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Full Text: We’ve to settle the question of Nigeria’s nationhood before seeking a national vision – Fayemi

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Dr. Kayode Fayemi, former governor of Ekiti State, has argued that Nigeria must first settle the question of whether it’s a nation or a mere geographic area before seeking a vision that would drive its development.

This is a he called for devolution of power to the current federating units, as according to him, that would be the Ideal way to restructure the country.

Fayemi who took this position in his lecture titled, ‘If This Giant Must Walk; Manifesto for a New Nigeria,’ at the Prince Emeka Obasi Inaugural Memorial Lecture in Lagos on Thursday, said that the development of every nation necessarily derives from a “national consensus”.

He noted, however, that this consensus can only be forged after some fundamental questions, what we call the national questions, have been settled.

According to him, “Questions that settle the difference between a “country”(geographic area), a “state” (a political territory) and a “nation” (a people united by common descent, history, culture and values).

“Where the very existence of the country, state or nation itself is easily brought to question at the slightest provocation, it should be clear that we have to ask and settle certain questions first, and it is the settlement that would then provide the foundation for our vision of society and the structure and direction of our national development. In short, the very notion of national integration is directly consequential to our understanding of nation-building as work in progress.”

Read full text below:

If this Giant Must Walk:
A Manifesto for a New Nigeria

Being Lecture Delivered

by

J. ‘Kayode Fayemi, PhD
Visiting Professor,
African Leadership Centre,
School of Global Affairs,
King’s College, London, UK

at the Prince Emeka Obasi Inaugural Memorial Lecture,
held at the Agip Recital Hall, Muson Centre, Lagos,
May 2, 2024.

Protocols

I would like to begin my remarks by thanking the Board and Management of the Public Policy Forum for the kind invitation extended to me to speak at the Inaugural Memorial Lecture in honour of our dearly departed friend and brother, Prince Emeka Obasi, founder and publisher of Business Hallmark and the inspirational figure behind the Public Policy Research and Analysis Centre – promoters of the revered Zik Leadership and Governance Awards.

Emeka taught us many life lessons whose full import finds resonance as we continue to navigate this prolonged period of uncertainty in national and global affairs. It was out of such a season of uncertainty that Emeka himself burst onto the national season, carving a niche as a builder of bridges across divides, and a creator of value out of adversity. Emeka extended love to all and malice towards none and he was truly “a Prince for all seasons” to recall my brother, Femi Awoyemi’s apt description. His untimely passing robbed us of his courage and audacity by which he spoke truth to power whilst upholding the ideals of integrity, compassion, character, competence, and commitment to national unity and progress in a framework of democratic governance and cultural diversity.

Not one to be easily dismissed as an arm-chair critic, our late brother established himself as a credible business leader and successful newspaper proprietor, a public intellectual par excellence and public policy promoter extra-ordinaire. There is much in his life to celebrate and it is fitting that the Public Policy Forum has inaugurated this Memorial Lecture in his honour. I thank the Board and management of the Forum and his darling wife, Dr (Mrs) Betty Emeka Obasi, for doing their utmost to keep Emeka’s torch of excellence burning ever bright. May his legacy endure far into the future even as his soul continues to enjoy eternal rest.

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The theme of this Inaugural Memorial Lecture is most appropriate for these times. Only those with delusions of grandeur will not agree that this giant is crawling and not walking yet. Although the challenges of nation-building have been manifest for several years, it is now evident that they are actually deteriorating as evidenced by the many cases of violent conflicts that are being played out with regard to the governance of the nation-state and discontents with the nation-building experience. Indeed, the recurrent predictions about the imminent collapse or failure of the Nigerian state are beginning to look more credible by various developments in the polity. The violent activities of separatist agitators in the South East and South western parts of Nigeria, vociferous revisionist contestations of the amalgamation act of 1914, generalised discontent with the prolonged underperformance of the Nigerian economy, heightened recrimination, insecurity, and violence, feelings of marginalisation, exclusion, and injustice, and concerns about various dysfunctions in the federal system are some of the sources of concern about the future prospects of the country.

