The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true. J. B. Cabell
The title above is part of a chorus of song by the late legend, Fela. The full chorus was "no agreement today, no agreement tomorrow". It was his peculiar take on dissent against a repressive military regime. It seems a fitting title for the noisy debates about the state of the nation and its future, which was aptly captured by the 10th Daily Trust Dialogue held last week. The organizers could not have chosen a better set of speakers to give vent to the discordance which characterizes discussions about the nation, particularly in view of the impending centenary of the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates back in 1914. The Dialogue lived up to its billing as a forum which throws up the bowels of the nation, and reminds Nigerians that they have a lot more questions than answers. This year's Dialogue raised voices to such a pitch that you would have been forgiven if you thought it was a quarrel.
Should Nigerians worry that 100 years after European colonial interests threw together motley of over two hundred ethnic groups and two of the world's largest religions into a country, there are still questions over whether we can rightly claim to be a nation? Should we celebrate that historic decision with pomp and aplomb, or should we wail in regret over it? Ms AnnKio Briggs, who enjoys the image of champion of the people of the Niger Delta, said far from celebrating, we should bow our heads in shame for failing to utilize the potential to build a nation that is founded on justice. Justice, however, will be evident only when oil and gas resources from the land in oil producing states, and the waters of the federal government of Nigeria are distributed in such a manner that the region lives in relative opulence. That justice is being denied her people because, President Jonathan has disappointed Nigerians with the levels of incompetence and corruption as well as a political sharing formula that is not built on current economic assets alone. Her prognosis for the survival of Nigeria was less than cheery, because the nation insists on "leadership based on numbers", and leaders pay lip service to unity.
The lady ran into Dr Sule Bello, a Bala Usman throwback, who lampooned international imperialism for the state of the Nigerian nation. His rejection of the implication in Ms. Briggs' presentation that the rest of Nigeria, particularly northerners, are responsible for the underdevelopment and degradation of the Niger Delta, received a thunderous applause, although it may have received a different response if he had said this in Yenagoa or Port Harcourt.
Femi Falana raised his personal bar a bit. There will be a revolution, he insisted, agreeing with President Jonathan for a change, but only because corruption and impunity have eaten so deeply into the nation's fabric that it could very well be the only option left for Nigerians. Hardworking and decent Nigerians are fighting for crumbs from oil wealth, when no one can say with any authority how much of the resource is produced and stolen.
When Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah spoke last, the audience thought he would place some soothing balm on raw nerves that had been exposed by earlier speakers. He did not. His position was to step outside the fray, and attempt to arrest the panic which was set by Ms Briggs' demand for more from those who have less; by Dr Bello's unanswered lament over the damage of bad leaders and the spectre of a western conspiracy hounding our lives; and by Mr Falana's move-or-be-moved challenge to the leadership.
No, there will be no revolution, he said, and this nation is sitting on strong foundations to which every leader has contributed. We are too hard on ourselves and on our nation, and those who expect a perfect nation have not read history. There is a problem, however. We have been led by people who came to power by accident or force. Our leaders were never groomed, prepared and ready to lead our nation with vision and competence. This must change. Nations led by unprepared or accidental leaders lead our country as if it is an accident waiting to happen. So we question and doubt everything; and this includes those things we did well, or will do better in future.
But it wasn't all doom and gloom. The Speaker of the House of Representatives said nation building is a difficult and often messy process, and the existence of conflicts in not in itself a bad thing. Conflicts serve as catalysts to improve the democratic process, if handled properly. The problem, however, is that Nigerian leaders very often behave as if the people owed them, rather than the other way round.
It is in the nature of Dialogues of this nature that the millions of Nigerians who gave their lives and limbs so that the nation can survive would not have had a say. The millions of little building blocks in the lives of citizens who are entirely inter-dependant as they pursue the tedium of normal existence from Katsina to Asaba, Baga to Osogbo did not have a say. Millions of young Nigerians who have little time for history, and who just want education, skills and jobs and security did not have a say. These are the building blocks of the nation, and those who think they can be ignored are mistaken. But they can be damaged and destroyed by irresponsible and incompetent leaders. At least the Dialogue last week agreed that good lenders can transform the Nigerian state, and move it beyond debates about basics such as whether it should continue to exist at all.