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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Lamido Adamawa’s Absurdity!

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True, Nigeria is a conglomeration of strange bedfellows; truly we’ve had too many bickering in this assemblage of differing nation-states called Nigeria.

But it is absurd that Lamido of Adamawa, His Royal Highness Muhammadu Barkindo Mustapha, could mutter the idea of seceding to Cameroon, just because he was not happy that he could not get the usual ‘hallowed’ status he enjoys in his palace at the on-going National Conference. It is similarly irresponsible for Northern Elders Forum (NEF) to voice support for the monarch’s position.

In a widely reported statement, Lamido Adamawa, at the floor of the on-going National Conference stated that: “Jingoism is not the monopoly of anyone. We are here to make Nigeria work…. My kingdom extends into part of Cameroon. In fact there is a state there known as Adamawa state. If anything happens here, I will go there and I will easily assimilate.”

Who cares if he decides to leave today. Why must he wait for any disintegration?

He probably did not know that Cameroon is not as juicy as Nigeria, and that the economy therein would not support the level of corruption-induced privileges and patronages they enjoy in Nigeria.

I, for one, would be too happy to see Lamido Adamawa and his accomplices in the all parts of Nigeria herded to his desired Cameroon, or better still, Somalia, Burundi, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the likes. There they would know that their money, positions and privileges cannot shield them from violence that has been the lot of the poor masses.

It is the likes of these ‘First Class’ Emirs, Obis, Obas, etc. and their political children that rapped and still rapping Nigeria of its resources and tomorrow. Most of those in that National Conference deserve the gallows not presiding over the future of a Nation they conspired to put to the precipice of socio-politico-economic quagmire.

And except for a few individuals, most of these ‘saints’ have nothing to offer the youth of this country. It is nauseating that people who deserve the gallows are now debating our today and tomorrow and getting paid for it.

Quite absurd!

Femi Olabisi twits @Femiolas

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2014 in Opinion

 

Igbo Re, Ona Re: The Nigerian Constitution And The Awo Road Not Taken | Prof. Pius Adesanmi

Pius Adesanmi at the Awo Foundation Lecture

I was not a very happy man during my last appearance on a national lecture podium in this country back in October 2013. Pastor Tunde Bakare, and my good friend, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, had given me the unenviable task of ruining an unsuccessful man’s birthday celebrationby inviting me to deliver a public lecture marking the occasion. What do you tell such a man? How do you celebrate the birthday of a man still wearing diapers in his fifties without telling him to his face that his life has been a colossal failure and an irredeemable calamity?

At the risk of being labelled a spoiler and a party pooper, I knew I had a job to do. So I came to Lagos to rob the nose of that particular birthday celebrant against the cold iron of reality. I told the celebrant that if you are still bedwetting in your fifties, what you need is a sober reflection party and not a birthday party. The celebrant in question, I’m sure you all know by now, is an elder brother of mine whose name I arrived at through a play of metaphors and personification. He is none other than Boda Nigeria.

Today, Dr. Olatokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu and the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation have given me the task of commemorating another birthday, albeit posthumously, with a lecture. But this time around, the face being the abode of discourse (oju l’oro wa), you should be able to tell just by looking at my face and the cap that I am wearing, that today’s task is one in which I am infinitely well pleased. My pleasure, obviously, derives from the fact that we are gathered here on account of a celebrant of a decidedly different hue.

We are gathered to celebrate and reflect on the momentous passage of our celebrant and his ideas and ideals through the life of this country at extremely significant moments of its history. In other words, we are gathered here on account of a masquerade who, for everyday it pleased his maker to grant him among us between March 6, 1909 and May 9, 1987, danced exceedingly well. Danced well for himself. Danced well for his wife and children. Danced well for his people. Danced well for his country. Danced well for Africa. Danced well for humanity. And when your masquerade dances well, that Yoruba proverb authorizes you to indulge in self-congratulatory chest beating.

Because the masquerade for whom we are gathered here today danced well, we are not going to sing dirges like we did the last time, we are going to celebrate even as we reflect critically and regretfully on “could have beens” and “had we knowns”. Last time, we did the body count for the celebrant, we looked at the mountains of corpses, a tragic consequence of wholly avoidable errors of the rendering, and we marked that birthday by singing, “oro nla le da”. Today, when we think of the man whose ideas we are here to engage and celebrate, when we think of his dance, and how he danced so well to help us avoid the path of self-destruction onto which we pigheadedly launched ourselves anyway, we are in order if we flagged off these events leading to the 6th of March 2014 by singing: “Happy birthday Papa Awo, Happy birthday to you”.

Now that we have paid our dues to the celebrant, now that we have cleared the path before us by saluting that great and illustrious ancestor of ours, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, if I continued this lecture beyond this point without other salutations, I risk the fate of the goat which entered the homestead without saluting the assembly of elders; I risk the fate of the ram which entered the homestead and did not acknowledge the elders in council. A tight leash around their necks was the last thing the insolent goat and the rude ram saw before they joined their ancestors in the bellies of the elders. I must therefore crave your indulgence to perform a ritual of salutation with which you are already familiar if you have ever attended any of my public lectures in this country:

To Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu – iba! To the ObafemiAwolowo Foundation. – iba!

To Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, Chairman of this occasion – iba!

To Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Osun State Goveror, present here with us – iba!

To all the Kabiyesis and Chiefs present in this hall – Iba!

To the esteemed discussants of this lecture – Iba!

To you, the audience, whose ears are here in this hall to drink my words – iba!
I pray you all,
Unbind me!

Unleash me! Let my mouth sway words in this lecture

Like efufulele, the furious wind which

Sways the forest’s crown of foliage

Wherever its heart desires.

Dr. Dosunmu, members of the high table, distinguished audience, having saluted the homestead and the farmstead, do I now have the authority to proceed with this lecture? We should be thankful to the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation for placing the theme of our assignment today within the philosophical purview of paths, of roads, of journeys through space and time, and ultimately, of choices made or not made in the unavoidable human destiny of movement. But to each culture, to each civilization its particulars of framing the philosophy of roads and paths; of framing the cultural underpinnings of choice – the choice which places your feet as an individual or as a people on this road and not that road. Furthermore, whether you must set forth at dawn or not and how you go about propitiatory interventions to avoidending up in the ravenous jaws of the famished road fall within the province of cultural predilections.

Different cultures, different approaches. Thus it was that in 1916, seven years after Chief Obafemi Awolowo was born, a certain culture that is conventionally associated with individuality – call it the imperialism of the singular subject – gave us one of the most famous poems of all times (as far as I’m concerned) in the English language. Almost a hundred years after its publication in 1916, philosophers, philologists, writers and artists, literary critics, and even, cultural dilettantes are still debating and trying to interpret its meaning and intent, with some even claiming that it is the most misread, most misinterpreted, and most misunderstood poem in the history of English poesy. That great poem, ladies and gentlemen, is entitled, “The Road not Taken”, authored by the famous American poet, Robert Frost. Please forgive me one more indulgence. That poem must be read entirely if only to highlightthe particularity of Chief ObafemiAwolowo’s nation-buidling roads and constitution-making paths within the Nigerian equation. Writes Frost:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

This poem gives us the title of today’s proceedings. It is also the unsung and always unreferenced origin of the use of that phrase – the road not taken – in much of our national discourse. Perhaps, the deciders of the theme of this symposium weren’t even aware of the fact that they were drawing a straight line all the way back to this poem. However, for our purposes today, what I want you to pay attention to is the overwhelming evidence of individuality in this poem. There is only one isolated subject speaking of individual choice, destiny, and consequences in this business of taking or not taking a particular road. Notice that thiswayfaring Western persona in the poem describes himself as “one traveler” and treats us to a generous deployment of “I” in three of the four stanzas of the poem.

If only the speaking subject in Frost’s poem had been an African of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s ethnic stock! He would have been faced with an entirely different, and I daresay, more auspicious proposition. For one, he would not have been alone, for in this business of forked or bifurcated roads, the Yoruba worldview allows for the presupposition of the presence and guidance of either those who have gone before and have therefore acquired the requisite experience to guide he or those who “follow behind”, to borrow a popular Naija-speak; or the presence of those who, even if still here among us, possess such superior intellect and vision as could be deployed for the collective benefit of a people at the critical moment of choice – the choice of roads and paths.

In essence, to the aloneness, singularity, and individualityof Frost’s confused fictional character who stands at that critical bifurcation, saying, “me, myself, and I” must decide which of the two diverging roads to take, the Yoruba world responds with a co-presence which banishes aloneness, a voice of wisdom, prescience, vision, and experience; a superior intellect saying to the lonely traveler: “You are not alone. Igbo re, ona re”. This voice, we must insist, is not an intrusion into the private recesses of individual agency at the moment of choice. Rather, it is evidence of a communalist telos designed to deny the validity of lazy alibis and excuses in the event of sad and stubborn wrong choices and decisions. For the remainder of this lecture, whenever I scream “Igbo re”, your chorus shall be “Ona re”. For none Yoruba speakers, “igbo” is bush, signifying here the wrong way, full of thorns, serpents, and wild animals. “Ona” is way, road or path, signifying here the right way. When a Yoruba elder tells you “igbo re, ona re”, he is saying “here is the bush and here is the road, the choice of which to take is yours”!

Make the appropriate substitutions and that singularly forlorn persona in Frost’s poem, standing splendidly alone at the point of divergence of two roads becomes Nigeria at the parturition point of project nationhood in the first half of the 20th century. But Nigeria was never going to be alone in that long march to the choice of a road to national destiny. The she-goat was never going to be left alone to suffer the pains of parturition. Project Nationhood, that new space of civic and psychic belonging that was going to be forged out of the inchoate desires of different ethnic nationalities yoked together by colonialism, was singularly blessed by the presence of a stellar cast of nationalist heroes and sheroes, of statesmen and women, some destined for demiurgic roles, some destined for vatic roles, some destined to combine both and even more roles as they screamed at that emergent nation at the crossroads: igbo re, ona re!

