Protocols: It was Frank Rooney who said, “Immortality is the genius to move others long after you yourself have stopped moving”.  We gather here today in honour of a man who, though dead, yet still speaks to the conscience of our nation; though his frame has returned to the earth, his name stands tall above the perversity of his generation and though his soul rests on the other side of eternity, his ideals continue to move humanity in the quest for a just and equitable society.

Abdul Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi, Senior Advocate of the Masses, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, the dread of dictators, a thorn in the flesh of oppressors, defender of the poor, the people’s lawyer, known by all simply as "Gani", truly lives on. Gani is remembered today not for the houses he built though he built a few edifices, not for the cars he rode, though he was wealthy enough to afford them, not for his professional attainment though he won quite a few awards including the Bruno Kreisky Price for internationally recognized human rights advocates, the International Bar Association’s Bennard Simon’s Award and, eventually, the highest honour in the Nigerian legal profession - Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) after having been politically denied his due for many years - no, Gani is remembered today, not for any of these, for indeed, many others have attained these heights and won these recognitions; rather, Gani is remembered today for the lives he uniquely touched. 

I had the privilege of working directly with him beginning from my days as a law student. Not only did he give me access to law books and reports, he availed me the use of his library in preparation for my examinations. I studied and slept in his library. He sponsored my trip to the United Kingdom for further editing and proof reading of the Nigeria Constitutional Law Reports Vol. 1 in 1981. As a lawyer in his firm, I learnt from his diligence and work ethic, the kind that would tolerate no laziness and for which less driven souls erroneously labeled him a slave driver.  Gani fought like a bulldog; once he was persuaded that a case was worth handling, he would deploy the power of concentration and pursue it to a logical conclusion and he never abandoned his cases. Gani’s passion for justice was legendary and it overrode his need for profit, yet God blessed him with a business acumen that sustained his humanitarian life purpose. He would not refuse cases simply on the basis of the inability of the prospective client to afford legal representation; rather, once he was convinced that justice for the poor was at stake, he would handle such cases pro bono. The rule of law, fundamental human rights, democracy and social justice summed up the profit for which he laboured with boundless energy.

As a human rights activist, Gani was in a class of his own, ready to go solo for what he believed in, many times to the consternation of his colleagues in the struggle.  Gani was in the struggle to spend and be spent for justice. Detained 32 times in 12 jails and various detention centres across the country and brutalized many of those times, he mustered a stoic Boy Scout-like preparedness for the worst case scenario.  With suitcase packed in readiness for the next arrest and fearing not that he could lose his life, he astounded military and civil dictators and truly gained his life when he said,

“History is a totality of events, when you fight on principles … fight to the end. This is my guiding principle. When you fight on the side of the people put everything into it. I fight on principles and would continue to fight on the side of the people. I will die for the people of this country”

As it were, he died for the people of this country when the cumulative effect of years of brutal treatment in jail cells finally told on him as he succumbed to lung cancer. Yet, heroically, even on his death bed, he remained a fighter, not just in his instructing his chambers to pursue to logical conclusion his pending case against the Federal Government but also because he took the failure of our country’s medical system to diagnose his ailment early enough as evidence of the country’s social decay and, as such, expressed a desire that such facilities be made available for the Nigerian people. Therefore, in life and in death, Gani’s mission was the liberation of the people from social, economic and political bondage. This was what he lived for and it was to this cause that he deployed the legal profession in his primary place of assignment - Nigeria, a nation whose frameworks were laid a century ago in an atmosphere of social, economic and political subjugation.  Today, five years after the departure of Chief Gani Fawehinmi and a hundred years after the framework of this country was laid, we are gathered here asking if, despite the labours of Gani Fawehinmi and his contemporaries as well as those of our heroes past that came before, especially those who fought for Nigeria’s independence, this country still remains under bondage - Nigeria at centenary, a nation under bondage?

In addressing the above question, we will first of all examine the concept of nationhood and the making of nations; we will then take a look at the notion of a nation in bondage and dissect the nature of national bondage; thereafter, we will critically examine the evolution of nationhood in the Nigerian context traveling back in time to the events leading to the amalgamation of 1914; applying our analysis to the Nigerian situation, we will seek to answer the question posed by the theme of this lecture - Nigeria at centenary, a nation under bondage? Where such a critical evaluation presents Nigeria at her centenary as an independent nation under bondage, however oxymoronic that may sound, we will seek a practical path to freedom.

