by Orji Uzor Kalu
A co-flyer on a British Airways flight from Heathrow to Washington Dulles Airport once asked me a very intriguing question:” Why is Nigeria still backward in spite of richness in human and material resources?” At first, I was stupefied by the question; not because I did not have a ready answer to it, but for the fact that the question came from a total stranger – a Brazilian – who had no paternal or maternal lineages to Nigeria.
I took time off my very busy schedule recently to do some introspection on Nigeria, and the way forward, in the midst of the numerous challenges facing it. I do this regularly as a patriotic stakeholder in the Nigerian project. I must confess that it is during such quiet moments that I receive revelations, which I have often shared in this column. The focus of the latest meditative process was ‘Nigeria before 2015’. I can never be tired of writing about 2015, because it is a very significant year in the annals of our great country, when Prophets of Doom have seen many evil things in their crystal balls about Nigeria. I have refused to subscribe to the notion that Nigeria will be no more by 2015 (as generally feared) for the simple reason that there are crises all over the country. This is not enough reason for me to surrender to fear and dance to their tunes, like the ignoramuses would do.
For me, Nigeria is too big to be destroyed by mere wishful thinking. It is a nation God has blessed like no other to withstand the pressure of its multi-ethnic diversities. But the question is: why has Nigeria remained generally backward despite the abundance of human and material resources available to it? This is one question that has evoked a feeling of unease and pain in my heart. And so, my mind was set to work. One thing that readily came to the fore was the obvious flaws in our socio-political life – What I have aptly entitled, The things we do wrong.
A co-flyer on a British Airways flight from Heathrow to Washington Dulles Airport once asked me a very intriguing question:” Why is Nigeria still backward in spite of richness in human and material resources?” At first, I was stupefied by the question; not because I did not have a ready answer to it, but for the fact that the question came from a total stranger – a Brazilian – who had no paternal or maternal lineages to Nigeria. When I regained my composure, I attempted to address the issues he raised as intelligibly and sincerely as I could. But the lesson of that incident has not been lost on me till this day. In my private moments, I have tried to pose the same question to myself and proffer an answer.
The problem of our national development lies in our inability to harness our strengths and weaknesses as a people and turn the same into formidable drivers for the attainment of national goals. Rather than do that, we have wasted precious time fanning the embers of hate and retrogression. For 53 years, we have managed to crawl out of infancy into some level of adulthood with little to show for all our effort. The vision of our founding fathers was to build a nation in which everybody would live in peace and harmony, justice and equity would reign, and in which things would be done in accordance with law and constitutionality.
What do we have today? We have a nation in which some things are done arbitrarily and in dissonance with law and order. And the sad news is that so long as we do things wrongly, we will continue to have negative results. No nation on earth can achieve its maximum potentialities without properly defining, in clear the terms, the basis of its existence. This process becomes more compelling in a multi-cultural and pluralistic society such as ours. Nigeria, at present, has over 350 ethnic and linguistic groupings. These groupings are found spread across every nook and cranny of Nigeria, with each fighting for recognition and survival in the midst of competing resources. It is this struggle for survival that creates the tension that we witness each time any issue of national importance crops up.
The amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria Protectorates in 1914 (which centenary we mark next year) was done hastily and without recourse to the backlash that was to follow. How could the colonialists have bonded the two protectorates without incorporating some mechanisms for resolving the disputes that were to arise? The document of the amalgamation did not definitely think about the polarity and agitation for supremacy among the ethnic nationalities that formed the bulwark of the protectorates. In essence, what the amalgamation was mainly targeted at achieving was the integration of both northern and southern regions of Nigeria for administrative convenience. Nothing more, nothing less!
Why the cry for Sovereign National Conference (SNC) if the amalgamation was designed to further the cause of the ethnic groupings? Today, the call for SNC is gaining momentum and creating undue tension and bad-blood among Nigerians. So, for our nation to achieve its God-given goals, it must right the wrongs of the past in the context of the amalgamation. It is not enough to presume we are one united, indivisible nation on paper when in essence we are disunited by greed and lack of patriotism. Why should emphasis still be laid on where one comes from in Nigeria before he or she gets anything done? State of origin and ethnic nationality are still critical issues found daily in our national life, when emphasis should be on Nigeria.
There is no Nigerian living today who does not harbour biases against other ethnic groupings. What we promote daily are primordial sentiments and tribalism exemplified by our ethnic hegemony and call for war when our interests are threatened. Painfully, as 2015 approaches menacingly what is in the front burner is which tribe will rule. While the North is threatening fire and brimstone if power does not return to it in 2015, some Niger Delta buffs have vowed to set Nigeria ablaze should President Jonathan not be re-elected. These things are signs of distress, and irrefutably point to anarchy and chaos.
Any true lover of national peace and development could not mutter such inciting words. I wonder why people say whatever they like and get away with it. In developed nations, those who make such treasonable utterances are locked up, to serve as deterrent to others. There are no signs that the use of such inciting statements would abate any time soon. Instead, feelers we receive point to heady days ahead. Therefore, the process of rebuilding demands we turn a new leaf and become less tempestuous and militant; promoting national cohesion and peaceful coexistence instead.
