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Nigeria at Crossroads

June 22, 2010

That the country is at the crossroads is too glaring for the blind to see and feel. The question agitating the minds of her watchers is; “will she travel the road less traveled or continue on the path of self destruct?” Permit to use the cliché, madness is defined as the continuation of the same old process and the expectation of a different result. We can not be cooking beans and expect to eat rice in return. It has become obvious that we started the journey wrongly footed; only a bold U-turn like in all affairs of men will take us to the promise land.

That the country is at the crossroads is too glaring for the blind to see and feel. The question agitating the minds of her watchers is; “will she travel the road less traveled or continue on the path of self destruct?” Permit to use the cliché, madness is defined as the continuation of the same old process and the expectation of a different result. We can not be cooking beans and expect to eat rice in return. It has become obvious that we started the journey wrongly footed; only a bold U-turn like in all affairs of men will take us to the promise land.
One step forward and three steps backwards is a motion with negative movement that leads only into the abyss. Who will or how do we bale the cat? This will be crux of this article.

Unless there is a paradigm shift, this generation is doing the unthinkable, heralding our children and generations after them into a tinder box that will definitely ignite one day and consume them. Why should we be so wicked? In other climes, people are breaking barriers that box people into cultural domains and kingdoms into a new world of liberty and freedom. In Europe, they are talking of European citizenships not German or Spanish. Here we are engaged in primordial argument of whether Lord Lugard made a mistake in amalgamating Northern and Southern Nigeria or how many tribal marks should the next president have? Can we not take a cue from the Europeans, and raise the bar of our public discourse and engagements? What is confounding is when people who claim to know or intellectuals join in foray. That is where everybody, Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba are collectively guilty. Since the death of the late President Yar’Adua, Nigeria has become divided along whether President Jonathan should run in 2011 or not. The argument is not what the present administration which the current president is part and parcel of would achieve during their first term to earn our votes and confidence. The take it or leave it disposition which the arguments are generating to is what should be worrisome to all sane people who deeply care about the entity called Nigeria. When you speak in support of national presidents instead tribal presidents, many think you are insane. Every body thinks the problem of Nigeria is the other tribe and that his tribe is God sent to redeem Nigeria. That is where we go wrong, there are good and bad people in every tribe, only God fearing people under proper institutions of check and balances will provide purposeful leadership. Without doubt there are economies of scale in every region, what we need is honest and dedicated leaders who can harness and pull these resources together.

When the cabal that is holding Nigeria captive brought OBJ against the wishes of Yoruba people to lead Nigeria, after eight years of dancing kokoma with lives; what did ordinary Yoruba man on the street again? Apart from his cohorts and co-travelers in the corridors of power who cut across all tribes, the ordinary Yoruba man gained nothing. After eight years he still sends his children to unfunded and dilapidated public schools, travels the same roads with boreholes called potholes, sleeps perpetually in darkness whenever the governors of the night permit him to, and struggling to feed his family just like the rest of us. Even the clique who benefited did not fair much better.  After dipping their hands in the till to help themselves, they built expensive mansions and then erect fences with security features common with prison yards. Is that the way to live? Let the truth be told, until the critical mass of Nigeria is provided with basic means of livelihood, no body will ever be safe. The insecurity problem we are witnessing at the moment is just tip of the iceberg.

Enough for now of the OBJ’s era, how about the Northern leadership? Nigeria became an independent nation for about 50 years now, out of that she has had northern leadership for over 38 years or 76% of the time. What benefits has accrued to ordinary northerner? I doubt very little if any. According to the CBN statistics, which nobody has refuted so far, the north is under excruciating poverty. Why has occupation of the seat of power at the centre for over 76% of the time since independence not translated into copious benefits to ordinary people of the north compared to other parts of Nigeria? If you can see my drift, you will begin to see that the leadership problem of Nigeria has nothing to do with the tribal marks of the president but upon the foundation on which the country is built. So let us stop the enervating arguments of where the president, the governor or local government chairman comes from but engage our energy on how to enthrone equity, fairness, trust and accountability which must exist if we intend to build a nation.

