I am all the more excited to see Nigerians take personal ownership of the Nigerian narrative by declaring with such contagious patriotic confidence: “This is My Nigeria!”
When you say, “This is My Nigeria,” you exude a contagious sense of pride in your national identity. Now, that doesn’t mean you deny the undesirable realities of the status quo. Rather, when you say, “This is My Nigeria,” you see beyond those sad realities. You see beyond the extreme poverty that has earned us the infamous title of the Poverty Capital of the World; you see beyond the institutionalised corruption that has perpetuated widespread poverty, violence and underdevelopment; you see beyond the atrocities of Boko Haram, criminal herdsmen, cattle rustlers, kidnappers and armed bandits across the country; you see beyond the excesses of those in whom public power is vested, from politicians to preachers; you see beyond the corruption and criminality of some bad apples in the carts of such security agencies as the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS); you see beyond the fallen standards of education and the incessant strikes and school closures that turn four-year degrees to extended lessons in endurance and longsuffering; you see beyond hospitals that double as graveyards; you see beyond the highways to the afterlife that are our roads.
In short, when you say, “This is My Nigeria,” you remix Folarin Falana, a.k.a. Falz the Bahd Guy, son of my compatriot, Femi Falana, whose satirical song, “This is Nigeria,” made the headlines for its creative portrayal of the sorry state of our nation. When you say, “This is My Nigeria,” you reject the status quo, pledge to be personally responsible for the change you desire, and commit to working tirelessly towards the emergence of the Nigeria of your dream. This is the tenacity of purpose that true patriots adhere to; the extraordinary commitment that die hard nationalists make towards the emancipation of their nation and people.
Those who will be immersed in the ethos of “This is My Nigeria” must be prepared to live by the same oath and standard, for as Joseph Addison said: “There is no greater sign of a general decay of virtue in a nation, than a want of zeal in its inhabitant for the good of their country.”
What is the Nigeria of your dream? Or have you stopped dreaming about Nigeria? What kind of nation do you want to see Nigeria become? Fifty-eight years from now, when many of us will no longer be here; when the actions and inactions, the deeds and misdeeds, of this generation will be tucked in archives; when our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren gather on the first of October 2076 (if the Lord tarries), what kind of nation will they be living in? What will they say of our generation? What legacy will we have passed on to them?
Ensuring that we bequeath to posterity a nation of which they will be proud is my objective. I am here to take you on a journey from the past through the present to the future. I am here to reconnect you to the dreams of our fathers in the hope that your dream and mine can interlock and become an unstoppable force, jointly engaging the powers that be for the Nigeria of our dream.
Our Past, Present and Future
Fifty-eight years ago, as the British flag, the Union Jack, was lowered, and the “Green-White-Green” Nigerian flag was hoisted, Africa and the world were in awe of the newly born and highly promising Nigerian state. As Britain handed administration over to Nigeria, even the former colonial masters noted:
Now the last elements of British administration have been withdrawn and a great new nation emerges – a nation of 35 million people who have put their faith in the democratic life and whose voice will command respect throughout Africa, the Commonwealth and the world.
Nigeria began to make great infrastructural strides, setting records on the continent and beyond, from opening the first television station, to building the first skyscraper in tropical Africa, courtesy of Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Western Region. Such was Nigeria’s status in the world that barely had she attained independence when she became an authoritative champion of African liberation at the United Nations.
Sometime in 2012, I watched a video detailing the official visit of Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa to the United States of America as this world power sought the friendship of Nigeria. I was moved to tears when I saw the great respect accorded the Nigerian Prime Minister by the United States; I wept when I saw the confidence and poise with which he addressed the US Congress. The astonishing height Nigeria had fallen from dawned on me and I wept uncontrollably.
The tears were not prompted by the realisation that the world’s perception of Nigeria has changed for the worse since 1961; after all, I recognise that our problem is much more than an international image gone sour; I wept, not just because, since then, Nigeria has hardly had any Head of State with the eloquence of Tafawa Balewa; after all, I am aware that Nigeria’s leadership challenge is much more than the absence of oratory; I wept, not just because it reminded me that there was a time when the naira was a celebrated legal tender in the commercial capitals of the world; I wept, not just because “419” is now presumed to be the first three digits of the passport numbers of nearly all Nigerians; I wept, not just because, instead of being celebrated, Nigerians visiting other countries are now tolerated and presumed guilty until proven innocent; yes, my heart was broken by these contrasts, but much more than these, I wept because I saw a great dream lie in ruins.