This brings us to redistribution of national wealth. I listened with rapt attention as President Jonathan engaged the media in a chat on Sunday. It was two hours of intense discourse. The President enumerated the efforts made by his administration to ensure that the national wealth was equitably redistributed. His postulations were quite intellectual. But they lacked pragmatism. The major cause of crises across the country (the President acknowledged that much) has been the absence of social justice and equality. Deviance (or dissension) is a likely product of injustice and inequity. It was revealed in a recent study that 75 per cent of the world’s resources are controlled by just 25 per cent of the population, leaving the majority poor and impoverished. What do you expect in a situation like this? Anarchy! If we want global peace and development we must first and foremost address injustice and corruption. Kidnapping, armed rebellion, robbery, insurgency, terrorism are all products of an unjust and debased society. When you have justice, people will live in peace and harmony. It is the agitation for these elusive rights that engender conflict and hatred.
The current formula for sharing the national cake has become obsolete in the face of emerging global realities. This critical matter should have been addressed by the British colonial administration before they jetted out of the country. They left more problems than they set out to solve.
There is, therefore, an urgent need to evoke a process that will offer a veritable platform to discuss this matter of national importance and come up with useful answers. We cannot continue to delude ourselves when we have all the options available to use and resolves our differences. It is a pity that the various constitutions we had had were not able to resolve these differences. Even the Ike Ekweramadu National Assembly Committee on the Amendment of the Constitution did not do much to tackle this endemic problem.
I find it repulsive that every month our Commissioners for Finance and other stakeholders in the financial sector assemble in Abuja to share proceeds from the Federation account. To me, the exercise is wasteful, unnecessary and primitive. How does the United States from where we copied our presidential system share their federal revenue? I do not think they do it the archaic way we do it here in a technological age as ours. There should be some other ways this can be done without attracting everybody to Abuja. We have a national revenue sharing formula. This can be used to credit each beneficiary’s account. Where there is disparity in the amount to be shared, an emergency meeting of those whose input is strictly needed to get the matter resolved can be convened to trash it out. What I am against is people rushing to Abuja every month – with all the attendant risks – to share revenue.
This brings us to political parties and internal democracy. It is sad that most of the political parties in Nigeria lack internal democracy. This has exposed them to avoidable crises that have threatened their foundation and contributed to the overheating of the polity. The political parties, as we have them today, lack cohesion, proper organisation and capacity to grow beyond their hegemonic level. Most of them are being run like private companies without any laid down principles or ideologies. For this singular reason, they are subject to manipulation and easily prone to crisis. To deal with this unfortunate development, stronger laws should be made to strengthen the political parties and make them ideology-based. Again, the number of political parties operating in Nigeria is too high. What we need are a few parties with vision and mission to amalgamate people with identical beliefs and ideologies to engage in politicking with refined disposition and patriotic zeal to further the cause of our democracy.
It may not be asking for too much to make elective offices a part-time venture, instead of the current full-time arrangement that has eaten deep into the finances of the nation. The emoluments of our elective representatives have been a subject of controversy. The three per cent of the overall recurrent expenditure that goes into the running of the National Assembly is deemed too much, thereby causing outrage among the citizenry. The only solution to this kind of disenchantment is to make elective offices part-time. This will make it possible for only those selflessly disposed to run for elective offices. The current tension in the polity is a product of craze for these offices, because of their attractiveness. It will also reduce, if not exterminate, the use of thugs and other miscreants to prosecute elections.
Only a few people will argue that the number of elected representatives we have at present is commensurate with the load of work they do. As far as I am concerned, the number of elective representatives at both state and national level is over-bloated. What we need is a compact legislature with men and women who are cerebral and patriotic to deliver the goods. We do not need an all-comers legislative assembly peopled by persons that lack the wherewithal to be there. I would not want to sound vulgar; otherwise I would have been tempted to state that most of the people in the various assemblies across the country lack the required qualities for such honourable offices.
As mentioned earlier in this piece, there is a compelling need now to abolish clannishness and ethnocentricity in our national life. Where one comes from should no longer be a criterion for election or residency. Even the constitution as is set up at present does not encourage ethnicity in any form. Rather, it encourages every Nigerian to live anywhere of his choice in Nigeria without let or hindrance. But the question is: Has the constitution been respected in this connection? The answer is capital “NO”. Is it not worrisome that a state governor could wake up from his sleep and sack those he called ‘non-indigenes’ from the civil service of the state? Ditto for a state governor that woke up recently and deported some people he branded ‘destitute’. What this excessive use of executive power is tantamount to is lawlessness and abuse of the constitution. The constitution never envisaged this kind of primitiveness in the wielding of political powers.
What should preoccupy our minds is how to work together as a people irrespective of our tribal, religious and cultural differences for the good of our nation and its people. Great nations are built out of their diversities and divergences. It will pay our nation better to do away with all the things that divide us and promote mutual co-existence and love among us. This is the only way we can achieve faster the vision for which our nation was founded in the first place.
There is, therefore, the need for national rearmament and civic consciousness to drive our nation on the path of social justice, equality and development, which have eluded us since our nation gained independence 53 years ago.
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