Elders from the North and South of the country met last week to form a new forum of senior citizens for the country. Will the Nigerian Elders Forum pull the country back from the slope? Asks Shola Oyeyipo
“All of us who are concerned for peace and triumph of reason and justice must be keenly aware how small an influence, reason and honest good will exert upon events in the political field” – Albert Einstein
The above words of German-born theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein, will most succinctly depict the overall expectation of Nigerians after the news that some eminent elders from the southern and northern divides of the country resolved to establish what they called Nigerian Elders Forum (NEF).
They are on the same page with a majority of Nigerians. These elders fear that the country is on the precipice. They opted to shelve their sectional agenda and come together, with their long standing experiences to proffer common solutions to some of the daunting challenges confronting Nigeria.
It is laudable and by every measure, a welcome development. Really, at no other time in her national trajectory has Nigeria needed the wise counsel of elders than now.
Before, every section of Nigeria had its ‘elders’ forums’, but a technical committee set up by the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and Southern Elders to discuss modalities to address some challenges confronting the country, met in Abuja and resolved to have a broad-based Nigerian Elders Forum that can intervene in crisis situations. Nigeria has perpetually remained in a crisis situation. Not only is the country backward technologically, industrially, and economically amidst abundant human and mineral resources. Also, the palpable level of insecurity, sectionalism, increasing political tension and other negative indices have remained the clog in the wheel of her progress. They needed to be holistically addressed.
So, to proffer solutions to the multifaceted problems plaguing the country are Dr. Yima Sen, Yinka Odumakin, Dr. Alfred Mulade, Senator Kofo Bucknor-Akerele, Senator Chris Anyanwu, Francis Doukpola and Dr. Chike Dike.
Others are Bello Suleiman, Senator Ibrahim Lame, Bala Sani, Sam Nda-Isaiah, Sheik Idris Hayatudeen, Senator Saidu Dansadau, Alhaji Falalu Bello, Doyin Okupe and Yerima Shettima.
While reliable feelers from foundation members of the forum have it that the two fulcrums on which the union stands are that Nigeria must become a productive nation and also that the structural defects setting the country backwards must be addressed before the 2019 elections.
In the words of Prof. Banji Akintoye, who spoke on behalf of the group of elders, the decision taken to coalesce various groups and persons into the NEF, which acronyms coincides with that of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), is to deploy their wealth of experience in tackling the problems confronting Nigeria.
Akintoye said the country was faced with problems of governance and economy, which needed urgent attention of the elders, noting, “We are elders. Most of us are not active politicians. We have come together because we are worried about the condition of our country.
“Things are not well with our country. A lot of things are happening in our country that ordinarily should not happen. Ours is a land of promise, a land well-endowed by nature with a lot of wealth but we are not using the wealth to enrich our people but instead, we are going down, down and down in terms of prosperity and progress.
“So, we have decided to work together. That is the most important thing, because the problems are many.”
The protagonists of this agenda are obviously on point. If genuinely intended and well planned, the NEF is capable of helping Nigeria to safely navigate through its turbulent times. But a note of caution must be sounded; the initiative must be devoid of sectional agenda.Rather than the mutual distrust, suspicions and regional sentiments that usually characterise discourses on national development, it would be expected that being a group of elders, they should be able to speak truth to power irrespective of whose ox is gored, suggest far-reaching actions capable of changing the Nigerian narrative and should be able to find a common ground to enable them implement their suggestions. The last will be best achieved when the elders are able to sincerely carry the people in their regions along.
Before the advent of this new NEF, sectional groups like Afenifere (South-west), Ohaneze Ndigbo (South-east), Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF, South-south) and the Middle Belt Forum (North-Central), have insisted that the only option available to Nigeria was restructuring.
Aside the fact that the north has not been favourably disposed to some of these ideas, the demand for restructuring is not really ambiguous. The colonialists bequeathed Nigeria with a relatively structurally balanced nation.
By 1954, Nigeria had a federation. It remained so till independence. So, in 1960, Nigeria had the three regions of North, West and East. They were the federating units. The 1960 constitution shared powers between the central government and the regional government.
Though the creation of Mid-west made Nigeria have four regions, the Republican Constitution of 1963 retained those fundamental principles of government and each region grew at its own pace until the military intervened and disrupted the system by introducing a unitary system that stagnated the country till date.
Therefore, the sustained demand for devolution of powers and functional fiscal federalism appears the only way to salvage Nigeria from imminent collapse. In fact, many highly opinionated Nigerians hold the view that poverty, insecurity, underdevelopment, unemployment and the likes would persist without restructuring.
Notable Nigerians, most of whom saw Nigeria evolving, like the leader of PANDEF, Chief Edwin Clark; Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; National Chairman, Social Democratic Party (SDP), Chief Olu Falae; Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin; President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo and many others, spearheaded calls for devolution of powers through constitution amendment.
Expectedly, these elders saw Nigeria when the regions were at their best and the misfortunes of a unitary system in a vast and intrinsically multi-ethnic Nigeria, they should be in the best position to advocate and canvas support for a restricted Nigeria as panacea for national cohesion and rapid development.
Recently, during the activities marking the 90th birthday anniversary of Chief Adebanjo, former Secretary-General, Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, underscored why Nigeria needed to be restructured.
He said, “In the Western Region then, Awolowo introduced free education and free health, while the Eastern part, late Michael Okpara revolutionised the agricultural system, and under the leadership of Ahmadu Bello in the North, the groundnut pyramid held sway.
“It was a structure that gave each region the opportunity to develop at its own pace. It was a structure that made citizens of those regions proud to belong to the bigger Nigeria. Unfortunately, we had lost that basic structure of governance.
“When we think of the progress we were making in those days, when you look at achievements that were truly first in nature in the South West, when Chief Obafemi Awolowo was there; the universal primary education that he introduced, the first television services in Nigeria and indeed in Africa, and the sage’s management of resources of Western Region, we cannot but say that those were days of healthy competition.”
Not a few Nigerians are elated about the resolve to create the forum of elders. Many are patiently waiting to evaluate how they hope to positively influence the scheme of things. Therefore, the leaders must consider their responsibility divine and timely. Positions must be taken for the sake of posterity and not on the basis of personal or selfish aggrandisement.