I sometimes ask the question as I’m sure many in this audience also do from time to time: how best should we approach the challenge of nation building that ails Nigeria. Many thought leaders have diagnosed the problem and proffered a myriad of solutions. There are those who think the problem with Nigeria is her size, some others think it is the many ethnic interests competing with one another for domination. Others think it is simply about bad leadership and failure of governance, while some others believe it is the constitution, stupid! There are still some pan-Africanists who believe colonialism, foreign religions and intellectual imperialism are the reasons we are still lagging behind. The thirst for excuses and culprits to blame for our obvious challenges is an insatiable one and so the blame game continues. While it is not really the primary task of this lecture to dwell on the challenges, since the task I’ve been assigned is to propose a new manifesto for a supposed walking giant, I believe it would be remiss of me and a-historical in large measure to completely ignore the nature of the problem, its provenance and consequences before arriving at a proposed manifesto.

Consequently, in thinking through how to ensure this giant walks and developing a manifesto for a new Nigeria, an important question to answer is whether to unmake or remake the Giant. Recent scholarly writings, most notable among them – Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty – by Daron Acemoglu & James Robinson focused on what makes for successful nation-building and what drives nations to failure. The drivers of the contemporary difficulties that confront Nigeria are varied, though also inter-connected insofar as they all point in different ways to a crisis of governance that has been allowed by acts of commission and/or omission to build up, become more complicated, and worsen over time. As captured in popular, everyday discourses, the various dimensions of this crisis of governance include, among others: A decline in the moral fibre of society and the collapse of ethics in public and private life; the spread of the cankerworm of corruption in state and society; the collapse of patriotism among leaders and followers alike; an alleged incompatibility among the various ethnic groups that were forced without their consent into an amalgamation in 1914; the decline in citizens welfare; and the perceived feelings of marginalisation of sections of the populace.

These popular perspectives on the nation-building challenges facing the country mostly speak to the symptoms of a much deeper malaise in statecraft that deserves much greater attention, especially from those who are desirous of seeing this giant walk. The roots of this malaise can be summarised as comprising: The failure to build, consolidate, and popularise a broad national leadership consensus on the basis of which actions and performance can be assessed; the degradation of the basic state-society social bargain on the basis of which citizenship and leadership can be nurtured and advanced; a paucity of leadership vision that embraced as part of a long-term investment in the quest for national transformation; the collapse of the national civil service system as a factor of cohesion, coherence, and continuity in the state and nation-building process; a crisis of population mobility within the country that has fed a dynamic of distrust; and the twin problems of poverty and inequality that serve as fodder for the alienation of a significant swathe of the populace.

To the above-mentioned factors that underpin the governance malaise facing the country must be added the unfortunate trend in extreme parochialism in the administration of public affairs that has undermined the effective and conscious management of national diversity. This, in turn, has eroded the sense of belonging in the polity and fed into open and silent forms of dissent and disloyalty among sections of the populace. In the absence of a consistent and an expansive economic growth record over the long period, dissent and disloyalty have worsened and are ossifying into a culture of mutual recrimination and distrust that are detrimental to the nation-building agenda. The zero sum nature of elite competition for power has also compounded the problems of nation-building, producing as it does a negative incentive system whereby personality prevails over ideas, institutions are hijacked and undermined, informal networks of power and privilege trump inclusive institutions and merit.

