FOR THE SAKE OF THE LIVING & THE DEAD A PLEA FOR CAUTION
By Femi Adelegan
Obafemi Awolowo, in one of his publications: ‘My March Through Prison’ asserted that we must continue to expect disagreements among people, as “wrangling or contention has a human trait, which will be exhibited under all and any circumstances. He went further “even if all our problems were solved by God in one go, with all mankind having enough to eat and to wear; decent houses to live in, sound education, good health, happy homes, big cars, political freedom, godly and truly publicspirited rulers to administer our affairs etc., we will still argue among ourselves, at least, as to why God should bestow His bounty so generously on everyone!”
In Nigeria, the foregoing is pronounced as a result of civilization, exposure of the citizenry, whose consciousness has been greatly provoked by a high level of political sophistry, as well as citizens’ increasing awareness of their rights and obligations. Much as this factor has contributed to emancipation, it is regrettably being exploited by the elites to heat up the political space. Various actions, fouled by vitriolic and venomous pronouncements give cause for concern. The intention here, as the title of this piece suggests, is not to find faults with any individual or organization, but to point out some pertinent steps that could at least mitigate wrangling, and enable us avoid pitfalls of the past, that have drawn our nation backward by several decades. This also serves as a special appeal to all Nigerians, in the name of God, to embrace the option of peaceful coexistence, just as it conveys pleas to well”meaning opinion and religious leaders to step up interventions, in order to tone down the strong influences of animosity that have unfortunately pervaded the political atmosphere.
The bond that ties us together stipulates that Nigerians must have an agenda, setting out how they want to co”exist, and the obligations and responsibilities of the State to the organized society. This gave birth to the constitution, which according to Aristotle, “is an arrangement of citizens, or as he says elsewhere, a kind of life, which the State is designed to foster.” The ethical nature of the State, not only dominates, but, so to speak, completely overlaps its political and legal nature. Therefore, since Nigerians have agreed to come together under a common banner, and are bound by common rules and regulations, the current attempt to thoroughly review the constitution to take into account of our differences and realities, is a welcome development, and would succeed, provided the exercise is handled dispassionately. I say so because differences in thoughts and opinions occur in every organized political setting all over the world and patriotism and honesty of purpose are central to successes in nation building. I refuse to accept the notion that our elites are unaware of the dangers inherent in some of their actions. Part of the beauty of democracy is the divergence of opinions. Politicians and opinion moulders must, therefore, act responsibly and subscribe to the style of advancing superior arguments in order to reduce incidents of friction to the barest minimum.
Where does our nation stand? The truth is that the political terrain is currently very slippery; and we can do with lesser tension and strife. If Nigeria’s problems are carefully dissected, it would be discovered that they have been created largely by those who profit from such tribulations that have plagued our nation. I make bold to say that the ordinary Nigerian would not bother about who governs him or her, the ruler’s tribe, colour or creed, provided the culture of good governance is entrenched to empower the civil populace to be able to afford, and have access to basic necessities. It is true that there is no society without its own measure of tribalism and regionalism. Great Britain and Belgium are classic examples of advanced societies that have had our type off experience; but these have not negatively impacted development to a great extent, in relation to what is happening to our society. In Nigeria, the problem of state or place of origin, religion, ethnicity, tribalism, nepotism and related ills, have combined to constitute formidable barriers to development. We have not been able to give expression to politics without bitterness, and imbibe a spirit of tolerance and sportsmanship, in accordance with the philosophy of a political theorist, Edmund Burke, who once asserted that ”our patience will achieve more than our force.”
Our inability to eschew bitterness is undoubtedly a potential catalyst for conflict, underdevelopment and destruction. If the truth must be told, embers of religious, ethnic, political and tribal prejudices have sadly been fanned, fundamentally by those who should encourage and promote national unity and development, as well as those who understand political history of the developed world, which we are copying. Nigeria is expected to be a land where all men are born equal and have access to the same opportunities without any form of discrimination. Avoidable conflicts have encouraged deep”rooted and congenital hatred among different groups, while the secularity of the nation, as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal of Nigeria, has at different periods of the nation’s history been threatened to the very fabric of its foundation. Ostensibly, those who fan the embers of disunity, particularly within the political, religious and elite classes, profit from this dangerous development and would always be happy to promote issues that divide, rather than unite the citizenry. Against this background, our values and norms require a thorough examination. What for instance causes separatist intentions? Why have some of our pronouncements and actions been very disturbing, even in the face of the attendant possible unpleasant consequences? The answer has to do with patriotism, self”seeking concerns and sincerity of purpose.