Like the child of promise neglected, abused and plundered by those who ought to nurture her, Nigeria is in a sorry state compared to the dreams of our fathers; our actions and inactions as a nation have turned the Nigerian dream into a nightmare. Some of the younger listeners may wonder how she got here. It began when the military abrogated the federal system of government with the unification decree on May 24, 1966. In essence, from separate regions with independent governance structures, power became concentrated at the centre. That day, the child of promise was disfigured beyond recognition. Even the reversal of the Unification Decree by the Gowon administration that first ‘balkanised’ the four regions into twelve states did not help much because the command structure of the military had replaced the federating status of the former regions. Consequently, from that time until now, the nation has been saddled with thirty-six states it cannot sustain. In effect, the tail has been wagging the dog of our federal system.
What we have today are not federating units that are self-sufficient and self-supporting as the regions were before 1966; what we now have are lame states hobbling to the centre, the federal government, for their daily bread. The federal government is itself gasping for air due to a strained economy at the mercy of oil. Since 1966, the Nigerian nation has been a shadow of herself, and decade in, decade out, year in, year out, we have worsened her condition with our national misdeeds.
Every time political leaders and their collaborators loot the nation’s resources, the child of promise is being strangled by those who were employed to nurture her. Every time Captains of Industry enrich themselves at the expense of the nation, the child of promise is being enslaved for gain by her benefactors. Every time the Nigerian people refuse to speak up for truth and justice, and prefer rather to look the other way because they are too afraid or are benefiting from the status quo, the child of promise is in danger of bleeding to death.
Now, we have on our hands a nation that is in the intensive care unit of the universe; but rather than allow her to go through the necessary restorative surgery, we have opted to manage her debilitating condition with policy prescriptions that merely address symptoms. In a sense, we have attempted to treat cancer with cough syrup. We are so vested in allocations from oil wealth from the Niger Delta that we cannot consent to the life-saving restructuring surgical procedure that the nation badly needs.
The Parable of Six Greedy Sons
The story is told of a dying man giving instructions to his six sons from his deathbed. He told them he was leaving a very fertile farmland for them and that as they cultivated the land, they would encounter a variety of treasures buried beneath the surface. One day, as the six sons worked on the farmland, the youngest discovered a big black bag hidden beneath the earth. They all rushed to open it and found it was full of gold. They decided that they would share the treasure among themselves and that there was no need to farm any longer since the black bag of gold was enough to make them all stupendously wealthy. In the meantime, they had become hungry and decided to eat before sharing the treasure. So, they asked the youngest son to buy food from a cafeteria within the farm settlement.
The youngest son decided to eat his portion in the restaurant before returning as he was already tired and hungry. While eating, he thought to himself that the black bag of gold ought to be his since he discovered it; he reasoned that he could have the entire bag to himself if he killed his other brothers. So, he bought some poisonous substance along the way and sprinkled it in his brothers’ food. Meanwhile, the older brothers also reasoned among themselves that without their youngest brother, each of them would have a greater share. So, they decided to kill their younger brother once he arrived. They buried his remains and then sat to eat the food he had brought. Few minutes after eating, they settled to distribute the bag of gold among themselves, but they could not agree over an acceptable sharing formula; they argued to the point of fighting amongst themselves. Suddenly, they each began to feel pangs in their bellies and were all soon writhing in pain on the floor. Moments later, they all died.
The Way Forward for Nigeria
Our case has become like that of the six greedy brothers who would rather self-destruct than sit at the negotiation table to map out acceptable terms and conditions for productive co-existence. We run an economic structure that sees five geopolitical zones waiting for their share of oil revenue derived from just one zone. We have failed to build the geo-economic, geo-social, geo-political and geo-strategic substructures for a diverse national economic superstructure.
Our dependence on oil from the Niger Delta, with little or no regard for the wellbeing of that region, almost brought our nation to a standstill at one point. It was no different from the case of five brothers opting to strangle their youngest brother to death. The youngest brother, on his part, was ready to cut off his brothers’ oxygen supply with the poison of militancy. While the goose that lays the golden eggs is humming along to the soundtrack of foul play, the others stagger in a state of economic stupor. Rather than address the fundamental issues that border on the structure of our nation, we attempted to deal with militancy, first with sheer force, and then with the olive branch of the amnesty programme. Expectedly, the serpent has now grown into a dragon and other forms of extreme aggression are raging. Our nation is now under the throes of terrorism. Kidnapping and ransom peddling have graduated in their choice of victims from oil workers and expatriates to school girls.