The Making of Nations

Without recourse to complex theories of political science, we can deduce the purpose of nations from simple social interactions. Man’s quest for provision, protection, power, promotion, peace and progress is an acknowledgement of his need for something transcendental, something beyond his current grasp, a higher ideal that he cannot pursue alone. “It is not good for man to be alone” is how the Book puts it. As one, there is only so much he can attain and so the institution of family is created. The exponential law in his pursuit of progress is that one can chase a thousand but two can chase ten thousand. As ideals become higher and goals become greater, social interactions naturally become more complex from the family to the community and eventually to the nation, which is a group of complex communities bound together by the common pursuit of progress. The shared ideal to which this group aspires becomes embodied in the culture of the group. That ideal may find expression in such concepts as “liberté, egalité, fraternité” as in the French case or "Democracy and Separation of Powers" as in the American case. The need for an orderly pursuit of progress necessitates the organization of the group into units such that a structure evolves. The common ideal for which the group strives is manifest in the provision of public goods that are served through institutions; but the working of these institutions must be guided by predictable norms in order to guarantee stability, hence the existence of laws that reflect that ideal to which they strive at which point that ideal takes the form of a constitution, whether written or unwritten. For the culture to be preserved, for the structure to be accurately delineated, for institutions to function properly and for the constitution to be enforced against possible deviant behaviour, government is necessary, hence the group finds able persons from among themselves upon whom they confer authority and power to act on their behalf as provided for by the constitution. This framework is known as the State.

The State is defined as a legal entity possessing sovereignty and comprised of a well-defined territory, a population, a government that has effective control over the given territory, and the capacity to enter into relations with other States. It is the vehicle in which the nation embarks on the pursuit of a higher ideal. Hence, like the human trinity, a nation is a corporate spiritual entity which has a soul defined by the ideal to which the nation aspires while the State is the bodily framework in which the nation exists.

Hence, nations are formed and their geographical boundaries determined within States to the end that men may seek higher aspirations until they find the utmost aspiration of humanity and by so doing, maximize their individual and corporate potential in fulfillment of purpose.

Between Homogeneity and Heterogeneity in the Making of Nations

By the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, the word “nation” originates from the Middle English word nacioun, which was derived from the Anglo-French word naciun, which, itself, originated from the Latin word natio, meaning “birth” and whose root word is nasci which means “to be born” or “that which has been born”. This suggests that descent is critical in the traditional understanding of the concept of nationhood. Hence, a nation is traditionally defined as a group of people who share a common descent, history, language and culture. This definition, which centres on ethnic commonality, raises a critical question, is homogeneity a precondition for nationhood?

A nation, in the traditional sense, is a tightly knit group which shares a common culture without necessarily existing as a sovereign entity. Consequently, one may refer to the Yoruba nation, the Igbo nation, the Hausa nation, the Tiv nation, the Urhobo nation, the Ijaw nation and so on – these are peoples predominant in certain geographical areas sharing a common descent, history language and culture, but sometimes lacking the structural, institutional, constitutional and governmental frameworks of a State.

However, when a nation in the traditional sense, exists as a self-governing polity within a defined territory, that is, when a homogenous group of people with common descent, history, language and culture exists as a sovereign State, it is referred to as a nation-state. Examples include Japan, Germany, France, Egypt, Albania, Armenia, Bangladesh, and South Korea, among others. These are homogenous countries where the majority of the population (over 99%) is derived from a common ethnicity and in some cases has a common creed or religion.

The idea that homogeneity is the criteria for nationhood would seem logical. Two cannot work together except they agree, how much more when a nation comprising much more than two is in question.  In essence, unity is a factor for nationhood; like the story of the old man who made his bellicose sons attempt to break a bundle of broom unsuccessfully, the creed is “united we stand, divided we fall” and like the Book puts it, a house divided against itself cannot stand. In this line of reasoning, events in history would suggest that homogeneity could foster the needed unity and, consequently, facilitate the forging of a common spirit whether for revolutionary or for developmental purposes. Revolutionary cases in point are the Israeli exodus from Egypt, the French Revolution, Germany in the two World Wars and the creation of the modern Jewish State in 1948 despite severe Arabian opposition. In the Nigerian civil war, the Biafran insurrection was sustained for three years despite their comparative military disadvantage perhaps owing to the power of unity fuelled by ethnic nationalism. While some of these actual or attempted revolutions were fuelled or sustained by a sense of ethnic nationalism, the mere absence of strong ethnic or religious divisions may have forestalled a precipitated truncation of the movement in others. In the Israeli exodus from Egypt, it is noteworthy that the presence of mixed multitudes at some point constituted an obstacle to the movement.

