As a reporter who keenly followed what transpired in Nigeria before, during and after the annulled 1993 presidential election won by the late Chief M.K.O Abiola, it was an act of courage and statesmanship for President Muhammadu Buhari to accord June 12 a pride of place as a national Democracy Day. But then, if we will be honest, only a Buhari could have taken such decision without any backlash from the North. It is even more remarkable that two presidents from the south had failed to redress that injustice in the manner Buhari did when they had the opportunity to do so.
As Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka wrote yesterday in the first part of his interventions on June 12, only those without a sense of history would diminish what Buhari has done on the issue. In his article in the 12th July 1993 edition of the rested CITIZENS magazine which I quoted in my book, ‘POLITRICKS: National Assembly under Military Dictatorship’, the immediate past Education Minister, Mallam Adamu Adamu wrote at the time: “We are today stuck at the crossroads…small problems have become bigger problems, mist on the tracks has turned into a thick fog. From here, moving back is impossible without terrible costs and moving forward extremely difficult”.
Sadly, when the president addressed the nation yesterday on such a momentous occasion, he failed to inspire our country to a national healing process that he started with the recognition of June 12. While the diversity of our country should ordinarily be our greatest strength, its mismanagement has also, over the years, sown the seeds of discord and division. When, as a result of that situation, some parts of the country feel alienated, it is the responsibility of the leader to address their grievances, regardless of how such people choose to exercise their franchise at election periods. And there could not have been a better opportunity to tackle this problem than the one presented yesterday.
It may not be his fault but the reality of our existence in Nigeria today is that President Buhari has become a very polarising figure and it is difficult for the country to progress under such circumstance. A bland speech which rehashed his usual rhetoric and spoke more to the past than the future was a great disservice. This is despite the fact that when he was sworn in on 29th May without the traditional inaugural address, his handlers had told Nigerians to wait till June 12.
Let me be clear here: I do not buy the tales of any agenda by President Buhari to ‘Islamise’ or ‘Fulianise’ Nigeria, whatever those terms mean. I know, for instance, that if it had been President Buhari attending NASFAT programmes the way Vice President Yemi Osinbajo attends the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) programmes, all hell would have been let loose. And there is nothing to suggest that the young men who have realized—like their counterparts from other parts of the country—that there is more money from kidnapping and armed robbery than in herding cows are taking instructions from Aso Rock. It is a challenge of insecurity for which ethnic profiling is most unhelpful.
However, President Buhari takes vicarious responsibility for the manner he has chosen to address or ignore these challenges. We have learnt from the example of many failed states that when ethnic or/and religious differences are magnified in a milieu where there is a preponderance of guns in the hands of sundry criminal cartels, redressing grievances offers a more productive approach in leadership. When those in charge of affairs are perceived—in fact, being accused, even if wrongly—to be promoting agenda that are at variance with their oath, it is easy for some unscrupulous politicians to manipulate feelings of relative deprivation, especially when benefits (including political as well as economic) decline and expectations increase.
While, as President Buhari himself admitted yesterday, politicians may be magnifying our fault lines, the real dividing line in Nigeria is not religion or ethnicity but rather the dwindling opportunities for personal advancement. Nigeria has for years been a state in retreat given the way government is becoming removed from our lives and that is what we must deal with. It started with public utilities in which people began to buy generator to provide their own electricity and then we moved to digging boreholes to provide our water. Then we subverted the public schools for private schools of all hues. While our health institutions followed this tragic decline and neglect, everybody also started providing their own security by erecting iron gates and employing security guards with communities relying on vigilantes.
These are some of the challenges we must confront as a nation. But doing so would require a leader who can galvanise everybody towards a common cause. That explains why it was disappointing that the commencement of his second and final term in office which also coincided with the inauguration of a new Democracy Day was frittered away by failing to address the heavy burden we all bear through the threats to our individual survival and the clear and present dangers to our communal faith in Nigeria. On a day when words of courage, healing and reassurance could have rekindled national unity, the president missed an opportunity offered by history and the occasion he so brilliantly created for himself to inspire us to a higher national purpose.
In every sense, this is an anxious moment for Nigeria. The lives of citizens in several parts of the country are daily threatened as a result of unparalleled insecurity and a serial retreat of the state in the things that matter. Under the system of government in operation, the president is both a chief executive of a ship in perennial turbulence and the chief re-assurer of a family in perpetual doubt. His utterances at critical moments must therefore renew our faith and hope in the Nigerian project. Yesterday, President Buhari failed to meet those expectations.
