursue their developmental goals in accordance with their financial and administrative capacity in the true spirit of federalism.

Many things would give: the centralised policing system would yield place to the right of the states to primarily police their territories; a minimum wage determined by each state would end the federal government’s assumed right to impose a crushing regime of a minimum wage on the states; more power would be devolved to the states accompanied by more money to enable them develop the country from the grassroots.

Buhari could not leave a greater legacy for the country than the administrative restructuring of our dear country. I know some people find this offensive. That counts for nothing because anything that challenges the status quo is offensive to those who benefit from it. But our country cannot become the nation of our dreams if its leaders continue to fear offending some and pleasing others.