FOR THE SAKE OF THE DEAD AND THE LIVING – A PLEA FOR CAUTION
Foremost Nigerian nationalist and patriot, Obafemi Awolowo, in one of his publications: 'My March Through Prison' asserted that we must continue to expect disagreements among people, as “Wrangling or contention has a human trait, which will be exhibited under all and any circumstances. He went further “even if all our problems were solved by God in one go, with all mankind having enough to eat and to wear; decent houses to live in, sound education, good health, happy homes, big cars, political freedom, godly and truly public-spirited rulers to administer our affairs etc., we will still argue among ourselves, at least, as to why God should bestow His bounty so generously on everyone!''
In Nigeria, the foregoing is pronounced as a result of civilization, exposure of the citizenry, whose consciousness has been greatly provoked by a high level of political sophistry, as well as citizens' increasing awareness of their rights and obligations. Much as this factor has contributed to emancipation, it is regrettably being exploited by the elites to heat up the political space. Various actions on the political plane give cause for concern. The intention here, as the title of this piece suggests, is not to find faults with any individual or organization, but to point out some pertinent steps that could at least mitigate wrangling, and enable us avoid pitfalls of the past, that have drawn our nation backward by several decades. This also serves as a special appeal to all Nigerians, in the name of God, to embrace the option of peaceful coexistence, just as it conveys pleas to well-meaning opinion and religious leaders to step up interventions, in order to tone down the strong influences of animosity that have unfortunately pervaded the political atmosphere.
The bond that ties us together stipulates that Nigerians must have an agenda, setting out how they want to co-exist, and the obligations and responsibilities of the State to the organized society. This gave birth to the constitution, which according to Aristotle, “is an arrangement of citizens, or as he says elsewhere, a kind of life, which the State is designed to foster.'' The ethical nature of the State, not only dominates, but, so to speak, completely overlaps its political and legal nature. Therefore, since Nigerians have agreed to come together under a common banner, we must be bound by common rules and regulations, which demand respect for the constitution and the rule of law. I say so because differences in thoughts and opinions occur in every organized political setting all over the world and there must be regulations that must be respected by all and sundry. I refuse to accept the notion that our elites are unaware of the dangers inherent in some of their actions. Part of the beauty of democracy is the divergence of opinions. Politicians and opinion moulders must, therefore, act responsibly and subscribe to the style of advancing superior arguments in order to reduce incidents of friction to the barest minimum.
Where does our nation stand? The truth is that the political terrain is currently very slippery. But we can do with lesser tension and strife. If Nigeria's problems are carefully dissected, it would be discovered that they have been created largely by those who profit from such tribulations that have plagued our nation. I make bold to say that the ordinary Nigerian would not bother about who governs him or her, the ruler's tribe, colour or creed, provided the culture of good governance is entrenched to empower the civil populace to be able to afford, and have access to basic necessities. It is true that there is no society without its own measure of tribalism and regionalism; even in the developed world. In Nigeria, the problem of state or place of origin, religion, ethnicity, tribalism, nepotism and related ills, have combined to constitute formidable barriers to development. We have not been able to give expression to politics without bitterness, and imbibe a spirit of tolerance and sportsmanship, in accordance with the philosophy of a political theorist, Edmund Burke, who once asserted that ''our patience will achieve more than our force.''
Our inability to eschew bitterness is undoubtedly a potential catalyst for conflict, underdevelopment and destruction. If the truth must be told, embers of religious, ethnic, political and tribal prejudices have sadly been fanned, fundamentally by those who should encourage and promote national unity and development, as well as those who understand political history of the developed world, which we are copying. Nigeria is expected to be a land where all men are born equal and have access to the same opportunities without any form of discrimination. Avoidable conflicts have encouraged deep-rooted and congenital hatred among the political class which should lead the populace. Ostensibly, those who fan the embers of disunity, particularly within the political, religious and elite classes, profit from this dangerous development and would always be happy to promote issues that divide, rather than unite the nation. Against this background, our values and norms require a thorough examination. What for instance causes separatist intentions? Why have some of our pronouncements and actions been very disturbing, even in the face of the attendant possible unpleasant consequences? The answer has to do with self-seeking concerns and sincerity of purpose.
As the political arena assumes higher levels of activity, we have been unable, in many instances, to avoid and resist the temptation of promoting those issues that divide us, above those that unite us. In doing this, we have not put aside sentiments that have torn Nigerians apart, and resolve to build a progressive polity, which is possible if we re-examine our ways and resolve to play the game according to the rules, and avoid dangerous pitfalls and landmines. And for this to happen, there must be unanimity of purpose, in line with Nelson Mandela's statement that ''A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.'' Is it not impossible for political leaders across the divide to come together periodically, to discuss the way forward, in order for Nigeria to attain greater heights in national interest? Our problems are multifarious and go beyond constitutional reviews, creation of areas, delineation of constituencies, balkanization of local governments, and creation of additional states. The dangerous trend of ethnicity, religious intolerance, statism, advancement of sectional interests, feelings of mistrust and intolerance pervade the atmosphere. Restiveness and political conflagration that have occurred in various parts of the country are partly attributable to the influence of the elites who have benefitted profoundly from these ills. The good thing is that all these problems are surmountable.
