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Nigeria on the brink: A message to our president and the National Assembly

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Emeka Anyaoku


In the face of the current state of affairs in our country, I would like to take this opportunity to deliver a message principally to our president and members of the National Assembly. But I must first deal with the business that has brought us together this morning.

When Dillibe Onyeama, the author of the book we are here to launch, invited me to chair this occasion, I readily agreed because of my long-time admiration of the subject of the book, his father and father of our most recent Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama. I had, of course, been interested in Dillibe’s career as a student at Eton College, the top public school in England, and as an author of many books. I believe that the book we are launching today is his 27th published work.

The late Justice Dadi Onyeama was clearly one of Nigeria’s greatest judicial icons. Born a prince to a well−known chieftain family in what is now Enugu State, Onyeama na Eke, he studied law at two great universities in the United Kingdom, the University of London and Oxford University and subsequently distinguished himself not only in the Nigerian judiciary but also at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.

He belonged to the tiny group of internationally acknowledged Nigerian judicial personalities such as his successor at the International Court of Justice. The late Dr. Taslim Elias, and Prince Bola Ajibola, who I am glad to say is still waxing strong among us. It is widely acknowledged that on the Nigerian Bench, Justice Dadi Onyeama earned a formidable reputation as a fearless judge with unrivaled integrity.

I have three particularly fond memories of Justice Dadi Onyeama. The first was a most pleasant luncheon party which he and his wife hosted in their beautiful residence in The Hague for me and my family during the Easter of 1972. I also remember the admirable discretion and sensitivity he showed when following the very sudden death of my close friend, the then Ghana’s Charge d’Affairs in The Hague. Dadi Onyeama telephoned my house in London to inform me but when told by my wife that I had traveled the previous day to Pakistan he, knowing how very close our two families were, chose not to upset my wife in my absence by informing her of Kwamina Philip’s death.

My other memory which Dillibe has recounted in his book was my assistance to Justice Dadi Onyeama when he was robbed of his briefcase containing, among his other personal possessions, his passport and airline ticket during his stopover at the White House hotel in London on his way to Nigeria for the Christmas of 1976.

Let me now come to my message to President Buhari and all the members of our National Assembly. I would like before doing so to recall the words of the famous British statesman, Winston Churchill, who said that he made it a personal rule not to criticize his country or government when he was abroad, but when he was home he made up for the lost time. My message is two−faceted: Nigeria is on the brink, and our foremost national challenge is the management of the country’s diversity.

Every diverse federal country throughout the world achieves political stability and socio-economic development through successfully managing its national diversity. There are two common keys to this. The first is having an inclusive central government that gives the peoples of the component parts of the federation a sense of belonging that in turn underpins the sense of unity and patriotism in all the citizens. The second key is having an adequate delegation of powers to the federating units to enable them to handle their internal security and significant aspects of their socio-economic development.

To give two examples each of successful and unsuccessful diverse federations: Canada and India are successful diverse federations. The former has peacefully resolved the challenge of its multicultural diversity which in 1968 threatened to tear the country apart by the emergence of Quebec as a separate French-speaking country; and the latter, India, continues to be the world’s largest stable democracy which is successfully lifting its huge population from poverty.

The two examples of unsuccessful diverse federations, which came to grief are Yugoslavia and Sudan. The former following the death of its strong leader, Josep Tito, disintegrated into seven independent states, and the latter, after years of instability and civil war, broke into two sovereign states that are continuing in turmoil.

As we all know, our country Nigeria is indisputably a diverse country − multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multicultural. I must stress here that I belong to the school of thought who strongly believes that our country Nigeria, albeit created in 1914 by accident of history, should be sustained and nourished as one national entity. I believe that with insightful and sensitive management of its affairs, the Nigerian federation with its size and resources will offer peace and stability to all its component parts, as well as opportunities for self-fulfilling development to all its citizens.

However today, Nigeria is on the brink. For no objective observer, including those in the government, can deny that the current state of affairs in our country is extremely worrisome. We see an unprecedented diminution of national unity; we see an unprecedented level of insecurity of life and property with kidnappings and killings of human beings occurring virtually every day in many parts of the country, including the seemingly unchecked violence by Fulani herdsmen which has spawned fractious controversies over the proposed RUGA policy by the Federal Government. For the sake of peace and integrity of the country, the RUGA policy must be handled with circumspection and strictly in accordance with our extant constitution’s provisions on land tenure.

And we also see that all these unwholesome developments are accompanied by a worsening level of poverty that is leading to Nigeria fast becoming the poverty capital of the world. I call on our president, the members of the National Assembly, the governors, and indeed on all our political elites not to continue to live in denial of the seriousness of these glaring facts which, if not effectively addressed, are bound to push the country over the brink of a national disaster.

Fortunately, to provide insightful governance, which would facilitate the effective tackling of these challenges, Nigeria does not need to reinvent the wheel. If only the people in government and all concerned would learn from our history thereby avoid validating the saying by the German philosopher, Friedrich Hegel, that “the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.”

Because it is undeniable that Nigeria’s history has demonstrated that the country attained a greater sense of national unity and faster progress in socio-economic development during its period as a true federation of more viable federating units with greater devolution of powers to them. The period was in the immediate years after the country’s independence under its 1960/1963 constitutions.

As I have stated on many occasions, I believe that the current travails of Nigeria will be more effectively tackled if the country’s diversity is managed with a structure of governance that draws not only from the lessons of successful diverse federations but more importantly, from Nigeria’s own past happier experience during its immediate post-independence years.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to conclude my remarks by returning to the principal purpose of our gathering here today. I shall leave it to the book reviewer to tell us more about the book. But having skipped through it, I have no hesitation from commending the book − Dadi, The Man, The Legend − to all those who are interested in reading the intimate stories of truly outstanding Nigerians, and snippets of the history of the country during the periods of their life.
•Anyaoku was a former Commonwealth Secretary-General


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