Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola
By Olawale Olaleye
Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), has blamed the Federal Government for the controversies that have trailed Professor Chinua Achebe’s new literary work, There Was a Country, stating that it had failed in its crucial duty as a repository of information, data, records and archives, since historical records are indispensable tools for policy development.
Fashola, who was the keynote speaker at the 2012 Achebe Colloquium on Africa, held at Brown University, Providence in Rhode Island, the United States of Amercia, last Friday said if the Federal Government had lived up to its billing in this area, it would have been in a position to confirm or disapprove of some of the facts in Achebe’s personal account with a degree of authority.
Fashola said wherever people’s personal view may lie, “certainly the discourse would have been richer, less acrimonious and not predestined for tension if institutional national archiving and information disclosure was responsibly discharged by the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
Fashola, who said the controversies dogging the book almost forced him to decline the invitation, added: “More importantly, this was a generational disagreement between the principal parties of the events that took place when I was barely four years old.
“As I said, the management of the national archives and the publication of what really happened at that time will certainly help to ensure that nobody creates his own facts.
“Beyond that, my own generation has moved on. We see our country differently. It also seems to me that many years after the conflict, that some of the principal actors in the conflict such as Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Yoruba leader, and Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu had decided to move on.”
Fashola pleaded that the debate should be dispensed with for the sake of those who died in the civil war.
“The only way we can honour their memory is not to re-open the old wounds, but to resolve that never again will our people's blood be spilled by their own people in order to harness the diversity of our people and make our union more perfect,” he said.
The Lagos State governor, who discussed the topic: “The Role of Statecraft in the African Renaissance amidst Regime Change and Ethno-Religious Insurgency – A West African Case Study”, said although democracy as a representative system of government was most ideal, it is presently under threat because of globalisation - a function of advancement in age and time.
He explained that despite having survived many ages - from the Agrarian Age to the Industrial as well as its merger with other philosophies like capitalism and later to the age of information technology before berthing at globalisation – democracy was now seriously under threat.
“There is yet to be a better form of organising the affairs of a multitude of men than a representative democracy. My worry is whether an idea conceived by men can last forever.
“Democracy faces, perhaps, its biggest threat yet by the effects of technology and globalisation, both which test the limits of freedom,” he said.
Continuing, Fashola noted that “one might wonder for example, why the people of the Western economies with all their infrastructure and progress, which are many miles ahead of what you will find in many parts of Africa, are still agitating for a better life.
“The question therefore is this: In the light of the progress being witnessed in many parts of democratising West Africa, is democracy the answer or the missing link to unlocking the vast opportunities in West Africa?
“In spite of democratic structures in Mali and with only a few months to the general election, a few people still ganged up to seize power, with an official statement that they wanted to change things.
“The question on everyone's lips was: Why not wait for the general election that was so close; to effect the change by the ballot? The answer may be long in coming.”
He observed that in some parts of West Africa, political change and possibly the quest for a better life, has acquired a new image which is anchored on Islam, by the group classified as the Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb.
“As we speak, the West African nations are contributing troops to go into Mali in a coalition to dislodge them because of the political danger they pose to the entire region. But beyond guns and live ammunition, their pursuit for power is fired by a stronger ammunition – one which does not attack the body but instead strikes the mind – religion. This will be difficult to defend against or attack.
“This is the newest and biggest threat and it is on both sides of the two popular religions - Christianity and Islam - both of which incidentally and interestingly, owe their origins to the same region - the Middle East.
“It is against the background of these complexities that I intend to examine the role of statecraft in the 21st century. For my definition of statecraft, I choose ‘the art of conducting the affairs of state or conducting government affairs’.
“Regrettably, democracy does not concern itself with this. It is only concerned with the emergence of the leader by popular mandate in an open process. Democracy does not guarantee that the leader will be competent, as we have seen in some jurisdictions.
“It makes no guarantee that he will be compassionate or God-fearing or that he will be passionate about the job.
“Indeed, the democratic process on its own cannot help the electorate determine beforehand, whether the prospective leader who seeks their vote is interested in the office or in the job,” he said.
But there are other processes that provide this guide, he noted, adding, “I have argued, debates during campaigns become most critical tools for assisting the electorate to have at least an insight as to the competence of the prospective leaders, their knowledge of their society, their present and previous positions on social, economic and religious issues which will one way or the other be indicative of how well they will act or conduct the affairs of state.
“A leader in the 21st century must be a repository of knowledge; it must interest him to know many things such that whatever he chooses not to know must be clearly unimportant.
“In a technologically-driven world, where the primary objective of statecraft centres around human civilisation, data possession, processing, understanding and management are a sine qua non to successful statecraft in the 21st century.”