Human beings are the same every where and so are their needs. If you ask a Calabar man to make a choice between having his senior brother as the president and have no water, no electricity, no hospitals , no work to do , no food for his family as we are experiencing today or to have a Kanuri man as president and have otherwise. I bet you his choice will not be different from that of a Yoruba or Igbo man. The idea of rotational presidency is not bad, however it must be based on equity, fairness, accountability and true democratic process. If the Yorubas were given the opportunity to produce a president through a robust and true democratic process, and the leader emerged, Nigeria would have started on the path of nationhood instead of the twelve years of motion without movement. Similarly with the process that produced the late president Yar’Adua. If the north were given the opportunity to produce a president through a fair, equitable and open democratic process, I am sure the late president with due respect to him would not have become president.

So it is our process, the fundamental underpinnings of democracy that has gone awry. Nigeria has all it takes to be a very great country. With knowledge of hindsight and common trend today for discrete economic powers to be pulling together to form a single and stronger economic blocks, one can argue that Sir Lord Lugard might have been ahead of his time. That aside, Nigeria is not the only country that was formed by capricious amalgamation of different nationalities. The USA as we know it today never existed until Columbus made his famous journey to America. After obtaining their independence from Britain in 1776, the colonies operated as independent countries or nations until 1787 when a handful of them agreed to adopt a common constitution. Prior to their constitutional conference of 1787, there were public debates for a confederate or federate structure. By sheer providence, the Federates won and America became a model state she is today. America has never looked back because of the solid foundation on which she was built. Look at  the opening statement of their constitution, “we the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide common defence, promote the general welfare and secure the Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America (emphasis mine)”Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers of  America believed, rightly so, that human beings everywhere are borne with certain natural and “ unalienable” rights which no government can take away,  and that government exist purely to protect these rights. These rights in their words are; “right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”. Are these not the same rights every Nigerian is seeking to have whether in Sokoto or Lagos? Why has leadership at every level of the Nigeria polity do not think of posterity in their actions and inactions? Why have we consistently failed to provide the spring board upon which the future generation can build upon? Why are we in diffidence in openly discussing the future of our fatherland? When organizing our own constitutional conference, the first thing the government in power will do is to declare some areas as “no go areas”. A constitution is supposed to be people’s document. A document that is produced with the rights of the people emasculated abinitio can not be called a Constitution of the people. That is the reason Nigeria does not have a constitution. What we have is “an army arrangement” apologies to Late Fela. Why does the political class think that building on quick sand is what will save Nigeria? So far it is not saving, and will never save the country.

I do think that why we have not raised the bar of our political discussion is the fear of one tribe dominating the other. The fear is now contagious and cancerous as it is spreading from macro group concern to mini-micro group interest. In selecting the local government chairman, it is no longer the man’s content of character, competence and track records that qualify him for the job but from which town or kindred he comes from. What a sad denigration of the people’s right to civility?

Neither parochial group interest nor myopic tribal jingoism has ever advanced the course of the people. When I left the secondary school in 1978, I was privileged to be near the people who were organizing to do head count for Nigeria. Today, 32 years after, Nigeria is yet to conduct a reliable and acceptable census. Why is accurate head count not possible in Nigeria? There is a fear that a true head count will alter the geo-political equation in Nigeria. My question is what is the worth of this geo-political power 50 years after independence? I see very little. As a result of the fear of losing political power, every thing that will indirectly achieve a true head count has failed. A good example is the national ID card, which as also failed. Every aspect of our national life is falsified to support a bogus population. It is a major plank for election rigging. How do we think we can build a nation based on falsehood and expect it to make progress? Do ever know the consequences of not having a reliable national data base of our citizens? It means the police will be incapacitated to fight crime. It means we can not do a free and fair election. It means we would not be able to allocate resources to the most critical areas of our economy. It is analogous to driving a car blind folded.  It means our economy will continue to be primordial because the banks cannot offer unsecured credits. The whole myth of American magic and strong purchasing power is anchored on unsecured credit system. It is the system which can take our economy to the next level and make it possible for an average citizen to live a comfortable life so long as he or she remains a productive member of the society. It is a system which can cure us of our kleptomaniac tendencies and put an end to systemic bribery and corruption. The list is endless.