As the political arena assumes higher levels of activity, we have been unable, in many instances, to avoid and resist the temptation of promoting those issues that divide us, above those that unite us. In doing this, we have not put aside sentiments that have torn Nigerians apart, and resolve to build a progressive polity, which is possible if we re”examine our ways and resolve to play the game according to the rules, and avoid dangerous pitfalls and landmines. And for this to happen, there must be unanimity of purpose, in line with Nelson Mandela’s statement that ”A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” It is not impossible for political leaders across the divide to come together periodically, to discuss the way forward, in order for Nigeria to attain greater heights; even without attracting the media and playing to the gallery, in national interest. Our problems are multifarious and go beyond constitutional reviews, creation of areas, delineation of constituencies, balkanization of local governments, and creation of additional states. The dangerous trend of ethnicity, religious intolerance, statism, advancement of sectional interests, feelings of mistrust and intolerance pervade the atmosphere. Restiveness and political conflagration that have occurred in various parts of the country are partly attributable to the influence of the elites who have benefitted profoundly from these ills. The good thing is that all these problems are surmountable.
Some examples would buttress this postulation. Some of the reactions of the elites have been driven by personal and selfish interests. For instance, people are still clamouring for the creation of more states and local governments without considering its effect on the economy. How many states in Nigeria today are economically viable apart from Lagos State? The truth is that not all states in Nigeria can be considered viable on account of their inability to maintain themselves without recourse to the federation accounts. Creation of additional states based on sentiments would invariably hurt the economy, with the possibility of the nation producing failed states. It is even better we reconfigure the nation and merge several states so that resources could go to the provision of amenities rather than servicing huge overhead bills. We must resist the tendency of taking decisions simply because we originate from certain locations, as only a few stand to benefit from such actions. Besides, if every town or hamlet is given its own local government in the country today, there would still be more protests and demands for more, to cater for selfish interests and other matters that are not really in public interest. It is, therefore, necessary, for the society to eliminate myopic views and considerations which would not be in the interest of the overall majority.
It may be impossible for leaders to know the interests of all, but I think the best leaders look to, as wide an audience as possible, before taking decisions. It is important that we don’t just look to maintain our own interests, or those of our immediate neighbours, but imbibe the culture of being cosmopolitan, that would allow functionaries from the local government to state and federal levels to take rational actions directed at developing their areas of influence, in the overall interest of all. We must have broader outlooks and understanding of how our actions would assist our societies to grow. Obafemi Awolowo, an avowed federalist never sited the University of Ife in Ikenne; Nnamdi Azikiwe did not establish the University of Nigeria in his home”town, while Ahmadu Bello University was built in Zaria, and not in Sokoto or Bauchi, which are the states of origin of Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa. These great Nigerians, like our present leaders, also had problems of managing plural communities; plural in ethnicity, religions and culture; but preferred to act in the overall interests of their different larger constituencies. Consider the issue of appointments and elections into public offices.
When Awolowo was the premier of Western”Region, AdelekeAdedoyin, the Hon. Speaker of the Western Region Legislature hailed from Sagamu, Ogun State. The Chief Justice, Adetokunbo Ademola originated from Abeokuta; Simeon Adebo, the Head of Service was born in Abeokuta, and the Leader of Government Business, Jonathan Odebiyi was from Egbado; which means that all principal officers originated from today’s Ogun State. Additionally, they were all Christians in a government of the like of DaudaSoroyeAdegbenro and Kessington Momoh, prominent Muslims. Nobody kicked against this arrangement because politicians of the first Republic were very cosmopolitan in outlook. The trend of seeking elective offices on account of region of birth and religion actually started in the early 1980s. Unfortunately, politicians now capitalize on Christian and Muslim beliefs and partnerships for political offices. How does this affect performance and good governance? This development has also crept into the selection and appointment of cabinet members, with heads of government at the tree tiers perfecting the delicate act of balancing, for fair representation of adherents of the two major religions in government. If I may ask, what is the gain of the ordinary Christian or Muslim on the streets in representation in government? Certainly, cabinet members and other political aides at all levels, are not in office to protect the interests of religious organizations, and even their States of origin, in a Presidential system, as against the practice in Parliamentary or Westminster model that makes cabinet members belong to both the executive and legislature.
