By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, let me say categorically that I’ve never seen a country where the citizens like to argue over every miniscule issue like Nigeria. We are a country of absolutism. Every now and then we just enjoy coming up with highfalutin theories out of the blues and everyone begins to recycle and regurgitate the mantra. Once upon a time, TRUE FEDERALISM was the swansong. Half, if not most, of those shouting the phrase had little or no idea of what it meant. It seems we just love to hear the cacophony of our own voices and prefer to join whatever is in season or in vogue.
I vividly recollect how a SOVEREIGN NATIONAL CONFERENCE became the only panacea for a united Nigeria after the satanic annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election. If you asked the exponents of that discordant idea how to activate and actualise such event, they always drew a blank. For example, who would represent each zone? How would the representatives be selected to the general acceptance and acclaim of the people? How binding would the deliberations and conclusions be on the generality of Nigerians? Would the outcome replace our Constitution? If the Conference goes ahead and by whatever stroke of luck or miracle Nigerians for once agree that the present Presidential system is bunkum and we need to return to Regionalism and Parliamentary system, how would the current beneficiaries like Governors, Ministers, Commissioners, Senators, House of Reps members, Local Government Chairmen, Councillors and a long retinue of political jobbers, agree to effect this unpleasant decision that would render them impotent and ultimately sack most of them? Answers: BLANK!
The latest craze in Nigeria now is RESTRUCTURING. Everywhere you turn, someone must tell you Nigeria needs to restructure fast. Everyone, including those who have controlled power the longest, is crying and lamenting, like the Biblical Jeremiah, that they’ve been MARGINALISED. You begin to wonder what is wrong with us. The renewed agitation for BIAFRA is borne out of that supposed persecution complex of the Igbo people by, as always theoretically, the Hausa/Fulani oligarchy. Surprisingly, geography is not a popular subject in Nigeria. Many of those tribal jingoists often lump the whole of Northern Nigeria together as a monolithic entity. They studiously forget that the North has its own majority/minority brouhaha. Indeed, there is not one Igbo nation as the agitators may want us to believe.
The arguments of those seeking justice by fire by force thus falls flat on closer examination because there is no one North or one South, or one Igbo, One Yoruba, one Hausa. New and uglier problems would instantly emerge as soon as we break Nigeria up into pieces. I’m reasonably assured that fresh complaints of marginalisation would resume. In the State of Osun, where I spent half of my present age, the people of Ile-Ife are already grumbling aloud that no Ife son or daughter has ever been a Governor even though Ile-Ife is the ancestral home of the Yoruba race. And that is the tale and litany of woes everywhere. Whatever we see happening now is nothing short of marriage of convenience.
Let’s get down to brass tacks and tackle the matter of restructuring. The word itself suggests that there is something faulty about the present structure and configuration of Nigeria. That has never been in doubt. However, the problem in my view is largely political and less economic in nature. Those who have controlled Nigeria politically in the last 57 years have shown no capacity to exploit their humongous power to the overall benefit of their people. All they’ve succeeded in doing is empower a few of their cronies who become demigods during their reign. Most end up frittering the loot they make away with like prodigal sons and soon return to irrelevance and infamy.
I’ve asked many of those saying they feel cheated in Nigeria to explain what they mean and I’ve concluded from their answers that it is more of politics than anything else. None could answer me when I asked why a strong and highly educated Dr Alex Ekwueme could not do much as Vice President under President Shehu Shagari from 1979 to 1983? I asked a similar question of why at least five Igbos were Senate Presidents, one Deputy Senate President, one Deputy Speaker and none has been able to seek and cede more power to the Igbo people in the last 18 years? If the Igbos argue that they want the Presidency as a matter of legitimate right, then the answer is they must keep working like others. The example of Chief Moshood Abiola has demonstrated clearly that for anyone to win the race, he must build consensus everywhere. He showed that it is a game of mathematical numbers and it is never a gift to anyone. Out of the old six regions in Nigeria, a Presidential candidate must lock down about four to realise his dream. The point is that you should never become Nigeria’s leader simply by virtue of where you come from but by what you have to offer in nation building. Rotation and zoning are largely responsible for proliferation of poor and preposterous leadership in Nigeria.
Let’s highlight some permutations. Had the Igbos worked well with the South West and the North Central, it might have been easier for an Igbo Presidency to materialise. Just imagine if they could lock down the entire South where majority are Christians and the Southern Muslims even marry Christians, the next job would be to align with the so-called minorities scattered across the Northern belts. I’m certain many of our youths are unaware that Chief Obafemi Awolowo once performed such experiment when he chose an Igbo man, Phillip Umeadi, as his running mate. He would probably have succeeded if he had secured massive votes from the South East and South South. All he would have needed was to poach from mostly North East and North Central. Alas, the audacious experiment failed woefully. Since then no Southern candidate of note has ever dared to pick a running mate from the South.