It is my contention that as far as the constitutional history and trajectory of Nigeria is concerned, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was at once demiurgic (creator, originator) and vatic (visionary) and that, for me, is what makes his own voice the loudest in the assembly of founding fathers who tried to tell Nigeria: igbo re, ona re!But let us pause to probe this “igbo re, ona re” business further before we begin to unpack how Chief Obafemi Awolowo specifically applied it scrupulously to Nigeria’s process of constitutionally becoming and what we may learn from his proposals as we march yet again Abuja for a national dialogue.

The privilege of not being alone at the crossroads, the privilege of enjoying the guidance and co-presence of that cautionary voice of wisdom, does not in any way conduce to intellectual laziness and ethical demission at the moment of choice. The role of that voice is purely advisory. The exercise of choice is still your responsibility. In essence, nothing in the Yoruba world compels that patriarch, that matriarch, that visionary voice which stands beside you at the fork in the road to do more than point out which is the road and which is the deceptive option which hides thorns and thistles, potholes and gullies after the very first sharp bend.

In essence, if Chief Obafemi Awolowo had done nothing more than stand with Nigeria at that critical fork in the road to constitution-making in the 20th century; if he had done nothing more than show her the choices and possibilities, saying, “Nigeria, igbo re, ona re,” before turning his back to return to the warm embrace of his wife and children in Ikenne; if he had done nothing more than this, he would still have more than largely satisfied the imperatives of his culture. He would have done his bit. He would have done his best. Nothing in that culture compels him to tarry perpetually, to linger permanently in the company of a wilfully blind and voluntarily deaf customer like Nigeria, hanging on to the feet of this customer, and trying to place them on the right road.

In other words, as far as the philosophy of “igbo re ona re” is concerned, any gesture, any action beyond the utterance of that caution is an extraordinary privilege enjoyed by the person or entity being advised. It is jara, it is supplementary. No sage is compelled to go that far. Ladies and gentlemen, that is precisely why Chief Obafemi Awolowo stands out in terms of his decades-long commitment to Nigeria’s constitutional development in particular and to the overall envisioning of the country’s destiny in general.

Decade after decade after decade; in book after book after book; in essay after essay after essay; in speech after speech after speech; in action after action after action, what we confront in Chief Awolowo’s extraordinary output, especially with regard to constitution-making, is precisely that extra mile, that extra gesture, that jara after the solemn and repeated utterance of “igbo re,ona re”. I would therefore want us to consider his expansive body of work, an intellectual tour de force, as fulfilling the dual function of showing Nigeria the difference between the right way and the wrong way to constitutional bliss and also going the extra length of painstakingly mapping out strategies for travelling on the right way.

The theme of this symposium, we must remind ourselves, insists that there is an Awo road to the Nigerian constitution that was not taken. The temptation is great to begin any analysis of the nature, character, and prescriptions of that road and why we refused to do any mileage on it by focusing on the statesman’s 1966 book, Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution, because its title bears the most direct resonance not just to our objectives today but also, and perhaps more importantly, to Nigeria’s ongoing quest for constitutional direction at fifty-three. Doing this would be starting the story in medias res for the said book is but a significant culmination of a long maturational process of intellectual rigour and prescience with regard to the articulation of a constitutional path for Nigeria.

A clear hint of the incipience and long evolution of Chief Awolowo’s thought on Nigerian constitutional issues can be found in Awo, his 1960 autobiography. Chapter twelve of the autobiography is entitled “evolution of a federalist”. Here, the thinker declares: “In 1951 when the controversy on the form of Nigeria’s constitution began, I had already been for more than eighteen years a convinced federalist.” The path to this conviction, Chief Awolowo informs us, started as early as 1928 when he encountered the thought and work of Indian nationalists and the the Indian National Congress. And we are informed in the preface to Thought on Nigerian Constitution that our thinker has played “a leading role in the work of constitution-making in Nigeria since 1949.” What these temporal milestones in the origin and evolution of Chief Awolowo’s thought on constitutional federalism confirm is the fact that almost 30 years to independence in 1960 – again, I’m thinking of the hint that the seeds of his convictions on the necessity of constitutional federalism for Nigeria were sown as far back as 1928 – a visionary mind was already rigorously applying itself to the constitutional destiny of this country. From the very womb of the colonial incubus, Chief Awolowo was already telling Nigeria, igbo re, ona re!

When one looks at Chief Awolowo’s extensive oeuvre, one is struck by the recurrence of certain registers, themes, and concepts. He has hardly a book in which a chapter is not dedicated to reiterating the importance of getting Nigeria’s constitutional framework right. We already cited Chapter 12 of his autobiography. The 1947 book, Path to Nigerian Freedom, written in 1945, contains a Chapter, “Towards Federal Union”, which, as usual, makes the case for a federal constitution. In 1968, The People’s Republic, offers two significant constitutional chapters. Chapter 5 is entitled “constitutional basis” and Chapter 10 is entitled “suitable constitution.”

And this is not counting the volume of essays and speeches in which these keywords and registers appear. Indeed, wherever the word, “constitution” appears in the Awolowo opus, you can almost always count on encountering the qualifiers, “suitable”, or, even more frequently, “federal”, which the thinker always poses in a binary opposition to unitary. Wherever or whenever that binary opposition occurs in his work, he resolves the argument, always unambiguously, in favour of federalism, recommending it forcefully and repeatedly to Nigeria as “ona” and always pointing atunitarianism as what – “igbo”. Igbo re, ona re!

We must hasten to point out that Chief Awolowo’s use of the word “federal” or the expression “federal constitution” bears no resemblance with the blasphemous use of that word in Nigeria’s contemporary political discourse and practice. In a reversal of semantics possible only in Nigeria, what we in fact call federalism today is what Awolowo consistently critiques and decries as unitarianism in his work. Not content with launching us onto the path of this asphyxiating unitarianism, the direct heirs of the unitarianscritiqued in Chief Awolowo’s work are in fact those claiming to be the Federalists of our own day, criminalizing dialogue, imposing no-go areas on national discourse, and mouthing constipated clichés about national unity, corporate existence, and indivisibility of nationhood. They take the dog of unitarianism and go to town to present it to the people as the monkey of federalism.

Unlike the political jokers ruling Nigeria today, Chief Awolowo was no victim of conceptual confusion. He was no trafficker in semantic jibiti. Hence, in making true federalism the foundation and the essence of the Awo road to Nigerian constitution and nationhood, he applied himself to a rigorous methodology of definition, explication, exploration, and analysis. This much is evident in Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution, by far his most extended reflection on the subject. What should detain anybody willing to find answers to the contemporary dilemmas and discontents of project nationhood in this book is, however, neither the rigour with which the author identifies some thirty-three accusations leveled against the constitution of the First Republic after it was suspended nor the unimpeachable brio with which he delivers his submissions in favour of a genuine federalist constitution.

After all, given the condition of Nigeria today, given our report card after fifty-three years of this experiment, it should by now be visible to the blind and audible to the deaf (apologies to my good friend, Patrick Obahiagbon) that the author of Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution was right on the money about the factors he identified as weighing heavily in favour of true federalism. Those factors are: ethnic divergence, geographical separateness and diversity, different economic visions and divergent resources, religious differences and, above all, linguistic differences. Identifying these factors which compel federalism is the easy part. How the author arrives at hisunshakable conclusion that any nation in which these factors are assembled but which insists on foraging in constitutional pastures other than federalism is doomed is an entirely different proposition. Let’s hear Chief Obafemi Awolowo in subsection three of Chapter Two of the book under consideration. This is the part where he declares federalism a necessity for Nigeria – and not the unitary beast we currently misname federalism:

“Our own stand in this matter is well known. We belong to the federalist school. Nevertheless, we have elected to adopt a completely objective and scientific approach to our present search and are prepared to abandon our stand if we sound reason for doing so. Accordingly, we have made a much more careful study of the constitutional evolution of all nations of the world with a view to discovering whether any, and if so what, principles and laws govern such evolution. We have found that some countries have satisfactorily solved their constitutional problems, whilst others have so far not. In consequence of our analysis of the two set of countries, we are able to deduce principles or laws which we venture to regard as sound and of universal application… there are altogether six continents in the world… we will take the continents one by one…”

I do hope that the central claim of this passage has not escaped any of you. To arrive at his scientific conclusions about an appropriate constitutional path for Nigeria, the author assures us that he undertook a study of the constitutional evolution of all the nations of the world, of every country in every continent. And if you are tempted to think that he couldn’t possibly have done that, he assures you thus: “we certainly cannot and should not be expected to give full details of our investigation in this discourse. But we can and certainly will state, as briefly as possible,the facts from which the principles or laws are deduced”. And what, we may ask, is the most significant deduction that our thinker makes from this empirical methodology? Hear him:

“…in any country where there are divergences of language and of nationality – particularly of language – a unitary constitution is always a source of bitterness and hostility on the part of linguistic or national minority groups. On the other hand, as soon as a federal constitution is introduced in which each linguistic or national group is recognized and accorded regional autonomy, any bitterness and hostility against the constitutional arrangements as such disappear. If the linguistic or national group concerned are backward or too weak vis-à-vis the majority group or groups, their bitterness or hostility may be dormant or suppressed. But as soon as they become enlightened and politically conscious, and/or courageous leadership emerges amongst them, the bitterness and hostility come into the open, and remain sustained with all possible venom and rancour, until home rule is achieved.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I have questions for you. Does the scenario above sound familiar? If between 1928 – when the seeds of these ideas were sown – and 1966 when Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution was published, the cripple named Nigeria was given repeated forewarnings of war and doom, does this particular cripple have any excuse for being caught up in wars and rumours of war in 2014? What do you call a cripple who gets caught in war even after receiving the benefit of repeated forewarnings and foreknowledge of the impending war? Do you believe that a man who puts decades into a systematic study of the constitutional experiments of every nation in the world, drawing valuable experience, lessons,deductions, and insights therefrom has earned the right to be listened to by his own country when he tells her igbo re, ona re?

