By Niran Adedokun
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s acknowledgement, on Sunday, of cracks sufficient to cause a breakup of Nigeria is significant in certain respects. First, it was the first time a leader of Osinbajo’s status owned up to the reality of cracks let alone the dangers that they portend to the survival of the country. Hitherto, national leaders played the ostrich, and brushed aside suggestions by more honest citizens as to the increasingly precarious route along which the country sails.
You will see an indication of this in the reaction of the Arewa Consultative Forum, which even while accepting that cracks truly do exist, counsel that the country should paper it over as is usual. National Publicity Secretary of the ACF, Emmanuel Yawe, told The PUNCH on Monday: “The ACF is hopeful that Nigeria will overcome its current travails as it did in the past and even overcame a fratricidal war to break up Nigeria…” The question to ask this man is whether Nigeria is not currently fighting wars on more fronts than the civil war. He should also be told that the country’s failure to face its problems headlong is a function of the kind of censorship which he preaches in his intervention. How does anyone, let alone a country, solve a problem, which they have refused to acknowledge? But I digress.
It is also significant that the Vice President chose this honest path at an occasion to commemorate the country’s 60th independence. They say a fool at 40 will be an eternal fool. What then do we say about a 60-year-old that still revels in self-delusion? By the token of that message, which was delivered by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, Osinbajo seems to be passing suggestions to members of the political elite that “the foolery is enough.” Now is the time to face our problems squarely, once and for all.”
It is unfortunate though that Osinbajo gave no hint as to what the problems were and how they would be tackled other than prayer, even though he did indicate that certain steps were being taken to address the cracks. Given that he was in a church service, his allusion to the power of prayers and the preparedness of religious bodies to pick up the gauntlet, should save us the temptation to assume that he meant that Nigeria should depend on prayers only, in the circumstance. Just as we should glide over the symbolism in his identification of the country’s urgent need of a Nehemiah, the biblical character known for rebuilding Jerusalem.
Osinbajo’s reference to Nehemiah however suggests that, unlike most other politicians who speak about the level of discordance in Nigeria’s essence, he realises that the fault lines of ethnicity and religion aren’t the most fundamental clogs in the wheel of Nigeria’s progress.
That those divisions, which have propelled other countries into sustainable development, as they ordinarily should, have become unmanageable here is a function of more endemic problems that must be tackled urgently. However, in the event that the VP was referring to faith and language difference in his Sunday speech, he and other leaders of Nigeria will do well to remember that divisions and conflicts are part of life. They must also tell themselves that no country exists with absolute homogeneity and that how competently leaders manage these differences and the advantage to which they are able to put them, determine how far the country will go.
This brings us to one of the most pathetic things about this country 60 years on. Even at 60, Nigeria has not figured out a leadership selection process which places priority on competence and merit. Most leaders in Nigeria are buccaneers who were handpicked by political godfathers waiting to rule by proxy or those who have amassed enough money to spend their way into the hearts of mostly impoverished masses. Democracy is stagnant in Nigeria because the liberty of choice is a luxury, which the poor would rather do away with in lieu of some immediate gratification and Nigerian leaders, well acquainted with this fact, play on the state of the people’s poverty and misery to spray pittances at them and manipulate their future. A society deliberate about progress would place service above the economic essence of politics but in Nigeria, people come out of retirement or failure at business ventures to launch political careers for which they have neither sufficient orientation nor plans for the people.
The direct effect of this is the pauperisation of not just the people but also the entire political system. The result of our lack of discretion in the choice of leaders without manifestable knowhow and compassion is the widespread poverty that has gripped the lives and pockets of Nigerians. It is what brought paralysis to institutions such that no one gets anything unless they are someone or know someone. It is why Nigeria is a bundle of contradictions, which in spite of the enormity of its human and natural capital remains one of the poorest countries in the world. The all-comer’s nature cum commercialisation of political leadership is why public education and healthcare delivery, (which should be the right of every citizen) have become substandard and abandoned in a lot of cases. It is why millions of our youths are walking and wandering the streets hopeless and angry. The truth is there can be no bigger fault lines than when a country leaves its people poor and despondent.
And the lack of purposeful leadership is in so many ways the harbinger of the disaster that our diversity has mostly brought the country. Talk about the inability of fathers to recognise, respect and harness the best of the differences in their children to the advantage of their families or the divisive and selfish play on the emotions of the common man by politicians. Think about it, how is the poor Muslim, Hausa/Fulani-speaking man in Buhari’s Katsina State better off than the poor Christian Igbo-speaking man in Enugu State? But politicians and their profiteering cohorts know when and how to harvest these differences and set the uneducated minds of the masses at war against their compatriots. How is it that leaders do not know the simple logic of being fair to everyone such that even political parties and professional bodies that should serve the purpose of national integration also get periodically sectionised?
Most important of all however is the anger that the lack of opportunity brings on people. When the children and young are neither educated nor gainfully employed and their parents wallow in poverty, they are at the mercy of the devil, the multitude of his messengers and mischief makers who profit from the destruction of other people. The leadership selection process in Nigeria lends itself to the evangelisation of crass materialism, mediocrity, selfishness thereby unleashing social and economic frustration of the common man. It is this anger that continues to manifest in ethnic conflagrations, insurgencies, murderous kidnappings and every other expression of insecurity that we see.
The major trouble with Nigeria is the dearth of dedicated leadership. It is the warped idea of leadership and the corruption of the process for attaining same. It is the alienation of the people from the running of their country and the increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots. It is the contraction of opportunities and the annexation of prosperity by a cyclical few. These are cracks and failings that accentuate the difference amongst the peoples of Nigeria and make good neighbourliness problematic.
It is a sad irony that Nigeria’s political class, which attained on the benefaction of the country, drove the breasts it sucked from into distress. All agitations, social frustrations and prebendal views of Nigeria across political spectrums are directly linked to elite failure to aggregate our national diversities and build national prosperity. This is the root of Boko Haram and other disoriented entities across the country. Nigeria was simply sold to the stomachs and pockets of its most privileged class- the elite!
However, even at 60, it is not too late too for a rebirth, one which much be hinged on the welfare and integration of the people into the management of their country and future. God forbid that Nigeria fails; as such a failure signposts the failure of the black race. But to avert the dangers ahead, serious work must be done.
All the same, Happy Independence Day, dear readers! May we find the grace to make Nigeria better.
*Adedokun tweets @niranadedokun