DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN
Critics of the 1999 transition to civil democratic rule programme make the pertinent point that it amounted to walking blindfolded into the fourth republic because the rules of engagement (constitution) were not made manifest prior to the swearing in of elected officers.
This non sequitur, putting the cart before the horse, stemmed from the choice and strategy of the supervisory military dictatorship of General Abdulsalami Abubakar to prioritise the rapid withdrawal of the military from governance.
The hasty departure was necessitated by the total delegimation of military rule and its culmination in the murderous excesses of the General Sani Abacha regime.
The transition was specifically targeted at pacifying and compensating the political constituency of late Chief Moshood Abiola as represented by the Yoruba writ large National Democratic Coalition (NADECO).
It was unique in respect of the conspicuous and overt premium it placed on the enlistment of the Yoruba political establishment for participation.
In response to the signal and invitation of the Abdulsalami Abubakar military dictatorship, the NADECO was caught in a dilemma. It predicated the years long struggle against the annulment of the 1993 presidential election on the realisation of two objectives.
They were the validation of the victory of Chief Moshood Abiola in the 1993 election and the convocation of a national constitutional conference to reproduce the federalism themed independence constitution. The organisation argued that the election should be preceeded by the making of a representative peoples constitution which should then institutionalise and regulate the conduct of elections.
The problem here was that insisting on a peoples constitution as condition precedent to participating in the election would draw out the transition calendar beyond the envisaged short military interregnum. The potential option of boycotting the election was equally fraught with the risk of ceding the political space to opponents and rivals especially in the South West. In the end they resolved to take part in the election with the objective of working from within the government to reform the constitution.
A similar problematic potentially arises with a view to the 2023 general elections. Should political actors, particularly the proponents of restructuring double down on the demand for having constitutional reforms prior to the elections? What does this option portend for the political stability of Nigeria? The good news is that more than at any other time since the inauguration of the fourth republic, there appears to be an emergent national consensus on the need for constitutional reforms specifically on the item of devolution and decentralisation of power.
The major holdout against any such constitutional reform has been the perception of the far North that the reform is somehow against its corporate political interest. For that matter, If this interpretation is correct, it is doubtful the late premier of the Northern region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, would have signed on to the independence constitution. The reading I sense across board of the Northern intelligentsia is an emergent regional identification with the restoration of federalism aka restructuring.
As evidence, I have, amongst others, the submission of the Nigeria Working Group on Peace-building and Governance (NWGPG) comprising Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Dr Hakeem Baba Ahmed, Gen. Martin Luther Agwai (rtd.), Prof. Attahiru Jega, Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, Dr Nguyan Shaku Feese, Dr Usman Bugaje, Adagbo Onoja, Ambassador Fatima Balla, Ambassador Zango Abdu, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Chris Kwaja, Dr Hussaini Abdu, Kemi Okenyodo, Jim Gala, Aisha Muhammed Oyebode and Tsema Yvonne.
In a recent submission, they warned that “confidence towards the Nigerian state is very low, heightening the divides in the federation and creating widespread demands for dialogue and consensus-building on restructuring which the government has been tone-deaf to”. And the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El Rufai admonished “We have the highest number of out-of-school children. We have the highest poverty rate. We have the lowest JAMB cut-off rate.
So, what are the advantages to the North in the current situation? We don’t have any advantage not to restructure the country. All my colleague governors in the 19 states agree on restructuring. So who are the northerners against restructuring? Who are they speaking for? They are speaking for themselves.”
Dan Agbese of the Newswatch fame penned the most stirring stricture of all “I have often wondered why the north which has ruled the country longer than all the other regions put together is in dire straits. If it is only the industry, then it must be an industry that has failed disastrously.The difference between the northern states and the southern states in terms of resources and human development is clear. The south is soaring in modern development and the north is sinking in under-development. All the northern states must wait for the monthly handouts from the federation account.
Northern Nigeria is a region that contradicts its natural endowments. Despite the existence of many economic resources such as tin, kaolin, a variety of agricultural products and a huge fertile land, the people remain in abject poverty leading to a plethora of crisis in forms of insurgency, electoral violence and crime. …Northern Nigeria becomes a hub of joblessness, crime, illiteracy, maternal mortality and terrorism.”