Igbo re, ona re. Apart from true federalism and its associated advantages, the minority question constitutes another significant signpost on the Awo road to constitution-making. Indeed, he treats this question with so much empirical minutiae that a detailed outline of his breakdowns and permutations would have to wait until the discussion part of our proceedings. Suffice it to say that he warns that a federal constitution must at all times be sensitive to minorities and sufficiently malleable to take care of their legitimate fears of domination whenever the need arises. Says Chief Awolowo of ethnic minority groups:

“We must not group them or any of them with any of the larger and self-sufficient linguistic groups. If we did, we would be placing the small linguistic group or groups concerned in a state of comparative political and social disability. A minority problem would thereby be created which would demand solution… with great respect, we do not think that it is possible to charm the minorities and their problems out of existence… the truth is that minorities do and will always exist in Nigeria… Vis-a-vis the majorities, these minorities, these minorities have their fears –real or imaginary – which can only be allayed by unequivocal and entrenched constitutional arrangements.”

The minority question can only be handled with unequivocal and entrenched constitutional arrangements! Igbo re, ona re! Ladies and gentlemen, what do you think has been Nigeria’s answer to this particular aspect of the Awo road? You need not look beyond this podium for Nigeria’s answer. Given “igbo re ona re” and other cultural deployments in this lecture, some of you can be forgiven if by now you’ve concluded that I am Yoruba. Well, Nigeria disagrees with you. Nigeria says I’m a northerner. In fact, technically, Nigeria would rather have me silence my Okun-Yoruba identity and blend into some northern lapland in which the beneficence of an umbrella Hausa-Fulani identity would take care of all my problems in the Nigerian family.

Constitutional guarantees of the financial viability of the constituent parts of the federating unit is a key feature of the Awo road. This need not detain us beyond the observation that we have done the exact opposite of this requirement.And I believe that other key areas of Chief Awolowo’s thought such as the importance of separation of powers, secularity of the Nigerian state, and the need for local government autonomy (p.149) can be examined in fuller detail during our discussions.

What I propose to do for the rest of the time that I have is to examine a number of issues which, Chief Awolowo himself admits, may strike the average person as trivia and unworthy of discussion in the context of constitutional considerations. However, the significance of these false trivia can only be measured by the heavy price Nigeria pays today for failing to pay adequate constitutional attention to them. Perhaps the attention that Chief Awolowo pays to such issues as would appear to the ordinary man as trivia is also because he understands that they can combine to vitiate what he calls the social objectives of a federal constitution. It is under these social objectives that he addresses a wide range of issues in consonance with his socialist persuasion, such as education, health, human capital development, employment, poverty. If you are tempted to think that a constitution is not a party manifesto and should not be dabbling into social objectives, Chief Awolowo already anticipates your train of thought and pre-empts you in this passage:

“It may be objected that all we have been saying has nothing to do with constitution-making. Our emphatic answer is that it has a mighty lot to do with it. Our experience during the past six years has shown… that though we are ostensibly free as a nation, yet as a people we remain tightly shackled in the chains of ignorance, disease, want, and native tyranny. It is a duty which we owe to ourselves, and to future generations of Nigerians, to ensure, as far as human ingenuity can contrive it, that the demons which held us in thrall under the old constitution are fought and destroyed under the new constitution.”

Igbo re, ona re! What then are the false trivia that could stand in the way of a constitution achieving its stated social objectives? How many of you in this hall have ever given a thought to the fact that the convoys of our government officials could stand in the way of the constitution and national progress? If you’d never made a connection between the constitution and the convoys which always drive you, Nigerian citizens, off the road whenever an Oga at the Top is passing, here is what Chief Awolowo has to say in making that critical connection:

“In the fourth place, some people may wonder whether it is necessary to make provision in the constitution forbidding the Prime Minister and Premier and their ministers to make use of the services of police orderlies and outriders, and to inspect a guard of honour. The unfortunate thing, however, is that these little and trivial-looking things had contributed in no small measure to tenacity of office on the part of those who held these offices under the First Republic. They had imagined that their individual ego would be deflated almost to the point of political extinction if they were deprived of these empty and vain trappings. They had, therefore, been driven to practise all kinds of chicanery and vice in order to remain in office. We must not allow our public men to develop this type of warped sense of value in the future.”

Poor Chief Awolowo! How could this phenomenal thinker have known that aalmostthree decades after his death, these public men would even allow their constitutionally unrecognized wives to develop a warped sense of value, shut down Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt whenever they come to town, harass elected state governors, and dip their hands into our national treasury at will to fund ephemeral monuments to their ego that the next First Lady will erase entirely! If Chief Awolowo had imagined that the degree of travesty we witness today in the name of First Ladyship would happen even in a million years, my wager is he would have proffered constitutional checks which we would have ignored anyway! Those going to Abuja may want to think seriously about this First Lady business. Chief Awolowo would not have remained constitutionally indifferent to such unspeakable travesty.

There are other issues the discussants may also want to take a look at in the light of Chief Awolowo’s exhortation to his readers to assess is views and proposals with “constructive objectivity”. Chief Awolowo, for instance, was in favour of a bi-cameral federal legislature. Perhaps, the circumstances of his times dictated this conviction. Given the fact that to describe our National Assembly in Abuja today as corrupt and indolent is to be nice to it, do we still need two chambers today and should our lawmakers be working full time?

There is also the question of independent candidacy in elections. Chief Awolowo views this very negatively and proposes its non-recognition in the constitution. Do our circumstances today support this stance? Given the climate of ideological poverty in our contemporary party politics where the two leading parties in the country are currently trading migrating herds of corrupt and ethically-challenged politicians, is it not time to start giving serious constitutional considerations to the question of independent candidacy?

A suitable constitution, Chief Awolowo, declares again and again in Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution, is the bedrock of political stability. But he also recognizes the fact that even the best and most suitable constitution is useless if a country is hostage to corrupt and visionless leadership. And because he is convinced that “the only alternative to Federalism for Nigeria is the wide road to national impotence and ruin”, he presses the question of leadership, qualitative leadership in the service of a suitable constitution. For him, the constitution must somehow find a way to guarantee qualitative leadership and weed off moneychangers from the temple before they get a chance to turn it to a den of robbers. Luckily for those currently ruling Nigeria, they hardly read books! Imagine if they read books and stumbled on Chief Awolowo’s idea of a good leader that could deliver on the promises of a suitable constitution:

“Good leadership involves self-conquest; and self-conquest is attainable only by cultivating, as a first major step, what some applied psychologists have termed ‘the regime of mental magnitude’. In plain language, the regime of mental magnitude is cultivated when we are sexually continent, abstemious in food, abstain totally from alcoholic beverage and tobacco, and completely vanquish the emotions of greed and fear”.

You think this is too severe? Papa Awolowo is not done yet. Listen to this:

“There are those who would regard these prescriptions for leadership to be too stringent. They are welcome to their view; but for the good of the fatherland, such people should steer clear of the affairs of State, and confine their activities to those spheres where their excessive self-indulgence cannot incommode the entire nation, to the point of threatening its very life”.

Igbo re, ona re! Well, much to our misfortune, such people did not listen to Chief Obafemi Awolowo. They did not steer clear of the affairs of state. On the contrary, they dragged the state and her affairs towards “igbo” where Awolowo had prescribed “ona”. When a musician saw the tragic consequences of their preference for “igbo” and hatred for “ona” and began to sing “Nigeria jagajaga, everything scatter scatter, poor man dey suffer suffer”, they clobbered that musician, abused him, said that it was his father and mother who are jaga-jaga, and subsequently went to Abuja to receive Centenary honours in recognition of their illustrious contribution to fifty-three years of national bedwetting and diaper-wearing. Nigeria jaga-jaga…

(Keynote lecture delivered at the Obafemi Awolowo Birthday Anniversary Symposium Convened by the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation. Lagos, March 4, 2014)

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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Opinion

 

The Uncomfortable Truth Of Elusive Economic Development | Oby Ezekwesili’s Address At The APC Summit

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Protocols:
Good afternoon, chieftains and members of the Action People’s Congress.
Thanks for inviting me as your Keynote Speaker at your Unveiling of Road Map Summit. I do not know how you decided to take this high risk of inviting me to your gathering, knowing full well that my zeal for candor can be generally unsettling for some people of your class and occupation. Since you took the risk, I have assumed the liberty to speak boldly even to your discomfort especially considering that we live in a season of grim when our country is greatly troubled. In perilous times like this, Truth is the absolute freedom. I shall be spurred on by the counsel of George Orwell who in honor of truth stated that “in a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. I further assume that if you wanted someone with the skills of deceit, it would not be me that you would have invited to your gathering. I therefore speak to you today not as a politician

Context and Fact are very important for me as both a scholar and practitioner of public policy. Context is the missing link that helps us to connect the dots between the visible and the hidden, and between the general and the specific. Fact or Truth is the evidence that never takes flight nor ceases to exist even where ignored for hundred years. So my speech in content and delivery will be hinged on context and facts.For context, nothing serves a better guide than History. The philosopher and novelist George Santayana famously said that “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Winston Churchill reinforced Santayana by counselling, “Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.” I am compelled even further to tread the path of history by our Centenary celebration and shall therefore use – Nigeria’s political history as the context for this speech.

The Political trajectory of Nigeria much like her entire history is checkered. In the book, This House has Fallen, “Nigeria was the focus of great optimism as a powerful emerging nation that would be a showcase for democratic government”. Sadly the optimism was frittered over the years. I shall take the excerpts from my University of Nigeria lecture in January in this regard. “If you traced the political history of our country since independence in 1960 and you will better understand the horror of our faulty political foundation. The first democratic government ushered in an independent Nigeria but was cut short by a coup in 1966, a counter coup in 1967, civil war from 1967 to 1970, military rule from 1970 at the end of the war until another coup in 1975, another unsuccessful coup in 1976 the then Head of State was murdered, continued rule of the military until 1979 when a successful political transition ushered in the second republic but it became a democratic process that did not leave a good mark on governance until it was cut short in 1983 by yet another military coup but the discipline instilling but draconian regime was itself sent packing in 1985 through yet another coup.

The succeeding regime ruled from 1985 until 1993. The hallmark of that regime was procrastinated conduct of a transition to democracy. When it finally, reluctantly started the transition process, it regrettably went ahead to thwart the political rights of citizens who had elected a democratic president by annulling the elections. The regime then responded to the public disturbance and agitation that followed by installing an interim national government that lasted only three months following yet another military intervention. The regime that followed was more heinous than ever imagined possible by Nigerians until 1998 when by divine providence, it was cut short. Never again! A new season came but it was yet one with the military still in the saddle. That regime however surprised skeptics when it successfully conducted a transition that ushered in democratic governance in 1999 ending the long sixteen years of militarization of governance that materially defines the psyche of government in Nigeria. Cumulatively, from the time of our independence in 1960 to 1999- the military governed for about twenty nine years while two flashes of pseudo democracy had a little more than ten years in all. The common theme in our extremely unstable and volatile political history was that each regime truncation mirrored a Russian roulette with justification for regime change being the “necessity to rescue the country from bad governance and corruption”.