There is an enduring lesson to learn from the people of South West Nigeria. In 1981, Chief Moshood Abiola was frustrated out of a political party in which he invested so much time, energy and resources, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). He went back home quietly to lick his wounds. He had enough cash to try and destabilise the polity at the time but he opted to up his philanthropic work. He reached out to every nook and cranny of Nigeria helping the needy, contributing to schools, churches, mosques, creating jobs, investing in agriculture, sports and so on. From being one of the most hated Nigerians, he became one of the most loved. It was only a matter of time before his chickens came home to roost. By the time he launched his Presidential bid in 1993, even his most vociferous critics knew he was unstoppable. Chief Abiola won the election, but lost the mandate freely given to him by every part of Nigeria. The Nigerian Mafia, connived and conspired to rob him of his hard-fought victory. Every effort to regain his mandate was rebuffed and frustrated. The strategy was simple and effective. Reduce Abiola’s victory to a Yoruba affair, repeat all kinds of lies till they become believable, and a pan-Nigerian mandate was burnt into ashes. Abiola was abandoned and left in the lurch. Still the Yoruba people did not seek revenge or retaliation. They fought and without firing a shot extracted a form of justice as payback. The destroyers of June 12 could not believe the resilience of the people. In frustration and desperation, they sought and found a perfect ally to dump the stolen mandate on since they didn’t want Abiola by all means. General Olusegun Obasanjo served this purpose and it was a coronation of sorts when he reincarnated as civilian President.
It is important to note that the people of the South West were not over-excited about the re-emergence of Obasanjo. As a matter of fact, they became his most ardent opponents. In anger, Obasanjo turned his war against Yoruba leaders like Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Lagos State was deprived of its statutory allocations, even after the Supreme Court ruled in its favour. Interestingly, the current Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, was the Lagos State Attorney General that fought spiritedly against the Federal Government at the time. The lesson I wish to draw from this is that, sometimes, it is better, and safer, to fight a battle of wits than a duel of brawn. The use of force can never guarantee a meaningful victorious end.
Another example is Dr Goodluck Jonathan’s emergence as President of Nigeria. When President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s cabal was going to stop him from acting as President in the face of obvious incapacitation of the President, some Yoruba leaders, including Professor Wole Soyinka, Lt. General Alani Akinrinade, Bola Tinubu, Pastor Tunde Bakare, Femi Falana, mobilised other Nigerians to fight for the Nigerian Constitution to be respected. Afterwards, it would have been tougher for Jonathan to defeat Muhammadu Buhari in 2011 but for the superlative support he got from the South West.
The same Yoruba people may have felt marginalised under Jonathan but only retaliated with their votes in 2015. This principle should be borrowed and adopted by other tribes of Nigeria. Your greatest weapon is your vote and not how many guns you can acquire and fire. The calculated support for Buhari paid up handsomely when Osinbajo became the Vice President of Nigeria. Osinbajo is Acting President today because of the principle laid and nurtured by the Yoruba in 2010 when they supported an Ijawman as Acting President. It has become almost impossible for anyone to go against our Constitution. The Igbos enjoyed no special infrastructure privileges under Jonathan but had a quasi-Prime Minister in Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. They threw their full weight behind him in 2015. Unfortunately, Jonathan was sacked from power.
Let’s now fast forward. Nigeria is in big trouble. Suddenly, everyone is talking blah blah blah and crying wolf where there is none. The virulent, violent agitators will not consider dialogue or compromise. They are fixated about breaking away from Nigeria. All well and good. The liberals feel that is not the way to go. They want Nigeria restructured fast and now. I support the latter and I have two fundamental suggestions to make…
The Presidential system we miscopied from America has become too convoluted and expensive. Nigeria can no longer sustain 36 States plus Abuja and the attendant political operatives. Any call for the creation of more States is therefore reckless and irresponsible. I know it is impracticable to collapse some of the existing States and return to the six Regions or 12 states but this must be considered. The resources of Nigeria are being carelessly wasted on less than five percent of the population. If we truly love ourselves, we must bury our foolish pride and do the needful.
The principle of federal character was adopted to give every part of Nigeria a sense of belonging. The born to rule mentality of some people must be discouraged and curtailed immediately. Such puerile and nauseating statements credited to some Arewa youths that they donated power to Abiola, and later to Obasanjo, should be totally disregarded, dismissed and kept where it rightly belongs, the dustbin.
Democracy is a game of numbers and whosoever can mobilise enough Nigerians is the leader. The principle of rotation is unconstitutional. It is left to the political parties to accept or not. Any Nigerian is free to contest his popularity at the polls and should never be threatened into abandoning his dreams. That is why Nigeria is not a one-party state. Anyone who threatens the peace of Nigeria should be sanctioned and disciplined. A powerful Sultan Dasuki was dethroned and banished from Sokoto for whatever reasons. His son, Sambo, a once powerful National Security Adviser, has since been in indefinite detention, under whatever guise. A popular Shiite leader has been incarcerated without trial all this while. Why should some pseudo-cultural leaders feel they are above the law and that they can insult fellow citizens to the bargain? Enough of that crap. The law should take its course within the confines of the Constitution.
The Buhari government should declare a state of Emergency on Education. The reason our youths are easily brainwashed is because of the preponderance of ignorance and poverty in our country. The comments spewing out of some people are just too jejune and disgraceful at this time and age. Educational pre-requisites should be brought to par in all States. Never again should we breed sub-standard students under the guise of educationally disadvantaged zones. Education is education and those who cannot meet the requirements should stay longer in classes to catch up on their studies. I wrote my WAEC exams thrice in 1976, 1977 and 1978 before I made my credits. No one should be admitted into a university if they can’t meet the cut-off marks. We’ve damaged our education almost irreparably by condoning mediocrity in the past. Our myopic and sectional leaders obviously did not know they were sowing seeds of backwardness (or did so deliberately to clone a nation of morons) and the result is the bountiful harvest of mass illiteracy and dangerous brigandage we have in our hands today…
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.