In terms of development, the economies of Israel, Japan, China, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore may well have been propped by the fact that in each of these countries, developmental strategies were fuelled by a certain pervading and unifying philosophy which had much to do with the homogeneous culture of the respective people.

Nevertheless, the reality is, whereas homogeneity could create a sense of nationalism, it does not necessarily translate into enduring unity, else, how can one account for civil conflicts among homogenous States? Egypt, though an example of an ethnically homogenous State, has been in turbulence since the Arab spring.

Therefore, beyond ethnic, cultural, religious and other primordial manifestations of homogeneity, unity can be found in a people’s pursuit of a higher ideal. Many modern States are heterogeneous, comprising ethnically and sometimes religiously diverse populations. Some countries have been able to build stable polities despite their heterogeneity. These States are often unified by a common ideal that transcends ethnic nationalism. Switzerland, which is one of the most politically stable and economically developed countries in the world, though heterogeneous in language, has a unifying national identity.

This is particularly true of the United States of America. In more than two hundred years, the United States has made significant progress at harnessing the strength of its heterogeneous population towards the making of a great nation. The United States is described as a “nation-state”, an appellation traditionally reserved for States with single ethnic nationalities. This is due to the pervading ideal described as the American culture or the American Dream. This Dream is expressed in the potency of the American federal system of government. It is reflected in the preeminence of the principle of “state of residence” over “state of origin” in identity determination as seen, for instance, in the simultaneous election of the Rockefeller brothers as the respective governors of New York and Arkansas in 1967 and that of the Bush brothers in Texas and Florida in 1998. Perhaps, its greatest expression so far has been the election of President Barrack Obama, an American of Kenyan descent as President of the United States of America. That the United States is arguably the most powerful country in the word today indicates that nations that are bound together by common ideals are stronger than nations that are knit together by mere ethnic nationalism or religion. It becomes more potent if this ideal is based on the God-ordained destiny of the given nation.

Therefore, a nation in the context in which we aspire to use it may be described as a group or groups of people knit together by a common ideal and propelled by a common sense of destiny, inhabiting a well defined territory organized as a legal entity known as the State, and possessing sovereignty which they confer in trust on the government of their choice.

The Nature of National Bondage

Literally, the word bondage is the state of being a slave. It is the state of subjection to a force, power or influence. Figuratively, it is a state of being constrained by circumstances or obligations. Having established that a nation is a group of people in a common progressive journey towards a common destiny, it becomes clear that when a nation as a collective entity is constrained by forces of whatever kind, internal or external, from the attainment of the ideal to which it aspires, that nation is in some form of bondage. In such a state of existence, unable to attain its ideal, it loses its identity; in relation to other nations it loses its power and, in relation to its constituent groups it loses cohesion until things fall apart and the centre cannot hold.

Therefore, national bondage may be external, when a nation is subjugated by another, as in colonization when the nation lacks the framework of State in the legal sense, or occupation when a nation or territory is invaded, conquered and controlled by another. In colonization, the colony lacks sovereignty or self-government as well as the ability to enter into relations with other territories. Such a nation is denied external self-determination. Its resources are appropriated by the colonialist and revenue suffers capital flight. Investment in the colony is only to the extent that such investments serve the interests of the colonialist.

National bondage could be internal, when the cultural, structural, institutional, constitutional and governmental frameworks of State begin to hinder, rather than serve the fulfillment of the national, subnational or individual potential. At that point, the frameworks of State become oppressive and counter-productive much like an auto-immune disease. For a heterogeneous nation, the presence of a national ideal suggests that the various groups have found their respective interests in the conglomeration of their individual aspirations and that these aspirations are better served by a union. This coming together of sub-nationalities should enhance, facilitate and catalyze, not limit or hinder the realization of the constituent destinies. Therefore, there is element of bondage when individuals or sub-national groups within the State are constrained from their potential by the national entity.

The concept of nationhood suggests that the citizens have surrendered their individual sovereignty to the State through a social contract that guarantees the provision of public goods. The individual citizen finds in the State an avenue to meet his/her need for provision, protection, peace, power, promotion and progress within acceptable norms that will ensure that the rights of other individuals are not trampled upon. These are manifest in the social, economic and political functions of the State, the basic of these being the provision of social amenities. When the institution of State lacks the capacity or the political will to provide these public goods then the nation housed in that framework of State is in bondage.

