By Tope Fasua
I was graciously invited to a political meeting recently in Abuja. I hadn’t been to such in a while and of course, my political interest in Nigeria is waning, but not my interest in Nigeria herself.
In such meetings where there are quite a number of individuals with heavy political credentials in their own rights, it is often difficult to get a space to speak, or to express oneself as much as one will like. I will not mention which meeting and who was there because I have no authority to put their meetings out in the open. However, I have great respect for anyone who is struggling, at their own expense, to get Nigerians to come together to discuss the future, as against those who insist that the end has come for the entity. I managed to get a word in, but the things I said – and those I couldn’t – have weighed on my mind, prompting this article. There is a need to expand on my thoughts at this critical juncture of Nigeria’s sociopolitical evolution.
My key prompt for the intervention in made at the meeting, was the expected skewness of the discussions at some point, towards issues of tribe, ethnic nationalities, religion, and all the issues that have divided us. A few of the commenters also believed that Nigeria faces an existential crisis to the extent that the biggest question before us is whether we want to remain as one. Few people questioned the legitimacy of the country as is. Those who shared this view projected that opinion on the majority of Nigerians, saying that that was the feeling on the streets. Whereas it is true that many Nigerians are disenchanted with the current situation of things – especially security and the economy – I felt it was important to interrogate how those issues have translated into mass calls for disintegration and whether leaders from all the constituent parts of this nation were leading especially the young people who looked up to them aright, or helping the less-experienced folk to find hope where none seem to exist, or whether indeed it was these political people that were infusing fear and despair to worsen the situation.
NEVER TAKE GOVERNMENT BY DECEIT
So the first thing I said under two minutes at the meeting, is that whoever wishes to form government in 2023 should ensure that they have a message of hope for the future and a positive view of Nigeria’s possibilities. For anyone who wishes to be president in 2023, the first assignment is to inspire positivism out of the usual default of gloom that we hear everywhere. There has to be a way. Many people don’t think hard about issues in this milieu but a leader must find the ability. The government that will lead Nigeria out of the current state of mass depression, will be an innocent government, not one which ascends based on lies, criticisms, propaganda, or even the selling out of Nigeria’s soul to foreign powers of any kind. We don’t have to go far to see why.
The current leaders today are complaining of unfair criticisms, lies and propaganda from opposition when they too rode in based on same broth of negativism. Even Jonathan government came in on the back of propaganda by the likes of El Rufai who hated Yar’Adua and concocted many lies. One needn’t be spiritual to connect current challenges with the means by which people gain power. Any government that will make impact must avoid a curse on its head and steer clear of too much criticism and maligning of what is on ground. Instead, such a leader must project solutions to our problems, outside-the-box ideas to revolutionize the country’s fortunes, camaraderie and rapprochement among the ethnic and religious groupings, a positive, entrepreneurial view of the nation among the youths, an abundant spirit and view about this nation, and of course hope… even when it seems there is none. Please note that I am no longer running, so this is not another spiel from some snake oil salesman.
NIGERIA IS GREAT AND CAN WORK
I also managed to put in the fact that from my point of view, all I see are prospects and opportunities for Nigeria, and indeed, if we ended Nigeria today, we may as well label her tombstone “returned unopened” (well I forgot to tell the audience this but that is my thought). In other words, we haven’t worked the potentials of this nation at all. Give this space to the Germans, Chinese or Americans and woah! So the challenge is how to make this country work and how to maximise her potentials. I believe that Africa does not need smaller countries – like those ones that France kneels on their necks and chokes the life out of them; I’m talking of those ones that cannot have their own currencies or central banks and which have to keep their reserves in France and get caned on their palms if their ‘profligacy’ makes them come back for some of the cake that Big Auntie Francisca is keeping for them because she doesn’t think they could ever be responsible enough to manage their own affairs. In fact, I am thinking about the manifest destiny of this country that we have lampooned, denigrated, raped and robbed so often and so much. Close to the end of the 19th Century, the leaders of the USA spoke at length about the ‘manifest destiny’ of that country. Some presidential candidates adopted that as a slogan. Nigeria’s manifest destiny is clear – to be the leading light in Africa, a country run by black Africans without oppression, a country that sets the standards for others in its class, a country that uplifts the status of the black man and woman anywhere that they may be found. Apparently, we have been faffing about and moving that destiny in reverse. But I believe that at some point, we must make progress.
RESTRUCTURING AND THE CONSTITUTION
I never miss the opportunity to speak about my understanding of restructuring and at this meeting, many big wigs believed that the idea was even dead as we should be talking about something more fundamental – like self-determination for the constituent parts of Nigeria. Some said it was already too late, while others said the focus should be on inserting only one clause in that constitution; referendum. Others rose against this idea, seeing it as an avenue by which some parts of Nigeria hoped to activate the disintegration of the nation. I must say that I also told the meeting that the views of the average 20 or 30 years old Nigeria would not be to disintegrate the country except if the minds of the young had been poisoned by old folks. Yes, many young Nigerians now believe strongly that Nigeria is finished but when interrogated you find out they don’t have the full picture; the nuanced history about how we got here. They only re-echo what they have been told by old folks, many of whom had benefited one way or another as the country hurtled down the slope.
