Another time to talk
Empires are built, but nations evolve through natural socio-historical processes, causes. Whenever and wherever a country is put together by fiat through wars, negotiated settlement, international agreements and deals, such are not nations. They are amalgam countries.
-Prof. Kolawole Ogundowole
A time to talk. That was the title of the opinion essay published in my Drumbeats column, calling for National Conference, precisely on October 5, 2011. The next one entitled: One country, different nations! came on May15, 2013. One’s position then, which still remains pertinent now, is that Nigerian citizens reserve the exclusive sovereignty and right to re-evaluate and redesign the country called Nigeria, based on their collective wishes and aspirations. That is, irrespective of the British colonialists who amalgamated the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914 purely for their self-serving economic benefits.
Agreed, we have lived together for over 100 years, but on what terms of engagement? What were the visions and roadmap of the founding fathers towards an egalitarian society? Do we now have in place a country where we all are equal before the law and where no man is oppressed on the basis of ethnicity, religion, social or economic status? The answer is obvious.
Or what was your response to the recent sit-at-home order by the Nnamdi Kanu-led Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) that literally paralyzed commercial activities in most part of the South-East geo-political axis? What about the piece of sad news that some power brokers, in line with some military men actually hallucinated about a coup d’ tat, surreptitiously to ensure that political power remains up north? And what did you make of Prof. Ango Abdulahi’s insistence that the North is ready to secede from Nigeria, if the push comes to shove? With the killing of the voiceless Agatus by armed herdsmen in Benue State and others in Enugu, Taraba, Adamawa states and the heartless massacre of Christians in Southern Kaduna is not another time to renegotiate our terms of co-existence? What about the strident call for political restructuring which simply refuses to die down?
Incidentally, when the idea of a National dialogue took the front burner some four years ago both former President Goodluck Jonathan and the then Senate President David Mark were opposed to it, probably borne out of the increasing fear of the dismemberment of the country, Nigeria. But the clamour became even more pressing by the day, crystallising in the visit of The Patriots’ arrowhead, much revered Prof. Ben Nwabueze to Aso Rock.
One thing is certain-no leader worth his salt would toy with the collective wishes of the people for long. More so, in an inclement political climate which was then characterised by the unmitigated blood-letting by the Boko Haram menace in the north East, massive crude oil theft in the Niger-Delta region threatening to cripple the mono-product economy, the kidnapping spree across the country, traceable of course to the swelling unemployment scandal which the World Bank has described as a time bomb.
So, what do fellow Nigerians think? To find out, one has gone to town to sample the opinion of some concerned citizens. According to Mrs Awopeju M.O. (42), an Edo state-born business woman who runs a supermarket in Lagos, “our political leaders should show more concern for the masses because there is too much poverty in the land. Security of the citizens should be their number one priority while the economy should be diversified from the mono-product of crude oil and Nigerians should do away with tribal sentiments.”
On his part, Mr. Fola Aiyeola (51) from Ogun State who publishes West Africa Business Directory has this to say: “First of all, we should go back to the position as canvassed by late Chief Obafemi Awolowo on political restructuring of Nigeria. There should be rotational presidency amongst the six geo-political zones. There should be six Vice Presidents to benefit from this arrangement. Each knows what would benefit his people. Over time we would know who would be the next president, while the outgoing president could go to the National Assembly. There should be no tribal sentiments.
“Also, we should go back to the parliamentary system since this presidential system is too expensive. The political party system should be funded by members instead of dependence on political appointees, who are compelled to shortchange the system to satisfy the party that brought them to power.”
For Mallam Abubakar Abdulsalami, 39 from Kebbi State who runs a Bureau de Change, “My prayer is that the National Conference will be used to tackle the problems of unstable electric power supply, high unemployment rate, insecurity through competent leaders. If people are gainfully engaged in worthwhile jobs the ills of the society would be reduced to a manageable level.”
Mr. David Vama Idabor, 49 from Delta State said: “ I want the constitution to be more people-oriented, a restructuring to have a weak centre with the local government modified. Powers of governors should be reduced. I am proposing a four-tier system to have the federal, regional, states and districts with policies made at the regional level. With this in place, development will be more rapid.”
But unless we want to deceive ourselves, Nigeria as it currently obtains can best be described as a badly arranged weighty load being carried on the head of a 57-year old market woman, tottering along on a long-winding, tortuous path. She can only be helped by the careful rearrangement of the burden, but this time to be borne by a younger and more agile lady. Or better still; be transported faster with the vehicle of modern technology. To move forward, we have to borrow a fresh leaf from the experiences of the former Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Ethiopia and Eritrea and recently Sudan.
In fact, with the fiery fires of insecurity dogging the government’s footsteps, the reality steers us in the face. We can therefore, no longer pretend that all is well with us. We can no longer paper over ever-widening political, socio-economic and tribal cracks where some ethnic nationalities are seen as superior to others, based primarily on population and the land mass occupied.
We can no longer continue to run a democracy adjudged as the most expensive in the world. Especially, one that has the citizens stewing in the paradox of pervasive poverty in the midst of plenty resources incongruously skewed in favour of the rotten rich. The sleazy rich that gets richer by the day at the expense of long suffering masses and buoyed on by the twin evils of gargantuan corruption and crass culture of impunity. For now, restructuring has become the best way forward.
Baje is a public affairs analyst.