SATURDAY PEOPLE ARTICLE
He comes cool, appearing calculated, with a commanding height to boot. He eases into his environment with a certain cadence, soon to be recognised for his wits, and depth, solid in swaying notions, and penetrating in impact. His measured pronouncements are regal, while his messages can melt even the hardest of stones. His travels have been rounded; beginning from student activism, to business, onto politics, and to statesmanship. He is perfecting these with brilliance, still being honed in the triangular process of thinking, writing and engaging. He is Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, business mogul, former presidential aspirant, politician, public affairs analyst, and polemicist.
Lately increasing his share of voice, through his many interventions in national issues, Olawepo-Hashim is not your regular politician. Reason being that he is neither dependent on it, nor soaked in its shenanigan. He literally stands above it, remaining purposeful and principled, to steady his values, amidst the shape-shifting possibilities of the politics of his clime. “I am in politics to be the change, not to be changed by its vagaries” he volunteers, adding “you lose your values in the phase of endless compromises, where you fall for everything, where anything goes. That’s not my style, and it is the reason our politics seem not to be progressing. We must be focused, upright and upholding, if we have to be the change.”
Olawepo-Hashim is strong about his vision, mission, and cardinal objectives for the Nigerian nation. He believes in the nation’s potential, if the strength of his conviction permeates the dimensions of the polity. It is for this reason that he remains an active interventionist on all fronts, dropping suggestions here, there and yonder, and imputing his thoughts on issues through different media genres. With vast experiences, the businessman has typified himself as a believer in peace, a consensus builder, and as a voice of reason in conflict situations.
Working as National Administrative Secretary of National Consultative Forum in 1990 to get a national consensus for democratisation and decentralisation of power in Nigeria, Olawepo-Hashim was also Secretary, South-South Zone of the PDP national reconciliation committee in 1999 during the sharia crises. These experiences have shaped his approach to discourses, trusting in the potentials in peace. It has also made him to be much more forthcoming on burning issues, like the recent experiences in the polity.
Disturbed by the crisis of insecurity, for instance, the activist who visited the Military demarcation line between North and South Korea in a solidarity match with Rim Suyong, the South Korean student leader in July 1989, during the match for peace and reunification, and nuclear demilitarisation of the Korean Peninsular, regretted that the dark days are here. Regardless, there will be light. His words: “The dark days are here as death covers the land. It is unending sorrows for most families as our country bleeds. Insecurity is the common word now; but I am a fervent believer that order shall return sooner than later. The dark days are here, even Europe had its dark ages that later gave way to enlightenment. That darkness surrounds a land does not mean that light will not still come. The root causes of insecurity are rising poverty, rising illiteracy, bigotry, and hate. Nigeria can rise again once we commit to tackle these causative factors of insecurity even as we rejig the security architecture and structure of governance.”
Easily pragmatic, the politician came up with specifics on dealing with the snowballing crisis of insecurity, achievable with 90 days, that is: establish a Defence Co-operation Agreement (DCA) with a friendly nation to halt the enemy’s advance, as those who are fighting Nigeria are from all over the world, as the enemy is multinational in its composition; put our house in order by resolving internal wrangling through dialogue, fairness, and justice; have a broad-based cabinet that can inspire hope, efficiency, and national unity; create the framework for states and local government to have their own police; have concurrent jurisdiction over mineral resources within their states and pay taxes to the federal purse; and decentralise electricity generation, transmission via local grid and distribution.
Pursuant to his belief in a strong national entity, he also once called on separatist agitators across Nigeria, particularly in the Southeast to cease hostilities and give room to resolve contending issues politically, while the government should also take quick action to stabilise the polity. Hear him: “Separatist operations are getting more widespread in the Southeast and agitations in the Southwest of Nigeria, heating the polity. We should adopt civilized ways of resolving contending issues, rather than indulging in acts that might not augur well for continued growth and national development. We shall continue to call for dialogue to strengthen the Nigerian federation.”