Unknown to many, the foundation of terrorism in Nigeria has little to do with religion. It is an economic monster dressed in the camouflage of religion. All the attacks on churches, mosques and innocent farmers are an attempt to forcefully seize control of resources. Terrorists and land grabbing criminal herdsmen simply use a misconceived notion of religion as an ideological justification for their atrocities.
We seem to all have forgotten the immortal words of Emma Goldman: “It is organised violence at the top which creates individual violence at the bottom. It is the accumulated indignation against organised wrong, organised crime, organised injustice which drives the political offender to his act.”
The Boko Haram crisis has been fuelled and sustained by economic deprivation worsened by the geopolitical problems of the North East zone. The drying up of Lake Chad has intensified the fight for resources in the region, pushing marginalized groups to armed struggle. These disenchanted groups have simply marshalled the “language of religious struggle” to justify their acts of terror, but the root of the problem is in the structure of our nation.
The Nigerian economy is potentially regional in landscape. The zonal differences in climate, geology, biogeography, population and culture are an opportunity to build a truly diverse economy made up of zonal economic regions with industrial hubs and clusters. At independence, our geo-polity was structured around our economic diversities. The three regions, which later became four with the creation of the Mid-West in 1964, were self-sustaining economic powerhouses. However, as I said earlier, the regional federal structure was destroyed by the military, and after a lot of experimentation, we now have thirty-six Frankenstein states.
Since the military handed over to civilians in 1999, we have continued to run this faulty model. We ran this faulty model when the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was in power for sixteen years. Despite the oil boom and rapid economic growth that we enjoyed during this period, poverty and underdevelopment remained widespread. We concluded that pervasive corruption among our leaders was the problem, so we gave the People’s Democratic Party a letter of dismissal and employed the All Progressives Congress (APC) due to the perceived integrity and forthrightness of then General Muhammadu Buhari. The Buhari administration has attempted to solve the problems through its war against corruption and insecurity, and through job creation through diversification. Despite all its honest efforts, the sufferings have continued, with 87 million Nigerians living in extreme poverty, earning Nigeria the hard-won title of Poverty Capital of the World.
Furthermore, some previous supporters have started to blame the Buhari administration for the lingering woes of the Nigerian people and are drafting yet another letter of dismissal as I speak. Erstwhile political allies have defected to other parties to pursue their political ambitions. In addition, some international analysts are warning of the economic implications of a Buhari victory in the 2019 elections, but few people are talking intelligently and coherently about the fundamentals.
On the one hand, the ruling party is vehemently defending its perceived achievements by pointing to such policies as the diversification agenda. It has failed to realise that you cannot successfully diversify an economy that runs on one overworked engine. The continued reliance of the states on allocations from Abuja, the continued benchmarking of the budget on oil price, the continued suboptimal performance of nearly all the states in internally generated revenue – these are all pointers to the narrowness, and dare I say, foolishness, of our national economic paradigm.
Our national creative subconscious mind is modelled along the frame of our geopolitical structure. We think along the unitary model of our economy, that is why we are a largely monotonous nation with little in terms of innovation compared to what we could do. The subconscious but misleading notion that we will always have oil revenue to fall back on is responsible for our national laziness. It is that mindset that has squandered the economic resources from the oil rich zone of our country; it is that mindset that has locked up the economic potential of the other zones; it is that mindset that has limited the pace at which we have been able to diversify our economy. This is the real reason for the sufferings of Nigerians and the government can only disrupt that mindset by restructuring the nation.
Some argue that the real problem is a failure of leadership and not the structure of the nation. They argue that if the governors of the thirty-six states could rise to the occasion with creative leadership, the current system could work optimally. When we make such arguments, we fail to realise that the system is currently structured to perpetuate bad leadership. A system that rewards unproductivity can never be competitive, and an uncompetitive system can only breed mediocre leadership.
The opposition parties are no better. Some of them are talking restructuring without any intelligent and coherent strategy as to how to restructure. Beyond hollow opportunistic statements here and there, almost no politician has, as yet, brought to the table a political and economic restructuring model that will compel Nigerians to sit at the negotiation table. This is where a pragmatic approach to restructuring Nigeria is required.