The task of nation-building is not a one-off or static exercise but is rather a dynamic and permanent work in progress There is no experience of nation-building that is perfect from the outset and remains so despite changing times and circumstances. However, the many proposals that have been making the rounds in Nigerian circles about how to overcome the contemporary threats to unity and stability have hardly been helpful in restoring the ideals of nation-building. In fact, if anything, they have, in some instances, in their rigidity and dogmatism been reduced to counter-productive slogans and cliches such as we have witnessed in the outbursts of secessionist agitators of the IPOB, Niger Delta Militants and Yoruba Nation stripe. Inevitably, if we understand nation building as work in progress and an endless endeavour and also concur that no generation ever completes the nation building project, then the idea of remaking the nation-state should not suggest the wholesale unmaking of the nation-state.

Renowned Nigerian writer, Ben Okri in his Booker Prize winning book, The Famished Road, tells of a people who, for several generations, have been trying to build a road. But no matter how hard they work, they never go far in their endeavour. Even then, whatever little progress they make, is always destroyed by disasters beyond their comprehension and they would have to start all over; much like the curse of Sisyphus. Yet, every generation understands that it is their destiny to try and complete this road. History has taught them that the road would never be completed, but they never give up because each generation hopes that it would be the generation that gets the job done. Several commentators have noted that Okri’s un-finishable road is in fact, a grand metaphor for nation-building.

However, in relating this story to our country, Nigeria and our own efforts at nation-building, rather than the collapsing road, I would think in terms of an infinite wall of greatness with the natural potential to reach far beyond the skies. It is the destiny of every generation to build on this wall, and take it to a higher level, even though we know that the job will never be done because there is no real limit to how high we can build. In the light of our recent history, it is easy to point at our many false starts, or even several instances when we have outrightly betrayed our generational mission. We may indeed wonder that despite the great efforts of more than sixty years, how come this great wall has barely left the foundation stage, even with our enormous wealth of bricks and mortars and expert builders? Sixty four years may be a long time in the life of an individual. But a sixty four-year-old nation, is a nation yet in its infancy. Therefore, rather than despair over the failures of the past, it would be more productive that we look ahead with great hopes at the infinite future that lies ahead of us, armed with that immortal admonition from the French West Indian psychiatrist and political philosopher, Frantz Fanon that “every generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, betray it or fulfil it.”

Over the years, Nigerians have agonised, understandably, over the lamentably slow pace of our development. Successive governments and policy makers have responded with various approaches and strategies for achieving the much desired national development. Yet, even the most charitable analyst of our political economy – and we have a political economy guru in our midst here today – Professor Pat Utomi – would agree that we have not performed to our optimum capabilities. So many experts have made great efforts to explain our under-development, with some, like the late Claude Ake even arguing that development was never part of the post-colonial African political agenda. And if we agree with Claude Ake, It appears to me obvious that the fundamental challenge is that all along, we have been placing the cart before the proverbial horse. Before we can think of development, we must first solve the problems of nation-building, because you cannot develop what you do not have.

When the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka asked “When is a Nation,” he was attempting to draw our attention to those urgent questions of nation-building that have remained largely unanswered till this day. The development of every nation necessarily derives from a “national consensus”. However, this consensus can only be forged after some fundamental questions, what we call the national questions, have been settled. Questions that settle the difference between a “country”(geographic area), a “state” (a political territory) and a “nation” (a people united by common descent, history, culture and values). Where the very existence of the country, state or nation itself is easily brought to question at the slightest provocation, it should be clear that we have to ask and settle certain questions first, and it is the settlement that would then provide the foundation for our vision of society and the structure and direction of our national development. In short, the very notion of national integration is directly consequential to our understanding of nation-building as work in progress.

Over the years, I have heard even presumably informed analysts refer to our country as the mistake of 1914. But was the amalgamation really a mistake? To describe the amalgamation as a mistake would be wrong, both historically and conceptually. The hands that drew the map may not have been indigenous, but the map was possible only because we were here in the first place. Every student of history will agree that as a people, if not as a country, Lord Lugard did not introduce us to ourselves. Long before the white man set foot on our land, our people have developed an intricate network of relationships. Even though they lived in their various enclaves as independent peoples, they traded together, they married one another, they fought together as allies in battles and against one another as adversaries. Our cultures inter-mingled freely and produced rich synthesis of cultures, in such a way that no single culture was left pure and unaffected from this intercourse, as evidenced in new vocabularies, diets and even dress. It is also important to note that many of our empires and kingdoms were territorial rather than tribal. They luxuriated and thrived on their diversity and formed unions and alliances based on shared understanding and mutual interests. A cursory analysis of our languages and belief systems will reveal that we actually have more in common than some of our differences would suggest.

