Speaks on the danger Nigeria faces
That Nigeria was born with great and positive dreams in 1960 is accepted by all. Taking the pulse of the domestic and international opinion in 1960, there was an expectation that Nigeria was going to be a great nation because it had a large population that dwarfed the population of most of the African states, it had vast quantities of natural resources and it had an enlightened elite, that was educated and experienced.
So what happened? How did the dreams of independence become nightmares? How did the Nigerian spring of fresh water become the Nigerian cascade of destructive floods? The answer is grounded in the failure of leadership. Is this not a contradiction in terms? On the one hand I claim that we had an enlightened elite and on the other hand, I claim a failure of leadership.
Let me explain. The phenomenal growth at the regional level especially after 1954 made Nigeria a nation of First-in-Africa projects, in terms of ring roads, stadia, multi-level cocoa houses, television and radio stations, free education, free health services etc. The Regions competed for development projects among themselves.
The country itself was socially stable. In elementary schools and secondary schools, the children of the rich and the not-so-rich robbed shoulders together. I am not implying that there was no social stratification but it was a stratification based on education more than anything else. The highest stratum of the society was not occupied by the wealthy but by the professional elite. What this meant was that in a generation, the son of a peasant farmer, who got educated, became a member of the elite, even though the parents remained at the bottom of the pile. But it was a socially stable and secure society.
Let me give you an illustration based on a personal experience. I lived in Ilesa with my parents. When I was admitted to Igbobi College, Yaba, Lagos, I went by public transportation. My mother would take me to the motor park in Ilesa and hand me over to a lorry driver going to Ife, with instructions to hand me over to another lorry driver going to Ibadan. On reaching Ibadan, that lorry driver was to hand me over to a driver going to Lagos with instructions to drop me off at the Orthopaedic Hospital bus stop.
The interesting thing is that the system worked. My mother did not know these drivers personally, but it would never have occurred to any of the drivers to double-cross another driver or my mother by kidnapping me and selling me off. Not only did each driver fulfill his own part of the mission, the reverse information flow followed in that on the return journey, each driver would confirm his own mission and by the end of the day, my mother would be informed by the first leg of the drivers that the last leg had delivered me safely.
While the attempt to build a political consensus was successful, it was only to the extent that the political elite were able to agree on an independence constitution along very minimum terms. The mindset of the elite was one of mutual suspicion, and of political loyalty based on ethnic and primordial basis. Political parties were rooted on ethnic basis. The Northern Peoples Congress made no pretense about representing just the North, the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) in fairness had a commanding presence in the East and a solid support base in the West, while the Action Group was basically a Western Regionally-based party. Such was the state of the country that we could not even agree on an accurate census figure that the departing colonial British authority which was not neutral in its handling of affairs in Nigeria, arbitrarily allocated half of the seats in Parliament to the North.
The interesting thing was that the political elite were actually acting at cross purposes with the Nigerian people. By this time, there were Nigerians from the North living peacefully in the South and in fact one of them became the Mayor of Enugu. There were Easterners living in all over the country and taking active part in the politics where they resided, and there were Westerners living outside the West, especially in the North.
There were extensive economic relations which had created a network of interlocking relationships in the country. However, in order to achieve electoral relevance, the political elite promoted a system based on antagonistic and a zero sum characteristics, which they believed and led their people, and that is us, to believe that what one group gains was a loss to the other group. Most importantly, there was no faith or believe in the electoral process. Even though it was only Chief Awolowo and his aides who were charged with treasonable felony and convicted, the series of articles in the past few weeks by Odia Ofeinum in Sunday Vanguard titled THE FORGOTTEN DOCUMENTS OF THE NIGERIAN CIVIL WAR, showed that each political party in Nigeria at that time was training party thugs in camps outside the country, driven by the belief that other parties were going to use armed party thugs against them.
The critical issue is that unless it is a case of a revolution, the expansion is a gradual process into an already established system, like being admitted into an 100yr old school. In the United States, only 55 delegates met to draft the United States Constitution in 1787 and only 39 delegates signed the Constitution. Yet that is the Constitution which the United States is still operating over two hundred years later. The constitution was not drawn up as a market place exercise or in a market place atmosphere.
The point which I made earlier about the role of the propertied class is better illustrated by these two quotations from two of the prominent delegates to the Convention who incidentally went on to become Presidents of the United States.