In the US, census is conducted every 10years, the process is simple and transparent. The result is used for many purposes. For instance, the seat to the House of Representatives is allocated based on it. Population is vertically and horizontally dynamic, so if the New York’s population declines and that of Georgia increases significantly, it means for the next 10years Georgia would be allocated more seats into the House of Representatives, no grammar, no politics. In Nigeria that is not possible, population of the people is ever vertically dynamic even when there are no strong economic indices to support such claims. Which is better, to own 5% equity in a company that is making billions of dollars in profit or own 100% equity in a company that is making loses and will soon go bankrupt? It appears in Nigeria we have chosen the later. It is either we steer the ship aground or nothing.

A society that annihilates her best will not go far. To win world cup with third eleven will not only be a 21st century miracle but join the wonders of the world, but such is not the law which can not err, as you sow so shall you reap. You can not drive a car forward looking backwards. In today’s global marketplace, leadership is an audacious and multitasking assignment. A leader must have the capacity and depth to think in multi-dimensions in order to see how the various elements and activities are linked together, and how these intangible forces of nature impact the lives of the people. The only way to produce such leadership or leaders that will be responsive to the people, and have the ability to do what is right is through the power of the people and not by selection and adoption that is aberration to civilized societies.
All attempts we have been making in nation building since independence has been feeble and will continue to remain so until we create a free and equitable space for all to operate in. There is no circuitous route to nation building; every section should be free to express their fears and concerns. As true patriots we must address these fears and then design a system that protects the rights of strongest as well as that of the weakest in the union. Until the critical mass of Nigeria participates in her development we are going no where. The politics of exclusion only breeds corruption, nepotism and crime.

Fears, whether for political or economic domination, will always remain what they are “fears”. Fear is good if we use it to exercise reasonable caution and provide protection for our families. However, fear becomes a monster when we allow it to become our national policy, control us, becloud our sense of judgment and quality reasoning. Fear becomes our greatest enemy when it prevents us from loving and having healthy relationship with our neighbours. Fear will eventually kill us when we create a false sense of security without realizing that the tide is changing, and time is running out both for the governing and the governed. From what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan we can see that strength and sophistication of an army do not define wars anymore. That is why peaceful and mutual co-existence is imperative in Nigeria. The best way to protect any interest in a system is to make everybody have a stake in that system.

The reason Nigeria did not allow the GSM technology before small countries like Togo and Republic of Benin was because of the fear been peddled then by selfish Nitel staff and uninformed security agents that the technology which they know nothing about was a danger to the national security. Today, after more than 7 years with over 60 million gsm handsets in hands of Nigerians, the technology has not destroyed Nigeria; rather it has created thousands of jobs and reduced the cost of doing business. Unfortunately while Nitel is in comatose for running corrupt, shortsighted and insensitive organization, the very people who peddled such fears not only have they moved on, but now swagger with 2 to 3 handsets of different networks.

It is same fear that some regions will become too strong, so when we went to copy the American system of government we omitted some aspects that gave that powerful system its teeth and functionality. As a result what we have is neither a confederate nor federate structure. For instance, under the American system, the governor of the state is the chief security officer of the state both in principle and practice. He or she has security personnel from cities, counties and state levels under his control to do his work. In the Nigerian system, the governor is the chief security officer, however the security of the state is in the hands of Commissioner of the Police, who reports to IG, who in turn reports to the President. If there is clash of interest between the President and the Governor as happened in Anambra State under Governor Ngige, the president withdraws the security personnel. Every month we foolishly dash money to the governors as security votes when they have responsibility without power and authority. How can we be running such a fraudulent system and expect things to work otherwise?

While we lack powers to change the past we must begin now to honestly talk and plan on how we want to live in the future. For the neo-political class and intellectuals we must come to terms with reality. The ship as it is currently constituted will ultimately run aground, no amount of praying and night vigils will ever save her. Men not angels build institutions; anything to the contrary is an illusion.

God bless Nigeria.

Osy Odife

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