Some examples would buttress this postulation. Some of the reactions of the elites have been driven by personal and selfish interests. For instance, people are still clamouring for the creation of more states and local governments without considering its effect on the economy. How many states in Nigeria today are economically viable apart from Lagos State? Creation of additional states based on sentiments would invariably hurt the economy, with the possibility of the nation producing failed states. It is even better we reconfigure the nation and merge several states so that resources could go to the provision of amenities rather than servicing huge overhead bills of elected and appointed public officers. We must resist the tendency of taking decisions simply because we originate from certain locations, as only a few stand to benefit from such actions. Besides, if every town or hamlet is given its own local government in the country today, there would still be more protests and demands for more, to cater for selfish interests and other matters that are not really in public interest. It is, therefore, necessary, for the society to eliminate myopic views and considerations which would not be in the interest of the overall majority.
No leader must tolerate sycophancy and inability to speak truth to power that is supposed to be held in trust for the citizenry. At the level of policy implementation, it is important for political appointees at all levels to make honest and dispassionate presentations to their principals. Whoever offers tainted advice with intent to mislead his or her principal is not fit to be in office. The buck might stop at the table of the boss; but in administration, a subordinate could be queried for misadvising the big boss. The task of fighting for constituencies/areas/states should not be the concern of political appointees, but should be left to legislators at the three tiers of government. In addition, youth development is universal and germane to the development of the country. It is in youths that the process of societal renewal is embedded. It is important for the nation to address the problems confronting youths, particularly unemployment, creation of an enabling environment for youth development, and the eradication of some social vices in which youths are involved. There must be attitudinal changes, propelled by good policies and programmes, designed and implemented to promote national development.
It may be impossible for leaders to know the interests of all, but I think the best leaders look to, as wide an audience as possible, before taking decisions. It is important that we don't just look to maintain our own interests, or those of our immediate neighbours, but imbibe the culture of being cosmopolitan, that would allow functionaries from the local government to state and federal levels to take rational actions directed at developing their areas of influence, in the overall interest of all. We must have broader outlooks and understanding of how our actions would assist our societies to grow. Obafemi Awolowo, an avowed federalist never sited the University of Ife in Ikenne; Nnamdi Azikiwe did not establish the University of Nigeria in his home-town, while Ahmadu Bello University was built in Zaria, and not in Sokoto or Bauchi, which are the states of origin of Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa. These great Nigerians, like our present leaders, also had problems of managing plural communities; plural in ethnicity, religions and culture; but preferred to act in the overall interests of their different larger constituencies. Consider the issue of appointments and elections into public offices. When Awolowo was the premier of Western-Region, Adeleke Adedoyin, the Hon. Speaker of the Western Region Legislature hailed from Sagamu, Ogun State. The Chief Justice, Adetokunbo Ademola originated from Abeokuta; Simeon Adebo, the Head of Service was born in Abeokuta, and the Leader of Government Business, Jonathan Odebiyi was from Egbado; which means that all principal officers originated from today's Ogun State. They succeeded because politicians of the first Republic were very cosmopolitan in outlook. The trend of seeking elective offices on account of region of birth and religion actually started in the early 1980s. Unfortunately, politicians now capitalize on Christian and Muslim beliefs and partnerships for political offices. This development has also crept into the selection and appointment of cabinet members, with heads of government at the tree tiers perfecting the delicate act of balancing, for fair representation of adherents of the two major religions in government. If I may ask, what is the gain of the ordinary Christian or Muslim on the streets in representation in governments? Certainly, cabinet members and other political aides at all levels, are not in office to protect the interests of religious organizations, and even their States of origin, in a Presidential system, as against the practice in Parliamentary or Westminster model that makes cabinet members belong to both the executive and legislature and are, therefore representatives of their constituencies. Any political appointee in the present day Nigeria that bases his or her actions on narrow considerations is not fit to be in office. Ministers should ideally regard the constituencies of the President as their own for the purpose of taking decisions. State Commissioners must also adopt the constituencies of Governors as their own. Whoever takes decisions based on selfish considerations deserves to be sacked. The responsibility of representing constituencies is vested in the legislatures.