Therefore, while the colonialists may have been “culpable” for creating the country that we call Nigeria without consulting us; the task of forging a nation out of this colonial invention rests squarely in our hands. And this task must progress from a deliberate effort to remobilise and re-interpret our history, especially our pre-colonial history. If we take a sociological look, we will see clearly that we did not arrive here by chance or as mere products of colonial misadventure. In his book, titled, “Can Anything Good Come Out of History?” famous historian, Obaro Ikime observed that it is not colonialism that introduced the Igbos to the Igalas; the Kanuris to its neighbouring states; the Efik to the Ibibios and the Igbos; the Itsekiri to the Urhobos or; the Yorubas to the Nupes, etc. Brought together, sometimes as prisoners of geography and history, all these people, he noted, “knew about themselves and respected their varying cultures and susceptibilities.” He went further to underline the important roles that historians and teachers of history must play as we strive to build a united nation out of this colonial legacy called Nigeria. He argued that “[t]here is a need to provide a general framework of our nation’s history; a need to indicate broad influences and operative factors in our history; a need to identify the nature and impact of contacts between our peoples; a need to identify factors that make for the differences discernible among our peoples; and so on.”

One of the most popular anecdotes that survived from our early efforts at nation building was the one credited to the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello. He was said to have retorted that in coming together as a country, we do not need to forget our differences, rather we only need to recognise and respect them. It is not clear to what extent this wise admonition was taken on board by our founding fathers as they tried to grapple with the challenges of nation-building in a post-colonial Nigeria. However, embedded in the notion of “unity in diversity” is a distinct awareness that sameness is not necessarily a precondition for oneness. Perhaps, one major area that the successive generations have failed is in the tendency to stigmatise difference and weaponise diversity. We are Muslims, we are Christians, we are animists, we are Idoma, Tiv, Angas, Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Kanuri, Fulani and so on. We don’t need to apologise for these differences or attempt to hide them because there is nothing wrong in being different. The problem starts only when these social categorisations become the boundaries for inclusion or exclusion.

Development anthropologists have long concluded that culture plays a crucial role in development. In other words, every culture essentially contains the facilities for progress and advancement. The language in which we articulate our ideas; our diets and consumption patterns; our architectures and the way we live; our religion and how we understand our relationship with God and to the universe, our notion of ethics, morality and justice, all of these, in different forms and at different levels, provide the essential driving force for development. What this means therefore, is that the more diverse the cultures within a nation, the more resources they have for development and for progress. In essence, homogeneity is not necessarily a blessing and diversity need not be a curse. This is why it is important to always make the distinction between our differences, which is essentially benign, and the politicisation of those differences, which constitutes the malignant cancer in the body of our nation-state.

One thing we do not seem to celebrate enough is our ability to live together as a diverse but unified country despite the centrifugal forces of our politics. It is in fact what makes us better than even Europeans, who have found diversity management a lot more difficult. Countries in the Balkan Peninsula have collapsed from Yugoslavia into Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and Herzegovina, and gave us the word, “balkanise”. Czechoslovakia became Czech and Slovak nations; the Soviet Union couldn’t hold together, and Britain still has not found a definitive answer to the Irish, Welsh and Scottish question. But imagine Nigeria with over 250 ethnic nationalities where one or two states, indeed few communities can claim to be homogeneous. Yet we have managed our diversity very well until we lost the values of tolerance, equity, fairness and justice which we inherited from our founding fathers.

