By Ugo Ben-Nwauzor
Taking into cognizance years of visionary and structural defects within our nation; the threats and counter threats and incendiary language from various ethnic quarters, the agitations by MASSOB and IPOB, Niger Delta militancy, the terror and impunity of armed Fulani herdsmen and the remnants of Boko haram, our next president must not be unmindful that the task of moving our country forward is not just going to be a matter of military experience.
Our next president may need to begin now, to dream and to envision a transformative journey of building a more peaceful, perfect and prosperous Nigeria. A man or woman, who genuinely believes that a well-articulated plan, leveraged on the original vision of our founding fathers should be able to quicken the pace of our long march to a more equal and freer union.
Rightly, the expectations of Nigerians for any new leader are always high. Therefore, such is never to take their goodwill for granted. You slack, the honeymoon is always very short.
Having traversed this country, interacted with our Moslem and Christian brothers and sisters; with the rich and the poor; and in my personal discussions either offline or the blogosphere, Nigerians all seem to agree on one thing. That our country can be far better. That what we have today is not working for the voiceless, yet powerful majority.
Every one of them talks about an imaginary “promise land”. To some, it means a country that is secure and safe, guarantees their fundamental rights and freedom of expression and freedom to practice their religion without hindrance and fear.
To some, it is a land where they can enjoy equal rights and where hard work and honesty are rewarded. A country driven by meritocracy and less of mediocrity. Where, they don’t have to lie about their state or local government of origin in order to gain that admission or secure employment into a government institution.
A land free from corruption, a ravaging virus that hinders national development and progress and brings misery and tears to the majority of the inhabitants.
And to others, it’s a country where they can enjoy the beauty and magnificence of constant power supply; running portable water; safe, cheap and reliable means of transportation; excellent communication, healthcare and educational systems. A country of rule of law and order, where civilized law enforcement agents are happy, willing and ready 24/7 to protect innocent citizens. A land flowing with an abundance of affordable food and housing.
Sadly, the reality at each political stage, whether military or civilian rule has always been far from the ideals of our expected “promise land”. This is because, as a people we have successively shied away or mischievously chickened out from restructuring our country into a more workable nation.
Consequently, each and every time a new leader emerges we dance in the streets, and soon we find out that the supposedly “messiah” is not that “whom is to come”. The majority get disappointed, disillusioned and frustrated again and again.
Recently, former vice president Atiku Abubakar spoke boldly and eloquently about our faulty structure and the implications to our survival as a nation. In his words, “Our current structure and the practices it has encouraged have been a major impediment to the economic and political development of our country. In short, it has not served Nigeria well, and at the risk of reproach has not served my part of the country, the North well. The call for restructuring is even more relevant today in light of the governance and economic challenges facing us. And the rising tide of agitations, some militants and violent, require a reset in our relationships as a united nation”.
Whether this was a political permutation ahead of the 2019 election or not, the truth is that the Turaki Adamawa was speaking to a yearning that is deep and real. I tend to agree with him and so do many Nigerians who have given his bold voice a loud and widespread support.
In the lyrics of a song by 7eventh Time Down, a Kentucky based Christian band, “anytime a heart turns from darkness to light… or someone dares to speak the truth that sets men free, I know, I know, I know God is on the move”.
Now, having studied the biblical account of the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to their promise land, it would be naïve for me to think and believe, that all that Nigerians needed, to walk into our own expected “promise land” can be achieved in a 4-year election cycle, or by one leader or by one political party.
There is no doubt 15 months ago Nigerians wanted change. While few of the promoters wanted change of personality at the helms of the country’s affairs, the majority of Nigerians who voted or stayed away from the polls wanted a structural change for their country. A better today and a promising tomorrow.
The first, a minority group want short-term balms and instant gratification for the few of themselves, and the second group, a voting majority want long term solutions for the benefit of every citizen including members of that minority group.
But to that majority, let’s be reminded that the road map to our “promise land” is here, with us, locked up and gathering some dusts. To our millennials, that “GPS”, that is able to get us to our destination, is the structural changes very much encapsulated in the report of the 2014 National Political Conference. A conference which brought together eminent and not so eminent Nigerians, business persons, civil servants and members of the armed forces. Our elders and our youths. Our women and our men. Our political parties and the civil societies. Our pastors, imams and traditional rulers. The rich and the poor. The Yorubas, Hausas, Ibos, Biroms, Igalas, Fulanis, Tivs, Ijaws, Idomas, Ibibios, Binis, Urhobos, Itsekiris and every other diverse ethnic groups.
They were some of our finest, in our diversity to resolve contentious issues in a formal setting, a sure way of promoting greater national consensus and unity and ways forward, towards a more perfect and prosperous nation for us and our future generations, as against a recipe for disunity, confusion and chaos as some critics tried to make us believe.