"In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The Senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, they ought to have permanency and stability."
--James Madison, quoted in Notes of the Secret Debates of the Federal Convention of 1787 by Robert Yates
"All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government.
They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government. Can a democratic assembly, who annually revolve in the mass of the people, be supposed steadily to pursue the public good? Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy. Their turbulent and uncontroling disposition requires checks."
--Alexander Hamilton, quoted in Notes of the Secret Debates of the Federal Convention of 1787 by Robert Yates
If, at independence, the political elite had reached a broad consensus on the fundamental values that should be the overriding principles of governance in order to make life more abundant for all, to cater for the poor, to increase opportunities for all, to provide safety net for the widow and the orphan and to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, between the North and the South and between the haves and the have nots, they would have laid a solid foundation for stability in Nigeria.
They failed to do this and went for broke and this country and all of us are the worst for it. The words of our elders are the words of wisdom: We may know the beginning of an issue, only God knows the end. The first use of the security forces to effect a change in governance in Nigeria was not in January 1966 but in 1962 when a contrived state of emergency was declared in the old Western Region. Not only was the police used to effectively shut down the House of Assembly but if you read the interview granted last year by General Samuel Ogbemudia who led the military detachment that occupied Ibadan during the crisis, he was actually deployed to the outskirts of Ibadan long before the fracas in the Western House of Assembly. In other words, the Federal Government knew that fracas was going to take place before it did because it was pre-planned with the Federal Government.
The State of the Emergency was followed by Operation Wet in the West, the military coup of January 1966, the counter coup of July 1966 and of course, the consequent civil war. That declaration of emergency in the West, followed by the arrest and conviction of Chief Obafemi Awolowo has been the biggest failure of leadership in Nigeria.
That failure of leadership rather than the resulting military regime was what destroyed the political system as we knew it. The failure of leadership has continued to bedevil the post military regimes.
While in little Sierra Leone, debates are held between Presidential candidates, in Nigeria, the Nigerian people have been treated with disdain by sitting Presidents or candidates preferred by authorities who refuse to turn up for debates, but prefer to indulge in monologues where the wisdom of their ideas cannot be subjected to withering cross-examination. It is my hope that the recent examples in Edo and Ondo states where the candidates including the sitting Governors turn up for television and radio debates will be the wave of the future.
What is even more galling is the hypocrisy shown by ex-Presidents and ex-Heads of State who continue to preach what they did not practice while in office. How does one explain revelations that from 1960, outflow of funds from Nigeria had got worse and yet the sanctimonious speeches about anti-corruption continue to rent the air.
The figures on the right speak for themselves:
All of these lead to a total of $217.8 billion dollars in round figures. And only God knows what the figures for 2008-2012 will look like because the financial crimes of succeeding regimes are worse than the financial crimes of previous regimes.
One manifestation of the failure of leadership that I need to touch upon before I move on is the trivialization of public offices. It manifests itself in several ways. The first is the qualification of those running for public offices. People who have never been Councilors or Assembly men want to run for the post of Governor, or Senator or even President.
People without any track record in public or business life think nothing of running for Governor or President. Second manifestation is the adoption of the zoning or rotation formula which dispenses of experience and emphasizes the turn-by-turn syndrome irrespective of experience or qualification. All of these would not matter if not for the fact that anointed candidates are usually rigged into office. If we have free and fair elections, where parties can be penalized for fielding incompetent people, then it would not matter whether candidates are imposed or not. But when incompetent candidates are imposed, and elections are rigged to ensure that those candidates get into office, it is the entire nation that pays the price.
Over the years, I have cried out against the continuation of the concept of Federal Character. Years ago, I pointed out that given the Nigerian penchant for absurdity, a time would come when this concept of federal character would creep into areas we would never have dreamt off. Choice of Vice-Chancellors, Bishops, Judges are now subject to Federal character. Just last week, there was an episode, disgraceful by all accounts, that took place within the judiciary. A lady judge who had been cleared for appointment to the Court of Appeal was refused her appointment because although she is married to an Abian, and had served Abia State as a Judge for the past 14 years, the Hon Justice Jombo-Ofo state of origin is Anambra and therefore the petition against her was based on the grounds that she was appointed on the Abian quota and she should have been on Anambra quota. Oh ye gods, reason has fled from men. I have my doubts as to the legality of the refusal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria to swear in Justice Jombo-Ofo since the power of appointment did not lie with her. I leave that to lawyers to argue.