Despite the challenges that we have faced as a nation, it is important for us to constantly bear in mind that nation building is a slow and dynamic process. The awareness that nothing in nation-building is finalised should give us hope and challenge us to do better and constantly look for ways and means to build a better country, by experimentation and learning, trial and errors, setting and resetting. That said, and in full acknowledgement of the existence of many underlying integrative and embedded factors that serve as the enduring pillars for the continued survival of Nigeria as a united country, the point cannot be denied that the nation-building project has been under a severe and worsening strain for some time now. We therefore cannot afford to be complacent or indifferent to the demands that have been accumulating for sometime for a re-founding of the basis for the unity and progress of the country. For, in the end, as much as no Nigerian government will ever accept to preside over the dissolution of the country, the idea that the unity of the country is not negotiable or its inherited frame of governance is not open to questioning will need to be jettisoned. For, as history teaches us, empires, kingdoms, and republics come and go; those political systems that endure and pass the test of time are those that are adept at recalibrating their governance arrangements to respond in a timely and comprehensive manner to changing times and needs.

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And this is why the operative framework of any nation is never intended as a divinely inspired scripture. So we must see our challenges as opportunities to test our governance system and its responsive capacity to issues of national co-existence. The integrity of our governance and administrative system must be continually measured in terms of its ability to deliver the greater good to the greatest number of our people. If we are not able to do this, we must be willing to press the reset button and ask ourselves why is the system that we all must submit to not working for us all?

However, for us to constructively confront these issues, we must start by first conquering the demon of mutual suspicion and distrust that has poisoned our politics and subverted our will to achieve the necessary consensus that is so crucial to marching confidently towards our destiny as a walking giant. If we do this, we would have scaled the major obstacle to forging a great nation out of this colonial creation and show the world that we are finally ready to embrace our true destiny as the hope of all black people everywhere.

Towards a Manifesto for a New Nigeria.

The second stanza of our national anthem ends with an infinitive that underlines that nation building as an unending search for perfection. It says: “To build a nation, where peace and justice shall reign.” For the next one thousand years, no matter the progress we would have made, as long as this country continues to exist, generations after generations, will continue to seek “to build a nation, where peace and justice shall reign.” It is a credit to the genius of whoever wrote that line that both the mission and the means to achieve the mission is captured in one simple phrase. The path to nation-building is peace, the path to peace is justice, and the path to justice is equity and inclusion. Even for Americans who coined the mantra, towards “a more perfect union’, it was done out of the understanding that the work of nation building is never done. If a country like the United States, forged out of a common purpose and common consent, perpetually seeks to make a more perfect union, we have no excuse to give up on the task of nation-building in Nigeria.

Permit me to return to Ben Okri, who wrote in the same book I quoted from earlier, The Famished Road, that

“each new generation begins with nothing and with everything. They know all the earlier mistakes. They may not know that they know, but they do. They know the early plans, the original intentions, the earliest dreams. Each generation has to reconnect the dreams for themselves. They tend to become a little wiser, but don’t go very far. It is possible that they now travel slower, and will make bigger mistakes. That is how they are as a people. They have an infinity of hope and an eternity of struggles. Nothing can destroy them except themselves and they will never finish the road that is their soul and they do not know it.”

Okri tells us that the work of nation building is for all generations. And how far each generation is able to go on the journey to nation-building and the attainment of greatness depends on the aggregate character and predilections of that generation. Perhaps, as products of a specific period of our history and national experience, we are distrustful of change even if change is what our situation recommends. We must however take note that the generation that wants to take over from us are products of a different historical experience. A great number of young Nigerians who marched on the streets during EndSARS never lived under military rule. They are akin to the people post-apartheid South Africans refer to as the “born free” generation. Because they can take the fact of democracy for granted, it is difficult for them to see democracy as an end in itself. What really matters to them is what democracy can do for them, how it can work for them and how it can help to facilitate their dreams. Nurtured in the cusp of some of the most rapid transformation in human history, they are less fearful of change and experimentation. If it is not working, they want it fixed.

