Ibadan Declaration: The Age of Their Ideas

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Guest Columnist By Issa Aremu 

No better platform to reflect on “Nation-Building” than the occasion of the 85th birthday anniversary of a global citizen, mentor, poet, pan-African leader and incorruptible role model, Hon. Justice Mustapha, Akanbi, CFR, PCA (Rtd) Wakili of Ilorin. Thank God, he turned 85 years on Monday, 11th of September 2017. Thanks to the Chairman, Management and Staff of Mustapha Akanbi Foundation (MAF), for the extended privilege to share some thoughts on the theme: “Nation Building in Africa: Role of some African Leaders” at a time compatriots of varying hues and persuasions are agonizing about the future of Nigeria. As an organiser/unionist from the garment and tailoring sub-sector, I bear witness that Nigerians are indeed fashionable people.

We are fashionable in garments no less as in ideas! Not long ago, it was “resource control” defined almost as oil and gas, excluding the most important resource; human resource! “True” Federalism is, of course, a recurring decimal, as if there was ever a “false” Federalism.  Following the criminal annulment of 1993 June 12 election, the fashionable dogma was “June 12 or nothing”. At one time, it was popular to “occupy Nigeria” which was already captured and occupied (and still) by ever corrupt ruining elite. Build up to 2011 elections, there was a red herring and almost doomsday prediction of an end to (Nigerian) history.

This false hysteria about Nigeria was fuelled by a former American Ambassador to Nigeria (2004 -2007), professor John Campbell. In a hysterical preview of his book entitled; ‘Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink’ he actually claimed,  “The 2011 elections in Nigeria, pose a threat to the stability of the United States’ most important partner in West Africa.” Of course in 2005 as a participant at Senior Executive Course 27, we were tasked with a rather silly assignment of how to prevent Nigeria from being a failed state in 2015 based on a bizarre America CIA Report! Just before 2014, it was a fad to say, “Nigeria would collapse” after 100 years of colonial (note; not Nigerian) history! Until two weeks ago, it was a “Recession” defined as negative GDP growth rate. It seems every national frustration throws up its own buzzword or better philosophically put: false consciousness.

The new fashionable buzzword today is “Restructuring” being   presented as a cure medicine for all Nigerian headaches. I was never a fan of one Jeremiah Abalaka, a surgeon turned immunologist, who once, claimed to have developed all cure “vaccine” including for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. I know for sure that one cap size does not fit all heads, however “restructured” that cap or however “restructured” the heads (or is it “the mind” according to General Olusegun Obasanjo?)

Don’t get me wrong please. In this age of cheap smear blackmail and political correctness, I should make it clear that reform is part of nation building.  Indeed, Reform of Nigerian federation has been on for years. Even the trade unions that I represent had undergone “restructuring” from over 1000 hitherto voluntary weak house unions into strong 43 national industrial unions we have today.

Hitherto there were four labour centres namely, Nigerian Trade union Congress, NTUC, United Labour Congress of Nigeria -ULCN, Labour Unity Front, LUF and National Workers Council, NWC. The viciously competitive decentralized labour centres  (just like old three regions of Nigeria!) came together to form the present day strong one labour Centre; Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). Just at it is for the union’s, Restructuring is a tool for nation building and at times as we saw through decade long IMF/World Bank inspired Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP)/military regime, “restructuring” could be a tool for a nation-meltdown.

Watching Ibadan Restructuring who-is -who, it is worrisome, the way restructuring has become another passing fad for some politically exposed accused for corruption to pose as regional champions. My main concern here is the implication of presenting Restructuring as a new TINA (There Is No Alternative).  The late patriot, Chief Abdul-Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, long liberated us from military dictatorship of views. Our world is a world of alternatives. . Let’s please debate the present and future of our country with all the patriotic passion.  I agree with His Eminence, Sultan of Sokoto, Mohammad Sa’ad Abubakar, the father of the day at recent NLC colloquium on Restructuring who admonished all parties for “mutual respect”.

Reading the likes of someone makes the derisive reference to the North allegedly living on a  “feeding bottle” is a departure from the norm guiding a nation building debate. The restructuring debate needs a quality control. We must avoid unhelpful diatribes. After all, this is a debate by Nigerians for Nigeria. It is NOT  a debate between Burmese and  Rohingya. The controversial 2014 national conference had enforced ground rules of debate, which precluded smear campaign against opposing views. If 2014 conference made Nigeria stronger let no unstructured emergency debate on Restructuring turn us asunder.

I commend the peaceful Ibadan Summit of some “Yoruba leaders” on Thursday for articulating their views with pointed demand for “1963 constitution”. But the gathering raises a lot of questions than answers. Who are the “Yoruba leaders”? The 1963 constitution the Ibadan gathering favoured just like the vilified 1999 constitution never defined us based on our mother tongues or tribal marks.

The conceptual framework of Ibadan gathering was therefore flawed at conception; it is permanently hunted by this false consciousness.  We are defined as Nigerian citizens not Hausa or Igala or Igbo.  Don’t, please, get me wrong. Every corrupt Nigerian leader has shamelessly turned insular and parochial. One cannot deny the fact that ethnic identities are real. Yes, people of same ethnic group can easily build exclusive/cave/cyclone sentimental solidarity. But Nigeria needs more than ethnic/regional sentiments to develop.  The Yoruba potholes or Hausa power failure or the Igbo unemployment, under-development and poverty have no tribal marks.

In fact, corrupt leaders whether Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba are what they are; corrupt.  Nigeria needs urgently honest and rigorous all inclusive policy thoughts for growth and development. Ethnic politics has often been a negative force, which the elite use for manipulation and sectarianism. In a Republic like Nigeria defining us as tribes only foster monologue or at best dialogue of the deaf.

Only as citizens, we can have genuine national dialogue. In a democracy in which we have democratically elected persons and legally recognized pan- Nigerian organizations, can unelected or unelectable men (very few women!) such as we saw in Ibadan speak for anybody? Given the fact that we have elected structures in place (however imperfect), it amounts to futile diversion from the current challenges of governance to talk of a leap into a discredited past constitution. Why cannot restructurists take the advantage of 2019 to canvass their positions through legitimate votes? Given their romanticism with the controversial past, it is not just their age, but the age of some participants at Ibadan gathering is problematic.

My take here is that whatever structures Nigeria adopts (whether regionalism, or federalism, parliamentary democracy or presidential system or a mixed bag like in Ghana and South Africa, even wholesale centralization like Communist China or two systems in Hong Kong), structures are just the MEANS not the END.

Interestingly Nigeria had practiced almost all, with equal disastrous results by disastrous leaders, (some feasible at Ibadan gathering!). Structures are the means, the end is good governance, security and welfare of citizens and Nation building or what the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti long simplified as “food, water and light” and which Mustapha Akanbi Foundation has ably defined as deepening “…democratic values and fostering sustainable and viable democratic development in Nigeria”.

• Comrade Aremu is a member of the National Institute (mni) Kuru Jos