A Vice-Chancellor candidate for Ahmadu Bello University who scored the highest votes was rejected because he was not from the core North which implies that that post had been zoned permanently to the core North.
Apart from these episodic illustrations of Federal Character in its absurdity, I raise a fundamental issue: After fifty years of independence, after about fifty-four to sixty years of the existence of university education in Nigeria, is there any Local Government that cannot lay claim to having produced graduates that we still need to continue to operate a federal system based on quota. Let me make one thing clear. I am not opposed to staff of national institutions reflecting the federal complexities of Nigeria. It is not only immoral but it will amount to political suicide for national institutions to be dominated by any national group. However, enshrining entry and promotion into these institutions on a quota basis irrespective of merit is not only insulting to the national groups whose fate is hinged on quota basis but it imperils the whole nation as no individual or nation which is not challenged to put forward its best foot can achieve greatness.
If care is not taken the history of Nigeria would be a history of the best Presidents, best Governors, and best Senators, and best judges that Nigeria never had. All it takes is for one nonentity or incompetent to be rigged into office and he or she would ensure that no one better in capability succeeds him in office.
THE WAY FORWARD
It is obvious from my presentation, that in my own assessment, the way to move Nigeria forward rests with the elite. The Nigerian elite, political, economic, and religious must get together and fashion out a grand consensus. Let me make it clear, that I am not advocating a consensus to loot the national treasury, that is already taking place. I am not advocating a consensus to oppress the poor, the widow and the orphan. That is already taking place. I am not advocating a consensus based on this zoning, rotation, federal character driven political system. We already have that and it is not doing us any good.
I am not advocating a consensus based on suspicion, on fear, on antagonizing and on hatred of each other. That we already have. Let me give you an illustration which frighteningly illustrates how the national good is sacrificed for the regional good. Most serious countries in the world disperse their military assets, so that in case of war, the enemy will not be able to take out these assets easily. As a result of policy driven by suspicion, most of the Nigerian strategic and military assets are located on the Zaria-Kaduna axis.
This means that a squadron of bombers can take out these assets at one fell swoop and continue its run to Abuja to take out the three arms of government. Then Nigeria would have been made a laughing stock in the world. Why can Nigeria's strategic and military assets not be distributed all over the country?
This is not the place to dwell on who engineered the fight between Chief Awolowo and his deputy, Chief Akintola. The fact is that it led to the state of emergency, the coup, the counter-coup, the civil war and the deaths of millions. This is not the place and time to dwell on who engineered the rise of the Niger-Delta militants. The fact is that it is the whole of Nigeria that paid dearly for their operations. This is not the place and time to dwell on who engineered the emergence of the Boko Haram. The fact is that we are all paying dearly for their operations.
The lesson to be drawn from all these episodes is that the politics and the lives of Nigerians have become so intertwined that what affects one affects all.
The consensus that I seek is one where the elite will emphasize policies and values that emphasize unity, not disunity, values that seek to protect the poor, the orphans and the widows; values that lay less emphasis on religious differences but more on the positive values which are the same in every religion. I call for values that lay less emphasis on greed and corruption even if only out of enlightened self-interest because a system that cannot save the many who are poor cannot save the few who are rich. The Dangote plc advertised for truck drivers and got 3,000 applicants with first degrees, 700 applicants with second degrees and six applicants with Ph.D degrees. That is not a Nigeria that can long survive especially if that is juxtaposed with the excessive looting of the national wealth by both the political and the economic elite.
The Nigeria of our dreams should be a Nigeria without the indecent flaunting of wealth. I will shock you by this statement. Nigeria is a country that can sustain a corruption level of 10% and still care for the needs of its population. But what is the point of less than five hundred thousand people cornering 95% of the national wealth only to squander it on private jets, exotic cars and mansions which they will never use. Just a primitive acquisition of wealth.
Nigeria can be better than this, much, much better.
Being excerpts of a public lecture in honour of the 40th year in the ministry of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor and the 25th Jubilee Word Festival 2012, Warri, Nigeria. Akinyemi is a professor of International Relations and Diplomacy and former Minister of External Affairs.