BEING A LECTURE DELIVERED BY DR (HON) USMAN BUGAJE AT THE 2021 OBAFEMI AWOLOWO UNIVERSITY MUSLIM GRADUATES’ ASSOCIATION (UNIFEMGA) NATIONAL REUNION HELD AT OAU ILE-IFE, OSUN STATE ON AUGUST 21, 2021.
If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable – Seneca
The problems of this country are many and varied. Admittedly, some are congenital while a good number are self-inflicted. To be sure, a lot of what appear as problems are actually symptoms of a more fundamental defect. It is therefore important that we do not mistake the symptoms for the disease. This is to avoid symptomatic treatments that only bring a temporary relief while the real disease spreads, ravages the body and becomes chronic and more difficult to treat. In point of fact this is what appears to delay the resolution of our problems.
Our failure to be scientific and systematic in solving our problems, better still, our surrendering of the resolution of our problems to the least qualified, least prepared and least willing, has meant that the country will continue to groan and agonize under the burden of the incompetent leadership that our rogue politics has brought on us.
This suggests that we need to do a proper diagnosis and come up with a prognosis of these problems to give us a full appreciation of their magnitude and consequences. Sadly the prevailing political culture and the leadership it has occasioned does not lend itself to a systematic and scientific approach of our problems. Rather it would dismiss any attempt to get thorough as academic, as unrealistic or gloss over the real issues or create red-herrings to distract attention from the real issues. The result has been that a lot of the debates around national issues are driven more by ignorance than knowledge, consequently debates are embroiled in emotive outburst rather than evidence based, civilized conversation.
Consequently the country has been pushed to the brinks, yet again, with discussions caught in the dialogue of the deaf and the nation stuck in sterile arguments without any solutions in sight or even a consensus on a process to arrive at a one. The country clearly needs to be saved from itself.
If it is any consolation, Nigeria is not the only country in Africa that has faced or is facing similar problems of nation building. The sudden creation of artificial boundaries by colonial fiat, the forceful re-structuring of African economy to serve western imperial interest, the deliberate planting of suspicions and driving of several wages to divide and rule, the setting up of several booby-traps designed to blow up after independence (and many did), etc., has created huge problems in postcolonial African States. Even without colonization, state formation and nation building in history has always been a painstaking, time consuming process and Europe is one good example of this. It took two World Wars to get a United Nation and many decades later a European Union.
Scholars of African studies have reduced the problems of postcolonial African States to three broad categories: Power Sharing, Wealth Sharing and Identity issues. They further argue that while it is easy to agree around the table on a power sharing formula and a wealth sharing formula, which most constitutions make provisions for, it is not easy to share identity. Issues of identity, which is a result of diversity, are best resolved through federalism, which while keeping the polity together makes room for the peculiarities of the components of the polity. This what makes our federalism critical to our development, it is difficult to see how we can manage our diversity without it. And this is why we must revisit our federalism, strengthen it so that the federating units can savor in their culture and values with trampling on the other. This legitimate clamor is what we call re-structuring and needs not raise any eyebrow or any bad blood.
While European colonization alone does not account for all the problems in Africa, it has certainly made nation building in Africa more complicated. The encouraging news is that despite these complications and in spite of continuous interference of the neo-colonial powers, African States have shown capacity to recover and solve their problems. Rwanda is one spectacular example, a country which rose from the ashes of the worst genocide in Africa has so recovered in the span of just two decades, with one of the fastest economic growth, one of the most secure country, with highest SDG records and perhaps the best IT hub in Africa. In Asia there are countries that were down and out but recovered and soared to the cutting edge of technology, countries like Singapore and South Korea. Not many decades back Singapore was like Ajegunle, a fishing slum in the backwaters of Malaysia, today is part of the first world. In the 60s South Korea was the second poorest country in the world, with only 20% of the country flat, yet today half of the electronic gadgets in this hall are likely to come from South Korea and so as many of vehicles packed outside. All these go to show that we can also recover and even excel. We may now take the specifics.
The Call for Secession; let us examine the arguments: Most of the arguments hover around claims to marginalization; a perception of inequity in wealth and power sharing. The facts on the ground, too often, do not support the arguments. A resort to statistics would have clarified and settled the issues but the path of these agitations is not the path of research and evidence, it the path of claims and emotions. If we just take the federal civil service roll call by States, we take the ownership of properties in Abuja and Lagos by States, or the ownership of banks and businesses by States, we have to go back and re-define marginalization again. This is not surprising because, too often, the levels of education, exposure and diligence of the champions of cessation does not allow them to avail themselves the evidence on the ground, much less respect it. In any case many of them are populists who wish to capture the attention of the crowd often for mercantile purposes. These charlatans thrive and make waves largely because the elite who are more educated and who should therefore be more strategic often abdicate their responsibility and take a back seat watching the mess brewing. Politicians looking for cheap populist support often give tacit approval behind the scene. But this is no reason to dismiss the claim, rather we should be able to engage with facts and figures.
