Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, an extraordinary philanthropist, business mogul, and politician lives in the minds of millions of people, even 20 years after his death on account of his very salient contributions to national development. Evidently, MKO Abiolas name will forever remain indelible in history as a benevolent and courageous personality who braved all odds to leave a mark on the sands of time. He was post-humously conferred with the highest honour in Nigeria The Grand Commander of the Federal Republic. Equally remembered was Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi, a stormy petrel and nonconforming human rights activist, who was detained several times on account of his boldness and dissidence. Gani was always ready with his bags of medicinal drugs, awaiting law enforcement agents to come for him. Also honoured was Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, who paired with MKO to emerge the acclaimed winner of the aborted June 12, 1993 presidential election.
Looking back, the lessons of the 1993 election are very obvious. They show very clearly that Nigerians could decide to vote for the best candidates, irrespective of religion, tribe, ethnicity, and other ills that have plagued and enveloped the political arena. The election of Abiola and Kingibe, practitioners of the same religion signify that to be able to build a polity of the dream envisaged, the nation must do away with factors like federal character, quota system, and zoning have continued to militate against the progress and prosperity of Nigeria. Indeed, the quality of participation and representation in government must not be lowered for competence and merit to suffer. Abiola had a wide acceptance all over the nation, defeating the issue of place of origin. Where people come from, religious inclinations, ethnicity, tribalism and narrow-mindedness must not be allowed pre-eminence over important considerations which should ideally throw up the best materials that must steer the ship of state constructively and admirably.
CALIBRE OF PARTICIPANTS & MERIT AS IDEAL DETERMINANT A clear allusion to this development was fiercely argued by the Sunday Sun tabloid of November 9, 2008. It posits that:
The quality of political participation and representation needs to be given a pride of place in our quest for a better and stable polity. One of the banes of our democracy is that people of questionable character, whose lack of integrity is made worse by little learning, have hijacked the political process. They have infiltrated and taken control of the political parties and therefore choose for the people those that should stand for elections. An enduring democratic culture is only achievable when we have a good dose of progressive minds in the system, which put the nation above self. Our aspiration in this regard will also come to fruition if we have models we can aspire to. We should, as a people, work towards institutionalizing the gospel that he has preached. Indeed, we need a political culture that will not be so deadly as to continue to discourage men and women of integrity and good learning from taking part in politics. This is because for as long as those who know stay out of the scene, for so long will the country to witness darkness and damnation.
QUALITY OF GOVERNANCE: Did the early nationalists envisage this problem? Have the political class also been able to trace this key problem with a view to straightening the crooked democratic path? The answer is simply yes. But our values, norms and preferences have seriously constituted formidable barriers to positive political development. The leadership question and such other issues like zoning of political offices, application of federal character in appointments and other areas of the country’s life have put solid question marks on the nation’s claim that it is a land where justice, fair play and equity are accorded due considerations. These issues have promoted 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 threatened the very fabric of its foundation and existence as a country.
From this point of view, there is a clear indication that Nigeria, and indeed, Africa must give a serious thought to the evolution of brilliant, committed and dedicated leaders with vision and mission, coupled with the ability to manage our different societies for the overall benefit of the entire citizenry. Events of the last three decades have indicated that there are critical and challenging tasks that the electorate must solve themselves by waking up from slumber to elect their preferences. One of the very salient features of Nigeria’s political arrangement in the past few years is the fact that we have been able to deepen our growing democracy. It is to be noted that Nigerians and their institutions have always engaged in robust discussions and engagement with the media in a manner that is restricted only by law. This is a commendable development because democracy cannot thrive without free speech and free press.
THE MEDIA: There is an enormous responsibility imposed on the media by Section 22 of the Constitution as amended which empowers it to hold the government accountable to the people. More importantly, the Freedom of Information Act has been passed to strengthen the media to perform its role as the watch-dog of the society. This is one of the measures that have further promoted the operation of the principle of the rule of law. The Legislature, which is the only institution through which the people participate in Government must practice its functions with an increasing commitment to the good of all and place Nigeria first in performance of official business. For instance, our grund norm the Constitution was for the first time in Nigeria’s history in 2010 achieved a broad amendment of multiple sections of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic. The amendments addressed popular agitations and pressures from Nigerians for the reform of the electoral process. Other areas that will most probably be amended before too long include greater fiscal federalism, citizenship rights and land use reform as the Legislature is currently processing demands for a general review of the extant Constitution. Ten years later, we still have a long way to go concerning fashioning an acceptable constitution.