This is why anyone who holds a semblance of power or authority in this country should be deeply worried about the depth of despair, particularly among our youthful population. What started, for example, as an innocuous online protest over police brutality snowballed before our very eyes into a mass movement that assumed more frightening dimensions. From the demand to #EndSARS, we have seen more vigorous demands for greater transparency and accountability, and greater efficiency in government by the Obedient generation. What I understand the youths to be saying is that we, the older generation, have failed them by our inability to create a system that supports their dreams and accommodates their aspirations. From the language of their protests, we can see clearly that our youths feel pushed to the margin of our nation’s socio-political and economic structures. It is incumbent on us to listen to what they are saying and a lot more that they are probably not saying yet.

For over a decade, several analysts have noted that our massive youth population could be a major demographic advantage to our country if it is properly harnessed. Years of neglect and failure to make the right investments to support this population is now, quite predictably, turning it to a major disruptive force and a time bomb. I am afraid that the bomb has started to tick loudly, we must therefore act fast and start now to create systems that provide opportunities for our young people and make it possible for them to attain their God-given potentials. In responding to the challenges that this moment imposes on us, we must recognise that a business-as-usual approach will no longer be sufficient. What we need is a fundamental re-engineering of our governance system in a way that will make our country work better for everyone. Whether it is EndSARS, Obedient movement or Japa Syndrome, I understand the tone and tenor of agitation amongst our youth as a discursive signal that encapsulates the frustration of young people at multiple levels. We must therefore engage it as such and try to focus on the opportunities that the situation presents.

In our quest towards ensuring that this giant walks, the main challenge is therefore one of re-creating the union and the basis of its fundamental national association. Unfortunately, this is one issue that we have allowed to be implicated in our instinctive mutual suspicion and unnecessary brickbats. Caught in our politics of difference and otherness, devolution, decentralisation, restructuring and such other concepts have come to mean different things to different people, depending on the ethnic and regional toga they wear. Our age-long distrust and suspicions of one another are now being tested and contested on the basis of this issue that should be the pivot of our nation-building effort. However, stripped of all opportunism and dysfunctional baggage, these concepts should simply refer to a way to re-imagine and reinvent our country to make it work well for everyone. I associate fully with the views of respected scholar and former Chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega when he said that:

sooner than later, these matters have to be addressed squarely but dispassionately. The challenge is how to address the issue of restructuring the Nigerian federal system without upsetting the apple-cart; that is, how to add value to the structure and systemic efficacy of the federal arrangement, without unleashing instability occasioned by the mobilisation of ethnic, regional and religious sentiments and identities.” [Jega:2017]

I will argue therefore, that our idea of restructuring must be motivated only by our generational responsibility to make the giant walk tall and to build a nation where peace and justice shall reign based on the operative principle that true greatness lies in building a country that works for everyone, regardless of the language they speak, or how they understand and worship God.

The evolution of Nigeria’s federalism has not served our best interests and it is not surprising that we have witnessed protests at every attempt towards a constitutional reengineering. Two prominent examples were the 2005 Constitutional Reform Conference convened by President Obasanjo’s administration and the 2014 National Conference at the instance of President Jonathan. In the two conferences, the delicate issue remains that of restructuring (often dubbed Devolution of Power, Decentralisation, True Federalism, etc.). But for how long can we continue to run away from this issue and continue to pretend that somehow it would resolve itself someday?

In my view, structural changes (like state creation and merger) would appear unrealistic in this democratic dispensation. I also do not think we can easily go back to the pre-1966 regional structure or adopt the 54 federating-units proposal of the 2014 conference, which I find impractical, no matter the appeal or attraction. Rather, our preoccupation should be, how we can make the current structure work better for us in terms of, first our governance system; second, our economy and national productivity; and third, citizenship and inclusion. There may be other issues that should be the object of our restructuring, but I consider these to be paramount. Therefore, in my view, restructuring should be less about redrawing the map of Nigeria, more about building an efficient governance system that is capable of delivering the greater good to the greatest number of our people.