The Cycle of Bondage

In 1943, an American industrialist, H.W. Prentis identified a sequence comprised of ten stages that nations pass through in what he referred to as the historical cycle of nations. These are bondage, spiritual faith, great courage, liberty, abundance, selfishness, complacency, apathy, dependence and bondage. In this cycle, nations are said to move:

  • From bondage to spiritual faith
  • From spiritual faith to great courage
  • From courage to liberty
  • From liberty to abundance
  • From abundance to selfishness
  • From selfishness to complacency
  • From complacency to apathy
  • From apathy to dependence
  • From dependence back into bondage

To understand this cycle of national bondage, the biblical story of Israel is the locus classicus. Israel, a nation covenanted to a higher ideal, was held captive in Egypt for four hundred years. They suffered cruel bondage manifest in their social, economic and political existence. Family life was attacked as their oppressors sought to decimate the population; economically, labour conditions were made unbearable even though they could not access the fruit of their excruciating labour; politically, they had no self-government. After 400 years, a deliverer arose in the person of Moses who initially sought to attain the freedom of his people through violence. The wrath of the Egyptian king made him a fugitive until he had an encounter that awakened him to the destiny of his nation. That encounter stirred in him spiritual faith and, consequently, great courage which he transferred to his people as he spearheaded the liberation of his nation. In that condition of liberty, he laid the cultural, structural, institutional, constitutional and governmental blueprint for the prosperity and abundance of the nation in line with the national ideal into which Israel had been covenanted. However, with passage of time, the nation slipped into selfishness as every man did what he liked. Selfishness gave rise to complacency as the nation ceased to pursue its full potential, and from complacency to apathy as the people became indifferent to the national ideal. At that point, the nation would lose its identity and turn to other nations for meaning. Then a deliverer would arise to liberate the people and lead them to prosperity until the nation went full cycle back to bondage.

Having laid this conceptual background, we will seek to answer the question, Nigeria at centenary, a nation under bondage? However, let us take a look at the making of nationhood in the Nigerian context as we search for a Nigerian nation.

The Amalgamation of 1914

Prior to the coming of the British, the territories that inhabited the geographical area around the River Niger existed as separate, self-governing geopolitical entities with unique cultures, administrative structures, institutions, laws and government. At the point of colonization, there was the Sokoto Caliphate with its federation of Emirates including Hausa city-states and the Middle-Belt territories down to Ilorin all subjugated by jihad and conquest; the Bornu Empire with its vassal states also subjugated by conquest; the warring Yoruba kingdoms of Ife, Owu, Ibadan, Ijaye, Egba, Ijebu, and Remo; the Benin Kingdom; the delta settlements such as Itshekiri, Opobo, Bonny and Brass; numerous Igbo towns and villages and many other small territories. At the Berlin conference in 1885, the Europeans sat down to apportion among themselves territories in which they had demonstrated interests and presence. The Nigerian territories were apportioned to the British. Through intrigues, the threat of force and the actual use of force, the British annexed these territories and set out to amalgamate them for organizational efficiency.

The amalgamation was a progressive political unification of these colonial territories to form the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. It began in 1883 when the Oil Rivers Protectorate was united with surrounding territories to form the Niger Coast Protectorate. Then, in 1897, after the Benin massacre, the Benin Kingdom was merged with the Niger Coast Protectorate to form the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. In 1906, the Colony of Lagos was combined with the Southern Protectorate to form the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.

While the southern territories were being merged, the United African Company (UAC) - which became the National African Company (NAC) and later, the Royal Niger Company through the granting of a royal charter - had already established northern Nigeria as a sphere of British influence. After the Berlin Conference, the British Crown took over these territories from the Royal Niger Company reportedly at the cost of 865,000 pounds. When Lord Frederick Lugard hoisted the Union Jack in Lokoja in 1900, the people of northern Nigeria did not understand that Britain had, by that act, claimed sovereignty over the area. The British, through Lugard, then set out to enforce this claim by military offensive until 1905 when the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria was firmly under British control. Eventually, on the first of January 1914, a hundred years ago, the Northern and Southern Protectorates were amalgamated to form the framework of a united Nigeria.

It is very important to note that what the British amalgamated back then was the administration of the North and the South and that it was solely for the economic benefits of the British government because it was not the policy of the colonialists to use their own tax payers' money to run the protectorates.

Besides this point, Major Lugard as he then was, who arrived Nigeria about 1894, was not originally employed by the British government. He was employed by companies, first by East Indian Company, thereafter by the Royal East African Company and finally by the Royal Niger Company. It was from the Royal Niger Company that he got transferred to the British government. Since then and till now, the interest of the Europeans in Africa and that of the British especially in Nigeria had and has remained mainly economic.