DEMOCRATIZATION OF ELECTIONS Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations proclaims that everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country and Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country. It adds: The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; and this will, shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures. In many nations, however, the conduct of successive elections has provoked agitations for electoral reforms. Perhaps no issue has been touchier than that of the electoral process, which many participants have condemned on account of the allegations of brazen disregard for the basic rules and transparency. Accordingly, political transition programmes have been hotly contested in Africa as a result of disagreements over the handling of elections. The Nigerian Guardian newspaper’s editorial of June 12, 2014, contends that ”elections have been used in many African countries to disguise authoritarianism and camouflage impunity. Accordingly, Africa’s leaders must devise the means of bringing some semblance of order to the rather chaotic system of implementation of public policies. A radical new approach is needed to weave political policies into a comprehensive and cohesive framework that would produce a new continent that would be free from overdependence on the Western world.
From the above point of view, what appears to be the first important consideration is getting our priorities right and acting dispassionately in the overall interest of the masses. It would profit the polity if political and opinion leaders engage in robust debates that are issue-based, and also get involved in logical discussions and sensitization of the masses as a matter of duty. Let discourse and actions be provoked by national and public interests. It is important to speak, write, and react within the limits of decency. If you truly desire improvements, join a group today and start canvassing for development and all those matters that could move the nation forward. Determine that your vote must count. Additionally, support the National Independent Electoral Commission and its counterparts at the States levels to hold elections devoid of malpractices. You could influence people in your environment to think logically about these issues and events. Teach the educated and uneducated people about democratic conducts and their importance to development. Encourage them to spread the news that it is important to elect their preferences on conviction.
THE STAKEHOLDERS We cannot hold government alone accountable for social and criminal vices in society. Where are the parents? Where are leaders of our socio-cultural organizations? Where are our royal fathers? Where are our community leaders? Are parents taking care of their children as they should do? Is government responsible for funding useless trips to Italy and similar countries for prostitution? Government never sent people trafficking in hard drugs and criminal offences to commit those offences A man of great divine wisdom, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, two years ago stated that: ‘’If you learn from the mistakes of others, you will not fall where they fall, and you will not perish where they perished; but if you fail to learn, you too will soon become a signpost that tells other not to follow the path you followed. How ironic it is for someone who was aware of the pitfalls that consumed others to end up in the same pit. This is what happens to those who never take warnings seriously. Are you like that? Do you say “it doesn’t matter “Yes, it does!’’ (Open Heavens) This applies to all those young Nigerians who daily attempt to travel out of Nigeria illegally. Government has shouted and warned severally for young people to desist from these nefarious activities that are portraying Nigeria in bad light. The issue is that we must arrest these occurrences before they emerge.
THE IMPORTANCE OF REFORMS & PLEA FOR UNITY: It is important we do bear in mind that as much as we may abhor crises, it is impossible to cohabit without disagreements. What we require is the strengthening of positive attitudes and core elements of consensus building, and mutual respect. It should be expected that people would agree to disagree without necessarily allowing developments to hamper societal development. And for this to happen, we require huge sensitization. Who fought for the creation of additional states and local governments? We the elites of course; even when we knew they were not viable. Some of the reactions of the elites have been driven by personal and selfish interests. How many states in Nigeria today are economically viable apart from Lagos State? Rigoberta Menchu, quoted above asserts that: I think that nonviolence is one way of saying that there are other ways to solve problems, not only through weapons and war. Nonviolence also means the recognition that the person on one side; and the person on the other side of the trench are both human beings, with the same faculties. At some point they have to begin to understand one another.
THE PROBLEM OF INEQUALITY, PEACE & JUSTICE I think we must be more serious with our campaign for the restoration of values that would make us proud. We must tell those who go out to misbehave that they will never have our sympathy. How can development occur with clogs? Fortunately, people like President Bill Clinton have openly pointed out that inequality is a dangerous phenomenon that the global community should address. Those pills from the borrowers are too bitter for us to swallow. For a long time, all of us Nigerians have been guilty directly or indirectly for the retarded growth of our nation. We cannot situate the blames at the doorsteps of the current Administration alone as the decay witnessed is that of decades from succeeding regimes. I say all of us, because the elites are very selfish, the peasant who sells his or her votes and cares less about democracy, while opinion leaders who prefer to ‘’sit on the fence’’, and the institutions that drive reforms and democracy have paved the way for the numerous social ills that stare our country in the face.