The people of the Southeast for example own large properties in Abuja, massive economic interest in Lagos, most of the top business in Kano, Kaduna etc.; breaking away from Nigeria does not make any strategic sense. If indeed they have a problem they should have the courage to engage fellow citizens rather coil back into their shell and unleash terror and create mayhem. Have they actually thought through the implications? Have they studied countries like the Sudan where the South broke away? Have they looked at Somalia, a country of same tribe, language and religion, yet has not known peace for nearly half a century now? Is diversity a problem? Which part of this globe is not diverse and how does that fare compared with diverse communities? What exactly is the problem for which secession is a solution? These and many more are the kind of questions those advocating secession should try to answer. It is to be hoped that the Southwest will learn from the lessons of the southeast.
Constitutional Reforms: this is most interesting because it is difficult to see where the problem is, especially when the constitution itself has provided for its own reforms and amendments and the procedures are pretty clear. The evidence of over concetration of powers at the federal level is too obvious to warrant restating here. The way this came about, courtesy of series of military administrations, is fairly well known and fairly understandable. The consequences of this gradual, if consistent, erosion of our federalism are all here with us today. The most sensible thing for us to do is to proceed to address the issue. The dilly-dally over this issue speaks to the quality, or lack of it, as it were, of the kind of representatives we send to the National Assembly. The failure of the national assembly to read and understand the demands of their constituencies and appreciate the consequences of the delay has created room for the deterioration of the debate into emotive outbursts with reason and decorum being the first casualties. In the heat of these emotive discourses even the meaning and motive of restructuring has been lost and with every passing day we move further away from getting a consensus on re-structuring of the Nigerian Federation and every part of the country comes with its own imaginations and soon enough we got into another dialogue of the deaf. Our empty politics, with politicians bereft of ideas, has only made matters worse, a simple issue of constitutional development has deteriorated into tribal/ethnic cold war. The social media awash with emotive and unsubstantiated stuff keeps fueling this strife.
Meanwhile we read the popular myth that the North does not like re-structuring. Nothing can be further from the truth. The North I know is well ahead of the rest of the country on restructuring because many would prefer confederation, where the federal government retains only defense, foreign affairs and monetary policy. If by North they are referring to these pampered and favored few in power, many of whom lack both the knowledge and the courage to engage, they cannot be more wrong. The press should get out of this lazy journalism and get the real feel of the North. It must be stated that no one part of the country should determine which kind of constitutional reforms we effect. Rather we should find a way of crafting a national consensus and working together to see these reforms through.
Resource Control: this is another recurring area of confusion and conflict which is otherwise unnecessary for this is an area of wealth sharing, which is essentially left to us as citizens to legislate and implement. The current provisions of our constitution, has vested the total control of all minerals, including oil, on both land and water, in the federal government. Section 44(3) says ‘’Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section, the entire property in and control of all minerals, mineral oils and natural gas in, under or upon any land in Nigeria or in, under or upon the territorial waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone of Nigeria shall vest in the Government of the Federation and shall be managed in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly’’. Other relevant sections include Second Schedule,
Legislative Powers, Part 1, Exclusive Legislative List, 39; and the provisions of the Petroleum Act CAP 350 LFN 2004 also provides: By this provision, there is strictly no oil producing state, the only oil producing State is the Nigerian State itself. Now if we as citizens don’t like this provision we can always change it. If in a democracy we should fail to do this then we should question the processes and procedures of our democratic governance. But this idea of one part of the country threatening another on matters of wealth sharing speaks to the failure of our democracy and it is time to address this failure rather than continue to spill so much energy and exchange so much venom that only saps our strength and delays our progress. In other words, there are civilized avenues to engage and gain redress than the current hullabaloo that has not produced any substantial results. We must not lose sight of the fact that the significance of oil and fossil fuels are is receding and the future is for alternative energy and data.
When the OPEC Secretary General was congratulating the Nigerian President the PIB Bill, he reminded him of this reality. It is time we appreciate the future and plan for it, if we continue to live in the past, the world will ignore us and leave us in backwaters of the globe. The choice is ours and our choice today will determine our future tomorrow.
My submission so far is that while admittedly we have difficulties in the management of our diversity, resulting into the clamor for secession; we have a problem in restructuring and salvaging our federation; and we have a problem in our sharing of the national wealth; these issues are not the real problems, in themselves and by themselves, rather, they are symptoms of a more fundamental failure of our federation. The real defect, which we have to address in order to resolve these issues are, in my opinion, three: the failure of leadership, absence of national consensus and the problem of communication. I will explain these briefly.