Fortunately, he can still redeem himself. Where he failed with words, the president can, in the coming weeks and months, assure us with concrete actions: Bold decisions that will help in reviving the economy; strategic appointments that reflect our diversity and a body language that shows the whole country as his constituency. If President Buhari can do all that, he will begin to instil in Nigerians a renewed sense of unity and collective pride. That will in turn strengthen optimism of an egalitarian society that leverages the talents of our people as we build “a nation where peace and justice shall reign”.
Still on the Perilous Journeys
One of the things I teach young people close to me is to be careful of whatever they put down in writing. As it would happen, I have not always heeded my own counsel. I was in Ilorin, Kwara State capital, last Friday to deliver the third Vitality Lecture 2019 at the Centre for Biblical Christianity in Africa on the topic, ‘The African Church in the Public Eye’ (https://wp.me/pacBbN-1grN). Immediately the event ended, I left for Ibadan in continuation of my book tour. The session, which held last Saturday, was organized by the MD of Booksellers, Dr Kolade Mosuro who, together with his wife, treated me like a celebrity.
However, shortly after I left Ilorin for Ibadan last Friday, I got a mail from Folarin, Dr Mosuro’s son who happens to be my friend, which reads: “Oga Sir, I just thought I should show this statement written by you a few years ago as you plan to go to Ibadan. In a court of law, this would be adversely used against you but out of the graciousness of my heart, I shall keep it in my inbox and not share it with anyone.” He enclosed a trail of the mails we exchanged on Monday 27th February, 2012. On that day, he had written: “…your book, ‘Power, Politics and Death’ has been a smashing success in our Abuja bookstore but sales haven’t been that phenomenal in our Ibadan store which is our flagship and usually takes the lead in sales. We are thinking of doing a book reading and autograph session in Ibadan. I will like to discuss this further with you when we see.”
In my response, albeit in a lighter mood, I dismissed the idea with a one liner: “Ibadan people don’t read!”
When I shared our exchanges to a packed hall inside Booksellers Bookshop last Saturday in Ibadan, they were aghast but they also accepted my apology. In the audience were several respected people from the academia, including Prof Femi Osofisan, Prof Pai Obanya, Prof Dan Izevbaye, Prof Jide Kasali, Prof Adelola Adeloye and Dr (Mrs) Ebun Walker, as well as former Heinemann Publishers MD, Chief N. Okereke, former NAFDAC Director General, Mrs Yetunde Oni, Engr Mbim Okutiyang, Dr J.K. Ladipo, Chief J. O. Falore, Otunba Enitan Koya, Dr Modupe Ladipo, Mrs Joke Scott-Emuakpor, Mrs Adefemi Bucknor-Arigbede, Mr Bayo Saidi, Mr Lanre Alabi, Mr Adekunle Ige, Mrs Abosede Okuneye, Mrs Abiola Akobe-Ajibolu and several other prominent professionals.
The discussion which centred on the peril of irregular migration and human trafficking was very engaging as people in the audience shared their varied experiences. One of the discussants, Mr Foluso Akintola, the assistant comptroller, anti-human trafficking and child labour unit of the Nigerian Immigration Service, lamented that with the yearly increase in the number of rescued victims in Ibadan and its environs, Oyo state is becoming another hot spot for human trafficking. The traffickers, Akintola also added, seem to have devised new destinations. “Italy used to be the destination of most trafficked victims from Nigeria but with high mortality rate in the desert and the Mediterranean Sea in Lampadusa, the traffickers tend to have changed destination. The latest operational system of these traffickers today is a promise of a lucrative job in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Libya, etc. They recruit ladies from here to be shipped to the Arab world most of who end up in prostitution”, said Akintola.
Another discussant, Mrs Oyindamola Bamgbose, the Oyo State Coordinator of the National Human Rights Commission, said the authorities in Nigeria “owe the people a responsibility to fulfil the civil, political, economic and social rights which force citizens to resort to illegal migration. If basic needs are fulfilled, they would not subject themselves to such human indignity”, she argued. There were several other interventions along that line.
While I thank Dr Mosuro and his wife for their kind hospitality and for organizing the wonderful session which brought together such respected people to engage my book, ‘From Frying Pan to Fire: How African Migrants Risk Everything in their Futile Search for a Better Life in Europe’, the conversation on irregular migration must continue. On Monday in Abuja, I joined other speakers at a conference organised by the Nigerian Young Professionals Forum (NYPF) to address the same problem. The Head of the EU Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ambassador Ketil Karlsen, who believes that Nigeria has become “a global source and destination for sex trafficking, forced labour, transit and trafficking in human organs”, highlighted some of the pressing challenges our country must begin to deal with.
That more than a million Nigerians, according to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, are living “in a state of modern slavery” makes tackling the challenge of human trafficking even more compelling for all critical stakeholders in our country.
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