In essence, our desire to make this giant walk should be anchored on the principle of devolution of powers – that is, re-allocation of powers and resources to the country’s federating units. The reasons for this are not far-fetched. First, long years of military rule has produced an over-concentration of powers and resources at the centre to the detriment of the states. Two, the 1999 constitution, as has been argued by several observers, was hurriedly put together by the departing military authority and was not a product of sufficient inclusiveness. Part of the focus of such an exercise should be: what items should remain on the exclusive legislative list and which ones should be transferred to the concurrent list? Other topical issues include derivation principle; fiscal federalism and revenue allocation; land tenure, local government creation and autonomy; etc. All points considered, the fiscal burden of maintaining a largely inefficient and over-bloated bureaucracy is a metaphor for the crisis of governance being experienced.

Again, in arriving at a position on what ought to be in the quest for the giant to walk, I wish to further say that my sentiments are more associated with strengthening the sub-national units in the re-allocation of powers and resources. The assignment of functions that would be consistent with a devolved but strengthened federal system would have a short, exclusive federal list focusing on national defence and security, macro-economy, foreign affairs, customs and excise; joint responsibility in respect of certain functions that are currently assigned exclusively to the federal government (for example, internal security and policing) and primary responsibility of the sub-national governments in respect to other functions in the second schedule of the 1999 constitution whilst the remaining powers devolve to states.

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Remaking Nigeria through devolution of powers and re-organisation of the federating units is an idea whose time has come. To quote Attahiru Jega again:

by working hard and rationally, scientifically, to remove all the distortions in our federal system, we would have a better functioning federation with only states as federating units; with conscious commitment to zonal cooperation among contiguous states, with local governments subsumed under states…with substantial devolution of power, responsibilities and resources from the federal government to the states, and with mechanisms of ensuring greater equality of opportunity for all and affirmative action for inclusion of the marginalised, minorities and groups discriminated against in the country… [Jega:2017]

Greatness beckons – The Power of Leadership

While we set out as a country on a somewhat progressive footing under the ‘Founding Fathers’, the reversals that we experienced mainly from the implosions that arose within the polity and the incursion of authoritarian rule, alongside its ‘civilian’ inflections, enthroned a paradigm of government and public governance that coalesced around waste, bureaucratic inefficiency, red-tapism and certainly, corrosive corruption. Thereafter, we witnessed how the State became more and more unitary, and how the contest for the privileges of the centre took on an increasingly desperate tenor among the different groups and stakeholders in the country. While corruption and state exclusion thrived, several groups began to feel a sense of alienation, leading to their desertion of a sense of national citizenship and affiliation to the State, which they subsequently considered as being a contraption to be exploited for individual gain – a ‘cake’ that everyone needed to grab a share of. Thus, whatever could be taken out of the centre – more so illegally – was considered acceptable and just within the perception of local interest.

From the foregoing, what is evident is that most prominently at the national level, the Nigerian post-colonial state has not behaved in a fundamentally different way from the colonial state. Even though operated by Nigerians, the post-colonial state has been as alien and as predatory as its colonial predecessor. As late Professor Claude Ake argued in the early 1990s, this legacy has its roots in the colonial era when political discourse excluded not only democracy but even the idea of good government, and politics was reduced to the clash of one exclusive claim to power against another. The question therefore is: how can the business of state be serious business in a context where public governance is largely a predatory exercise in which power is captured from citizens and not freely given by citizens; a context in which the consent of the people is not integral to the constitution of legitimacy?

