DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA By Akin Osuntokun
My reaction to the rise in the political profile of Peter Obi is predictable. I am immeasurably elated on account of the well known position I have taken on the next Nigerian presidential succession. As igbo he ticks the box of the opportunity we have to advance the cause of Nigerian nationhood by causing the emergence of the next President of Nigeria from the south-east geopolitical zone. It is a contradiction in terms to talk of Nigerian national unity and integration without recognising and accepting the utility of this prescription. Ironically, the prescription is itself an indication of the political ailment with which Nigeria is plagued on account of radically straying from the path of federalism.
A few days ago, one of the items making the rounds in the social media habitat was the fifty six years anniversary of the unification decree (which abolished federalism) promulgated by the first Nigerian military government of General JTU Aguiyi Ironsi. Given the chain of reactions it unleashed, the promulgation amounted to the proverbial opening of the pandora box. To put it in the idiom of William Yeats “The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”. To the bargain, there was the carnival of blood counter coup, the pogrom and the monumental tragedy of the civil war.
Significantly it established the doctrine of the balance of terror and might is right as the organising principle of Nigerian politics. It lately culminated in a situation in which the fait accompli of two northern Muslims as presidential candidates of the two dominant parties, the All Progressive Congress, APC and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP is being contemplated as the send forth gift of the Muhammadu Buhari dispensation. If the rough and tumble political drift that subsisted till 2015 has put anyone in doubt as regards the persistence of this predicate of Nigerian politics, a rude awakening has been provided by the zero-sum, winner-takes-all power politics of the Buhari presidency.
Nonetheless, pending the return of political sanity (the practice of federalism) to the shores of Nigeria, the requisite irreducible minimum for the political stability of Nigeria is the stop gap measure of power rotation between the North and the South. The subsequent identification of the South East as the more deserving of the three zones comprising Southern Nigeria is an extension of the same logic. If I may restate my position- anyone inclined to accept the responsibility of engineering nationhood out of the present Nigerian miasma must accept the concomitant obligation of promoting the realisation of a Nigerian president of Igbo origin as categorical imperative. Failure to do this by omission or commission carries with it the implication of keeping the task of national integration and unity in abeyance.
The good news is that Obi is not just coming on the platform of zoning but in his own right as, perhaps, the most compelling candidate of the season. At the risk of being perceived as seeking neo colonial validation, it is a fact that one of the significant highlights of the current election cycle is the invitation of Obi to 10 Downing St, London as guest of the British prime minister. As a non Nigerian government actor the privilege extended to him has no precedence in recent memory. And rightly so, it is going to give his political leadership standing a massive tailwind.
It addresses the misgivings of those who worry that the cacophony of a multitude of igbo aspirants plays the spoiler role to the realisation of an Igbo becoming the president of Nigeria-by effectively narrowing down the field to one individual. It has make him a marked man for good but it has equally make him a putative foe of the status-quo bound Nigerian political establishment. There is also the happy coincidence of coming against the immediate backdrop of across board groundswell of enthusiasm of the ‘end sars’ generation.
I got a first hand experience of this booster at the annual gathering of the Royal African Young Leadership Forum (RAYLF) at ilé ìfẹ́ last weekend. Let me first cede the introduction of the representative group to Bala Shagari “It is a gathering of the who is who among the young people who have made their mark in various endeavors. A Hundred of us were selected and invited to be awarded under the Royal African Young Leadership Forum (RAYLF). As the President of the National Youth Council at that time, I had always dreamt of having a gathering like this where successful young Nigerians would come together to form a forum, but I’ve always thought it was impossible. Because we don’t usually have the kind of cooperation that will allows us organize in such a way. But here it is like magic, for the first time ever we came together under one platform. I have always lamented that young Nigerians are successful individually but not collectively”
At a subsequent small gathering of the yuppies, I sat next to a member (Akin Laoye) who casually drew my attention to the evidence of the mobilisation feat of raising forty million naira for Obi within a time frame of 24 hours through crowd funding solicitation! They had played similar crucial roles in the ‘ENDSARS’ protest that caught Nigeria by storm one and a half years ago. Two days later the news broke of a meeting of minds whitehall invitation of Obi to London.
