Building Nigeria of the peoples’ dream

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The Presidential Clinic, Abuja

Like many other countries around the world, a lot has been chronicled about Nigeria that it might look like flogging a dead horse trying to pen more about this wonderful country. But as our people say, it is better for the firewood to get finished than for the food to remain undone. We will keep writing and keep talking until the right leaders emerge and until Nigerians come away from the bush, from their old ways of doing things, from their preoccupation of discovering new ways to survive rather than embracing modern ways to live life and if possible live it to the fullest, which is what many other progressive countries have come to adopt.

Indeed, there are so many angles to the Nigerian dilemma that it is doubtful if the narrative can ever be exhausted. The story of Nigeria is like watching a masquerade display in a village arena. The way you see and discuss it will depend on your location and your level of elevation. The country is quite large both by population which is estimated at 200 million people and by land mass which is estimated at 983,213 sq. kilometres. It has about 250 ethnic nationalities and more than 250 ethnic languages.

Other things being equal then, there is need to put the condition of the country in a clear and unambiguous language that everyone can understand, and appreciate. First is what we all know. And that is, that Nigeria is endowed with so much wealth by nature that by no stretch of the imagination should Nigerians lack anything that would make them happy and united as a strong country, ready to take its proper place in Africa and in the world.

Apart from its legendary oil and gas revenue, Nigeria is known to be richly endowed with forests that are home to the most interesting animals on earth, rivers that inhabit the most exotic fishes imaginable, and a vast variety of solid minerals. The country’s very huge forests are home to lots of games which include antelopes, hyenas, lions, gorillas, elephants, leopards, giraffes, monkeys and baboons among others. Its many great rivers that are inhabited by varieties of fishes include the Aba River, Akwayafe River, Anambra River, Benue River, Bonny River, Calabar River, Cross River, Donga River, Ekulu River, Erinle River, Escravos River, Faro River, Forcados River, Gadar Tamburawa River, Gongola River, Goulbi de Maradi River, Great Kwa River, Hadejia River, Imo River, Jama’are River, Ka River and Kaduna River. Others are Katsina Ala River, Komadugu Gana River, Kwa Ibo River, Niger River, New Calabar River, Ngadda River, Nun River, Oba River, Ogun River, Ogunpa River, Okpara River, Omi Osun River, Oramiriukwu River, Osun River, Otamiri River, Otin River, Queme River, Qua Iboe River, Rima River, Sokoto River, Yobe River and Zamfara River.

Not only is Nigeria endowed with huge forests and great rivers. There are many solid minerals in the country that range from various stones to precious metals. There are such industrial minerals as barites, gypsum, kaolin and marble. Other natural resources in the country include iron ore, limestone, niobium, lead, zinc, feldspar, quartz, ball clay and arable land. There are opportunities to explore natural gas, bitumen, coal, tin, columbite, gold, silver, silica sands, clay, asbestos and graphite among others, either for local use or for exportation. The country’s agricultural products include groundnuts, palm oil, cocoa, coconut, citrus fruits, maize, millet, cassava, yams and sugar cane. Nigeria also has a booming leather and textile market, with industries located in Aba, Abeokuta, Kano, Lagos and Onitsha.

The second important thing that is worthy of note is that by the time Nigeria had independence in1960, the country had only three regions. These were the main tribes that formed the federation called Nigeria. They were alphabetically, the Eastern Region which was primarily inhabited by the Igbo, the Northern Region which was inhabited mainly by the Hausa and Fulani and the Western Region, occupied by the Yoruba.

On the 4th of April, 1961, the Federal House of Representatives unanimously endorsed the demand of the people of Mid-West areas for a separate region of their own. The new Mid-Western state was eventually created through a referendum on 9 August, 1963. From Benin and Delta provinces of the Western Region, the Midwest Region was carved out and Benin City was chosen as its capital.

One characteristic was common among these regions. They wielded a level of semi autonomy in their federated union. So, their brand of politics inclined towards the acquisition of power and fame. Tribally-based political power became the main objective of politicking in each region of the country, and in all of that, money, fame and power were among the trophies the politicians looked up to win.

Down the years, Nigerian politicians never thought it necessary to sit down to review where this politics of power was leading them and their constituents to. Even after the country fought a three-year brutal war in which it lost many millions of its citizens on both sides, not much lesson was learned by those who emerged as leaders or even those who voted them into public office. The result was that even after 60 years the war ended, the same symptoms of marginalization and clueless leadership that created the war had still not been addressed and it kept taking its toll on the unity of the country, even after 36 states had been created from the four original regions.

Perhaps, Nigerian politicians never thought that building a nation was like building a house. But that is exactly what it is. Those who build houses don’t start from the roof. They start from the foundation and build up. It is the same for those who build nations. But in the case of Nigeria and given their practice of politics of power, they started and continued each year to build the Nigerian nation from up, downwards. Financial allocations in the budget meant for the development of the country would first go to service the President, his residence, library, furniture, house helps, fleet of cars and airplanes and so on. Then the ‘building’ will get down to the Vice President, then to the Senate and down the line. By the time it comes to what concerns the common man, the voters, they are told there is no money. They are told the government needs to borrow money to pay their monthly salaries and they go home to face the stark reality of what it means to live in Nigeria and what it means to be a Nigerian. And they decide that come what may, ‘man must survive’.