Compared to the mere six years of 1960-1966 and the even shorter four and a half years of 1979-1983, the period of 1999 to date under democratic rule has been the longest ever season of such political system in Nigeria. An objective assessment of our democratic journey since the last fifteen years by May of this year, will return the verdict that we are very much still in the nascent zone of democracy as a political system which despite all its short comings trump all other alternatives. Fifteen years has given us more of civilian rule than democracy. The quality of the military/political elite and the depth of undemocratic culture, practices and nuances have worked to produce very disappointing results of governance to citizens. Yet, we must temper our disappointment with the cautious sense of accomplishment that the subordination of the military to the constitutional will of the people of Nigeria in the 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 elections is perhaps the very tiny ray of light in what had for more than five decades been a canvass of political tragedies.

“Today is Independence Day. The first of October 1960 is a date to which for two years, Nigeria has been eagerly looking forward. At last, our great day has arrived, and Nigeria is now indeed an independent Sovereign nation. Words cannot adequately express my joy and pride at being the Nigerian citizen privileged to accept from Her Royal Highness these Constitutional Instruments which are the symbols of Nigeria’s Independence. It is a unique privilege which I shall remember forever, and it gives me strength and courage as I dedicate my life to the service of our country. This is a wonderful day, and it is all the more wonderful because we have awaited it with increasing impatience, compelled to watch one country after another overtaking us on the road when we had so nearly reached our goal. But now, we have acquired our rightful status, and I feel sure that history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace: it has been thorough, and Nigeria now stands well-built upon firm foundations.” These were the very gushing and giddy words of the first Prime Minister of Nigeria Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa on October 1, 1960.

According to history books, prehistoric settlers lived in the territories that make up the area today known as Nigeria as far back as 9000 BC. According to Wikipedia, the period of the 15th century saw the emergence of several “early independent kingdoms and states” that made up the British colonialized Nigeria – Benin kingdom, Borgu kingdom, Fulani empire, Hausa kingdoms, Kanem Bornu empire, Kwararafa kingdom, Ibibio Kingdom, Nri kingdom, Nupe kingdom, Oyo Kingdom, Songhai empire and Warri Kingdom. Each Kingdom was composed of dominant ethnic nationalities with unique language, custom, culture, tradition and religion. ” These kingdoms independently traded among themselves and with the rest of the world especially Great Britain. It was however by 1886 through expanded trade with the territories under the charter of the Royal Niger Company that the mercantilist root of that influence became established. The handover of the company’s territories to the British Government followed in 1900 leading to the areas becoming organized as protectorates that helped extend the great British Empire of that era. In 1914, Nigeria was formed by combining the Northern and Southern Protectorates and the Colony of Lagos. For administrative purposes, it was divided into four units: the colony of Lagos, the Northern Provinces, the Eastern Provinces and the Western Provinces.”

One could say that considering the way Nigeria emerged it was no more than an artificial creation purely intended to serve the administrative convenience of the reigning colonial power. In fact, no one better conveyed this perception of Nigeria as artificiality than Chief Obafemi Awolowo who once described Nigeria as a “mere geographical expression”. It is common for Nigerians across the territory in moments of deep despair at the failings of this union of multiple diversities to loudly rue the fact that a certain Lord Lugard and his fiancée – Ms. Shaw -were the “creators” of Nigeria.

The forty six years that followed the creation of Nigeria until her independence in 1960, saw varying degrees of mutation in the relationship between Britain and the people of the territory. The journey of governance commenced among the three dominant regions that made up the Nigerian territory- namely the North, the West and the East. There were understandably, deep mistrusts and suspicions among the ethnic groups with each one seeking to advance their own cause and interest but their leaders managed to forge a united front in the struggle to attain self-government. Their successive negotiations and constitution building processes among them and acting jointly, with colonial Britain- helped to achieve one of the most anticipated political independence of a country in Africa. It culminated in the successful agitation for self-government on a representative and ultimately federal basis. The great Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who was first the Governor General at independence in 1960 and later ceremonial President when in 1963 we became a Republic, succinctly captured that feat of the Nationalists in gaining independence.

He wrote in 1966 that, “We talked the Colonial Office into accepting our challenges for the demerits and merits of our case for self-government. After six constitutional conferences in 1953, 1954, 1957, 1958, 1959, and 1960, Great Britain conceded to us the right to assert our political independence as from October 1, 1960. None of the Nigerian political parties ever adopted violent means to gain our political freedom and we are happy to claim that not a drop of British or Nigerian blood was shed in the course of our national struggle for our place in the sun. This historical fact enabled me to state publicly in Nigeria that Her Majesty’s Government has presented self-government to us on a platter of gold.”

Ladies and gentlemen, the Great Zik of Africa who had profound influence in the philosophy of life of late Chief Ben Nwazojie whose family has gathered us- had great hopes that the successful struggle for independence would bequeath to us as a people; “our place in the sun”. And yet, even though that entity created in 1914 will become one Century years old in the next three months and had only a few days ago became a relatively old country of fifty three years, its present state is anything but sunny for majority of her citizens. For the fact is that whether of the North, South, East or West of the present day Nigerian territory we know that most Nigerians feel but a deep sense of disappointment at what has become of the dream that our founding fathers dared to imagine was possible. That deep internal threats to Nigeria’s territorial integrity remain part of core issues of our polity in 2013 menacingly brings into sharp focus the wide gulf between what it means to be a country as different from the higher order state of being a nation.

Thus, the phrase, “an independent Sovereign nation” that Sir Tafawa Balewa used in describing Nigeria in his sweet poetry of a speech at independence remains under doubtful scrutiny and is constantly under threat through various cycles of our political history. For if there is one construct that remains the sticky point in our COUNTRY today, it is whether indeed there is yet a NATION called Nigeria? Or put differently, what happened to the COUNTRY that held so much promise on that morning of October 1, 1960? After all, nothing makes the point of the failure to successfully transition from country to nation than the fact that a only week ago, the current government as a response to heightened socio-political tensions in the land announced yet another National Dialogue that is “aimed at realistically examining and genuinely resolving, longstanding impediments to our cohesion and harmonious development as a truly united Nation”.

What happened? How come a country which at independence was enthusiastically described by our first leader as an independent sovereign nation is at fifty three years hosting another “national conversation” to determine whether it is a worthy union for everyone? Was it also not only a few years ago in 2006 that the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo had hosted as similar gathering? Who were the people that discussed at that time and what did they resolve? What seems to be the intractable issue that almost every administration –military and civilian alike- have not managed to settle on whether we do indeed have a common destiny or not? How come that despite the oft expressed “sincere intent” of each cycle of ruling class (mark my choice of word as distinct from leadership); that each hosted some sort of national dialogue, conference, conversation, forum etc. (choose your pick), we are nowhere closer today to our destination of nationhood. To imagine that our founding fathers mistakenly assumed that we became a nation because the various nationalities worked collaboratively to secure independence from a common external “foe” in 1960? How could it be that this journey has thus far turned out agonizing for almost every one of us?

Even following the most traumatic civil war that ended in 1970, the reemergence as one country provided a context to rally the entire citizenry to build from country to nation. Sadly, that was a missed opportunity. Is it therefore not heartrending that the present state of our country nearly questions our status as a Country? The pain of this truism is that we are in 2014 faced with exactly the same types of ethnic issues that dotted our union in the 60s. How was it that for over fifty three years, we never went beyond the amalgamation process to becoming a Country and subsequently transforming into a Nation? The simple answer to the lamentation and question is that elite failure happened to Nigeria! A little more political history following the events of October 1, 1960 will help clarify my answer, simple as it may sound to those who thrive in confounding complexity.

The Elite of every successful society always form the nucleus of citizens with the prerequisite education, ethics and capabilities operating in the political sphere and the public service, providing the great ideas to build the nation and possessing the moral rectitude to always act in the public interest. Access to quality Education ensures that the elite group evolves constantly in every society. For as long as nations have public education systems that function, the poorest of their citizens is guaranteed to move up the ladder and someday emerge as a member of the elite class through academic hard work, strenuous effort and ultimate success at the higher levels of education.

For every society that has succeeded therefore, it has taken such progressively evolving elite class to identify the problems, forge the political systems and processes, soundly articulate a rallying vision and use sound Policies and effective and efficient prioritisation of investments (both public and private) and requisite actions to over time build those strong institutions that outlive the best of charismatic and transformative individuals. But it always does start with quality leadership in the public space investing in a sustained manner for lasting institutions to eventually emerge over time. Institutions do not just happen. In the same manner, nations do not just happen out of multi-ethnic countries.

The globally adopted definition of a country is “ An independent State or country must meet certain metrics all of which we did on that date:
• Has space or territory which has internationally recognized boundaries (boundary disputes are OK).
• Has people who live there on an ongoing basis.
• Has economic activity and an organized economy. A country regulates foreign and domestic trade and issues money.
• Has the power of social engineering, such as education.
• Has a transportation system for moving goods and people.
• Has a government which provides public services and police power.
• Has sovereignty. No other State should have power over the country’s territory.
• Has external recognition. A country has been “voted into the club” by other countries.

Sadly, Nigeria came to simply equate our statehood with nationhood when our founding fathers used those terms almost interchangeably forgetting that a State is not always necessarily a Nation. True, we had becoming a self-governing political entity that negotiated a federal structure that was cognizant of the near autonomy of each of its constituting group of people, but although an independent; we were not and have never acted like a Nation!

