By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, wherever two or more Nigerians are gathered and engaged in deep-heated discussions and arguments, you can immediately guess what the issue is all about, NIGERIA and our intractable problems. The questions on most lips today are: are we likely to witness a better Nigeria again; is Nigeria cursed or jinxed; do we have leaders who can rescue Nigeria from the brink of collapse; is corruption in our DNA; are we the worst country in the world; is it better to just break up Nigeria and say in unison “to thy tent oh Israel…”? And so on and so forth…
I shall endeavour to respond to the very germane questions, as complex and complicated as they may be. The first question suggests that Nigeria is a good country. Once we all agree on that in principle, then there is hope for a greater and better Nigeria. If we disagree, we must ask ourselves why we are frustrated about the wasted opportunities. Even the famous African writer, Chinua Achebe, had virtually written Nigeria off in his final offering to the country, in his book titled “There was a Country.”
Nigeria can truly frustrate The Pope and make him lose faith in God. It is not that we don’t all know our problems, or that we lack the mental abilities to think through and come up with solutions, but most of us are just too selfish and crudely self-centred to make the necessary sacrifices. We all grumble and lament endlessly before attaining power but as soon as we get into office, it seems some demonic forces overpower our common sense and turn us into foolish morons. Or why would anyone think of stealing in arrears and in advance? What could drive any soul, sensible, rational or otherwise, to inflate contracts at 1000 percent and still stupidly refuse to execute the jobs?
The events of the past few weeks are just enough to task the brains of every optimist and turn us into an incurable pessimist. The stealing going on in a country that has the last Saint standing as President is not only mind-boggling but absolutely incredulous. So, I’m not surprised that many of our citizens have given up finally on anything good ever coming out of Nigeria. But, please, wait a minute, I don’t think hope has evaporated totally from Nigeria. It is true I feel such negative vibes too, sometimes, but I know for a fact that it is not impossible to save Nigeria from its self-inflicted pains, self-immolation and destruction. Kindly permit me to offer my own ideas in a jiffy.
What do we need to move Nigeria forward from this seeming state of inertia or even backwardness? The most important is that one man who genuinely believes in one Nigeria, and is willing to carry everyone along. We don’t need a multitude to fix Nigeria. Let me now describe in greater detail who that man should be. We need a completely detribalised Nigerian. That man must not be a religious bigot or tribal warlord. Sorry, the closest to such would be a Moshood Abiola or an Olusegun Obasanjo, despite his many other foibles. The leader must be naturally brilliant, intelligent, streetwise and confident like those two. The man must have managed people and resources successfully in his personal and private capacity. A man who has never managed business and resources is not likely to be well-equipped to manage the economy of a country as massive as Nigeria. That man must know how to assemble the best team, strictly on merit. Former Presidents Ibrahim Babangida and Olusegun Obasanjo impressed me in that aspect. We urgently need a man who believes in a star-studded cabinet and not some colourless and odoriferous desperados who are not interested in nation-building. He must be tolerant of different shades of opinions. He must be fair-minded and treat everyone with respect and decorum. He must obey the rule of law and allow separation of powers, as enshrined in our Constitution to flourish.
That man must know the importance of time, hit the ground running and have his blueprint and masterplans ready from day one. The masterplans must embrace the use of technology and de-emphasise physical contacts between government operatives and raw cash. This will normally reduce temptations by potentially corrupt souls. As much as possible, the leader or President must search for Nigerians with proven records of integrity all over the world. What’s the biggest task ahead of that man?
Education is the bedrock of modern nations. That man must subscribe to this truism. A nation that fails to invest aggressively in education at this time and age is doomed and sentenced to eternal damnation. Education should never be about going to school only and obtaining certificates. No. Education should make everyone a useful citizen, a compassionate human being and responsible soul. We should open vocational schools in every part of Nigeria and teach our youths how to become more of entrepreneurs instead of waiting for jobs that are not available. There is business for most of those with requisite knowledge. But many go to school today to possess certificates that would not be relevant to their lives and well-being.
The next man should be ready for battle, even a full-scale war with the reckless politicians who are not ready to sweat by sacrificing for Nigeria. He must commit to urgent reforms. The present American Presidential system we practise cannot be sustained. It will kill Nigeria, ultimately, if we don’t kill it. A system that forces a country to spend the bulk of its resources on politicians and civil servants is parasitic and must be exterminated by all means. We must consider a parliament with hugely reduced members. We must also think of how our Parliament can be a part time vocation for patriotic people. How I wished our previous military governments were disciplined enough to hand over such institutions to us. The outlandish enjoyment of our politicians is no longer tolerable or tenable. If it continues unabated, the mad insecurity in the land will soon quadruple and not even the uniformed men can contain it.
We must grow our economy by diversifying our exports. Nigeria is blessed with so much, but we are too mentally lazy to change our over-dependence on oil. Our population should be an asset and not a liability. We have significant natural resources which we are yet to tap. We need to transform our country into an industrial giant. The exploitation of these resources can only augur well for the development and transformation of our nation. It is essential to produce more at home than going abroad for nearly everything. This won’t happen until that man finds the will and courage to fix electricity problems.