It was a conference that gave us far reaching and extensive resolutions and recommendations to make room for each state to have its own constitution, establish its own police force, and create its own local governments. So that states can build their own airports, sea ports and railways. Mine their solid minerals and develop at their own pace. Recommendations that will liberate everybody, increase our productivity and further open our political space in order to reduce political tension and eliminate our fault lines of ethnic and religious appendages. To make us able to collectively solve our challenges of power, unemployment, healthcare, education, water, and care for our widows, orphans, disables and the elderly. Every village, city and state to be better policed. Armed robbery and kidnapping to be better curtailed.
And for this cause, patriotic delegates like Dora Akunyili, Muhammed Akali, Hamma Misau and Mohammed Jumara laid down their lives. May the labor of these heroes past, never be a waste.
Now, as fantastic as these recommendations are, we understand that President Buhari has emphatically stated that the report of that conference has been committed to the archives and that nothing, not even the threats by IPOB in the streets, and Niger Delta Avengers in the creeks to break Nigeria, would lift the report from the trash can.
Personally, I feel distraught and unable to reconcile the statement, as my mind takes me back to the early 80s as a young boy in Command Secondary School Jos, a melting-pot of our federal spirits. Unpolluted, innocent and virgin minds. We had the occasional opportunities of coming in contact with the President, then a Brigadier General and GOC of 3rd Armored Division. Whether it was during our annual inter-house sports festival or the prize/speech day of our graduating pioneer class in 1982, he shook our tender hands in congratulations, admonished and inspired us to excel in hard work, to speak and do our best for the unity and progress of our country. He told us that real men laugh once a year. Even as the latter seemed a big challenge to many, he was our hero and some followed his footsteps and today are generals in the military.
Chief Oyegun, the current chairman of APC was also credited as saying that restructuring Nigeria is not a priority to the ruling party. To him, the party has more urgent challenges, of rebuilding our bad economy, unemployment, war against corruption and terrorism. How do we reconcile his position and section 1 of the preamble of his party’s manifesto: “to achieve the laudable programs, APC government shall restructure the country, devolve power to the units, with the best practices of federalism and eliminate unintended paralysis of the center”? Millions of Nigerians believe that addressing the flaws in our federation will help us address those economic and security challenges that Chief Oyegun is more concerned about.
Similarly, the majority in the 8th Assembly do not appear to appreciate the fierce urgency of restructuring our polity. Yet, the first article in the beautiful manifesto of the ruling party emphasizes “initiate action to amend constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench true federalism and the federal spirit”. This was also perfectly simplified in Atiku’s words, “restructuring and renewal of our federation to make it less centralized, less suffocating and less dictatorial in the affairs of our country’s constituent units and localities”.
Dear Mr. President, can we really afford to walk away now, and discard the report of the conference that guarantees us a real change from the present reality to our hope, our ideal “promise land”? A union, more peaceful, more perfect and more prosperous? If you can commission railway lines and implement the TSA and other projects initiated by past administrations, you can at least ask to see the report on 2014 National Conference and do the needful. History will celebrate you completely and always, for giving us a more sustainable unity.
If we walk away, I can assure you that in the next elections in 2019 another group will be talking about another change at the helms of our affairs and then another change in 2023 and 2027 and so on, and nothing will really change for the good of the majority. And certainly our future generations will ask for another national political conference. You, the leadership of APC and the 8th Assembly have the power and the opportunity today, to save them that tomorrow’s agony.
On the other hand, is it safe to say that our president will not change his mind in looking at the report? Is there a possibility that as President Buhari, Chief Oyegun and the 8th National Assembly remain in government, that we, the people should not expect any fundamental political restructuring of this nation?
Do we then begin to seek for another visionary leader or a group of leaders as 2019 approaches? Our next President must be a big thinker when it comes to how to lead the country. The message isn’t going to be about the twin wars against boko haram and corruption, but about political, social, fiscal and economic justice.
The word “change” will be heard in whispers and scarce on our media screens. The Big message will be about Hope and Future. A future we can all believe in. A future, acceptable to the Niger Delta militants, IPOB, and the Fulani Herdsmen. A future that gives everyone in the North and South a fair share of ownership of our nation. We are going to hear more of restructuring and true Federalism, and less of “stomach infrastructure”.
We see an insurgent from the ruling APC and/or another from the main opposition PDP or a break away party running on such a futuristic message. Any, that is able to properly articulate, simplify, translate and transmit that message, in order to allay unfounded misgivings and fears, and ensure better understanding by our elites, the millennials, the less educated, the peasants in the south and almajiris in the north is most likely going to have a best shot through the gates of Aso Rock.
––Ugo Ben-Nwauzor (PhD) is an analyst at AsoGates Strategies, a US and Nigerian Public Affairs Firm. (Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)