Nations are “culturally homogeneous groups of people, larger than a single tribe or community, who shares a common language, institutions, religion, and historical experience.” Each of our then three dominant groups though having their own internal multiple sub-groups and diversities to resolve still saw themselves as stand-alone nations. However, once it related to the territorial construct known as Nigeria that it shares with the other two groups, no group particularly acted as though the union had forged a “Nigerian nationhood” in that broader sense. Hence, although we continued to be a Country, we however did not attain to the definition of a nation which is “a tightly-knit group of people which share a common culture”. The people of a nation generally share a common national identity, and part of nation-building is the building of that common identity. There were so many fundamental issues that our country which is unlike France of Germany or even Egypt needed to resolve among its multiple divides if it wished to make that profound jump from country to Nation in order to attain the status of a nation-state.

The Elite in those instances are required to lead the rest of the people in a deliberative process of nation building- of forging that common identity that all will defend. It is the visionary power of the elite to move a people of diversity beyond the lowest common denominator of mere citizens of one country into a nation of people that makes the United States to stand out as a model multi-cultural society. Hence, even “with its multicultural society, the United States is also referred to as a nation-state because of the shared American “culture.” Some people may of course dismiss this crave for evolution from country into a nation and say it does not matter. For those ones, I recall the wise words of Carolyn Stephenson, a Professor of Political Science at the Univ. of Hawaii-Manoa. Her words could have been written with our country in mind. Professor Stephenson states that “ Nation-building matters to intractable conflict because of the theory that a strong state is necessary in order to provide security, that the building of an integrated national community is important in the building of a state, and that there may be social and economic prerequisites or co-requisites to the building of an integrated national community” Simply put, if a people of diversity in a country truly wish to succeed, they must forge a shared vision and values to realize their goal.

Our failure to immediately use the early days of independence to commence the nation building process is what I consider the biggest missed opportunity in the history of Nigeria. It is the reason as Professor Stephenson asserts, we find ourselves in “cyclical intractable conflict” So, it was not surprising that shortly after the novelty of our political independence wore off the troubling underbelly of our nascent democracy was revealed in the rather prescient reading of the situation at that time by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States in one of its memorandum of 1966. It wrote “Africa’s most populous country (population estimated at 48 million) is in the throes of a highly complex internal crisis rooted in its artificial origin as a British dependency containing over 250 diverse and often antagonistic tribal groups. The present crisis started” with Nigerian independence in 1960, but the federated parliament hid “serious internal strains. It has been in an acute stage since last January when a military coup d’état destroyed the constitutional regime bequeathed by the British and upset the underlying tribal and regional power relationships. At stake now are the most fundamental questions which can be raised about a country, beginning with whether it will survive as a single viable entity. The situation is uncertain, with Nigeria,……is sliding downhill faster and faster, with less and less chance unity and stability. Unless present army leaders and contending tribal elements soon reach agreement on a new basis for association and take some effective measures to halt a seriously deteriorating security situation, there will be increasing internal turmoil, possibly including civil war”.

The failure to build a nation out of the country it was bequeathed did in fact change the course of Nigeria’s history. It meant that our foundling political elite could not speedily and “sincerely act” on the lofty ideals. The nation building process could have benefitted from their nationalist campaign for independence when they had successfully united against a common “enemy” and brought us our independence. Instead, our political elite turned backward on the supposed “independent sovereign nation” and resorted to lethal ethnicity in playing a brand of politics mostly devoid of altruism. So much so was this prevalent character of the political elite across board that they collectively failed to retrace their steps from the precipitous slide. It was within this context of elite failure that the 1966 military coup struck unleashing a canvass of governance instability that only abated in 1999 when the fourth Republic commenced with the successful democratic transition currently running for the last fourteen years.

No wonder, empirical evidence points to poor governance –especially corruption as the biggest obstacle to the development of Nigeria. Understanding the cancerous impact of understand how come a country with the potentials hardly available to more than other one third nations of the world has remained at the bottom of socio economic ladder as a laggard. Economic growth rate and ultimate development of nations are determined by a number of factors that range from sound policies, effective and efficient public and private investments and strong institutions. Economic evidence throughout numerous researches proves that one key variable that determines how fast nations outgrow others is the speed of accumulation of human capital especially through science and technology education. No wonder for these same countries by 2011- South Korea of fifty million people has a GDP of $1.12trillion, Brazil of one hundred and ninety six million has $2.48 trillion; Malaysia of twenty eight million people has $278.6Billion; Chile of seventeen million people has $248.59Billion; Singapore of five million people has $318.7 Billion. Meanwhile with our population of 165 million people we make boasts with a GDP of $235.92 Billion- completely way off the mark that we could have produced if we made a better set of development choices.

More dramatic is that this wide gap between these nations and Nigeria was not always the case as some relevant data at the time of our independence reveal. In 1960 the GDP per capita of all these countries were not starkly different from that of Nigeria- two were below $200, two were a little above $300 and one was slightly above $500 while that of Nigeria was just about $100. For citizens, these differentials are not mere economic data. Meanwhile by 2011, the range for all five grew exponentially with Singapore at nearly $50,000, South Korea at $22,000, Malaysia at $10,000, Brazil at $13,000 and Chile at $14,000. Our own paltry $1500 income per capita helps drive home the point that we have been left behind many times over by every one of these other countries. How did these nations steer and stir their people to achieve such outstanding economic performance over the last five decades? There is hardly a basis for comparing the larger population of our citizens clustered within the poverty bracket with the majority citizens of Singapore fortunate to have upper middle income standard of living.

Again, how did this happen? What happened to Nigeria? Why did we get left behind? How did these nations become productively wealthy over the last fifty three years while Nigeria stagnated? How did majority of the citizens of these nations join the upper middle class while more Nigerians retrogressed into poverty? There are usually as many different answers to these sets of questions as there are respondents on the reasons we fell terribly behind. Some say, it is our tropical geography, yet economic research shows it has not prevented other countries like China, Australia, Chile and Brazil for example with similar conditions from breaking through economically. Others say it is size, but China and India are bigger, and yet in the last thirty and twenty years have grown double digit and continue to out- grow the rest of the world at this time of global economic crisis. Furthermore, being small has not necessarily conferred any special advantages to so many other countries with small population yet similarly battling with the development process like we are.

Some others say it is our culture but like a political economist posited “European countries with different sorts of cultures, Protestant and Catholic alike that have grown rich. Secondly, different countries within the same broad cultures have performed very differently in economic terms, such as the two Koreas in the post-war era. Moreover, individual countries have changed their economic trajectories even though “their cultures didn’t miraculously change.” How about those who plead our multiethnic nationalities as the constraint but fail to see that the United States of America happens to be one nation with even more disparate ethnic nationalities than Nigeria and yet it leads the global economy! As for those who say it is the adverse impact of colonialism, were Singapore, Malaysia and even parts of China like Hong Kong not similarly conquered and dominated by colonialists?

That Nigeria is a paradox of the kind of wealth that breeds penury is as widely known as the fact that the world considers us a poster nation for poor governance wealth from natural resources. The trend of Nigeria’s population in poverty since 1980 to 2010 for example suggests that the more we earned from oil, the larger the population of poor citizens : 17.1 million 1980, 34.5million in 1985, 39.2million in 1992, 67.1million in 1996, 68.7million in 2004 and 112.47 million in 2010! This sadly means that you are children of a nation blessed with abundance of ironies. Resource wealth has tragically reduced your nation- my nation- to a mere parable of prodigality. Nothing undignifies nations and their citizens like self-inflicted failure.

Our abundance of oil, people and geography should have worked favorably and placed us on the top echelons of the global economic ladder by now. After all, basic economic evidence shows that abundance of natural resources can by itself increase the income levels of citizens even if it does not increase their productivity. For example, as Professor Collier a renowned economist who has focused on the sector stated in a recent academic work countries that have enormously valuable natural resources are likely to have high living standards on a sustainable basis by simply replacing some of the extracted resources with financial assets held abroad. Disappointedly, even that choice eluded our governing class who through the decades has spent more time quarreling over their share of the oil “national cake” than they have spent thinking of how to make it benefit the entire populace.

The coup of 1966 anchored its justification on the failure of the political class to provide good governance. In the exact word of the leader of the coup; “Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.”

In effect, what we today confront as systemic corruption only metamorphosed to gigantic proportion through the over nearly fifty decades of the speech given to justify the first truncation of the will of the people for democratic governance. As a matter of fact, anyone who will find and read all the justification statements for coups and the inauguration statements for democratically elected governments in our fifty three years of being a country will assume that each group merely modified the speech of their predecessors. Perhaps the only differences were the locations of the punctuation marks, the commas, the semi colons and the full stops in each statement that followed this excerpt from the statement of 1966.

The substance is the same – indignation at the grand corruption that has persistently undermined the effectiveness of governance since our political independence. The instructive feature of the dramatis personae that made up the military and political elite class at various times is their uncanny national spread and the unity of purpose they managed and have continued to manage to forge among them in the ignoble business of committing grand larceny against the country. Ethnicity was hardly and still is not a constraining factor once the political elite of Nigeria- whether from the North, South, East and West gather at the altar of corruption to execute their unifying purpose of “transactions”. They are united in “extracting” from Nigeria because it does appear in the minds that the country can never move beyond a mere artificial political construct.

Of all the obstacles to our greatness, there were two on which citizens irrespective of their affiliations seemed to have forged a consensus as the priority agenda issues for their governments to mobilize every sector, level and individual; to unite, fight and defeat. The two issues are systemic corruption and pernicious poverty. However, in the last one year with escalations in insecurity wherein we are now faced with more immediate life threatening scourge of terrorism within our land those two priorities are overtaken in ranking. That we now experience regular terrorist killing of the innocent in our land has pushed the twin issues of poverty and corruption to second and third priorities of citizens. These recent killings have joined with the civil war of the 60s to pollute Nigeria with fresh blood of our children- our daughters and sons, the blood of our women, the blood of our men, the blood of our young and the blood of our old.

Citizens who had assumed that the worst possible was the many decades of being trapped in intergenerational poverty in an ironically “oil wealthy” are now exposed to deadlier acts of terrorism. Terrorists became emboldened by the absence of our political class across the entire spectrum of political leadership who decided to “play their normal politics” with the blood of the poor. The blood soaked land is convulsing. Do we not hear the cries especially of the young children and women killed for a cause they know nothing about? I read the fear laden articles and tweets of many young Nigerians asking “when this carnage will end?” I hear them lash out angrily that it is the cumulative failure of older generations of us all in this gathering that is bequeathing to them- a country so broken and mortally bruised that again we need divine intervention to heal the land and people.