It may also interest every learned colleague here present that inspite of all the "centenary celebration" touting by the government, the January 1, 1914 date relates only to the Amalgamation of the Administrations of the North and the South. The amalgamation of the judiciary did not take place until 1916 when the Supreme, Provincial and Native Courts Ordinances of Northern Nigeria were amended and made applicable to the whole country, while the legislative amalgamation of Nigeria came only in 1947.

The Nature of Colonial Rule

To the British, the area around the Niger was a business enterprise and the people a labour force to be deployed in this enterprise. This is why some historians have argued that the abolition of slave trade was merely for economic reasons as it was considered more efficient to exploit Africans in their own territories. This commercial premise for the concept of an amalgamated Nigerian geopolitical entity determined the priorities of the colonial government. Consequently, although the British government established local government administration, overseas trade and some level of industrialization, its concept of Nigeria as an instrument of British imperial interests determined its priorities such that its policies were aimed at serving the British economy as against developing the budding nation. From its political system of indirect rule to its economic projects including the establishment of communication infrastructure, shipping and railway, the credit facilities and the agricultural policy, which emphasized the production of cash crops as against food crops, most of its policies were targeted at strengthening the British economy. More devastating was the educational policy which focused on raising administrators and clerical officers for the colonial government rather than on training technical experts for national development. Even more devastating was the deliberate de-emphasis on Western education in the North by the Frederick Lugard-led colonial administration in order to maintain British control and maximize economic gains for Britain. These were clear manifestations of bondage.

Nevertheless, it is needful to debunk arguments that the pre-colonial entities would have been better off without the amalgamation. The shortsightedness of that argument lies in its failure to realize that many of Nigeria’s pre-colonial peoples were in some form of bondage as at the time they were colonized. In many cases, the people lived in feudal systems that subjected them to aristocratic domination. Many territories were vassal states subject to and paying tribute to larger territories. For instance, the Sokoto Caliphate was the result of the subjugation of the Hausa city-states and the northern and middle-belt minorities. Territories that were not under the Caliphate dominion were subject to the Borno Empire. The Benin kingdom held sway over vassal territories in the mid-west and delta area. With the fall of the Old Oyo Empire, Ibadan came close to dominating the entire Yoruba land which was enmeshed in civil wars. Only in Igbo land did many of the territories exist as small republican entities. In the absence of the amalgamation, annexation and occupation was inevitable. In such a political and economic environment, many pre-colonial territories were actually in bondage and could not have fulfilled their group aspirations.

Furthermore, with the trend of globalization which began to peak in the 20th century, the social, economic and political states of the pre-colonial Nigerian territories could not match up with the demands of civilization. For these territories to transit into an inevitable globalizing world, they needed to team up around a common ideal in line with their God-ordained destiny.  Colonization served to facilitate that coming together even though the instruments of facilitation – the British - misconceived the divine purpose.

From Bondage to Liberty

Like the case of Moses in messianic mission, early opposition to colonial rule came in the form of armed resistance. These were however quashed by the British. Violent resistance continued especially in Igboland even after the last town, Nsukka was conquered in 1910. These spontaneous reactions to oppression could not produce freedom. However, the seed of liberty was sown 1920 with the rise of the nationalist fervour as some educated Africans encountered the Nigerian ideal and began to find an identity for themselves not along their ethnic origins but as Nigerians. It is important that we take note of this because it marked the beginning of the conception of a true Nigerian nation. In a sense, their encounter with this concept of “Nigerian-ness” produced in the hearts of founding fathers some level of spiritual faith as they progressively began to see Nigeria no longer as a mere geographical expression but as a potentially great nation destined to spearhead the total liberation of Africa, which was itself destined to become the greatest civilization in the world. These emerging patriots, in remarkable demonstration of faith, called those things that were not as though they already were.

Spiritual faith produced in them great courage as they organized movements on which platforms they audaciously challenged the oppressive policies of the British. They challenged the oppressors in print and through sit-ins; they challenged them in strikes and in boycotts; they challenged them on the streets and in the legislative councils. It was with great courage that the patriots moved the motion for independence; it was with great courage that they meandered through ethnic and sectional potholes as they sat on the negotiation table; it was with great courage that they kept on the fight until an acceptable constitutional framework for democratic governance was produced. Eventually, great courage produced liberty when independence was attained on October 1 1960 to the admiration of the world. “Though tribes and tongues may differ, in brotherhood we stand… to build a nation where no one is oppressed” was the ideal to which the new nation aspired.