The pattern has been extended to the appointment of public servants to top career positions in the public service; when ordinarily, the public service should harbour the best brains on account of its being the hub of government business. One can never be sure that traditional religious worshippers would not very soon start negotiating for lucrative positions of Senate President, Speaker of Federal and State legislatures, or Secretaries to governments on account of religious beliefs. Ideally, competence, merit and inherent capabilities ought not to be pushed to the background. Another important issue that demands attention is citizenship, which must override all other claims in a plural society, so as to give every Nigerian a sense of belonging, no matter where he or she might have originated. No Nigerian should be an alien in any part of the country. These are problems that have periodically led to heightened fears about the possible dismemberment of Nigeria. This problem permeates all strata of the society, down to the local government level. Forget the expressions of Ibo nation, Hausa nation, Yoruba nation, Fulani nation or Ijaw nation. It doesn't work and never happens that one state would throw its doors open to indigenes of another state within the fold, without discriminating. They are pure acts of deceit.
Before concluding, let me discuss the God-factor. Let us appreciate all our religious leaders that have continuously stood in the gap for Nigeria. We are lucky to be blessed with several priests that hear from God are regularly walk with the Creator. This year, some Christian denominations have prayed and fasted continuously for 100 days for the peace and progress of our nation. Without any doubt, divine instructions will still come for people to fast for the better part of 2015, so that our dear nation is not plunged into avoidable crises. Religious leaders have their reasons, as the Book of Amos: 3vs7 states that God would never do anything without revealing these secrets to His prophets. God controls the universe. And to mankind, the Holy Bible, in 2 Chronicles 20vs20, enjoins us to believe the Lord and His prophets so that we may be established and prosper. God has His principles and He expects us to do our own part before the Creator does His own. The Book of Jonah: 3vs10 tells the story of how the people of Nineveh turned from their evil ways and God repented from destroying them. All Nigerians must, therefore, be fervent in prayers for our nation's growth. May I, with the greatest respect, request our revered Pastor Enoch Adeboye, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Prelate Emeritus Sunday Mbang and Primate Peter Jasper Akinola, to prayerfully consider this suggestion for them to call their ''children'' in the fold of top politicians and elites in the country, counsel and pray for them, and direct them to make peace with one another; and to also rule with the fear of God. The Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Sa'ad Abubakar, the Emir of Kano and others are also humbly implored to take the same step by calling leaders of the Muslim faith to prevail on their ''children'' to behave. Certainly, their ''children'' in top positions who rule at various levels would respect divine instructions. We all know the effects of disobedience to divine instructions. But it is to be noted that our royal fathers, even as public officers, must be neutral, impartial, and be honest in their dealings with politicians to be able to command the respect of their people and carry out their responsibilities as the chief mobilizers of their societies in furtherance of the objective of peaceful and harmonious coexistence.
It is to be noted that some well-meaning Nigerians with weighty opinions have either spoken, or are currently taking steps to promote peace. Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi has spoken. Prof. Ibrahim Gambari's NGO is taking some steps all in the interest of peace-building. And should politicians and their supporters on all divides generally fail to behave responsibly and restrain their supporters from disturbing the peace of the greater majority of Nigerians during the upcoming elections, I would wish to propose that all contestants for all elective offices all over the country be assembled at the National Stadium, Abuja, (which I am sure will contain them) on the days of the February 2015 elections, with security officers far away, outside the venue. They would remain there until the results are announced to them at the stadium. That would be a monumental test, as it would be interesting to know how our brothers and sisters struggling to govern at different levels would conduct themselves. That would show their levels of tolerance, decorum and capability to truly lead our societies.
Conclusively, it is pertinent, for the sake of the living and the dead, to recall Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe's dawn address to Nigerians in December 1964, in his capacity as the ceremonial president, immediately after the dissolution of parliament. In the address, which was delivered in preparation for the federal parliamentary elections, Azikiwe stated that “I have one advice to our politicians. If they have decided to destroy our national unity, then they should summon a round-table conference to decide how our national assets should be divided before they seal their doom by satisfying their lust for office. I make this suggestion because it is better for us, and for many of our admirers abroad that we should disintegrate in peace and not in pieces. Should the politicians fail to heed this warning, then, I will venture the prediction that the experience of the Democratic Republic of the Congo will be a child's play, if ever it comes to our turn to play such a tragic role.” Unfortunately, Nigeria went to war three years after Azikiwe's warning. It must never happen again in our dear nation. Nigeria has a bright future and her potentials for development are enormous. We must avoid disintegration and conflagration and we must conduct ourselves with the fear of God.
Femi Adelegan, a retired public administrator sent in this piece from Abuja.
Femi Adelegan, retired public administrator is President/CEO of Terrific Investments and Consulting Co. Ltd, and the author and publisher of notable publications including: Nigeria's Leading Lights of the Gospel (2013); 'Governance: An Insider's Reflections' (2009, 2012); 'The Press Secretary' (1998); and Editor of 'From The Treasures of the Heart' (2006). For most of the 1990s through the turn of the millennium, (1994-2000) Adelegan served as an image manager and spokesman to four successive governors of Osun State, Nigeria. He also served (2003-2010) as Chief Private Secretary/Special Adviser on Policies, Programmes and Plans Implementation to the Governor of Osun State.