Is it therefore not unconscionable that in the over nearly three years of rising trend of terrorist attacks against whole communities in the central and north eastern states of Nigeria where our kith and kin have regularly been slaughtered in cold blood; the milk of empathy has not yet flowed from our Elders in the Land in the entire political spectrum to suspend “transactional politicking” and build a united front against this newest common enemy? Is it not unconscionable that despite the massive public resources committed to security spending, the government has failed to inspire confidence in communities and the large public that feel excluded from the more secured lives of the political elite?

In shock, Nigerians have wondered whether our political class which carries on with politicking to “capture or retain power” is comfortable to govern dead communities. Is it not time for all of our political leaders to pay that utmost sacrifice of leadership- lay down their personal gain for the good of the people they wish to lead. Leadership is not the office, the title, the authority, the mansion one occupies. Leadership is the sacrifice offered that others may thrive. There are three grades of leadership- Transactional, Transformational and Transcendental leadership. What our nation asks all of you irrespective of the acronyms that thread together to make you a political party in this land today, is that you must immediately “transcend” and mobilize all of Nigerians against the immediate common enemies killing our own within our territory.

Your act of transcendental leadership across your various divides in Nigerian politics of today, will not only end this fatal insecurity in our country, but will actually start the process of healing of land and the people. The healing of our land and people will in turn begin the process of rebuilding the eroded social capital that we must have for nation building process. John Jacob Gardener a professor of Leadership defines Transcendental Leadership as follows: “A new metaphor, transcendent leadership, answers a planetary call for a governance process which is more inclusive, more trusting, more sharing of information, more meaningfully involving associates or constituents, more collective decision making through dialogue and group consent processes, more nurturance and celebration of creative and divergent thinking and a willingness to serve the will of the collective consciousness as determined by the group – in essence, a leadership of service above self” Nothing in any political party manifesto in our present Nigeria realizes how fundamental it is to first accomplish this at this time in country.

Economic research has proven that there can be no development without peace. The underperformance of our country as a result of the volatility of regime changes and truncation of democracy direly cost us the opportunity to build vibrant institutions, to pursue on a sustained basis sound macroeconomic, microeconomic and structural policies and finally to implement quality, effective and efficient public and private investment like other nations. Every country is fundamentally composed of three sectors- the public sector or government, the private sector or business and civil society. Worse than political instability however is the growing sense of our current reality that we are “at war”. In a season of war, ladies and gentlemen, no road map for economic development is viable- no matter how sound its articulation. I advise that 2014 offers all political actors in Nigeria, the opportunity to immediately unite and decisively take our country back from terrorists. This is my most important economic message for your gathering. As the leading opposition party in the country, your leadership must be visible in demonstrating a commitment to reaching out to the Government to commence a united fight to preserve the lives of all citizens.

Of all the obstacles to our greatness, there were two on which citizens irrespective of their affiliations seemed to have forged a consensus as the priority agenda issues for their governments to mobilize every sector, level and individual; to unite, fight and defeat. The two issues are systemic corruption and pernicious poverty. However, in the last one year with escalations in insecurity wherein we are now faced with more immediate life threatening scourge of terrorism within our land those two priorities are overtaken in ranking. That we now experience regular terrorist killing of the innocent in our land has pushed the twin issues of poverty and corruption to second and third priorities of citizens. These recent killings have joined with the civil war of the 60s to pollute Nigeria with fresh blood of our children- our daughters and sons, the blood of our women, the blood of our men, the blood of our young and the blood of our old.

Citizens who had assumed that the worst possible was the many decades of being trapped in intergenerational poverty in an ironically “oil wealthy” are now exposed to deadlier acts of terrorism. Terrorists became emboldened by the absence of our political class across the entire spectrum of political leadership who decided to “play their normal politics” with the blood of the poor. The blood soaked land is convulsing. Do we not hear the cries especially of the young children and women killed for a cause they know nothing about? I read the fear laden articles and tweets of many young Nigerians asking “when this carnage will end?” I hear them lash out angrily that it is the cumulative failure of older generations of us all in this gathering that is bequeathing to them- a country so broken and mortally bruised that again we need divine intervention to heal the land and people.

Is it therefore not unconscionable that in the over nearly three years of rising trend of terrorist attacks against whole communities in the central and north eastern states of Nigeria where our kith and kin have regularly been slaughtered in cold blood; the milk of empathy has not yet flowed from our Elders in the Land in the entire political spectrum to suspend “transactional politicking” and build a united front against this newest common enemy? Is it not unconscionable that despite the massive public resources committed to security spending, the government has failed to inspire confidence in communities and the large public that feel excluded from the more secured lives of the political elite? In shock, Nigerians have wondered whether our political class which carries on with politicking to “capture or retain power” is comfortable to govern dead communities. Is it not time for all of our political leaders to pay that utmost sacrifice of leadership- lay down their personal gain for the good of the people they wish to lead. Leadership is not the office, the title, the authority, the mansion one occupies. Leadership is the sacrifice offered that others may thrive. There are three grades of leadership- Transactional, Transformational and Transcendental leadership. What our nation asks all of you irrespective of the acronyms that thread together to make you a political party in this land today, is that you must immediately “transcend” and mobilize all of Nigerians against the immediate common enemies killing our own within our territory.

Your act of transcendental leadership across your various divides in Nigerian politics of today, will not only end this fatal insecurity in our country, but will actually start the process of healing of land and the people. The healing of our land and people will in turn begin the process of rebuilding the eroded social capital that we must have for nation building process. John Jacob Gardener a professor of Leadership defines Transcendental Leadership as follows: “A new metaphor, transcendent leadership, answers a planetary call for a governance process which is more inclusive, more trusting, more sharing of information, more meaningfully involving associates or constituents, more collective decision making through dialogue and group consent processes, more nurturance and celebration of creative and divergent thinking and a willingness to serve the will of the collective consciousness as determined by the group – in essence, a leadership of service above self” Nothing in any political party manifesto in our present Nigeria realizes how fundamental it is to first accomplish this at this time in country.

Economic research has proven that there can be no development without peace. The underperformance of our country as a result of the volatility of regime changes and truncation of democracy direly cost us the opportunity to build vibrant institutions, to pursue on a sustained basis sound macroeconomic, microeconomic and structural policies and finally to implement quality, effective and efficient public and private investment like other nations. Worse than political instability however is the growing sense of our current reality that we are “at war”. In a season of war, ladies and gentlemen, no road map for economic development is viable- no matter how sound its articulation. I advise that 2014 offers all political actors in Nigeria, the opportunity to immediately unite and decisively take our country back from terrorists. This is my most important economic message for your gathering. As the leading opposition party in the country, your leadership must be visible in demonstrating a commitment to reaching out to the Government to commence a united fight to preserve the lives of all citizens.

On the twin enemies of corruption and poverty, those among us who still need proof to believe that indeed the two severest maladies from which Nigeria must heal are poverty and poor governance must not have seen the 2013 Global Corruption Barometer 2013. Poverty and corruption are two things that rob Nigerians of their dignity; Poverty deprives one of the basic services they need in order to preserve their self-dignity. Poor governance on the other hand is what poverty helps breed.

Thus, academic research shows that countries which have tended to poor governance end delivering not delivering the basic social services that citizens need in order to lift themselves out of poverty and where they do at all, it is too little and too poor a quality to make a difference. It is the capacity to constantly deliver equality of opportunities for better quality of life to all citizens that distinguishes one government from another. Throughout our fifty three years of history following our independence in 1960, we sadly have not recorded one stellar record of performance in this regard by any government. Today, our 69% poor in the land which in real number is over 100 million of citizens trapped in poverty is the key scorecard of our five decades of failure.

When asked by citizens why they think they have been constantly failed by their governments, they mostly respond that the failure of the state to effectively function is corruption. This much they said to Transparency International which invests heavily in surveys around the world. The result of the most recent survey, tagged ‘Global Corruption Barometer 2013?, (the biggest-ever public opinion survey on corruption) was recently released all over the world. It showed that 75 per cent of Nigerians say the government’s effort at fighting corruption is ineffective. Only 14 per cent of those surveyed say the government’s effort is achieving results. Also, 94 per cent of Nigerians think corruption is a problem with 78 per cent saying it is a serious problem.

Over the past 12 months, the report says, 81 per cent of Nigerians say they have given a bribe to the police, 30 per cent of those surveyed say they have paid a bribe for education services, 29 per cent have given a bribe to the registry and permit services, same for utilities, and 24 per cent have given a bribe to the judiciary. The survey shows that 22 per cent of Nigerians have paid a bribe to tax revenue, 17 per cent to land services and 9 per cent has paid a bribe for medical and health services. Transparency International had last year rated Nigeria as the 35th most corrupt country in the world. Whether we choose to accept it or not, we are a country engulfed in systemic and endemic corruption with its attendant cancerous – wasting away, corrosive effect- on what is legendarily called our “huge potentials”.

Take the natural resources sector to which we have willingly and disastrously mortgaged our lives to as a result of failure of leadership to embrace hard work, effort and productivity as national values. Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil exporter, and the world’s 10th largest oil producer, accounting for more than 2.2 million barrels a day in 2011. Oil revenues totaled $50.3 billion in 2011 and generated more than 70 percent of government revenues. However, for a sector that sadly determines our rise and fall in the last fifty three years, Nigeria’s Performance on the Resource Governance Index (carried out by the global NGO- Revenue Watch Institute of the Open Society Foundations) – Nigeria received a “weak” score of 42, ranking 40th out of 58 countries.

We stood out among the 80% of countries which fail to achieve good governance in their extractive sectors. The insalubrious performance of this dominant revenue source seems to be one we have decided to wear elegantly with a mindset that refuses to embrace the kind of fundamental change that will set the nation free. A read of the now famous in the breach, PIB shows that we have refused to surrender and subordinate the huge power of discretion exercised by the President in all matters concerning oil since the last many decades. Surely, for what we know of the huge benefits of transparency and competition it does indeed stir the minds of those that have no interest in oil blocks but who care for the maximization of value for the aggregate social good of Nigeria that we walk the provisions of our NEITI law.

