By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, I’m aware that many of us have given up on President Muhammadu Buhari changing his modus operandi. I won’t blame anyone for arriving at such decision. After spending over five years in power, we can only await a miracle of volcanic proportions to alter this perfidious drift towards cataclysmic perdition into which the President is leading us. There are not many human beings as lucky as a man once known as Major General Muhammadu Buhari, who was Nigeria’s military Head of State, from 1984-85, and who is now the civilian President, from 2015 until, hopefully, 2023.
No one could have asked for a better grace of such a second chance from God, particularly as he had contested for the same post three times between 2003 and 2011 and had not been third time lucky! By the time fortune smiled upon him at his fourth attempt, some of us had been led to place a halo above his head and even give him Messianic qualities such that we had great expectations of him in 2015. Even those who never liked him were definitely willing to grant him the benefit of the doubts. Such had his profile and stocks risen in those halcyon days when the mere mention of Jonathan’s name was anathema to many Nigerians.
Except for those enjoying a binge under this government at this moment, and there are a few, which is the story for another day, it is obvious that this is not what we bargained for. In case the President casually dismissed former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s latest diatribe against him, since there is the popular belief that there is no love lost between them and that they have since ceased to enjoy any semblance of cordial relationships between them, I pray he won’t ignore that of Lt. General Alani Ipoola Akinrinade. My reason is simple. I remember how the former Chief of Defence Staff, gave a passionate support to Buhari during the “fake certificate saga”, insisting that there was no way Buhari would have forged examination results in those good old days. Akinrinade was willing and ready to risk his towering reputation for a man he believed was a complete officer and gentleman. If such a man appears to be sorely disappointed today, I will beg Buhari not to dismiss this military and political colossus, one of Africa’s greatest military officers, as a “wailing wailer”, as his handlers are wont to describe his critics. I have known and followed Lt. General Akinrinade for over 40 years and I have found in him a disciplined gentleman, the embodiment of the typical English, Sandhurst trained military officer who is not prone to frivolities.
Akinrinade did something that is common to Yoruba elders, when they want to send a message to someone that is not likely to listen. They talk in the presence of his children. He therefore sent a powerful message to Buhari on the occasion of General Tukur Y. Buratai, Chief of Army Staff’s visit to Osun State. Akinrinade’s speech was a masterpiece and I’m not surprised it went viral. He started with all the niceties, a gentleman will deploy before dropping his bombshell. No one could have anticipated the salvos that would soon follow from Lt. General Akinrinade who is soft-spoken and has an innocent almost cherubic and amiable mien and disposition. Behind that façade is concealed the hard flint and steel of a consummate and phenomenally successful soldier and administrator. A fearless warrior, not known for tact or diplomacy when he is galled or angered, Akinrinade’s intelligence and intellectual prowess is also well known. All these qualities were on display in the passionate speech that he made at the occasion. Permit me to quote copiously from this eloquent Nigerian elder statesman.
“… Please, grant me the indulgence to mention to him one or two matters that throw me into distress because of my association with him. The first is his pervasive belief that he is an ethnic bigot, an irredeemable religious fundamentalist, that he firmly subscribes and the possibility of his ethnic Fulani to take over the country, the reason he does not interfere in curbing the brigandage of the Fulani herdsmen, that he has performed woefully in the fight against the terrorist Boko Haram and that he cannot rise to reflecting the heterogeneous composition of our country when it comes to appointments to sensitive positions in his government. The whole buck stops on his table…
“Let me suggest to him that he needs to shape up, read the riot act to our people, enlist them in unswerving cooperation to participate fully in the redemption of their country. Arms and brutal force are not sufficient to defeat an insurgency.
“I am sure he is aware of the hue and cry from all corners and crannies of our country for secession as if we have not been there before. He needs to stand on his table against the motley (sic) crowd of advisers surrounding him and take a firm stand on the reorganization of our country, physically, economically and socially. What we simply term as reorganization in the Armed Forces is what the bloody civilians call RESTRUCTURING (emphasis his). It is long overdue and flogged, as if it is such an impossibility, an attempt at which, will balkanize the country. As a matter of fact, it is what is required to move the country out of the doldrums into modernity. He cannot afford to pass it on. We may end up without a country, as no country has been known to survive two civil wars.
“He can take better counsel in the appointments to the sensitive parts of government. There are capable and loyal men and women from every village in the country.
“We are regaled everyday with blood chilling stories of killings and pillaging of villages sometimes towns in the North and Central parts of Nigeria, and of recent talks of impending massacres and intensification of kidnapping coming our way in the Southern States and the main protagonists of the disturbance is the Fulani herdsmen…
“I suggest to him to read the riot act to the Fulani herdsmen, that it is not acceptable for any foreigner by whatever name called to enter our country illegally and molest our people. They are not welcome. We should not, by mistake of omission or commission allow our people to degenerate to self-help. It is a sure road to anarchy and perdition, which will not go away…”
I hope President Buhari somehow read that message, if General Buratai felt too intimidated to deliver it to him personally. If perchance he has not read it, I hope he would have the opportunity to do so today since as he himself told me, he is an avid reader of newspapers. It is my fervent prayer that the President finds time to digest this abridged version today and ponder and reflect upon it. I believe he needs to do so by all means, but if he decides to be obstinate, he will appreciate it in the future, that Akinrinade was not one of his real or imagined enemies but a true friend. Only reliable and dependable friends can tell truth to power in a country where most people live and die on government largesse.