The pattern has been extended to the appointment of public servants to top career positions in the public service; when ordinarily, the public service should harbour the best brains on account of its being the hub of government business. One can never be sure that ifa or idol worshippers would not very soon start negotiating for lucrative positions of Senate President, Speaker of Federal and State legislatures, or Secretaries to governments on account of religious beliefs. Ideally, competence, merit and inherent capabilities ought not to be pushed to the background. Another important issue that demands attention is citizenship, which must override all other claims in a plural society, so as to give every Nigerian a sense of belonging, no matter where he or she might have originated. No Nigerian should be an alien in any part of the country. These are problems that have periodically led to heightened fears about the possible dismemberment of Nigeria. This problem permeates all strata of the society, down to the local government level. Forget the expressions of Ibo nation, Hausa nation, Yoruba nation, Fulani nation or Ijaw nation. It doesn’t work and never happens that one state would throw its doors open to indigenes of another state within the fold, without discriminating.
In addition, youth development is universal and germane to the development of the country. It is in youths that the process of societal renewal is embedded. It is important for the nation to address the problems confronting youths, particularly unemployment, creation of an enabling environment for youth development, and the eradication of some social vices in which youths are involved. There must be attitudinal changes, propelled by good policies and programmes, designed and implemented to promote national development. At the level of policy implementation, it is important for political appointees at all levels to make honest and dispassionate presentations to their principals. Whoever offers tainted advice with intent to mislead his or her principal is not fit to be in office. The buck might stop at the table of the boss; but in administration, a subordinate could be queried for misadvising the big boss. The task of fighting for constituencies/areas/states should not be the concern of political appointees, but should be left to legislators at the three tiers of government.
Before concluding, let me discuss the God”factor. Let us appreciate all our religious leaders that have continuously stood in the gap for Nigeria. We are lucky to be blessed with several priests that hear from God are regularly walk with the Creator. This year, some Christian denominations have prayed and fasted continuously for 100 days for the peace and progress of our nation. They have their reasons, as the Book of Amos: 3vs7 states that God would never do anything without revealing these secrets to His prophets. God controls the universe. And to mankind, the Holy Bible, in 2 Chronicles 20vs20, enjoins us to believe the Lord and His prophets so that we may be established and prosper. God has His principles and He expects us to do our own part before the Creator does His own. The Book of Jonah: 3vs10 tells the story of how the people of Nineveh turned from their evil ways and God repented from destroying them. All Nigerians must, therefore, be fervent in prayers for our nation’s growth. May I, with the greatest respect, request our revered Pastor Enoch Adeboye, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, and Prelate Emeritus Sunday Mbang, to prayerfully consider this suggestion for them to call their ”children” in the fold of top politicians and elites in the country, without any publicity, counsel and pray for them, and direct them to make peace with one another; and to also rule with the fear of God. The Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Sa’ad Abubakar, is also humbly implored to take the same step. Certainly, their ”children” in top positions who rule at various levels would respect divine instructions, so that all may be well with Nigeria. I have nursed this burden for over one year, and had cause to share it with a few servants of God, and two or three top politicians. I strongly believe that if this idea is consistent with His will, our God will move concerning Nigeria, and our dear nation will fulfill her place in destiny. Other servants of God are also enjoined to follow suit at the local levels.
Conclusively, it is pertinent, for the sake of the living and the dead, to recall Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s dawn address to Nigerians in December 1964, in his capacity as the ceremonial president, immediately after the dissolution of parliament. In the address, which was delivered in preparation for the federal parliamentary elections, as reported in the West”African Pilot of December 11, 1964, recorded Azikiwe as stating that “I have one advice to our politicians. If they have decided to destroy our national unity, then they should summon a round”table conference to decide how our national assets should be divided before they seal their doom by satisfying their lust for office. I make this suggestion because it is better for us, and for many of our admirers abroad that we should disintegrate in peace and not in pieces. Should the politicians fail to heed this warning, then, I will venture the prediction that the experience of the Democratic Republic of the Congo will be a child’s play, if ever it comes to our turn to play such a tragic role.” Unfortunately, Nigeria went to war three years after Azikiwe’s warning. It must never happen again in our dear nation. Nigeria has a bright future and her potentials for development are enormous. This is our own Jerusalem. We must avoid disintegration and conflagration and we must conduct ourselves with the fear of God. I pray fervently that God may continue to make His face to shine upon Nigeria perpetually, and that the Creator will guide Nigeria to fulfill her place in destiny.
Femi Adelegan, an author, publisher, and former Special Adviser on Policies, Programmes and Plans Implementation to the governor of Osun State (20032010) was also Chief Press Secretary to four governors of Osun State from 19942000.