From Liberty Back to Bondage

The framework of the democratic Nigerian State at independence was hinged on true federalism in acknowledgement of the fact that ours is a nation comprised of many national sub-entities.  The new Nigerian state was structured along regional federating units that allowed each region to pursue its ideals and developmental aspirations at its own pace within a Nigerian national ideal. Each region had its own constitution; each region had its own coat of arms; each region possessed residual constitutional powers such that matters that were not within the national jurisdiction fell within regional legislative powers. Unlike the 1999 constitution which has 68 items on the exclusive list, the independence constitution had 44 items exclusive to the federal government meaning that compared to the federal government, the federating units had sufficient space within the framework of the Nigerian State to pursue their individual destinies. They had internal self-determination which produced regional competitive development.  From the groundnut pyramids in the north to the cocoa and rubber plantations in the west and the oil palm plantations in the east, liberty had produced abundance.

However, within a short while, abundance translated to selfishness as politicians became consumed with occupying the neocolonial space in class distinction; but to sustain the class differences they resorted to corrupt and ostentatious living while living conditions became increasingly difficult for the people. Politicians fanned the embers of ethnic and regional divisions to consolidate their power bases and by so doing gave up the pursuit of a Nigerian ideal thereby halting the evolution of a true Nigerian nation. Development was no longer the motivation for public service. Complacency had set in.  Election rigging and politically motivated violence held sway in the west as the best and brightest were crowded out of the system. In the east, elections were boycotted as apathy set in. In the pretext of maintaining law and order, the federal government trampled on the liberty of the Western Region by making a precipitate declaration of state of emergency and bringing the military into the system. To quell election violence in parts of the country, soldiers were deployed to monitor elections. By these actions, the politicians had shown themselves unable to govern and had demonstrated dependence on the military. Apathy had produced dependence. Eventually, convinced that the politicians had failed the nation, on January 15 1966, exactly 48 years ago, the military struck and the nation was back in bondage. Subsequently, on May 24 1966, the framework of the Nigerian State was destroyed when General Aguiyi Ironsi through Decree No. 34 abolished the regions. That day saw the death of the budding Nigerian nation. It was not long after that that the different nations which had been held together by the evolving Nigerian nation began to demand secession, beginning with the north when the Murtala Mohammed led counter-coup plotters advocated a northern break-away which would have been but for the persuasion of the likes of Yakubu Gowon.  Eventually, with the east insisting on secession, the Nigerian Civil War was the inevitable result. Whereas, historians say that it takes 200 years for nations to go full cycle in the sequence of national bondage, it took Nigeria just six years. 

That cycle of bondage continued in rapid frequency from regime to regime. As Nigerians suffered excruciating bondage, a supposed messianic set of coup plotters, with faith in their capacity to change the system would demonstrate great courage by overthrowing the existing government and promising liberty. In most cases, the citizens would rejoice at the so called dawn of liberty. The administration would make few changes, execute few projects which would produce some semblance of abundance and thereafter slip into selfishness looting the polity in most cases. With officials engrossed in corrupt enrichment, government's focus would shift from developmental or transitional programmes and complacency would set in. The Nigerian people would then become apathetic resigning themselves to the situation waiting for the next set of messiahs – demonstrating their inability to take their destinies in their hands - a despicable state of dependence.  This state of internal oppression also returned Nigeria to extreme dependence on her erstwhile colonial masters and their allies in the form of the structural adjustment programme of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that came with excruciating conditions which eroded Nigeria’s social infrastructure. At the same time, Nigeria’s debt to the Paris club of international creditors mounted exponentially while her wealth was brazenly looted and kept in foreign accounts in some of these countries by their internal collaborators in an oppressive international order. In essence, Nigeria was back in bondage, not only to internal forces but also to external forces.

It is noteworthy, however, that as this cycle of bondage unfolded, liberators like the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi rose up to challenge the military and press for return to democratic governance. These liberators, having encountered the Nigerian ideal could not stand injustice no matter what part of the country the victim was from. Therefore, where politicians and the military had failed, Nigeria’s civil rights activists became her new set of nationalists reviving the Nigerian ideal of liberty and brotherhood. They had faith that a new nation was possible. This faith produced great courage. With great courage, they fought against military oppression; with great courage they defended democracy when free and fair elections were annulled and heroes of democracy were thrown into jail; with great courage, they demanded a return to democratic governance. Eventually, the liberation struggle succeeded and returned the nation to civil rule. Although MKO Abiola, the hero of democracy had died in custody, it seemed that liberty had been achieved when Olusegun Obasanjo was brought out of prison to become president. The land rejoiced despite the foreboding signs; despite the awkward framework of State bequeathed to the fourth republic by the military including a fake federal structure, moribund state institutions, a militarily engineered constitution laying false claims to the appellation, “We the People” and a government that was poised to serve self and to take corruption to new heights, the people embraced the mere semblance of liberty.

