Eminent Nigerians Say It’s Time to Pull Nation Back from Brink

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•Anyaoku: There’s urgent need for centre to devolve power
•Sultan: We can’t afford another war

Tobi Soniyi

In unison, eminent Nigerians, yesterday, at the 2021 Obafemi Awolowo Virtual Lecture, agreed that the time to pull back the nation from becoming a failed state was now.

Those who led the discussions included the a former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Sa’adu Abubakar; Nobel Laureate, Professor Wolé Soyinka; a former Central Bank of Nigeria governor, Malam Sanusi Lamidi Sanusi and the daughter of the late sage, Dr. Awolowo Dosumu.

In their respective views, they all shared the opinion that the national crisis presently facing the country might have provided an opportunity to reset the country.

Laying the template at the lecture organised by the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation, Anyaoku, who was the special guest honour said, the time to act to make sure that Nigeria did not become a failed state was now.
He, therefore, called on the federal government and the National Assembly to urgently organise an all-inclusive national dialogue that would address the raging concerns.

According to him, the dialogue should take into account, recommendations of the previous conferences and many proposals emanating from various stakeholders with a view to modifying our present governance structure and producing a consensus constitution that could truthfully be described as the product of the people of Nigeria.
He noted that with the current challenges confronting the country, it was only a restructured government that could guarantee the interests of all sections of the country by ensuring equity, justice and fairness for all ethnic groups as well as the economic emancipation of the people.

Anyaoku further advised the country to jettison the present constitution fashioned after the United States of America, a country, which in his opinion, was populated by immigrants.
Instead, he advised Nigeria to adopt the Indian constitution, because India shares a lot of attributes with Nigeria.
“There is no section or ethnic group in Nigeria that does not stand to gain from belonging to a country of the size and resources of Nigeria. Therefore, it is and should be in the interest of all ethnic groups and sections and component parts of this country to sustain, nourish and progress this our one country.

“Secondly, the current state of events is not sustainable if the country has to avoid becoming a failed and broken state, there are undeniable facts about events in the country.
“First, in addition to economic underperformance, with evidence of growing poverty, there is worsening insecurity of life and property, which is now spreading from the north to all parts of the country. Not a day passes without reports of people being killed and kidnapped including school children.

“There are also incessant reports of people being killed in their farms by terrorists now being euphemistically called bandits and women and young girls being raped. Human life has become so cheap that the society now regards the loss of human life as of little consequence.
“Thirdly, it has become quite clear that these national challenges cannot be effectively tackled under the present federal system of government.

“I can say with reasonable confidence that from the experience of other countries, whose national attributes are comparable with Nigeria, there is abundance evidence, to show that a federal system that is based on more economically and socially viable federating units with a less dominant federal government is what will restore Nigeria to the part of political stability and more assured economic development,” he stated.

The Sultan, in his contribution, said Nigerians must embrace dialogue in resolving whatever disputes confronting them, stressing also that nation building was a challenge especially, for Nigeria coming from colonisation.
He contended that the colonial masters, with their divide and rule tactics, left so much tension, which Nigeria has continued to manage, and therefore reminded those calling for war that nobody had a monopoly of violence and that the end of war would not benefit any group.

While sharing his experience in the military and warning that war was not an option, he called on leaders and those holding political office to be mindful of what they say and avoid making statements that were capable of escalating tension.
The Sultan also noted that Nigeria’s founding fathers managed the tension, including a civil war and that successive governments through policies have continued to manage the tension too.

“Nation building has always been a slow and painstaking process. This is particularly so when these nations are created by colonial fiat. The colonial authorities used the divide and rule techniques, where insinuations of suspicions among different peoples and tribes was the main tool of governance. By disrupting the slow but sure process of social integration, they generate social tension, which needs to be managed over time to avoid conflicts.

“Our founding fathers have done a lot to ameliorate these challenges, heal a lot of these wounds and suspicions. Even when the bitterness planted led to civil war, the military leaders who brought the civil war to its end quickly created policies like the policy of ‘No Victor No Vanquished’ which did a lot to assuage the bitterness and douse the tension.

“Similarly, policies like the NYSC which gives young people the opportunity to live and know other fellow citizens, the unity schools located in different parts of the country and the visits between leaders of the traditional institutions and holding joint meetings, etc. All these and many more went a long way to bring about healing, understanding and accommodation,” he said.
In the past two months, he observed that tension had run very high in the country, further warning the nation’s leaders to desist from making reckless statements that were capable of inflaming passion.

