SOUL-SEARCHING FOR NIGERIA'S SELF – DISCOVERY
As Nigeria moves towards her 50th independence anniversary, the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos (UNILAG) organised a forum to discuss the problems facing the country with a view to finding solutions to them.
It is against this background that it organised a three-day programme tagged: International Conference on Nigeria at 50, themed: 50 Years of nationhood? state, society and politics in Nigeria: 1960-2010.
From the opening session on Tuesday, June 15 to the closing session on Thursday, 17, the tone of discussion from all the participants pointed towards the same direction.
All the discussants at the conference that took place at the institution's Main Auditorium, agreed that the bane of Nigeria's political stability, economic growth and social development was absence of credible electoral process. And they did not mince words in positing that until a credible electoral process through which votes would count and the real winners of elections assume office, the problems will consistently persist.
In his opening address, the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Adetokunbo Babatunde Sofoluwe, who was the Chief Host, said the event was aimed at looking at the problems plaguing the nation with a view to proffering solution.
The VC, though admitted that all nations have their own ups and downs, Nigeria could surmount hers', just as he observed that 50 years of problematic elections was responsible for her stunted growth.
Since free and fair election was a key to solving socio-political and economic woes of any country, Nigeria should not be an exemption in finding a way towards a virile socio-political development.
Former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who was the Chairman on the occasion, set the ball rolling in his address which pointed out that the challenges facing the country was caused by 'arriving least prepared at every historic juncture in our political history.'
Tinubu, who was represented by a columnist and professor of Literary Studies, Adebayo Williams, also regretted that 'at 50, our challenges are virtually the same since independence,' he wondered 'how the country still faces challenges like rigged electoral system that often turns simple, routine voting in other countries into do-or-die violence!'
To Tinubu, fixing of such challenges through electoral reforms that should be commenced through electronic voters' register among other changes would see to the end of all other challenges automatically.
His words: 'If the consensus of opinions is that Nigeria has underperformed, relative to her human and natural resources, then this conference should start as fit a platform for serious soul-searching to rediscover and reinvent the Nigerian dream.
'At 50, we must not miss the golden opportunity to save our country. The burning opportunity to fix our country and set it, at last, on the path of sustainable development and prosperity through electoral reform. We must all align with the Justice Muhammadu Uwais's Electoral Reform Committee that the appointment of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman and other key electoral umpires should pass from the sole hand of the President to the collegiate of the President, National Judicial Council (NJC) and the National Assembly.
'We must reform our electoral system, so that our people can freely and fairly choose their leaders. At 50, we can and must achieve electoral probity. There is urgent need for a new generation of leaders that would clear the cobwebs of decadence and political scavenging of the past 50 years. This new generation of leaders must take our laid foundation for rapid socio-economic growth and development for the next 50 years.'
Also, Lagos State Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), concurred with his predecessor that the challenges facing the country includes playing politics without principle and ideology.
Fashola, who was also represented by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Mrs. Oluranti Odutola, said that 'if politics is the catalyst to development, elections must therefore be conducted with decency.'
While stressing the need to get the electoral system right, Fashola warned that until electoral processes were done properly and according to the rules, the attainment of Vision 20: 2020 would be a mirage, adding that 'a nation not built on truth and justice cannot attain nationhood.' The governor, who stated that the world is in an era of positive change, said 'a nation without positive change is a nation without a soul,' advising that 'since the minimum requirement to attain development and nationhood is fiscal federalism, the way out is to sit down and sort out the question once and for all to achieve the desired goal.'
While asserting that the problems facing Nigeria are not peculiar and in-surmountable, Fashola said: 'Genuine electoral reform based on justice and fear of God will put Nigeria on the path of wisdom.'
The Vice-Chancellor of Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State, Prof. Eghosa Osaghae, in his keynote address argued that 'Nigeria is not a failed state,' pointing out that a country could be adjudged as a failed one only when it was not transformative and developmental.
In the case of Nigeria, Osaghae enthused that 'there are windows of opportunities to salvage her,' stating that the remedy could be through the composite of both global and local intervention. Although, the don admitted that corruption, socio-political strife and violent politics among other self-inflicted vices have been the bane of the country, he said that the nation could still be redeemed with the right diagnosis and correct application of medicine.
The Head, Political Science Department, UNILAG, Prof. Solomon Akinboye, lamented that, failure to tackle some historical intractable challenges since independence in 1960 led to the backwardness of the country in the comity of nations. The don recalled with nostalgia that some countries like Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia that were at par with Nigeria in 1960 in terms of development have gone far ahead of the nation, saying it was time for sombre reflection on how to actualise real nationhood.
Akinboye, who regretted that 'most parts of our national life since 1960 have been going through despoliation,' blamed the malaise on 'politics of exclusion, federal character and quota system among others'
The solution, according to him, was institution of democratic value that would bring about sustainable development that 50 years of problematic elections in Nigeria had foisted on the country and thereby denied her nationhood.
At the end of the conference, representatives of human rights organisations that were part of the audience, who spoke exclusively with Daily Sun, also unanimously endorsed the resolution of the conference that bordered on the fact that, credible electoral process was the only way to the socio-political and economic progress of the country.
Comrade Debo Adeniran of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), said with corruption out of the way, and sound electoral system on ground, Nigeria would be on her right path to everlasting prosperity.
Director of Media, Coalition of Yoruba Self Determination Group (COSEG), Comrade Gbenga Soloki praised the efforts of groups like the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform (CODER) in their relentless efforts at ensuring that the Muhammadu Uwais's Panel Reports are implemented wholesale for the country to move forward.
The conference was indeed, a success in terms of charting a right course towards the eluded political stability, social re-engineering and economic prosperity that can guarantee real nationhood at post 50th independence anniversary.