I have, in times past, presented dimensions of this pragmatic approach. By this model, the six geopolitical zones will gradually be transformed into six powerful economic regions comprised of thirty-six highly competitive industrial hubs. Instead of relying solely on petroleum, each zone will be empowered to develop its unique economic base along diverse sectors including agriculture, solid minerals, manufacturing, education, creative industries and innovation. This process will be driven by six regional development commissioners who will implement zonal master plans for each geo-economic zone. The entire process will be coordinated at the national level by a Presidential Commission for National Reconciliation, Reintegration and Restructuring the same way Joseph transformed the entire economy of Egypt. In the end, when Nigerians see how the economy works in a zonal arrangement, the citizens will have the opportunity to decide whether or not to transform these geo-economic zones into six geopolitical zones recognized by the constitution. I assure you that the result will be a united Nigeria with six regional federating units, each of them more prosperous than Dubai.
This is just an abridged version of sixteen steps in a ten-year process that I call “Pragmatic Steps Towards Restructuring Nigeria” The essence of this restructured pathway is to resuscitate the dreams of our founding fathers with respect to the Nigeria of our dreams. It is to revive the spirit of the stunted child and transit her from arrested development into the great and prosperous motherland God designed her to be. It is to unite the six geopolitical brothers into a winning and unstoppable economic team. It is to unlock the diverse economic potential of our nation until the dreams of our fathers are realised.
Those dreams were written in creeds contained in our founding documents; they were crafted in speeches made by our founding fathers; they were inserted in the lyrics of our founding national anthem; lyrics that hailed Nigeria as a nation where no one is oppressed; a nation that stands in brotherhood “though tribes and tongues may differ.” These were the dreams of our founding fathers. Today, fifty-eight years after independence, they have become our dreams, the dreams that define our Nigeria, your Nigeria, my Nigeria; they have become the dreams of a New Nigeria.
Out of this nation that has become synonymous with shame, is about to emerge a New Nigeria whose fame will spread abroad because of the name of the Mighty One who created her. I see a New Nigeria where no child will have their growth interrupted or their potential sub-optimised; where no family will go to bed hungry and no parent will bear the indignity of the inability to cater for their household; where every young man and every young woman will find an atmosphere conducive to the discovery, development and deployment of their strengths towards building a great nation, and where no Nigerian will bear the title “unemployed.”
I’m talking about a New Nigeria with first class infrastructure, where worthy cars made in a worthy nation will ply worthy roads; where a man or woman resident in Ibadan can take a train to his or her Victoria Island office in thirty minutes and be back home in time to enjoy an evening picnic in the countryside with his or her family.
I speak of a nation of peace and safety, reconstructed on the altar of reconciliation and integration, where the returned Chibok girls will grow into accomplished women, and their sons and daughters will sit in the same Nigerian History class as the sons and daughters of the former members of Boko Haram who once captured their parents, and both will be taught by a female professor, who, as a final year student of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, had almost lost all hope of completing her education, or of even surviving those dark days that she spent as a captive in Sambisa Forest; a nation where the sons and daughters of farmers in Logo and Guma will come together with the sons and daughters of Fulani herdsmen, to turn Northern Nigeria and the Middle Belt into agro-industrial regions feeding and clothing the continent of Africa; a nation where it doesn’t matter where you come from – no one is an indigene and no one is a settler, everyone is a Nigerian; a well-governed nation with responsible leaders who are responsive to responsible citizens; a great nation that will stir Africa to greatness and restore dignity to the African continent; a New Nigeria generations yet unborn will be proud to call “My Nigeria.”
This new nation is possible, but we must hold ourselves responsible for charting the course to her emergence and taking the first brave steps. That sense of responsibility was what Chief Obafemi Awolowo was referring to when he said:
It is a duty that we owe
To our great dear motherland
To enhance her and to boost her
In the eyes of all the world
Egalitarianism is our national watchword
Equality of good fortune
Must be to each sure reward
Liberty and brotherhood
Are the goods for which we’ll strive
Plus progress, plus plenty
And all the good things of life
Up, up Nigeria And take thy rightful place It is thy birthright and thy destiny
Africa’s leading light to be! May this dream no longer be deferred. God bless you, and God bless the Federal Republic of “My” Nigeria.
Pastor ‘Tunde Bakare
Serving Overseer,The Latter Rain Assembly (End-Time Church); Convener, Save Nigeria Group (SNG).
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