Just yesterday, I came across the latest distressing news of promotions in the Nigerian Customs. It allegedly follows the now familiar pattern of promotions for northern elements to the detriment of their southern counterparts. I simply refused to believe the story. If true, then it is time to tell the President that this recklessness, this disdain for the rest of the country must stop. Even if some Nigerians are seen and treated as slaves, things should not be this provocative. The amount of accumulated bitterness and bile in the land may be insignificant to those in power but it is dangerously growing, and the people are simmering with discontent.
Nigerians now live in perpetual strife. Is the Commander-in-Chief not aware of this fact? If he is not, because he is living in a gilded cage, surely his advisers and confidants are. Certainly, they must be able to tell their principal and benefactor about how dire things have become in the country. Or are they all so blinded by the filthy lucre that is being amassed that none of them can see reason or sense or hear the plaintive cries of their oppressed and suppressed fellow citizens. Whatever the situation may be, this is the biggest challenge facing the President. It is one which he must confront head on… Luckily for him, of all the problems that he is beset with, this is the easiest to tackle by him. All he needs is the will to do so as well as the willingness to see every Nigerian as part of one indivisible family. His catchy rallying cry and slogan at the beginning of his first term in 2015 will do well to be remembered by him. At that time, he had pontificated that “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody”! Sadly, this has proven to be far from being the case. The President has shown undisguised bias for, and favouritism in respect of a people from the core northern part of the country and those of the same Islamic faith as him. The President seems to be intolerant of others. He is accused of being so discriminatory and partisan, but he seemingly shrugs off these accusations as if they were water off a duck’s back.
My second worry is about the youths of Nigeria. They require greater attention than they are getting right now. If our various arms of governments can substantially reduce their wasteful profligacy, some money can be freed to cater for the long-suffering masses and their children. I cringe, and I am moved to tears when I hear the criminally insane sums that is claimed to have been spent on providing cash palliatives to our indigent fellow citizens in this COVID-19 season. No proper records exist for the disbursement of the humongous sums being bandied about by our top government functionaries . . . It is easy to distribute the cash in readily accountable ways that can easily be checked and verified. However, this government likes to do things the complicated way and give room for graft and daylight robbery, thus eroding any faith and confidence that the public had that it would champion the fight against corruption and root out corrupt elements that are polluting the polity.
Creating employment opportunities to pacify the restive youths cannot be as tough as it seems. One way of doing so which will also solve another of our major problems is to encourage an agricultural revolution. We have arable land almost everywhere. We have energetically hardworking men and women. We have brilliant, intelligent and ambitious citizens. All they need is a little push and incentive. Beyond Government, those in the private sector can be of additional help. Some Nigerians I know started business with as little as five thousand Nigeria and the businesses have grown in leaps and bounds. We are a hardworking, imaginative, innovative and creative people. God has blessed us with people with flair and aptitude that only need to be graciously supported in just even small measure.
In a similar vein, Nigeria must invest heavily in vocational education. This would equip our young ones and make them more efficient and employable. We need to invest in Sports by providing training centres, kits and coaches. Nigeria is blessed with raw talents who need to be polished and moulded for global opportunities. Same can be done in the area of entertainment. It won’t take too much to invest in studios and music facilities. Our movie, music, comedy industries can absorb thousands, if not millions, of our people. Fashion is one of the sectors we need to develop urgently. I love the huge investment of the Cross River State Government in industrial garment and sewing companies. We cannot forget the impact of food and beverage. Let’s invite the experts in these fields to brainstorm and back them up with funding. We will be surprised at the result of such an exercise. Research is the way forward for any country seeking to attain any success or development. Unfortunately, in Nigeria funding for research is sorely lacking both from government and the private sector. Our universities and tertiary institutions are no more than glorified secondary schools with science laboratories rather than well equipped research centres which we really require.
Until we sort out the imbalances in our educational sector and deal with those things that are crucial and necessary for national growth and development we will only belong in the playground for little boys, playing with toys made for us by the big men who are making giant strides in all that they aspire to, whilst we remain content with the toys, sweets and pats on the head that we get from them on the few occasions that they deign to cast their glances our way. This is not the Nigeria of the dreams of our forefathers and ancestors.
Nigeria is an industrial powerhouse waiting to explode positively if some of us can be less selfish and greedy… That is the Nigeria that should be bursting to celebrate its diamond jubilee in a couple of weeks, not the caricature of a nation that we have now. The President undertook to lead us to this promised land. He can redeem himself in the short space of time left in his tenure and ensure a positive legacy for himself and a bright future for the country…