He said, “In the last few months, tempers have run very high, reckless statements from ethnic champions have provoked all manners of reactions, which subsequently led to the loss of human lives, and the property and livelihoods of many citizens. While the social media fueled this, the inaction of government has allowed many avoidable losses of lives to happen.

“We must quickly learn our lessons. State actors, which have the primary responsibility to protect lives and property, must be alert and prompt in their duties and responsibilities. Our role as traditional and religious leaders is to educate and restrain our followers and other citizens, many of whom have not witnessed the civil war and hence glorify it with their reckless speeches.

“War is not something to wish for, even when you think you will eventually win it. During my career as a military officer, my tour of duty took me to Pakistan and the borders of Afghanistan, where I saw conflicts and deaths and disruptions of lives with people, who were otherwise comfortable, finding themselves in IDP camps with all the indignity and sufferings.

“Before then I was in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where I saw the results of ravaging civil war with inhuman atrocities afflicted on fellow citizens and this had left a deep scar on the psyche of these nations. And the most recent examples happenings in Syria and Yemen are still fresh in our minds. In all cases, the conflicts disrupted their progress and destroyed their opportunities and they are still struggling to catch up with the rest of the world.

“We need to appeal to our senses to realize that no one has a monopoly of violence and returning violence with violence only multiplies violence. It is not bravery to attack vulnerable people when you can resort to law; it is savagery. As the great African leader, Nelson Mandela observed, ‘Great anger and violence can never build a nation’. Or as Jalaluddin Rumi a 13th century Sufi would say, ‘Raise your word, not your voice, it is rain that grows flowers not thunder.’

“As educated elite we must reflect deeper and learn from the history of other countries. Societal problems are human and we should be educated enough to know that we can solve our problems without having to carry a stick much less fire a gun. No problem is beyond dialogue, even when you go to war, at the end of it all, you must sit around the table to work out peace,” he said.

He, however, reiterated calls on governments at the federal and state levels “to act promptly, swiftly and decisively. Any inaction may be construed as weakness. Government must send clear signals and walk its talk. Traditional institutions, even as they have no control of the coercive instruments of state, can do a lot to restrain their people from taking laws into their hands, for these institutions enjoy the trust and confidence of their people.

“It is my hope that we shall all rise to the challenges, each doing his bit, and together, we shall surely salvage our country and bring it back to the path of greatness that its potentials promise. We pray to God, the Almighty to give us both the wisdom and the courage to do the right things.”

On his part, Soyinka said there was a consensus that the present centralised system of government wasn’t helping the country, therefore, there was an urgent need to restructure or decentralize the current structure.
To this end, Soyinka called on President Muhammadu Buhari to start implementing whatever was administratively possible to decentralise the current system.

Soyinka noted that those claiming not to understand what restructuring or decentralisation was all about were merely pretending, saying, “A lot can be done now. If necessary, the president can seek advice from lawyers. He needs to take action now.”
Sanusi too dedicated his time slot to warning that the system of government being run in the country was too expensive and not sustainable.
He stated that the country could hardly get enough money for education, health care and other necessities, because the larger chunk of government’s resources go into taking care of people in government.

For him, Nigeria would have to adopt a system of government that would leave the country with enough resources for the people.
In another breath, Sanusi disagreed with the guest speaker, Mr. Odia Ofeimun, who had claimed that ethnicity was an issue.

But the former CBN governor argued that each ethnic group could retain its cultural identity, however, “we must form a national identity,” adding that most of the disputes masquerading as ethnic crises were obviously economic problems.
Dosumu, while welcoming participants, said the lecture could not be held in 2020, because of Covid-19 pandemic and added that it was not an overstatement to say Nigeria faced an existential threat to its existence.

According to her, the security situation in the country has brought into a broader view, citizens’ discontent with perceived governance deficit and the apparent insufficient concerns about their wellbeing by those in authorities.
“The country is no doubt in a serious crisis”, she said, adding however that the crisis might have presented Nigeria with an opportunity for a reset.

She asserted that the country was at a crossroads, and must choose which way to go.
In organising the lecture, she noted that the Awolowo foundation was not seeking to criticise but to provoke a national dialogue to ultimately arrive at a consensus on the way forward.
“We cannot sit by and allow the situation to continue. History will judge our generation harshly if we fail to engage,” she stated.
Ofeimun, however, spoke on the topic: Whither Nigeria?
Other speakers called on the federal government to put an end to the spate of killings and kidnappings across the country.