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The golden opportunity before Nigeria

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Ozigbo

Nigeria is a country that tells a story of enormous promise and unimaginable tragedy all at once. While we can boast of numerous bright spots, the most being our tremendous human talent and capital, we also have tales of inexcusable missed opportunities.

It is a settled fact that a significant part of the dysfunction in Nigeria is a direct consequence of failed leadership. Nigeria became a republic in 1963, and for the first 36 years, our experiments with democracy experienced frequent interruptions by the military.

Our current and longest democratic dispensation, which we call the 4th Republic, began on May 29, 1999, when our last military ruler, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, handed over power to an elected government led by General Olusegun Obasanjo (Rtd).

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The military regime led by General Abubakar created Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, the legal instrument upon which our current democracy is based. Clearly an imperfect document, our constitution has come under intense scrutiny in the past few years. I believe it is now a perfect time for all Nigerian patriots to come together and create an authentic constitution “for the people by the people and of the people”.

While, our National Assembly has begun the process of a constitutional amendment, we cannot ignore the agitations from influential quarters across the country demanding a brand new constitution. One of the recent high-profile interventions on this issue is that of the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, who called for a return to the 1963 Constitution.

One of the pitfalls we must avoid in charting a new path for Nigeria is to be so hasty in doing away with what no longer serves us without giving careful thought to its replacement. Unfortunately, romanticising about our past is a national habit we have acquired and at times, it has led us down the wrong path. The outcome of the 2015 presidential elections is a clear example.

I do not believe that a 1963 document approved for Nigeria by the British colonial masters will adequately meet the needs of the 21st Century. We have to be surgical in our approach. We have to consider the evolution of our country. We must realise that the Nigeria of 1960 is not the same country of 2021. A lot of water has passed under the bridge. We have experienced a civil war in which more than three million Igbos died. We have experienced some of the most brutal military regimes, ethnic cleansing and genocidal episodes. Our fault lines have been watered by decades of injustice, marginalisation, extremism, corruption and intolerance.

One of the most critical factors, which we cannot ignore, is the information revolution. Nigerians now have more access to information in one day than they had in one year in the 60s. We cannot afford secretive processes in governance or public policy. It is no longer permissible for a few men to gather and decide on the fate of 200 million people.

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Our focus as a country should be to create a more just and inclusive society that works for all Nigerians. We must do away with the system that leaves too many of us excluded and disenfranchised. We must expand the political space to include more women and youth participation. We must create a society where the fundamental human rights of all Nigerians are guaranteed and enforced without favour.

Since everything rises and falls on leadership, as John Maxwell preaches, it is, therefore, crucial that we look into the leadership recruitment process. The system of government matters just as much as the process through which our leaders emerge. We need to reduce the cost of electioneering and create a performance-based governance system. We have to look into the economic and environmental injustice suffered by the Niger Delta region.

It is my firm belief that Nigeria sits on the edge of history. On one side is a total collapse and on the other side is a brand new country filled with hope and promise. Therefore, the good people of Nigeria need to take the megaphone from those who sing war songs and instead, send a message of peace, unity, and hope to our people.

I believe that peace is possible. But we must first restore justice, equity and fairness. After all, these are the fundamental promise of democracy.

*Ozigbo is a Nigerian business mogul, philanthropist and the immediate past President and Group CEO of Transcorp Plc

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