I awaited the G20 Summit in Hamburg – Germany with excitement, ready to buttress my often held position that Africa has very little strategic importance in global political and economic consideration. The fact that South Africa is the only African member of the Group affirmed that viewpoint. The allure of analyzing the first meeting of Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin quickly gave way, as I reflected on the political situation in Nigeria, to introspection on why a country like Nigeria, so richly blessed with human and material resources, should not be in Hamburg participating alongside other global and regional leaders.
I was further convinced having witnessed firsthand the deluge that completely brought most parts, if not all, of the highly-priced Victoria Island and Lekki peninsula axis to a halt, that it was right to focus on Nigeria instead of the G20 Summit. I wondered why Nigeria, vulnerable as evidenced by the weekend flood to the effects of climate change, should not be at the Summit with other global leaders charting a global economic blueprint and strategies for climate change management.
The sight of residents of these areas as they desperately set either by canoes or watercraft, swam or waddled through the inundated streets to get about their business, brought to the fore the need to examine and evaluate the state of the Nigerian nation.
The State of the Nigerian Nation
Most political observers and commentators on the state of the Nigerian nation are unanimously agreed that Nigeria is underperforming as a nation and has not been able to meet the expectations of its citizens and the international community in its fifty-seven (57) years of independence. The reasons for the state of affairs are contentious if not rather divisive. Sadly, the attempt to objectively evaluate and proffer solutions to the hobbled state of affairs has been lost in the din, bitterness and rivalry generated by ethnic and religious bigots who have often stoked and inflamed ethnic rivalry to advance their selfish interests. They are still at it, peddling hatred to the pre-1966 levels that led unfortunately to the Nigerian civil war. It is against the backdrop of the threats, the pervading sense of insecurity to lives and property, political grandstanding and bigotry that I write to share my thoughts on the three (3) trending thoughts on the state of the nation around which the present national arguments and controversy are built.
The Federalist or Unionist Group
The arguments that I find very persuasive are those advanced by the Federalist or Unionists, who are of the view that Nigeria as presently constituted is not indeed a true Federal State and not working. They argue that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic as Amended concentrated enormous powers and subordinated the federating states to the centre. These imperfections have made the nation unable to actualize its potentials for development and nationhood. The solutions proffered by this group include, the devolution of power from the centre to the federating states, the introduction of fiscal federalism which they hold is the heartbeat of Federalism. The Federalist cannot justify why each of the 36 federating states should assemble at the end of every month to share revenue accruing from oil. They equally argue that the cost of governance – 37 structures of governance – executive councils, legislative assemblies, judiciary, local government councils and civil services with bloated salaries and allowances – in Nigeria is too heavy. This has depleted the allocation of resources to other sectors other than personnel emoluments. They quickly point to the dearth of infrastructure and essential services – poor power supply, dilapidated roads and railways, and a litany of other inadequacies – as the huge price the nation has paid for the present unitary federalist system.
The Separatist or Secessionist Group
The separatist’s group on the other hand are convinced that Nigeria is not working and that remaining in the Nigerian federation would not solve the problem. They argue that the structures which have conferred undue advantage particularly the concentration of power to one ethnic and religious group over the others cannot be corrected by the arguments for reconstruction. They believe that separation or secession is the answer and that ethnic groups would be better served on their own. They conclude that separation can be achieved either through a referendum or where it becomes necessary through other means not ruling out the violent conflagration. The most vocal of this secessionist group appears to be the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) from the South Eastern zone of the country. They believe that there is a patterned marginalization that seeks to subordinate the Igbos of the South-East zone of Nigeria. Their entry into the political fray has indeed upped the stakes on political agitation in Nigeria evoking the ghost of Biafra and the civil war era. It must be also observed that agitation is not exclusive to the IPOB group. The Odua Peoples’ Congress (OPC) from the South-West zone has been in the vanguard of the campaign for a restructured Nigeria. The Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) from the South-South zone focus their agitation on the control of the oil resources that come from their region. Their sabotage of critical economic infrastructure in the country has had a debilitating effect on the national economy. Their demands stem from the fact that only 5 or 6 of the federating states account for the revenue that is shared monthly by the rest of the federation and is further incensed by the huge ecological damage done to their lands. The Boko Haram (BH) on the other hand is driven by the huge poverty in the North East region and the hard consequences of climate change evidenced by the shrinking of the lake chad that hitherto sustained and provided them means of livelihood. All of these groups spread out across the nation are bearers of the same grievances of marginalization and exclusion from the centre. All these separatist agitators are firm believers that separation is the most realistic solution to this lingering question of nationhood.