Leadership – if we reduce the problems of this country to what it is – insecurity and the carnage it is eliciting; poor and stagnating economy and the poverty and joblessness it is creating; and bad governance, especially decay of institutions, endemic corruption and inability to manage diversity, we arrive at the inevitable conclusion that it is all a failure of leadership. In the last twenty years of our democratic governance all we have seen is the deepening and worsening of poverty (despite the unprecedented revenue), the phenomenal growth of monumental corruption, the lying to waste of our precious resources, our youth who are left to roam the streets without education or jobs, the decomposition of our society and the supplanting of our core values, and worse the escalating insecurity which has paralyzed farming and other business and continue to claim lives and properties that has dwarfed the civil wars of the 60s. We are now little over 200million, in the next ten years we are expected to reach a population of 300 million, we expect our politicians to be busy discussing how to growth food, provide schools and jobs etc., but clearly their mind is elsewhere. Our increasingly empty politics appears to be incapable of producing competent and credible leaders that understand the problems and have the ability to solve them. More so, the leadership recruitment mechanism in the political parties is so flawed that it cannot, except for some accidents, produce competent leaders. The current political culture does not prioritize knowledge or character, rather it prioritizes money and violence. This way we can’t get the kind leadership that can solve our problems, it can only run the country aground, eventually. So, as a nation, we have to come together and change the leadership recruitment mechanisms and re-calibrate the processes and procedures to ensure that only the best emerges. Attached to this synopsis is a 5-page concept paper on this.
National Consensus– it is common knowledge that this country has no national consensus on any of the major national issues. Indeed there appears to be a consensus among the elite on how to loot the resources of this country, quietly and wantonly. The debate on restructuring is one of many examples of the absence of national consensus. The elite in this country pull it in different directions and with the failure to arrive at a national consensus this keeps the country stuck in one place and stops it from moving in any direction. Just like the proverbial Alice in the wonderland at a crossroad and not quite knowing where to go. Countries like Rwanda that recovered and thrived within just two decades of the worst genocide in Africa, have had to first arrive at some national consensus. Similarly we have to craft an elite consensus as to where we want our country to be in the next 10 years or indeed the next 50 years and the best way to get there. This should not be difficult but there has to be a platform where such dialogue and conversation can start and flourish. It is best created by the civil society, especially where the government in place does not seem to prioritize knowledge and this is a process which is knowledge driven. We have to remember that in the 21st century, knowledge is the greatest capital – the future is in knowledge economy and Data is the new oil.
Communication – it would appear that we don’t communicate effectively, rather we shout, abuse and look-down on each other. When one reads what otherwise educated people write in the social media one cannot but get worried that all we do, all day and night, is to denigrate each other and even in doing so don’t even get the parables and anecdotes right. To be sure communication is not talking or exchange of words, it is more than that. May be this quick example may bring home the point. A story is told of an advert for selling a new washing powder in an Arab country. The standard three pictures were used: dirty clothes on the left, socked in the washing power in the middle and on the right, sparkling clean clothes drying on the hangers. The new washing powder was not selling. An expert flown in to unravel the problem discovered that the Arabs read and write from the right and what they saw is exactly the opposite: sparkling clean clothes dipped in the washing powder, coming out dirty on the other side. Certainly no one will buy this product. Such is the intricacy of communication. Perhaps we should start with effective communication, then.
One of important rules of effective communication is attentive listening and understanding what the other party is saying. If one should dismiss the other without even listening and understanding how can there be communication? Another rule is that you have to respect the other, if you don’t why should the other bother to talk to you? Another rule is to ensure clarity and accuracy in your responses. Taking the cultural context is also key, as ignoring it can sometimes cost you irreparable damage, as the example above illustrates.
Let me hope that we can all realize that our arrogance and ego cannot take us far, it has never taken any people far.
Our humility and selflessness, on the other hand, is the only thing that has built great nations throughout human history. Just look at great nations, in history and in our contemporary times, none has emerged out of complacency or out of abuses and insults, it has always been hard work with humility and selflessness. If we chose to continue insulting and denigrating each other, we may get the cheers of the imbeciles amongst us, but the real world will just ignore us and proceed without us. And in time we shall find ourselves in the back waters of the world, which will undoubtedly be Hobbesian, where it will “war of all against all,” in which citizens constantly seek to destroy each other in an incessant pursuit for power and vanity, leading to life in the state of nature, which is “nasty, brutish and short.”
As Rumi, the great poet would say:
“Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”
Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.