This is what politics as an industry has done to the north. Weep, brother”
I have always reiterated that the basic leadership problem of Nigeria is political mismanagement. Reinforcing this ailment is a constitutional dysfunction which structurally predisposes and renders the political leadership prone to this political mismanagement. The over concentration and centralisation of power in Abuja and concomitant disinheritance and disempowerment of the states breeds lopsided instability, inefficiency and abuse of power. It predisposes the constitutionally enabled wielder of the power at the centre to arbitrary, discriminatory and unaccountable exercise of power. In the words of Lord Acton, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The combination of a winner takes all disposition, parochialism and nepotism has had the effect of fractionalising the body polity into two hostile camps of political haves and have nots and the bifurcation tended to coincide with extant ethno regional cleavages. The ensuing political exclusion fosters and radicalises political division into status quo regime enforcers and political subversives.
By definition, any government characterised by winner takes all, parochial insularity and nepotism is incapable of viewing opposition and dissent in any other light than as political subversives. In this proclivity, the tragic irony of Nigeria’s political leadership is that it demobilises rather than mobilise citizens for national development. For any society to develop, it must cultivate a development ethic that approximates the idealistic exhortation of John F. Kennedy that “seek what you can do for your country and not what your country can do for you”. I doubt there is any possibility of rediscovering any equilibrium near this proximity in contemporary Nigeria outside of restructuring and I can put the argument no better than the submission of a most improbable latter day convert to the cause, the hawkish leader of the Northern Youths Congress, Malam Shettima Yerima “When we restructure the country, everybody will take responsibility. But if you make it over attractive and leave everything in Abuja, the centre cannot hold because there is a limit to what Abuja can do. It is obvious and clear that security-wise, economically and politically, it cannot hold. But if you decentralise and everybody is working at his pace, it will encourage competition because everybody will want to live fine. This agitation of who will be president will not be there because the centre will be less attractive; until we decentralize, we won’t get it right.”
On present course and strength of available evidence it is difficult to decipher a fate better than an acceleration towards implosion for Nigeria in the near term.
This is indicated in the deadly mix of a gargantuan security breakdown exemplified in the low intensity civil war pervading the North; runaway corruption, drastic revenue shortfall, imminent collapse of the oil economy and food security crisis; topped by the winner takes all nepotism of the Muhammadu Buhari administration. Barring a massive positive intervention, contrived or providential, this is the perfect storm that constitutes the backdrop to the 2023 elections. Take note that Nigerian elections, in and of itself, constitutes a fraught security challenge.
A potential (positive) providential intervention can, for instance, materialise in the form of an unexpected financial windfall from an improbable oil boom- thereby providing another escapist bribery to postpone the day of reckoning. Nigeria can, of course, choose to become a creative master of its destiny by deliberately contriving a positive intervening variable that aborts the present troubled pregnancy before it delivers on the promise of a death knell. What then are the available options? If the reading is correct that restructuring has attained the status of a national consensus movement, then Nigeria has found the needed shock therapy to refocus attention away from gloom and despair to that of hopeful anticipation.
Restructuring can thereby serve a dual elixir for Nigeria. The hope of its realisation can dilute the present gloom overcast and prompt Nigerians to contemplate the future with measured optimism while the realisation of the policy agenda itself will potentially guarantee the stability and development of Nigeria in the mid to long term.
Adieu Laleye Olagunju
Growing up together and of the same age, my cousin, Laleye has always been a perennial fixture in my life. His sudden exit has naturally resulted in a giant vacuum. When I say sudden, I mean that hours to the fatal heart attack that took him away, he was on phone chatting away spiritedly in the spirit of the Christmas and New Year season. He was ultimately felled by Nigeria’s self-destructive syndrome. At the onset of the heart attack crisis, he was rushed to the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan – only to be denied admission on the excuse that he could be suffering from the affliction of Covid-19 to which the medical staffers were afraid of exposing themselves. Were there no PPE to ensure that medical attendants do not contract the disease while attending to patients? It was this kind of dereliction that sealed the fate of Professor Femi Odekunle weeks ago – not to talk of many that fell under the radar. With a wounded heart, it is my dreaded obligation, once again, to bid a painful farewell to another premature precious victim of the rampaging grim reaper.
May the soul of Laleye find rest in the bossom of the Lord and may God heal and comfort the young family he left behind.