The Nationalist Group
There are two tendencies that make up this group. Those who want to maintain the existing status quo and insist that the 1999 Constitution as Amended is working and those who believe that Nigeria is working well but hampered by leadership and elite deficiencies. They believe that Nigeria only needs to be re-tweaked to function properly. They hold strongly to the fact that leadership failure is at the heart of the national malaise and that a set of visionary and committed leaders will place the country right back on the path of sustainable development and growth. Underpinning this argument is the understanding that the sacrosanctity of the sovereignty and unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable. Their argument is that any attempt to restructure Nigeria will lead to the undesired dissolution of the country.
The Way Forward
The hallmark of a democratic state is the fact that divergent and alternate political views are not only allowed but are constitutionally guaranteed and respected. Protagonists of views no matter how divergent are free to hold and to express such views without being criminalized. While I will be very quick to condemn the vitriolic and indecorous language and pronouncements of the leader of the IPOB movement, I had cause to express concerns at sensitive governmental quarters that the incarceration of Nnamdi Kalu, was a faulty strategy that would backfire. That failed strategy has resurrected and very sad too, the ghost of Biafra and the ravenous ogre of our ugly and bloody past. That ogre masked in the form of the quit notice issued by the Arewa Youth Movement to the Igbos resident in Northern Nigeria to leave the northern states of Nigeria on or before 1st October 2017 will, if not contained, lead to that much-dreaded outcome – the dissolution of Nigeria.
I am encouraged by the fact that Nigerians across the aisle who have hitherto been basking in their comfort zones have decided not to allow some hot-headed youths, who know nothing about the horrendous consequences of war, take charge of our national narratives. The thunderous drums of war as they reverberate across can only lead to destruction. It is important that all stakeholders in the Nigerian project stop the sabre rattling and head to the dialogue table.
Most Nigerian believe that the outcomes of the 2014 National Conference provide a path to that Nigeria of our dreams. I join in calling on the Nigerian government to place this document before the National Assembly for the immediate adoption of the relevant parts that will make Nigeria a strong virile and stable country. Protagonists of this have called for an adoption process that will end well before the next general election in 2019. This process will give each group the much-needed socio-political environment to blossom and according to their aspirations and world vision.
A national dialogue is not only urgent but must seek to place Nigeria on the path of nationhood and development. The envisioned outcome is not to perpetuate the perceived advantage of one group over the other. As compelling as the arguments advanced by the contesting tendencies would seem, the federalist/unionist agenda has the capacity to deliver on the outcomes that will make Nigeria a stable, progressive and prosperous. This federalist arrangement seeks to recognize the potentials of each federating group and to build these potentials to their fullest capacities. I, therefore, enjoin Nigerians regardless of tribe, tongue and religion to rise and obey the nation’s call and give peace a chance. The Nigeria we envision should also seek to lead Africa and to take its rightful place amongst the comity of nations. No excuse can be given or is acceptable for Nigeria’s conspicuous absence at this G.20 gathering in Hamburg – Germany, or in their subsequent meetings.
The Role of the International Community
I am convinced that the interest of the international community is to see a stable Nigerian nation that will serve as a strategic partner in the global fight against terrorism as well as in securing peace and stability in the region. I am equally of the view that a stable, developed and prosperous Nigeria will also be the much-needed catalyst for African economic growth and development. It is equally true that a Nigeria at war with itself has the huge potentials of an overwhelming refugee flow to other regions of Africa and an unprecedented internally displaced persons (IDPs) from a war-torn and ravaged Nigeria will pose a huge challenge to the global community. It is for these reasons that it seems appropriate to call on the international community to engage Nigeria at this very sensitive and difficult time to achieve that vision of peace and stability shared by most Nigerians. This is certainly not the time for needless comments on the Nigerian situation, no matter how well-intentioned, that could be misconstrued as partisan in any form or guise or even divisive. Nigerians seek the understanding and support of the international community to achieve the best form of governance that will enable them to actualize their huge human and natural potentials and to play their rightful role as a leading African nation.
By Ambassador Ozo Nwobu (Rtd)
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