Among the rich and mighty citizens who were always in and out of the Presidential Lodge, there was a peculiar understanding that Nigeria was ‘One’, united by their ownership of oil blocks and big businesses. But at the grassroots, the story was different. The people down there were unable to understand what was happening to them and their families, unable to speak with one voice as a people even about their problems, unable to see things the same way even in their shared poverty, unable to agree on who was a Nigerian and who was not. That was, for example, why at some point, the northern youths issued an ultimatum to their southern contemporaries to quit the north, as if they were not Nigerians. The country gradually but steadily became ungovernable.

All these things happened because the politicians were more concerned with their quest for power and fame than with serving the needs of those who voted them into public offices as their representatives. And so, whoever Nigerians have more or less accepted as their new Leader must be able to change the value system of Nigerian people from politics of power to politics of service delivery.

The third fact every Nigerian must consider is that Rome was not built in a day. Nations are never built overnight. As a matter of fact, Nigerians are even generally impatient, perhaps very impatient with themselves. Considering every factor of influence, it could take a country like Nigeria, with over 250 ethnic nationalities about two or three generations to transit from a country to a nation. If we take one generation to be 70 years, for example, three generations from 1960 when the country acquired self rule brings us to 2170, about 145 years away. So, in normal circumstances, Nigeria would possibly attain full nationhood in 145 years. But considering that they are smart people who can adjust to favourable conditions, they can come up in two generations, which is by 2100 – 75 years away. That also means there would be nearly 18 more elections.

During that transitional period, the country would pass through all kinds of trials. All sorts of “leaders” will emerge. All kinds of agitations and challenges will crop up. The people will learn to reject the bad situations and the bad leaders as they find ways and means to survive. That is why we are seeing all we see happening today – from bank and highway robbery, cultism, extrajudicial murders to kidnapping for ransom, cattle rustling and so on. If the people like it, they keep it. They don’t like it, they throw it overboard. They agitate against it – until a good leader emerges who will lead the people to realize and embrace the fact that they are not meant to simply survive life but to live it and if possible live it to the fullest. It is all in the plan.

Before then “leaders” who are secretly fomenting all the trouble would have had their field day, riding high on the weak shoulders of their suffering, largely ignorant, constituents. That is why today we scarcely read in the newspapers that such and such a kidnapper, bandit, armed robber, bank robber, cultist or cattle rustler who went to steal with arms was sentenced to death by hanging or firing squad. They are protected by the bosses. The authorities are involved in all these and the hands of the “leaders” are in the pie. All these will happen in our generation. They will come and go before the emergence of a credible leader from a new sphere created by the desire, aspirations and consequent level of resistance of the people against evil and injustice.

When a good leader eventually emerges, he would consider inducing the legislature to pass a law that will make the teaching of at least the main three languages in the country compulsory at primary school level. When every Nigerian child can understand every other Nigerian child in his native language then the bridge would have been built for a total integration of the people. The road to true nationalism would have been carved. Respect for the tradition and culture of each ethnic nationality would have been enshrined into the norms of the land.

A good leader would consider inducing the legislature to pass a law that makes it a criminal offence not to pay workers on the day they should be paid. Not paying working families in time creates the condition for underage Nigerian children to go out there to hawk, exposed to harsh elements that include raping, motor accidents and even kidnapping. A good leader would see the need to persuade the legislature to get law-enforcement agents to enforce the law against child labour. Obviously, Nigerian children do not deserve that level of treatment where at the age of 10 or less they are seen hawking commodities in the hot sun along Nigerian roads when they should be in school. Nigerian children don’t deserve such treatment at all.

A good leader would find it necessary and take the initiative to decongest authority from Abuja and strengthen the six geopolitical zones created by military President Ibrahim Babangida in his days as Head of State. The regions should be given authority over their finances, roads, airports and seaports, education and healthcare, agriculture and so on, while they pay an agreed percentage of their annual budget to the federal coffers for the maintenance of the armed forces, central bank and immigration department. In such a way, the armed forces would gradually disengage from doing police work of manning internal security and let the police do their work.

A good leader would see the need to merge some of the unnecessary forces that create tension in the country’s security architecture by the duplication of their duties. For example, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) ought to be merged to save overhead costs and for a more effective administration. Also forces like the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps should merge with the Nigeria Police. In such a way there would be a harmonization of the security architecture in the country.

A good leader would drastically cut down on the tremendous cost of governance by making it unattractive to rogue politicians who always see political offices as gold mines.

With such a leader, Nigeria can achieve true nationhood in two generations. Nigerians are generally a good people and there is no doubt about that. All they need to shine their light for the world to see is good leadership, a leader who understands that like building a house, nations are built from the foundation and not from the top, a leader who will build from the down-trodden voiceless masses through their accountable elected representatives and not from Aso Rock. That is the leader who will build the Nigeria of the peoples’ dream.

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