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The Nigerian Watchmaker

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The title of this article may at first seem incongruous since we are neither known for our respect for time nor for any expertise in the manufacture of precision instruments like watches but I invite the reader to stay with the idea for a little while.

It was on this day, 7th July, in 1998 that Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola forfeited his life. That was the price he was made to pay for insisting on his right, as a “fellow Nigerian”, to hold on to the Presidential mandate that the people of Nigeria had given him, in the face of opposition from those who claimed a divine right to rule, or at least to determine who should rule, Nigeria and their collaborators. Many thought that the stand of principle that he was taking ended with his elimination in custody but they clearly misread the warning signs; not least in the meaning of his name “Kashimawo” which translates to “Let us continue to watch”.

And so thirteen years on from when this accidental, and most unlikely, hero told the world to watch this space, what have we seen? We have seen the same clique, who preferrred to see Abiola dead than to be President, show a preference for President Yar'dua to continue in office, even though dead, than to allow his southern deputy Goodluck Jonathan to take over. And when that deputy eventually did takeover, having won what was considered a free and fair election, we saw a number of Youth Corpers, male and female, made to forfeit their young lives in act of wicked retribution and the mass evacuation of their colleagues from parts of what they had been brought up to believe was their own country. Meantime, Boko Haram's murderous attacks have taught those who were saying that MEND were all madmen that, whether or not their assessment is correct, there is a hiearchy amongst the “mad” and their “madness” is growing. Now, as the cracking noise in the Nigerian edifice get's louder with each passing day, all we hear from the proponents of the indivisible and indisoluble “nation” is Kashimawo.

But there is a positive in all of the madness that has been unleashed within the Nigerian political space since the audacious arrogance of the June 12th annulment. It is to be seen in the move towards the politics of issues at the national level such that it is now possible to discern two rival schools of thought: the Federalists and the Unitarists. The Federalists say the best way to deal with our diversity is to allow us to be different – and yes, even the Boko Harams. The Unitrarists maintain that the best way to deal with our diversity is to continue our efforts to eliminate the differences. The ethos of the Federalists is “live and let live” while that of the Unitarists is “do or die”. The Unitarists look to America with its one language and one faith while the Federalists can point to Switzerland with its many languages and multiple faiths. Having test-driven the American model for sometime now it may be time to watch the Swiss model more closely.

Nigerian politicians are, of course, no strangers to Switzerland from their Banks to their chocolates but most especially those Swiss watches that are the must-have status symbols on their wrists - Bvlgari, Breitling, Cartier, Ebel, Omega, Rado and the mother of all Swiss watches, the Rolex. Our country would, however, be better served by the political class if they were to take some time to look behind the façade of these ornaments which they so proudly wear.

My research tells me that the technology for the manufacture of Swiss watches dates back to the 14th Century and that the traditional mechanical watch is made up of about 130 parts assembled in three main parts behind that unified and synchronized façade. These different parts work together to provide the energy, the regulating parts and the display that makes up those amazing ornaments on our wrists. Even in the more complicated watches, where the number of components is much higher, the smooth working of the whole still relies on the principle of each little part doing it's little bit to form a healthy mechanism which tracks each second, minute, hour, day, week, month and year of our existence.

The more important lesson for us, in the context of Kashimawo, is that the Swiss apply the same principle to the political organization of their country. The principle is to organize the many small parts in such a way as to serve as the source of the energy, the regulating parts and the efficient functioning of the larger whole. The Swiss do this by building their State on three levels from the bottom up, from the 3000 Communes (each with their own flags), to the many Cantons (each with their own constitution) to the Federation (that has no Presidency to “do or die” for).

The following insights are taken from a wonderful little book How Switzerland is Governed written by Hans Huber a Professor of Law at the University of Berne and a former Judge at the Federal Supreme Court:

“Four languages are spoken by the Swiss people: German (74%), French (20%), Italian (4%) and Romanche (1%)…The German Swiss live in the eastern parts of the country, the French Swiss in the west and the Italian Swiss in the south…53% of the population is Protestant and 45% Roman Catholic….The federative structure of the state is a vital element in Swiss life. The Swiss state does not only consist of citizens, but also of member states [Cantons]. These member states enjoy considerable autonomy and mean more to the individual citizen than the central power, since they are the political community of his local home. From the historical point of view, the cantons came first.

Thus the Swiss state was not artificially decentralized, but built up from below [ like their watches!]. In the USA the emphasis lies on the decentralization of the public power as such , in Switzerland rather on the independence of the Cantons …Since finally, the racial, linguistic, religious and other differences within the people are not , as in America, the product of immigration, and largely coincide with cantonal [ethnic] frontiers, there is no feeling of need for assimilation. On the contrary, a higher interest demands that each part of the country should preserve its individuality…In the National Council, as also, for that matter, in the Council of States, every member can speak in his mother tongue.”

Hans Huber rounds up his analysis of the workings of the Swiss democratic model with this:

“Democracy [in Switzerland] is less of an outward show and more of a mental activity.”

This brings me nicely back to the Nigerian watchmaker. I accept that it may not be possible in the lifetime of my reader for the political class to get Nigeria to the point of manufacturing watches like the Swiss, but is it really too much to ask for them to organize our political space on the Swiss model? Is it not time for them to move from wearing watches on their wrists to making the observance of time a mental activity so as to appreciate that after 50 years of Independence we are back almost where we started with the South West , the core North and the South East (now with the Middle Belt) under separate political parties ? Is it not time for us to move beyond the outward show of democracy with elections and all its razzmatazz to making democracy a mental activity by way of a genuine federal arrangement that allows the people in each component part to run according to their own value systems and priorities whether Boko is Haram or not?

The Federalists are clear in their answers to these questions as they have always been but, as the Boko Haram menace grows daily, the clock is ticking for the Unitarists. Do I hear anything more than Kashimawo?

Dele Ogun is the author of the Law, the Lawyers and the Lawless

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Dele Ogun and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Dele Ogun