The pervasive hold over our economy by oil shows up in everything. In our Sovereign credit rating recently, poor governance, low per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and reserve cover were identified as Nigeria’s biggest challenge to joining other Emerging Markets (EMs) according to Richard Fox of Fitch Ratings. According to him, these areas represent Nigeria’s biggest challenge to improving its rating, as highlighted in Fitch’s previous research. Of the three, reserve cover is the most susceptible to rapid improvement, particularly at current high oil prices. This is because although at that time of his comment, Nigeria’s reserves had risen by around $2 billion they are not rising as fast as in the majority of big oil exporters”. Comparisons always help convey these kinds of information better.

During the period, 2009 to 2011 Algeria expanded her savings from current oil boom by at least 30% to build up its reserve and invest in critical infrastructure. The new comer Angola nearly doubled its reserve while simultaneously implementing a huge public investment program to build diversity of critical infrastructure. Sadly, whether it is building up reserves/saving or in building critical infrastructure and human capital our own trend is in the reverse. For even though crude price rose or has held steady at different time, the quality of governance continues to hobble our capacity to strike out onto the path of success.

WHAT PROSPECTS FOR THE FUTURE THEN? In what and whom do I place my confidence that a New Nigeria will emerge? What is it that engenders my confidence that our five decades of failure is not sustainable: First is the rising crescendo of dissatisfaction with the concept of Failure by the over 50% percent of our population that are young. That daily the young people of Nigeria- educated or not are anxious to path ways with Failure is a source of optimism.

Today, more than 40% of our young people may be unemployed and requiring a major intervention that matches skills with economic structural change but they represent strength for any leadership that “transcends” in the way it allocates public resources to priorities. They insist by the words and action that they know we can do better than we have done since our independence. The Women who constituting about 50% of our population are by the records of present accomplishment, the most visible secret weapons of our economic, social and political development. The entrepreneurial and “can do” spirit of just these two groups- the spirit that seeks to compete even with the rest in the world by first conquering the uncertain and disabling context in which it operates is emerging as the counter cultural shock to an elite class that entrenched contemptible wealth based on ignoble ease as a national creed.

The return of the values of hard work and the reward of creativity and innovation are the New Normal that Citizens want to engage their governments on. Citizens question the things and values we reward. They question the perverse incentive that rewards abhorrent behaviour while punishing what is right. They are perplexed when they watch the elite class destroy the potency of sanctions regime in every just society by acts that fail to demand the cost of bad behaviour from big offenders . Citizens wish to unleash their talents and be facilitated by a capable and service oriented public service to identify new sources of growth forcing the diversification rhetoric into reality finally. We must think through how to expand the revenue base of the country and manage it efficiently. Nigeria’s revenue cannot cater for the size of the population that we have and we seek to exploit other creative and natural endowments of nature which primarily is our huge population of people with diverse capabilities.

The generation of human capital through education- access to quality basic, tertiary education expanded and well costed with access for the poor and entrepreneurship education relevant to the needs of the economy is priority agenda for a country that has grown over more then a decade now without significant structural change. The structural transformation that focuses on growing indigenous enterprise and deliberatively removing obstacles on the path to economic growth for the women and the young with ideas is what a results oriented government owes Citizens. According to data from the World Bank, it is clear that 74% of our revenue comes from non-oil (mainly agricultural exports) as at 1970. We have sadly reversed that suffering the pernicious effect of oil, as currently oil account for 74% of gross national revenue reversing the trend. While Nigeria exported 502 Metric tons of groundnut in 1961 which was 42% of global production as at that time, we currently export almost nothing with the pyramids now invented in stories told to our children.

Citizens are redefining what true attributes of leadership are by demanding that those who shall lead must be all possessing of – competency, character, competency and capacity. Neither of the three can substitute for the other, The political and technocratic class have no choice but to commit to redeeming our public institutions and the human resources that run them. The redemption starts with a true commitment to addressing today’s egregious cost of s the mantra of today’s citizens.

Citizens want to see real commitment to addressing the egregious cost of governance that constitutes massive opportunity cost for equitable economic development that benefits the larger number of citizens currently excluded from the benefits of the growth of the last fourteen years of return to democracy. Citizens associate our meagre revenue which pales when compared to our prospective peers known as MINT, with wastes, gross inefficiency and corruption. Currently, we have N1.7tn paid out of salaries, N721bn for debt servicing and other recurrent items which puts our capital expenditure around N1.1tn. How then do we expand the economy, build the modern infrastructure if for every N100 that we spend in actual terms, over N80 goes to recurrent items. Those are the issues which to engage leadership on resolving.

Citizens can now better link public resources and results in their outcry for value-for-money and in the exercise of their right to demand for accountability. They know that our power problems all these years are not merely technical- it is governance failure. Our transportation problem are not technical, it was governance failure. Our poor production and productivity in agriculture is not merely technical, it is governance failure. They know that our health and education and over all underperformance in humans development score are not merely technical, it is due to governance failure.

It cost $148bn dollars in todays value to rebuild Europe after the World War II. This is less than half of the funds that was attributed to have been stolen from Nigeria since independence. The expense of such funds transformed the manufacturing, service industry and competitive factors of Europe. It cost $2bn ($349bn in todays value) to rebuild Japan after the nuclear attack. By conservative estimate, our country has earned more than $600billion in the last five decades and yet can only boast of a United Nations Human Development Index score of .4 out of 1 proximate to that of Chad and maternal mortality rate similar to that of Afghanistan! Nothing reveals the depth of our failures than such performance indicators considering the vastly greater possibilities that we have been bestowed.

Above all, and finally, Citizens now seek to fully participation and make demands for democratic accountability- they are not afraid to scrutinise all public institutions and to demand better results of governance. The unwillingness of any group of political elite to understand this emerging power of the Office of the Citizen can only be a loss to the former and yet another missed opportunity added to our canvass of political tragedies……. But God forbid!

Obiageli (Oby) Ezekwesili
Keynote Speaker
APC SUMMIT, Abuja- March 6th 2014

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2014 in Opinion

 

The Canonisation of Terror | Wole Soyinka

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The sheer weight of indignation and revulsion of most of Nigerian humanity at the recent Boko Haram atrocity in Yobe is most likely to have overwhelmed a tiny footnote to that outrage, small indeed, but of an inversely proportionate significance. This was the name of the hospital to which the survivors of the massacre were taken. That minute detail calls into question, in a gruesome but chastening way, the entire ethical landscape into which this nation has been forced by insensate leadership. It is an uncanny coincidence, one that I hope the new culture of ‘religious tourism’, spearheaded by none other than the nation’s president in his own person, may even come to recognize as a message from unseen forces.

For the name of that hospital, it is reported, is none other than that of General Sanni Abacha, a vicious usurper under whose authority the lives of an elected president and his wife were snuffed out. Assassinations – including through bombs cynically ascribed to the opposition – became routine. Under that ruler, torture and other forms of barbarism were enthroned as the norm of governance. To round up, nine Nigerian citizens, including the writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-wiwa, were hanged after a trial that was stomach churning even by the most primitive standards of judicial trial, and in defiance of the intervention of world leadership. We are speaking here of a man who placed this nation under siege during an unrelenting reign of terror that is barely different from the current rampage of Boko Haram. It is this very psychopath that was recently canonized by the government of Goodluck Jonathan in commemoration of one hundred years of Nigerian trauma.

It has been long a-coming. One of the broadest avenues in the nation’s capital, Abuja, bears the name of General Sanni Abacha. Successive governments have lacked the political courage to change this signpost – among several others – of national self degradation and wipe out the memory of the nation’s tormentor from daily encounter. Not even Ministers for the Federal Capital territory within whose portfolios rest such responsibilities, could muster the temerity to initiate the process and leave the rest to public approbation or repudiation. I urged the need of this purge on one such minister, and at least one Head of State. That minister promised, but that boast went the way of Nigerian electoral boast. The Head of State murmured something about the fear of offending ‘sensibilities’. All evasions amounted to moral cowardice and a doubling of victim trauma. When you proudly display certificates of a nation’s admission to the club of global pariahs, it is only a matter of time before you move to beatify them as saints and other paragons of human perfection. What the government of Goodluck Jonathan has done is to scoop up a century’s accumulated degeneracy in one preeminent symbol, then place it on a podium for the nation to admire, emulate and even – worship.

There is a deplorable message for coming generations in this governance aberration that the entire world has been summoned to witness and indeed, to celebrate. The insertion of an embodiment of ‘governance by terror’ into the company of committed democrats, professionals, humanists and human rights advocates in their own right, is a sordid effort to grant a certificate of health to a communicable disease that common sense demands should be isolated. It is a confidence trick that speaks volumes of the perpetrators of such a fraud. We shall pass over – for instance – the slave mentality that concocts loose formulas for an Honours List that automatically elevate any violent bird of passage to the status of nation builders who may, or may not be demonstrably motivated by genuine love of nation. According generalized but false attributes to known killers and treasury robbers is a disservice to history and a desecration of memory. It also compromises the future. This failure to discriminate, to assess, and thereby make it possible to grudgingly concede that even out of a ‘doctrine of necessity’ – such as military dictatorship – some demonstrable governance virtue may emerge, reveals nothing but national self-glorification in a moral void, the breeding grounds of future cankerworm in the nation’s edifice.

Such abandonment of moral rigour comes full circle sooner or later. The survivors of a plague known as Boko Haram, students in a place of enlightenment and moral instruction, are taken to a place of healing dedicated to an individual contagion – a murderer and thief of no redeeming quality known as Sanni Abacha, one whose plunder is still being pursued all over the world and recovered piecemeal by international consortiums – at the behest of this same government which sees fit to place him on the nation’s Roll of Honour! I can think of nothing more grotesque and derisive of the lifetime struggle of several on this list, and their selfless services to humanity. It all fits. In this nation of portent readers, the coincidence should not be too difficult to decipher.

I reject my share of this national insult.

Wole SOYINKA.

The blogger twits @Femiolas

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2014 in Opinion

 

TO SADIQ ABACHA — ON BEHALF OF WOLE SOYINKA | BY AYO SOGUNRO

Dear Sadiq Abacha,

I do not know you personally, but I admire your filial bravery—however misguided—in defending the honour of your father, the late General Sani Abacha. This in itself is not a problem; it is an obligation—in this cultural construct of ours—for children to rise to the defence of their parents, no matter what infamy or perfidy the said parent might have dabbled in.