Notwithstanding the too little too late dimensions of the gesture, the step must be acknowledged as a unique acceptance of responsibility for what becomes of Nigeria. After all it is trite to reiterate that Nigeria is a sole and exclusive creation of the British empire and for no better reason than the administrative convenience of colonial exploitation. In and of itself this is sufficient reason to hold the British accountable for the failure of the Nigerian experiment. It may be a jaded refrain but how do you create a country with no better originating mores than the utility of exploitation – as documented in white and black in the colonial archives .
It gets worse. This bad beginning was relentlessly reinforced with colonial insemination of hate and division among their Nigerian colonial subjects. “‘Lugard certainly left a legacy of dottiness and nasty racism behind him…his fabrications still colour Whitehall’s attitudes to Nigeria, which can be summed up as pale-skinned Moslem North good, black-skinned Christian South bad*
“By 1914, modern Nigeria came into being under an autocratic Governor, Sir Frederick Lugard, who succeeded in isolating one Nigerian group from the other….It was Charles Temple, the senior resident in the North and his racist fellow traveller, Sir Richmond Palmer, who indoctrinated Northern emirs about their total difference, not only politically, but even racially from their Southern compatriots. Sir Theodore Adams went as far as to say, in 1941, that the emirs considered the Northern provinces as a separate country and that enforced cooperation with the South would lead to a demand for ‘Pakistan”. ….in administration, in land policy, in a dozen different fields of colonial government, the administration reinforced not the unity of the colony, but the differences between North and South” noted Nigerian historians
As the Nigerian political crisis snowballs, the logic of neo colonialism and globalisation has highlighted the imperative of the intervention of the international community. No critical member of the international community owe the obligation for such intervention than the United Kingdom, UK, at least as atonement for the many mishaps it has foisted on the country. Britain will not be choosing the Nigerian president for us and Obi or any igbo for that matter will probably not become president but a positive momentum has been generated the end of which no one can predict.
According to the French poet Victor Hugo, there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come (but Nigeria being Nigeria), I doubt the applicability of this wisdom to Nigeria-notorious for its negative exceptionalism. A vintage Bob Marley lyrics says ‘its your love that I’m waiting for, its your love I’m running from’. In like manner, Nigeria, at one and the same time alienates and yearns for the likes Obi. A drastically sick Nigeria needs a countervailing drastic solution but it is difficult to imagine how a Nigerian context that enables the theft of eighty billion naira by its accountant-General will welcome the arrival of a prudent self-denying disciplinarian as president.
In the words of Obi himself “What people are acquiring now is no longer greed. It’s become a sickness. People are sick here. People have to reduce their greed. People are acquiring what they don’t need. N80 billion is a budget of a state. That’s no longer greed, it’s sickness”. In the evolving Nigerian political drama Obi has appropriately resigned his membership of the PDP in protest against the scandalous gate fees to the party primaries “recent developments within the party make it practically impossible to continue participating and making constructive contributions”. He said
The presidential application fee of one hundred million naira and forty million naira of the APC and PDP respectively is nothing short of incitement to criminality. How did the ministers, senate president, vice-president and governors among the applicants come by the hundreds of millions they are throwing around with so much levity and insensitivity? What is their legitimate income and how does this correlate with the financial status of those who can afford to play around with a hundred million naira? Do their sworn declaration of assets before the code of conduct bureau indicate the financial capacity on rogue display? Let us not forget that the boom industry in Nigeria today is the kidnap for ransom banditry. Which begs the question-Is there no nexus between this banditry and the ongoing celebration of corruption and impunity at the highest echelons of public service?
I beg to now take my leave with a contrary citation. ”I came to offer my services to Nigerians free of charge through the Platform of PDP, but PDP decided to sell it to the highest bidder, I did not steal government money and I have no intentions of stealing it in the future . Nigerians have suffered so much as a result of this type of politics of buying political offices”-Peter Obi