There are so many issues in contention. Countries of the Far East such as Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and China, which had the same GNP as Nigeria in 1960, have since multiplied theirs’ several times, and are now first or second-world countries. What is the problem, and how best could all Nigerians join hands together to lift the nation to greater heights? The cause is that we have not been able to conduct ourselves truthfully and with the fear of God. In the words of Rigoberta Menchu: ‘’Peace cannot exist without justice, justice cannot exist without fairness, fairness cannot exist without development, development cannot exist without democracy; democracy cannot exist without respect for the identity and worth of cultures and peoples. ”Yet, if can invest in a different vision of peaceful coexistence, I think we can change the world, because every problem has a nonviolent answer.’’ Rigoberta Menchu is only 60 years old and has since 1996 enjoyed the status of a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. She is also a Nobel Laureate Nominee for Peace.
THE LEADERSHIP QUESTION Former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan argued that ‘’good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development (UN 1998). I believe that it is not yet past midnight for Nigeria if we can come together again. The initiative has to come from whoever God could use for the common good. I thought about the possibility of all of us coming together for the common good. It doesn’t matter who does it. What is important is for Nigeria to be great again. The present and future of Nigeria are what are in contention and not personalities. In summary, we should not fight one another. It is evidently as a result of the foregoing that greater attention and emphasis must be accorded periodic reforms, especially institutional, fiscal, economic, political and legal reforms, that are believed to be capable of promoting good governance.
Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa and Obafemi Awolowo were never principalities. We have the same quantum of brains. The difference is that they developed theirs while we prefer to wine and dine. They excelled because they were committed. Obafemi Awolowo submitted most unequivocally, in his book: ‘Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution’ that, “What we lack very much is a sufficient number of powerful leaders with calibre, character and qualities, requisite for uniting and keeping happily together, the diverse elements in our nation” And without cooperation from all operators and citizens, however good our plans might be, achievement of targets will be impossible if we lack commitment and capability. We must put the past behind and support government to achieve its salient objectives for the common good. Let us all resolve to live harmoniously with one another.
DECLARATIONS & DIALOGUE Pronouncements of chief executives at the three tiers are directives that must be implemented. There must be measurable goals. To move Nigeria forward, dialogue is the answer and not confrontation that would not yield any fruit. Great nationalists and heroes of democracy in Nigeria recognized this fact and warned that it was senseless to go to war that could consume this nation on account of racial prejudices and political differences. There is apparently no Nigerian who is not profoundly concerned about how he or she is governed and the delivery of what has come to be known as democracy dividends to the citizenry. As a society, we have no prospect of developing except our common policies, programmes and plans are executed in accordance with modern established principles of governance. Evidently, we require total commitment and dedication as united Nigerians at home and abroad to support governments at the three tiers for positive developments.
While congratulating those honoured for pressing for the actualization of the June 12 mandate, celebrations must go beyond mere rejoicing. It must be an occasion for both political leaders and followers to review our journey so far, with a view to charting a proper course for the future, as people bound by the same aspirations. We must act responsibly and move Nigeria into her place in destiny. Furthermore, Nigerians themselves must be prepared to show more interest in democracy to be able to turn the situation around. To change a poor demands dedication and commitment.
Finally, those who lead must be prepared to be selfless and possess indomitable will, as Bola Borisade points out in his book NIGERIA: From Depression to Greatness that Molke, a General of distinction and their group, paid the price for Germany. He laid the foundation upon which Adolf Hitler later built upon. Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles de Gaulle and others paid the price for France. Elizabeth I, Oliver Cromwell and their group paid the same for England. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King and their group paid the price for the United States. Mandela and his group paid the price for the black in South Africa. The search for the magic wand for the development of Indonesia was led by General Suharto while Lee Kuan Yew lives till today in the minds of people as the modernizer of Singapore.
Who does this for Nigeria? We are blessed with the brains or human resources required to make Nigeria great. The material resources available too are enormous. It is well with our beloved country. We have no other nation other than our beautiful Nigeria that God will, in the not too far future, make the pride of the black race.
May the Good Lord bless Nigeria!