The problem I have with your letter, however, arises from two issues: (i) your disparaging of Wole Soyinka, who—despite your referral to an anecdotal opinion that calls him as “a common writer”—is a great father figure, and a source of inspiration, to a fair number of us young Nigerians; and (ii) your attempt to revise Nigerian history and substitute our national experience with your personal opinions.

Therefore, it is necessary that we who are either Wole Soyinka’s “socio-political” children, or who are ordinary Nigerians who experienced life under your father’s reign speak out urgently against your amnesiac article, lest some future historian stumble across the misguided missive, and confuse the self-aggrandized opinions of your family for the perceptions of Nigerians in general.

Your letter started with logical principles, which is a splendid common ground for us. So let us go with the facts: General Sani Abacha was a dictator. He came into power and wielded it for 5 years in a manner hitherto unprecedented in Nigerian history. Facts: uncomfortable for your family, but true all the same.

Now, for my personal interpretations: between 1993 and 1998 inclusive, when your dada was in power, I was a boy of 9 to 14 years and quite capable of making observations about my political and cultural environment. Those years have been the worst years of my material life as a Nigerian citizen. Here are a few recollections: I recollect waking up several mornings to scrape sawdust from carpentry mills, lugging the bags a long distance home, just to fuel our “Abacha stoves” because kerosene was not affordable—under your father. I recollect cowering under the cover of darkness, with family and neighbours, listening to radio stations—banned by your father. I recollect my government teacher apologetically and fearfully explaining constitutional government to us—because free speech was a crime under your father’s government. Most of all, I remember how the news of your father’s death drove me—and my colleagues at school—to a wild excitement, and we burst into the street in delirious celebration. Nobody prompted us, but even as 13 and 14 year olds, we understood the link between the death of Abacha and the hope of freedom for the ordinary man.

These are all sorry tales, of course. Such interpretations would not have occured to the wealthy and the privileged under your father’s government, but they were a part of the everyday life of a common teenager under that government. The economics were bad, but the politics were worse. And I am not referring to Alfred Rewane, Kudirat Abiola and the scores killed by the order of your father. Political killings are almost a part of every political system, and most of those were just newspaper stories to us. In fact, I didn’t get to read most of the atrocities until long after your father died. So, these stories did not inform the dread I personally felt under your father’s regime. And this was true for my entire family and our neighbours.

Instead, the worry over our own existence was a more pressing issue. Your father, Sani Abacha was in Aso Rock, but his brutality was felt right in our sitting room. We were not into politics and we didn’t vocally oppose Abacha, yet we just knew we were not safe from him. You see, unlike any dictatorship before or after it—your father’s government personally and directly threatened the life and freedoms of the average Nigerian. Your father threatened me. And if your father had not died, I am confident that I would not be alive or free today.

Think of that for a while.

Now, let’s come to Wole Soyinka. First: you can never eradicate the infamy of your father’s legacy by trying to point out the failings of another Nigerian. Remember what you said: A is A. Abacha is Abacha. And no length of finger pointing will wash away the odious feeling the name of Abacha strikes up in the mind of the average Nigerian. Second: Don’t—as they musician said—get it twisted: Wole Soyinka did not antagonize your father just because he was a military man—Wole Soyinka was against your father’s inhumanity. Your father was intolerant of criticism beyond belief. Your father made military men look bad. Your father’s behaviour was so bad it went back in time and soiled the reputation of every military man before him. Your father, finally, made Nigerians swear never—ever—to tolerate the military again. Soyinka may have worked with the military before—but your father ensured that he will never work with the military again. Do you see? Three: Evil comes in many forms: there is no qualification by degree. There is no “good” evil thing. Sani Abacha, Boko Haram, Hitler, slavery—they all fit into the same category of misfortunes. Soyinka is right: Abacha was just as bad as Boko Haram is—deal with it. Four: Soyinka has been kind enough to limit his criticism to the unenviable awards this inept government has given your father. But, you see, in a saner political system, we wouldn’t just ignore your father, we would have gone one step further and expunged the Abacha name from all public records. Wiped without a trace. Abacha would forever be a cautionary tale against the excesses of political power. In a saner political system.

Abacha was brutal—and Soyinka was one of those individuals who gave us inspiration in those dark days. He was part of the team that founded the underground radio station to counter your father’s activities. Let me rephrase in pop culture language: Wole Soyinka was the James Bond to your father’s KGB. Most of the influential people either kept quiet or sang the praises of your father to stave his wrath. But a few like Soyinka spoke, wrote and even went militant against Abacha. But at the end, even Soyinka who never ran from a fight had to run from your father. That was how terrible things were. And now you want Soyinka to join the praise singers of your father? I’m not certain Soyinka has grown old enough to forget how he escaped your father,slipping across the border in disguise. You will have to wait awhile to get that praise from him.

Now, back to you. You have a deluded sense of your father’s role in the progress of Nigeria’s history. Nigeria has managed to be where it is today, not because of leaders like your father—but in spite of leaders like your father. This is a testament to the Nigerian spirit of resilience, and our unwavering optimism in a better future. You owe every Nigerian an apology for daring to attribute this to the leadership of Abacha. Those “achievements” you believe were accomplished under your father were simply all the things he had to do to keep milking the economy, and thereby perpetuate himself in power—they benefited Nigeria only if, by Nigeria, you meant your family and your cronies.

Your tone is that of a white master who justifies his oppression because he clothed and fed his black slaves. That is what your father did. The fact that we choose not to regurgitate, and reflect on that socially traumatic period doesn’t mean we accept it as your entitlement. We have not forgotten, and we will never forget. Sani Abacha raped Nigeria. Your father raped us. Your father raped us and then pressed some change into our hands. And he then tried to marry us forcefully, too. You may think all this is well and good—but then you’ve never been raped before.

But we now live under a democracy—the kind your father denied us—and so you are free to talk. And so you are free to insult the people who ensured that your father had sleepless nights. Had the revolution your father rightly deserved happened, you—and the rest of your family—would have been lined against a wall, before you could pen one article, and shot.

And we would probably have cheered.

But we live under a democracy now—a system of government where even the scions of former oppressors can talk, and write freely, about the benefits of dictatorship. That’s a democracy. A concept your father wouldn’t have understood.

Regards,

Ayo Sogunro

____________________________________

Source: ayosogunro.com

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2014 in Opinion

 

Russia Aggression In Ukraine

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Russia has always been the country lambasting United States and its allies of aggression and violation of territorial sovereignty of other nations. President Putin vehemently rejected united States’s proposed military intervention in Syria, even when President Assad used medical weapon on his people.

Events unfolding in the Ukraine’s Crimea region have shown that Russia’s motivation to oppose use force in Syria was not to respect territorial sovereignty. Same Russia is now illegally occupying Ukraine.

Russia is violating all laws, agreements and conventions by invading Ukraine on the pretext of protecting Russians in Ukraine.

Ukrainians have every right, as they did through demonstrations, to get rid of corrupt and ineffective president. President Yanukovyc supervised the massacre of snipers killing 88 protesters; he must go.

Ukraine scenario exposed Putin’s Russia for what it is. Same Russia flexed its military might by invading Georgia in 2008.

Ukraine trusted Russia. It destroyed its stockpile of nuclear weapons when Russia promised to respect its sovereignty.

Now is time for Russia to respect that agreement by withdrawing its military from the Crimean Peninsula. It is time for Russia to let go of all appendages of Soviet Union; that Union is dead and buried and break-up states should be allowed to decide where their allegiance should lie.

Putin is afraid of freedom and opposing views. Oppositions members are randomly jailed in Russian as public demonstration is a crime.

Occupation of Ukraine is nothing but a way of preventing similar popular demonstrations in Russia.

Putin is very afraid!

Writer, Femi Olabisi, twits @Femiolas

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2014 in Opinion

 

Prof. Wole Soyinka Rejects Centenary Award, Berates Inclusion Of Known Criminals

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In a press release titled ‘The Canonisation of Terror’, the Nobel Laurel, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has lambasted the Federal Government of Nigeria for its insensibility and lack of moral obligation to Nigerians in the names of individual it included in the country’s Centenary Award.

While rejecting the award the literary icon stated that it was an insult on his personality to share same award with the late military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha.

Soyinka furthered that such award was not needed, especially now that Boko Haram terrorists are daily slaughtering Nigerians in the north.

Prof. Soyinka recalled how people were brutally killed during Abacha’s reign as military Head of State, and asked why the Federal Government had not changed the names of roads, hospitals and other public facilities that were named after Abacha.

He said, “Under that ruler, torture and other forms of barbarism were enthroned as the norm of governance. Nine Nigerian citizens, including the writer and environmentalist, Ken Saro-wiwa, were hanged after a trial that was stomach-churning even by the most primitive standards of judicial trial, and in defiance of the intervention of world leadership.

“We are speaking of a man who placed this nation under siege during an unrelenting reign of terror that is barely different from the current rampage of Boko Haram. It is this very psychopath that was recently canonised by the government of Goodluck Jonathan in commemoration of one hundred years of Nigerian trauma.”

Soyinka added that by honouring Abacha, President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration had ridiculed Nigeria in the presence of world leaders by glorifying “murderers and thieves.”

“What the government of Goodluck Jonathan has done is to scoop up a century’s accumulated degeneracy in one preeminent symbol, then place it on a podium for the nation to admire, emulate and even – worship.

“Such abandonment of moral rigour comes full circle sooner or later. The survivors of a plague known as Boko Haram, students in a place of enlightenment and moral instruction, are taken to a place of healing dedicated to an individual contagion – a murderer and thief of no redeeming quality known as Sani Abacha, one whose plunder is still being pursued all over the world and recovered piecemeal by international consortiums – at the behest of this same government which sees fit to place him on the nation’s Roll of Honour!

“I can think of nothing more grotesque and derisive of the lifetime struggle of several on this list, and their selfless services to humanity. It all fits. In this nation of portent readers, the coincidence should not be too difficult to decipher. I reject my share of this national insult,” the statement added.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2014 in Opinion

 
 
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