As usual in the cycle, the dawn of a new era as it were came with the promise of abundance. And, truly, aided by the improved international image as well as the inclusion of internationally reputed technocrats in the administration in addition to soaring international oil prices, Nigeria’s return to civil rule brought some macro-economic gains such as the increase in foreign reserves and the buy-back of Nigeria’s debt to the Paris club. Liberty, manifest in civil rule, had produced some sort of abundance. This atmosphere of abundance provided the breeding ground for personal aggrandizement as politicians, from the presidency to the state and local governments, helped themselves to the nation's resources and became the targets of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Then, complacency set in as General Obasanjo, satisfied with his supposed achievements, which however did not reflect significantly in the living condition of the average Nigerian, sought to perpetuate himself in power and so unleashed the machinery of state against perceived enemies among the political class. Media was censured, outspoken critics were targeted and juridical decisions were subjected to executive interpretations. Meanwhile, Obasanjo himself raised the mountain of corruption to an unimaginable peak. As apathy set in among the electorate, General Obasanjo, indignant that he could not foist a third-term agenda on Nigeria, imposed a sick president on the nation through a fraudulent election, I beg your pardon, selection, overseen by Professor Maurice Iwu.

Apathy gave rise once again to bondage as power hijackers took advantage of President Yaradua’s ailment to seize the institution of state. For a space of two months the nation was without a president and Nigerians were taken for a ride by a bunch of opportunists in and around the presidency. Budgets were signed, monies were disbursed in flagrant violation of the constitution and the law was used to shield criminals; cries by the Nigerian people for sanity were rebuffed by the hijackers. This phase of bondage overlapped with complacency as civil rights activist had for too long sheathed their swords and beat their spears into pruning hooks since the return to civil rule. It was at this time that Save Nigeria Group was born out of spiritual faith as a convergence of civil rights groups and leaders. It took faith to make the decision to march on Abuja. Faith turned to great courage as civil rights leaders and Nigerians from the six geopolitical zones placed a demand on the National Assembly to act in accordance with the constitution. Eventually, the voice of the people prevailed in the so-called doctrine of necessity.

That was four years ago. The question on your minds at this time would be, “what stage of the cycle are we now at?” The fact, however, is that, looking back at 2010 to examine what stage we are in at this point would be a shortsighted retrospection. Though the people prevailed in 2010, full liberty was not attained. Genuine liberty was not attained in 1999 either, not with a culture of corruption, impunity and sectional interest that pervades every sector and every level of the social cadre; not with a pseudo-federal structure that constrains the birth and development of true nationhood and the capacity of the constituents to develop at their respective paces; not with institutions that serve the interest of a privileged few who have cornered the resources of our country; not with a constitution that was forced on the people by the military and which gives fundamental human rights with one hand and takes them away with the other; not with a judiciary that will set free perpetrators of multibillion naira theft and send pepper and onion thieves to jail; not with legislatures that consume the greater percentage of the country’s  recurrent expenditure, making laws that have no bearing on the welfare of the people and defending positions like child marriage that perpetuate socio-economic bondage; not with executive governments that have continued the culture of plunder, looting the treasury through various schemes from the security votes of state governors to fuel subsidy by the federal government and perpetuating themselves in power through fraudulent electoral procedures by which they have perfected the act of undetectable rigging. No! It is not yet uhuru!

Time will fail me to tell of the decay to which citizens are subjected across sectors; how that Nigeria has constantly fallen in educational standards in the Mo Ibrahim Index of Governance since 2006 or that Nigeria ranks 183rd out of 215 countries by literacy rate, or that 10.5 million Nigerian children are not enrolled in school; or that no Nigerian university is ranked among the top 50 in Africa or that Nigerian students spend 5-8 years studying for four year courses because strikes and school closures are factored in.

There is not enough time to talk about the economy, how that, despite the GDP growth rate of over 7% and a reported influx of foreign investments, 62% of Nigerians still live in poverty, 100 million Nigerians are destitute as the gap between the rich and the poor widens with 1% of the country’s population controlling 80% of the country’s oil wealth.

If I had sufficient time, I would tell you how the failing health sector has worsened the standard of living of the average Nigerian with majority of our hospitals in deplorable conditions and our health workers on strike every now and then while our leaders contribute to our country's reported loss of 80 billion naira annually to foreign medical trips.

