Ideas, think tanks, intellectuals in nation building
Sometime in 1972 it dawned on the Federal Government that to meet the promises made by General Gowon that he would hand over to a civilian Government in 1976, the Government that had to solve a number of political problems. How does the military disengage in politics? What would be the constitution that would govern the new national arrangement? Which political parties? How should the government be organized to avoid another military incursion in politics? The idea of a diarchy – a mixture of military and civilian government-was that practicable? How about the clamour for new states; local government reforms and direct Federal funding for that tier of government? Should Nigeria have a new Federal capital? How can the army be mobbed from over one quarter of a million to about 80,000?
The then Secretary to the Federal Government sent his best permanent secretaries to head hunt Nigerians oversea. I was already a Fellow at Kings College, Cambridge when the call came for me to join others to help with the above tasks; I took a leave of absence in 1973. By 1974 the outlines of what famously General Murtala Mohammed announced as the 9 point of Political Programme, after ousting General Gowon to whom we had submitted as the plan to return to civil rule.
In the Cabinet Office a think tank was established to deal with these issues. In 1974, Dr. Uma Eleazu joined us: under the general supervision of Abubakar. We had an incredible freedom, set up task forces to deal with the various problems enumerated above. We were determined to restore a sustainable democracy: we bought hundreds of books, read the works of other think tanks throughout the world and crafted our recommendations.
Democracy – a young enticing vigorous child constantly maltreated, buffeted, bruised, thrown out of the home, yet, even as a vagabond endures, always surviving and charming its traducers to try again and again to reinstate it after each successive coup. This constant tojng and froing deprive democracy of traction. Even so it remains so close to the touch of our leaders that they always pay lip service to it, pretending to worship at its temple and promising its restoration.
Democracy is a demanding all-encompassing temptress. Its demands tests approbation rededication to fact. It demands institutions which must be strong and flexible. It demands obedience but also consent. It demands a watchdog’s consciousness which is sometimes deliberately inconvenient to leaders. It demands institutions – where representatives of the people gather to debate policies. To survive there must be another group of people with similar ideas who are opposed to the ruling party and ready to take over from it.
Democracy demands that people be informed of the acts of government through, the press and that those in power always be held to account.
These ideas do not sit well with a military government of which we have had too many for too long. If ever or a Helegian theory needed proof, it is in the military/ democracy paradigm. No sooner a military government takes over than it begins to promise its antithesis that is that the military would hand over to a democratic government. But militarism in government rubs off on the politicians and the only model of rule they want or indeed know is militaristic, authoritarian. Just listen to your civilian Governors and members of the state and National assemblies!! The civilian democratic system undergoes an elaborate exchange. Members of the state houses must now all tow the line of the Governor in exchange for lucrative handouts. The verbal skirmishes in the parliamentary houses are no more than the cork dancing before it mounts a hen, who had been calling the cock’s attention by coquerist songs. The democratic civilian Governor in fact sees himself as the military Governor. There are no longer party caucus meetings; members of the houses are denied entry to the Governor.
How did we end up here? Most democratic countries have values democracy being one of them. The other is a deep belief that the people’s vote should decide which of us is to govern. The values include having a vigorous opposition whose duty is to catch the government out and show the voters that the Government in power was, to put it mildly, an incompetent biased lemon.
Other Institutions that a functioning democracy has will be an efficient implementation organ – usually the civil service. The Government in power is to act in such a way that a vigorous private prosperous sector compliments it: after someone has to pay taxes for all the above to work.
The nationals of such a nation must see progress in their lifestyle, schools for their children hospitals and health care for the people, roads and other infrastructure for development, hospitality and entertainment to give the people a feeling of joy and well-being and certainty within a secure nation able to defend itself and its interest wherever threatened. As Awolowo put it, not just life but life more abundant.
Finally, Political parties must exist which can aggregate opinion, recruit practitioners in the enterprise of governance, setting out, amending functioning policies and programmes made to get the franchise to rule.
Everything I have said above bears heavily on ideas, Think Tanks, public intellectuals and nation building.
Let me throw a little more light. You cannot form a political party without ideas. Whatever we have in Nigeria today are not political parties. They are special purpose vehicles (SPVs). If APC and PDP had ideas, I may have missed them and I am sure Dr. ELEAZU would agree with me that we old men sometimes forget what we have seen or are confused by them or did not hear well what had been said. So blame my ignorance on age.
There is something called Western values, or United states values and any one from there would talk about democracy as a value; they would expect a long useful life where education is good, good health is cherished and promoted, freedom of worship and belief, freedom of association, right to speak and the establishment of a strong security system to protect these values. Their political parties are homes of well-funded think tanks, churning out statistics, studies, scenarios for all conceivable eventualities.
The Republican and Democratic parties in the United States have these countless think tanks. Some are attached to the universities – Kennedy School of Politics, the Hoover institution, the Heritage Foundation, Brooking Institutions and countless others. The West is seized by fever for knowledge because that in itself is a value. Nowadays it is data and innovation but underlying all that is a belief that an educated population is a contented population where everyone is allowed to develop to the extent of his potential in a nation that has been built strong and can blow itself and half the world to blazes if unnecessarily provoked. Because the west has these mechanisms, Russia and China also must have them to protect themselves albeit through very different political structures. But even here, the work of think tanks is even more pivotal and crucial.
What are Nigeria’s values? When I hear that Dangote is building the world’s largest refinery, that between him and BUA they produce half of Africa‘s cement, my heart swells up that these are things Nigerians can produce. I am happy to be a Nigerian but not all Nigerians are happy. When Amunike scored a goal, it is for Nigeria. But why do we not excel in other sports?
To be continued tomorrow
Dr Cole, OFR, is a former Nigerian Ambassador to Brazil. A part of this article was written to commemorate Dr. Uma Eleazu, Chairman Think Tank, on his 94th birthday.