If someone with a more optimistic vision of the country spoke to these youths, and we can extract a bit more equity from governmental structures, they will see that someone is about to con them and make them lose this huge, plain canvass in front of them, upon which they are to create the most beautiful artwork for their own delight and that of their children – Nigeria. My view of restructuring remains that no structure is perfect. The fact that regions who detested regional policing in 1965 now want it by all means, while those who wanted it then now despise it, the fact that those who wanted out of the structure then, now want a united Nigeria today, while those who begged to keep Nigeria together want out today, means that human beings will always change their minds, structures will always expire or become unfit for purpose, and therefore what is needed is dynamism. This dynamism must be codified into our constitution – that that document should be reviewed say every 4 years thoroughly so that it delivers more to the average Nigerian. Therefore, the constitution that embeds the structure too, can never be perfect. All the talk of a new constitution and such, is over-the-top and a recipe for more confusion. It could even be argued that the military that ‘allegedly’ wrote the current constitution are Nigerians like the rest of us. Outlawing everything they did – if that was possible – is a bit preposterous.
I mentioned the fact that our young people don’t know a lot of the history of how we got here. With the benefit of the internet, they are not exactly ignorant, but also, history itself is a very tricky subject that has several versions. Oftentimes, the truth is first murdered and its carcass presented as history. Winston Churchill famously stated that ‘it is the prerogative of the victor, to rewrite history’. Even the angle about the military writing our constitution, let us look closer. Great Britain, our colonizer, does not have a written constitution but they have a common law. A country is a product of its history. Britain has been plundered and ruled by the Romans, the French, the Germans, the Danes, the Huns (Scandinavians) and all sorts. The tranquility we see there today did not appear from the blues. The parliament did not emanate from the blues too. There was a civil war in Britain in 1642, culminating in a coup d’etat in 1649. Many kings have ascended by killing their brothers in many monarchies around the world, but in 1653, England’s most prominent military man, Oliver Cromwell, seized the government and deposed the monarchy. In fact, that act is credited as the very beginning of republicanism – government by the people for the people – all over the world. That is what we are enjoying today as democracy. We are not hearing that the British seek to obliterate some of the acts of their leaders past. There are ways to work around these issues. On the basis of history alone, we have no excuse to split Nigeria.
In fact, many of the admired countries in the world have seen a lot worse than we have – wars, famine, diseases, plagues, misgovernance, impositions, plundering, piracy, oppression and what not. These things are not to be desired, but life is also not a bed of roses. I also do not think 61 years in the life of a country is too long such as to call for its disintegration. Indeed, under 3 years of focused, communicative, inspired government, we can pull this country together. I believe. Someone like the Late Magufuli tried it in recent times and I was shocked to realise that truly, Tanzania experienced transformation in spite of all the controversies. His death remains a mystery though.
AN ENTREPRENEURIAL VIEW
When I left the meeting I kept thinking about why I wasn’t seeing the gloomy picture that many people are painting about Nigeria. Maybe there is something wrong with me. Here I am, a struggling businessman/consultant, getting battered by Nigeria, frozen out of many places by this particular APC government where the playing field has never been so uneven, with my fortunes dwindling daily from what it was, cheated and robbed from a political party that we formed and invested so much in. Even if I wasn’t hopeful of becoming a business success again in my time, I still cannot but see through the eyes of my children and every young, confused, innocent, energetic, networked, passionate Nigerian out there that there is no need splitting this country, or daily selling the idea of how the country is finished. I see that the idea is very popular with those who wish to hang the cause of their shortcomings entirely on Nigeria, but we can see that even abroad there are serious problems. Oftentimes when we end up activating our Plan B and we get abroad, we are shocked by the severity of existence in some of those countries – especially for black people. Many people are suffering in Nigeria, but we still have social capital for example. This means people step up to help one another. Our communal culture helps. Our diversity – no matter that it has been mismanaged – helps a lot. Millions of Nigerians come from communities where their lineage has been marked or ostracised and where they have been foretold never to rise above a limit in their personal quests, but when they prove themselves to someone who knows nothing about ancient tribal issues, they soar. This is one of the advantages of diversity, which will disappear once we reverse to ethnic conclaves. The diversity of ideas with which the country is being run, which stems from the mishmash of cultures, is also something we could harness rather than throw everything overboard.
I realized that I only see Nigeria through the eyes of an entrepreneur. Maybe that is what the Chinese, the Indians, the Europeans, British and Americans, and the Lebanese, who come here see. They know they could do a lot more if there was security, but they hedge their risks and continue maxing out their profits. In fact, they see that one of the best ways of making money is simply by organizing Nigerians into rows and columns, using their systems to generate order, since we are unable to do same ourselves. That is why they say ‘build it, they will come’. An entrepreneur knows that there are risks everywhere, but he wakes up daily, with hope clenched in one fist, and ideas in the other, and he faces the market where competitors are a dime a dozen. The fact that the race is in a cut-throat alley does not matter that much. In fact, he knows that catching the cut-throat thieves – or even encouraging them – itself is a business from which some may make profit. A true entrepreneur never says never. He/she sees opportunities where others see nothing. I want Nigerian youths to be like the Biblical Joshua and Caleb, two spies who came back out of the 12, and said ‘absolutely, the land is full of milk and honey!’ The same land of which 10 others said there was no hope. This is what I am – not about the prospects of making money here per se, but the prospect of making this place a land of great people and positive news; a land whose people will be respected, not scorned, everywhere. An entrepreneur is ready to put together ideas, innovation, solutions, knowledge, information, technology and other factors of production, so as to achieve something new and desirable. He may get glory… or glory may tarry. But he/she perseveres. Nigerian youths must persevere for this patch of earth in which God has planted their heads. Those who go abroad and daily sponsor the disintegration of this country (just a few, not all), are only being myopic and many are projecting their personal failure on a land that is really without fault.
Lastly, and apologies for another religious analogy, it always occurs to me, that in this big argument, I, and a few in my corner, seem to be saying to King Solomon “please do not cut the child in two. She is definitely my child and I would rather see her live than die from being cut in two, to be barbecued by cannibals. I believe that once there is life, there will always be hope”, like that good woman who contended for the baby.