Last week, former leaders General Ibrahim Babangida and Olusegun Obasanjo issued a joint statement on the state of the nation. In it, the duo expressed weighty positions and with a candour not unexpected of elder statesmen at a period of great danger and national self-doubt. The retired generals took a searching look at Nigeria's clearly troubled national journey and spoke out at a period it was very important to do so.
The opening stanza of their submission captures and contextualises the core of the subsisting national dilemma: "Unfolding events in our dear motherland Nigeria, over the last few years, are threatening to unravel the nearly a century old labour of our founding fathers and subsequent generations in building a strong, united, peaceful nation that can accommodate and cater for the needs and aspirations of our diverse communities. Internecine crises are raging across the land unabated with damaging consequences on the social, political and economic life of the nation."
According to the correct submission of the two ex-military top guns, "The loss of innocent lives being experienced by the day across the nation is simply unbearable. Currently, the nation is gripped by a regime of fear and uncertainty that virtually all citizens have difficulties going about their normal day-to-day lives without great anxiety and trepidation. This cannot be allowed to continue!"
With justifiable gravity, they handed down a kind of ultimatum to the current political leadership of the nation and clearly stated that the current trend must end. The dimension of dialogue as a central option of engaging the militant Boko Haram sect was also brilliantly played up by the battle-hardened veterans.
The method, moment and apparent motive of the call by Obasanjo and Babangida to all Nigerians for peace, tolerance and dialogue in the midst of the present dangers suggest serious introspection and consideration of the real possibility of the break-up of the nation. Both, wise in the ways of crises and danger, were clearly trying to appeal to the most patriotic and nationalistic sentiments of a divided, distracted and angry polity.
The prevailing national crisis with its inherent dangers could not have been better articulated and by perhaps no better tag-team. We readily recall that the stories of both ex-leaders are intimately intertwined with the history of post-independence Nigeria. But notwithstanding the sincerity and weight of their counsel, both obviously cannot escape censure in the nation's political space.
This hinges on their responses to the recent political history of the country, given the centrality of their roles. This is evidenced by the flak (and commendations) that trailed their homily. Respected personalities, significant organisations and political tendencies have commended and condemned both the messengers and their message roughly in equal measure. At the core of their criticism are the roles both played in governance of the country in the past when they held sway.
However, beyond whatever speculations the duo's antagonists may adduce for this intervention, we believe that their joint position cannot be written off lightly. For whatever they are worth, Obasanjo and Babangida's standpoints on key issues that impact the pace and tenor of socio-political emancipation of the polity carry sufficient weight to provoke appropriate national discourse.
We note that, at press time, no significant response had been made by the presidency to the free counsel provided by Obasanjo and Babangida. We urge President Goodluck Jonathan to study the content of this "state of the nation" position on its merit - and use what is useable from it.