The Federal Government, he maintains, should take quick action to douse tension in the Southeast, while also advocating for devolution of power to state and local governments, besides cautioning the separatist agitators on the need to immediately cease hostilities. “We call on IPOB and other separatist groups to cease hostilities and to allow for political settlement of all grievances.
When war breaks out, the weak and the poor on all the sides always suffer and all wars always end up on a round table, so why not talk instead of fighting?”
He did not stop there. “There is no point living in a tense situation. We need peace and harmony to prosper,” he said, appealing to all Nigerians to avoid provocative actions that could lead the country to war.
Frequently ingenious about his views, he lately declared that uniting Nigeria starts with re-uniting Northern Nigeria, a region with over 200 ethnic groups and diverse cultures, as the nation needs the much-desired unity amongst patriots, contrary to calls by elements of disunity for the country to divide. Olawepo-Hashim believes that a stronger and united Northern Nigeria, with its people and huge landmass, would not only enhance the growth of the region but would further unite other parts of the country for overall national development.”
Examining the Middle-Belt region, he stressed it remains the bridge for the unity of Nigeria and should therefore continuously be at the forefront of facilitating national reconciliation towards the good governance of the country. “The Middle Belt is doing its best. We should continue to do this in the interest of our dear nation and for future generation.”
Citing the example of Air Commodore Dan Suleiman, he said as an outstanding Middle-Belt figure, he has been in the forefront of the fight for national unity, “in utmost expression of his nationalism, and in the defence of national values.”
He is also not absent from the discourse on restructuring. “There is the need for compromise and consensus building as solutions in the raging debate on restructuring in the overarching interest of unity, peace, security and development of the country. The federal government may continue to do nothing about devolution of power, especially on clear items that are practicable, the voices on the other sides too cannot continue to insist that every item on their shopping list must be disposed of before the next election.”
To the thinker, a compromise and consensus driven by the Federal Executive, Leadership via constitutional amendment Bill, on particular sections dealing with the concurrent, exclusive and residual legislative list are immediately possible, especially in such areas where there already exists a clear national consensus.
He went further: “It is time for us to agree on things that are agreeable and continue to discuss things that are not clear but may become clearer in the future. Compromise is never a sign of weakness but a noble act that springs from the depth of wisdom, honour and kindness.”
Noted for his creative ideas in the buildup to the last presidential race, he listed some areas where consensus seem to exist amongst warring factions as creation of states and local government police, side by side with the federal police, to make policing more efficient and to bolster national security, and amendment to enable state governments have some control over the development of all mineral resources in the inland basins.
Other areas of consensus are amendment to ensure concurrent jurisdiction of Federal and State Government over Electricity Generation, Transmission and Distribution, and Electoral Reform clause to include electronic transmission of results from all levels of results collations. These matters, he pursued, do not require the drama and time-consuming activities of a national conference. “A simple Executive sponsored constitutional amendment Bill narrowed to the above clearly defined items, may get resounding support, if properly managed with the 36 governors in Nigeria, as well as speakers of the states assembly. The requirements for 2/3 support from the states’ assembly of the federation will be achievable in order to meet the constitutional requirement of a valid amendment.”
He argued that the country must move forward together in peace and harmony, as nation-building will not be completed in one day.
“There will still be life after 2023 and I am optimistic that Nigeria will survive, and other issues can be looked into after 2023 elections by the grace of God.”
Olawepo-Hashim then concluded: “Let there be compromise where there is clear national consensus. Compromise is a mark of confidence, not weakness. The only area where I see no compromise is the agitation by extremists’ forces to dismember Nigeria.
“For those of us who love Nigeria and for those who have sacrificed or suffered deprivation for the country’s democracy and the nation, the indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria are sacrosanct. This is not a cliché; it was what our forefathers settled for in the Lancaster conference. It was a clause proposed by Great Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the leader of the Eastern delegation, and was agreed by all that Nigeria shall exist in perpetuity.”
This gentleman is a man amongst men: brilliant, determined, and still going, making him an 11 on a scale of one to 10.
–––Modupe is an Abuja based interdisciplinary scholar and consultant.