Against the backdrop of the post-colonial state in Africa, it is still possible to argue that political leadership remains a major, though not an exclusive determinant of good public governance. The African experience, among others, has shown that the quality, vision, patriotism and competence of the political leadership is critical to the transformation of African states and the possibilities of good governance. In our specific experience in Nigeria, we also have instances of how the quality of the leadership has produced good systems of public governance, even if few and far between. One can readily give the examples of Northern Nigeria under Sir Ahmadu Bello, Eastern Nigeria under Sir Michael Okpara and Western Nigeria under Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Yet, important as the power of leadership is, until and unless we recompose the Nigerian State and make it derive her original consent and legitimacy from the people in the quest for a modern state, good leadership, in and of itself is inadequate. Contrary to the pretensions of neo-liberal economists, without a modern state, there cannot be an economy or society; therefore, before good public governance, there must be a modern state in the real sense. A predatory state cannot give birth to proper public governance and a sense of justice and fairness.

Those of us in politics and public office may delude ourselves about possibilities of control by fiat or by the belief that ordinary citizens are too burdened by the minutiae of survival and consequently risk-averse, recent events have brought the contradictions of the democratic recession into a sharper focus. In Africa alone, in the last few years, we have seen war break out in Ethiopia and the Sudan. We have also witnessed armed uprisings in places like Cameroun, Chad, Central Africa Republic, Kenya, and Mozambique even as old and long-running conflicts in Somalia, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the Casamance region of Sene-Gambia have continued to fester in their mutation. Furthermore, across the Sahel belt of the continent, military coups d’etat have been carried out by segments of the armed forces with the most recent being the takeover that happened in Niger in 2023. Beyond the Sahel, similar military interventions have been registered in Guinea Conakry and Gabon. These developments are unfolding in a generalised context of prolonged violent insecurity underwritten by an assortment of self-proclaimed Jihadi groups, criminal gangs of drug, gun, and human traffickers, and armed bands of smugglers, cattle rustlers, kidnappers, and illegal miners. Across the arc of conflict that runs through the African continent, we have seen an intensification of violent contestations.

Even in places where violent contestations of the nation-state have not burst out into the open yet, clear signs of subterranean discord and discontent are manifest that call the continued stability and unity of many a polity into question. The revival of irredentist ethno-regional and religious identities has been observed in various countries, mirroring at the national level, similar trends in extremely narrow identity politics around the world.

What the above underscore is the urgency of now! Whether one’s immediate concern is limited to police reform as we reflect upon the rationale and the challenges of unitary versus multi level policing in Nigeria, or one looks toward the Niger Delta where, despite efforts at addressing its unique challenges, there is a continuous and bloody demand for justice and equity; or you examine the endless pretexts for ethnic strife and blood-letting between the indigenous people and the “settlers” in the Middle Belt/North. Central Nigeria alongside the marauding bandits in the North West and/or the Islamic insurgents in the North East; not to mention the ethnic irredentists in the South East and South West and whether you scrutinise the regular apocalyptic predictions of despondent Nigerians about the fate of the country, or you contemplate what would happen if measures are not taken to arrest the crisis of governance, you cannot but come to the conclusion that Nigeria needs to be re-imagined, re-created and re- made.

Whilst my manifesto for a new Nigeria may not represent magic bullets which once adopted will automatically resolve all extant problems of nation-building, and indeed no proposal can attain such lofty heights, I take solace in some lines from my favourite poem by Alfred B Tennyson, Ulysses,

“… I cannot rest from travel. I will. drink life to the Lee’s…it is not too late to seek a newer world… It may be that the Gulfs will wash us down. It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles… One equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will. To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield…

This is the least we owe our brother and friend, Emeka. Emeka never gave up on Nigeria. He always believed a greater Nigeria, a better Nigeria, a more prosperous Nigeria, a Nigeria that is fair to all her people is possible, but it must be the product of our collective struggle. This Giant must walk. We must not yield. The struggle continues.

Thank you for listening.

 

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