With rising clamour for restructuring and regional self- determination, Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi yesterday said that these concerns were legitimate, but that the clamour was transient and could be resolved through active engagement of all stakeholders.
Amaechi stated this while delivering the 34th Convocation Lecture of the University of Calabar, titled, “Beyond our Imperfect Union: The National Question and Nigeria’s Future.”
He said, “In recent days, we have begun to hear loud voices of disunity from various sections of the country. In response to current economic difficulties and the problem of insecurity, some have insisted on the now familiar argument for restructuring of the federation. Others have advocated increased regional autonomy. Some extremists are calling for secession of parts of the country from the federation. None of these divisive options would serve the urgent needs of this nation or the long term aspiration of all our people for a better life in a happier nation.
“Let me say without any fear that the concerns being raised by Nigerians about the future of our country are legitimate. They are indications of great patriotism and love. We all treasure this country and are anxious that it transforms into a better place for all of us. This overwhelming wish for a better Nigeria far outweighs the doomsday predictions of a few pessimists.”
He added that ethnicity and class, poverty and inequality were a major part of the problem, describing poverty as one of the greatest threats to the country’s national unity and survival.
He said: “For the avoidance of doubt, let me state that the desperate poverty that we have today has its roots in dispensations that came before the Buhari administration. Specifically, our epidemic of mass poverty dates back to the return of civil rule in our country. It is unfair to heap the responsibility for the prevalence of poverty and inequality on this or any one administration in the history of the country.
“I have a personal conviction that of all the challenges facing our nation’s actualisation, none is more urgent than the scourge of increasing poverty and the threat of massive inequality. We must attack and conquer inequality and extreme poverty or the poor will overrun Nigeria.
“Let us take the threat of mass poverty seriously and elevate inequality to the status of a perennial national emergency in the years ahead. Nearly all the troubles that confront us as a nation can be traced to either direct poverty or the fear that the ogre of poverty could rise one day to devour the fortunes of the rich and prosperous.
“I believe that the destiny of Nigeria can only be best actualised in the context of one indivisible and united nation. What is required is for us to continue to work towards a nation in which the doors of opportunity are open to all our citizens irrespective of ethnicity, creed, class or circumstance.
Amaechi noted that tackling insecurity and criminality must also be on the front burner to avoid an escalation leading to un-governability. He also cautioned the political elite on actions that contribute to insecurity in the nation.
He said, “I agree with those patriotic voices who have cautioned that we need to do everything to arrest the general drift towards un-governability and state failure.
“Nigeria should not queue up behind nations that have allowed these nascent forces to threaten their very existence or overwhelm them. We should instead face up to the challenges with maximum will. It is in this context that we need to appreciate the valiant efforts being made by the Buhari administration to ensure our national survival through the restoration of security, rehabilitation and expansion of national infrastructure and the alleviation of desperate poverty.
“Challenges like Boko Haram, sporadic terrorism, banditry and other insurgent flare-ups are active national defence challenges of a grave strategic and military nature that have continued to engage the energies of the military. I believe that with time, these challenges will be overcome by the undisputed and tested professionalism of our military.
“On the other hand, we now have a plethora of criminal infractions ranging from transactional kidnapping and mass school abductions, armed robbery, cultism, rape and urban gang warfare. I believe that the correct cure to criminality is stout law enforcement and crime fighting predicated on accurate intelligence and interdiction.
“We must not fail to recognize the responsibility of our elite in creating the problem of insecurity that we are facing today. In many parts of the country, the political elite failed in their responsibility to educate the majority of children of the lower classes. These children who were denied the right to education and a better life have grown up to find themselves with no other choice than to enroll in criminal undertakings such as banditry and terrorism.”
Amaechi also condemned the desperation of some politicians who shop for criminal gangs to shoot themselves into office at great cost to human lives and property.
According to him, “Politics has become weaponised in the sense that desperate political actors now patronise armed gangs of criminal thugs for political purposes. Hate as an instrument of political mobilization has been enhanced by the emergence of the social media as a force of public opnion and information deployment. Taken together, these pressures and developments have tasked the security of the state almost to breaking point.
“In times of desperate social and economic challenges, identity politics resurfaces in ferocious ways. This is why we now have these calls for restructuring backed by increasingly militant regional and ethnic nationalism. The rhetoric of anger usually drips of hate and divisiveness. The politics of desperation plays up ethnic, regional, religious and other primordial instincts to advance its cause. This, in my view, is the background to the current wave of insecurity, hate rhetoric and divisive politicking in the nation.”
Amaechi also stated that in answering or resolving the national question, politics, leadership and governance in the real sense of it must also be prioritised.