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The myth of our fragility

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Yemi Osinbajo


Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said: “Fortunately for us, our walls are not yet broken but there are obvious cracks that could lead to a break if not properly addressed.”

Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, said: “The cracks are unhealthy but we expect the vice-president to calm nerves and not make a pronouncement that will aggravate the situation.”

There you have it: what is right and what is wrong with Nigeria. New thoughts and truth and old fears about our 60-year-old independent nation held hostage by the myth of its fragility. We have been conditioned all these years to see evil, hear evil but speak no evil about our country and the way we are governed. We live in denial, imprisoned by the myth that our country is so fragile that when we see evil and hear evil and speak evil, the truth would tip it over the precipice. Nigeria would then become history, and achieve the immortalised reputation as the only country in the world destroyed by truth. Yet ironically, in this country of faux religiosity, we are told to speak the truth because it would set us free and shame the devil. Some shame; some devil. Wahala.

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Is it the truth that will destroy our country or untruth elevated to the realm of pretentious truth? Living in denial is comfortable but it is temporary because the truth will eventually seep through the walls and cause dampness in the cocoon of the powerful. This nation remains a patchwork of tribal interests pulling in every direction but the right one. The vice-president saw the cracks on the walls and decided to draw our attention to them and warned that if we ignore them, they would inevitably widen and we might wake up one day to see that the walls have fallen and the nation with it. He spoke as a responsible leader, not as a fear monger. He saw the evil that we are busy pretending does not exist – and felt called upon by his position and his faith to speak out now.

AFC said he was wrong to speak the truth. It felt that the vice-president owes the nation one moral duty and that is not to speak the truth lest it aggravates “the situation,” given his exalted position in the government and the society. Which is more responsible for a man in Osinbajo’s position – to see evil and speak no evil or to see evil and speak evil? He is as much responsible for Nigeria today as his principal, President Muhammadu Buhari. He cannot escape blame if things are allowed to continue to go wrong under their watch. He cannot ignore the truth, the truth that stares all of us in the face, for fear of aggravating the situation, whatever that is. It was courageous of him to speak the truth and offer a timely warning that we and our political leaders would ignore at our collective peril.

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ACF is obviously swimming against the tide. The fear of our fragility is fast waning. We have not yet reached the thresh hold of what the ace British television journalist, David Frost, once described as the cascade of candour, but we are getting there because we are no longer afraid of speaking truth to power. It is our country and it belongs to us as much as it does our political leaders who appear to believe they own it and know best what is good for us.

I showed on this page last week that individuals and groups are speaking out against the unacceptable present state of the nation. Things are going wrong. Anyone can see that. Those who are speaking out do not love Nigeria less than those who choose to padlock their lips for fear of being tarred and feathered. Nigerians are no longer held back by the myth of the fragility of our nation. No one can play up that myth any more as an excuse to ignore the obvious and accept the unacceptable. The walls of that myth are cracking in several places, yielding place to the realisation, in our nation-building efforts, that our nation is strong enough to hear the truth, accept the truth, survive the truth and will be strengthened by the truth.

Those who are speaking out are not, for obvious reasons, being applauded by those who arrogate to themselves the right not to listen to others for fear of being thought weak. But speak out they must. So, must we. We have lived in denial for too long and it is no longer good for our health and that of our nation. Our potentially great country is perpetually struggling to get its acts together in the art of nation building. Part of the problem is our total surrender to the wisdom of our political leaders. By abdicating our constitutional right to question them and demand that we be led aright, we leave the choice of how we are governed to the wisdom of our political leaders even when we know that they too are struggling with common sense. Let us speak out. History has no record of a nation built with the bricks of silence, hypocrisy and denial.

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When former President Obasanjo talks, he is said to be motivated by a mortal sin not found in the books, called mischief. When others talk, they are called anarchists. Labelling serves the cruel purpose of making non-persons out of persons for the singular purpose of denigrating them as people who do not wish the country well because they dare to question the way we are governed and the existential threats arising therefrom. I think we have two stark choices, to wit, to either continue to live in denial or face the realities, accept the faults in the system and take measured steps to patch up the cracks in the walls. Our nation does not have to be the bad news capital of the world, as in poverty, infant mortality, etc.

I think the time has come for us to listen to one another and have honest conversations about our country and the things that agitate us as Nigerians, not as members of our ethnic groups whose interests must be pursued at the expense of other ethnic groups. We must stop talking at one another and talk to one another. Honest conversation demands that we listen before we answer. The Hausa/Fulani must listen to the Yoruba and the Igbo; the Yoruba must listen to the Igbo and the Hausa/Fulani just as the Igbo must listen to the Yoruba and the Hausa/Fulani. We, the tag-along tribes, must equally listen to our big brothers and ourselves.

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No one ever said that managing diversities was easy but the honest, fair and just management of diversities is the true path to fairness and justice in all nations. Our nation is a great rainbow collection of tribes and tongues; yet 60 years after independence from British colonial rule, we have failed so far to forge one nation from our colourful ethnic diversities. Our independence leaders are squirming in their graves.

The many experiments by the generals that turned Nigeria into a virtual laboratory for political and social engineering, have systematically unravelled because we have been unfaithful to them or implemented them in a manner that effectively sabotaged them. If we were faithful in their implementation, we would be more united today; if we did, our nation would be fair and more just to all its citizens. Despite the existence of an important agency such as the Federal Character Commission, the sons and daughters of the lowly in the society cannot on count it to give them jobs even on merit. Nation-building is more than the sum of its laws, obviously.

As we mark the 60th anniversary of our independence, let us resolve to commit to rebuilding a nation of equal opportunities that is fair and just to all tribes from the ashes of its missed roads and opportunities. Let us admit there are cracks on the walls and that our fault lines are widening too. If we do not admit that we have a problem, how can we commit to its solution? Think of the last 60 years; think of the next 60 years; then think of this nation that once rose to the top of the mountain and now finds itself trying to crawl its way up; then spare some kindly thoughts for the giant of Africa. Happy independence anniversary.

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