The endemic issue of corruption would have to be tackled differently. It should become a way of life for all of us, ingrained in our body fluids. It should stop being a veritable tool for vendetta and witch-hunt. The leader must stop paying hypocritical lip service to fighting corruption if he is not willing to live by example. The billions of Naira we allocate to running the various State houses should be hacked down drastically. This time around, most of the Presidential jets should be sold off save for two for the President and Vice President. When President Obasanjo took power in 1999, he used to fly commercial flights, initially. This forced civil servants to calm down a bit. Nothing stops our President from choosing Air Peace or Arik as our symbolic National carrier. So, wherever he/she is going, you can charter one and patronise a Nigerian company. This will encourage our airlines to keep their aircrafts in serviceable conditions when they know the leader and others may call on them anytime. Our leaders must stop making frivolous flights from fancy.
No Nigerian leader must go abroad for medical treatment. This has become a major source of embarrassment. Is it not sad that some of the best Doctors in the world are Nigerians but they can’t practise in their own country? I pray that COVID-19 has taught us all a big lesson. If it hasn’t, then our case is beyond redemption. There is no earthly reason Nigeria can’t build one world class hospital per region. But none of these suggestions would ever work without the determination to succeed where others have failed. Who can ever imagine that the present government has spent over five years already, with nothing really tangible to show for it?
Lastly, do we need to break up Nigeria for things to work optimally in our country? Once again, my response is no. That will never be the answer. There is no region or State in Nigeria that has only one tribe in the region or even in a State. And where one single tribe predominates, there are several groupings within such tribe. What it means is that if you carve out a Yoruba nation, or whatever name you call it, how will it stop the perennial troubles between the different language groups? I am convinced that once we have a leader who gives every Nigerian a sense of belonging, the agitations would subside.
The billion-dollar question is, who will bell the cat? Truly, it seems we are doomed. And suddenly my optimism has changed to pessimism…
GOODBYE MALLAM ISMAILA ISA FUNTUA
I am aware of the spate of sacrilegious allegations and accusations that have dogged Mallam Ismaila Isa Funtua since he passed on during the week. It is not my intention to dally into them simply because I have not investigated the gory allegations of unbridled corruption and abuse of power, and I know not what is true, exaggerated or fake news. For me, one must always hear both sides of the story before taking a principled position. Sadly, a dead man cannot defend himself or even ask for forgiveness. All I wish to do here is mourn the passing of a cherished colleague and older friend.
I often wondered what Mallam Ismaila Isa Funtua saw in me that made him take to me so much. But I had no doubt that we bonded well despite our obvious disagreements on politics in all its ramifications.
I got to know Mallam Ismaila Funtua, the Godfather, as many knew and called him, through his friend, Chief Moshood Abiola, the Boss of Bosses, about 30 years ago. Malam was interested in the Leadership of the Nigerian Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria of which Abiola was then the President. Malam was extremely networked like Abiola. They both made so many friends all over Nigeria and age was no barrier. Both men agreed to collaborate with each other. Since that time, we have had a special bond in spite of our political differences in recent times.
My opposition to the Buhari government, based on my belief that it condones ineptitude and incompetence is well known. Mallam on the other hand was a die-hard Buhari loyalist, a member of the famed cabal ruling the country which he unabashedly publicly admitted in an interview. We both held on to our respective positions and Mallam did not give up on me. He would call sometimes, on Saturdays usually and once I saw his call, I knew immediately there was fire on the mountain. He was fiercely jingoistic in his relationship with President Buhari but also respected and tolerated his critics. What he hated was when a writer never sees anything good in government.
I loved his company because he was such a confident and charismatic man, attributes which many saw as arrogance. He often listened and gave way to superior arguments. He was admired by many of us for that reason.
I remember the last three encounters I had with him. The first was when he had invited Nduka Obaigbena and I to his Lagos home in Victoria Island while President Buhari was ill in London. Mallam was angry because he felt that some people in Lagos and Abuja wanted Buhari dead. I told him it was not true and that he had only allowed paranoia to creep into him. I was with him before Nduka arrived. He then complained about a very senior columnist in Thisday who had written a scathing attack against Buhari. Nduka calmed him down and told him that every Thisday columnist was independent and was not controlled by him. When we stood up to go, he said I shouldn’t leave. Nduka had another appointment to catch. I stayed and Mallam and I discussed late into the early hours.
On another occasion, he called me in Ghana and invited me to fly with him, Nduka Obaigbena and Kabiru Yusuf, the big man at Daily Trust, to attend the Guild of Editors’ summit in Port Harcourt, which I obliged. We spent the evening with Governor Nyesom Wike who also addressed Mallam as his Godfather. I realised how effortlessly Malam made friends with everyone including members of the Opposition. He liked to operate under the radar. I once wrote a story he didn’t want published, unbeknown to me. He complained the last time I saw him and Nduka Obaigbena at The George Hotel in Ikoyi, Lagos. I apologised to him and we immediately continued our friendship as if nothing had happened.
It was impossible to know Mallam and not like his personable character. I saw first-hand how Uncle Sam Amuka-Pemu, the Publisher of Vanguard newspapers, Chief Olusegun Osoba, Nduka Obaigbena, Sam Nda-Isaiah, the boss at Leadership newspapers all adored him. Definitely, his affability was appreciated by all who knew him well, irrespective of what they saw as his business dealings and political machinations.
May Allah grant him Aljannah Firdaus.