If time were sufficient to talk about security, I would talk about how that since 2010 over 400 bombs have exploded in Nigeria with lives and limbs lost, property destroyed and families devastated. Yes, little gains have been made but this framework of State cannot keep pace with the aspirations of the Nigerian in us. The jacket just does not fit. This is not the nation our founding fathers envisioned; this is not the nation that liberators like Gani suffered and died for; this is not the nation of our dreams; this is not the embodiment of our aspirations, the ideal for which we strive as a people.

The Way Forward

To move forward from this national quagmire, we must go back in order to go forward and we must approach the task on all fronts.

First, we must return to the cesspool in which the young Nigerian nation was dumped with the bath water on the 24th of May 1966. We must reach out for her, retrieve what is left of her, wash her clean and nurture her back to life. This we must do by returning to the dialogue table to restructure. Like I have said on previous occasions, we must get set to rebuild and restore; we must retrieve what is remaining of the pillars of our founding fathers and we must restructure and reconstruct; we must rebuild from wall to wall, from gate to gate; from community to community; from city to city; and from region to region until the whole nation is restored to its former and even greater glory. That is why we welcome the idea of a constitutional conference and insist that the modalities be genuinely people-driven.

Like our founding fathers when they embarked on constitutional dialogues on the road to independence, on the dialogue table, we must have the courage to confront our fears, doubts and concerns about the Nigeria question, sweeping nothing under the carpet, yet we must be ready to make intelligent compromises. As we do so, we must not forget that sovereignty lies with the people, not with politicians many of whom did not even win elections. Therefore, we must find creative mechanisms to bring all the sub-nationalities together to negotiate the destiny of our nation in such a manner that smoothly and peacefully transports us from the current system to a true people’s constitution that has genuine claims to the phrase, “We The People”. Such a constitution must guarantee social and economic rights as well as civil and political rights without derogating these rights through backdoor provisions. We must embark on people-driven restructuring, cautiously guided by the realization that a system that makes peaceful change impossible makes violent change inevitable and that a constitution that will not bend will break.

Secondly, while stakeholders and genuine representatives of the people gear up for the dialogue table, there must be a movement of  fellow Nigerians, young and old, male and female, at home and abroad, with patriotic zeal burning in their hearts, committed to finding a true Nigerian ideal and ensuring that the dialogue is conducted as prescribed by the people and that its outcome represents the genuine aspirations of the people. These Nigerians must take advantage of every medium, from social media to community gatherings and from conventional media to town hall meetings, to discuss the issues intelligently and to mount pressure on the government to respect the aspirations of the people. As Dr. Martin Luther King (Jr.) said when he stood before the American nation at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, one hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln, “this is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy”. Therefore, we must not put the cart before the horse by placing emphasis on 2015. If we do not do the needful in 2014, there may be no 2015, but if we dedicate ourselves to restructuring our nation at this opportune time, the outcome will be the emergence of credible leadership that will ensure a Nigeria that works. Therefore as we mark the centenary, genuine patriots must take up this challenge of national rebirth and become statesmen whose shoulders the younger generation of Nigerians can mount to catch a glimpse of the Nigerian dream.

It is instructive that the term, “nation” is derived from the Latin word natio, meaning,  “birth”.  True nationhood is conceived with divine input and delivered through human instruments. Such human stakeholders must begin to accept the promptings of destiny and not ignore the paradoxical birth pangs that come with it, for those birth pangs indicate that the gestation period has climaxed and that now is the time to take our destiny in our hands.

People often ask, “now that Gani is no longer here, who will step into his shoes?” My response to that has always been that eagles do not flock. You only see one at a time. Therefore Gani’s shoes will forever remain his; nobody can step into them because they are uniquely his.  Yet, every Nigerian, at home and abroad must become a stakeholder, throwing off the cloak of complacency and apathy, and contributing in his or her unique way to the making of a nation where, though tribes and tongues differ, the people will rise in brotherhood to build a great nation where no one is oppressed and whose banner is without stain.

It is possible!

It is doable!

We can do it!

We should do it!

We must do it!

Thank you, God bless you and God bless our nation Nigeria. And may Gani's legacy live forever.

 

Pastor Tunde Bakare,

Serving Overseer,

The Latter Rain Assembly,

Lagos, Nigeria

            &

The Convener,

Save Nigeria Group.

Being Text Of Speech Delivered By Pastor Tunde Bakare At The 10th Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi's Annual Lecture

By The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja Branch

On The 15th Of January 2014

At The Airport Hotel, Ikeja.

 

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