Since yesterday, key actors have been in Sheraton Hotel at the invitation of Professor Ibrahim Gambari’s Savannah Centre debating the theme of national integration, devolution of powers and the calls for restructuring. This is the third in a series of policy monitoring dialogues bringing together various stakeholders on a platform that allows for open and frank discussion on key national issues for the generation of ideas that can help in forging stronger national integration, unity and a vibrant economy. The first addressed the crisis in the economy while the second addressed the security challenges facing the country.
The current dialogue is addressing concerns and claims on the marginalization by different sections of the country and making recommendations for strengthening national cohesion and integration. Questions are being asked on what people mean when they repeatedly ask for the ‘restructuring’ of Nigeria. The hope is that by talking and sharing ideas, Nigerians can put the idea of ‘secession’ to rest and, instead, propose strategies for burying the ghost of the civil war. This morning, the debate would continue at the Sheraton, as former Vice President Atiku Abubakar leads discussions on his favourite topic – restructuring Nigeria.
Bishop Mathew Kukah was the lead speaker on yesterday’s session devoted to the politicization on religion and ethnicity in Nigeria. He started on the note that what might be happening is the opposite – the religionisation and ethnisation of politics. He recalled the earlier debate in the Ahmadu Bello University of the 1980s led by Dr. Bala Usman on the manipulation of religion and stressed that what we have been witnessing is various elite groups seeking their selfish interests at the expense of the people. The core problem, he argued is that the Nigerian State is collapsing and cannot collect taxes from citizens, cannot provide social services, cannot provide security and is paving way for criminal gangs to be the key players. As the State recedes, the vacated spaces are being occupied by criminal gangs and the army that is trying to fight them. The APC and PDP are currently ruling eight States while the criminals and soldiers are fighting it out in the 28 States remaining.
In this context, it is not surprising that virtually all Nigerians today have a preferred alternative to the Nigerian State. They all speak for their preferred political communities, which I suppose would be the Biafra, Oduduwa, Niger Delta, Middle Belt, Islamic State of their dreams. In the process, no one speaks for Nigeria. A lot of the discussion was on the fact that those in Government at any point in time often speak for Nigeria but immediatelythey leave office they no longer speak for the country. To create Nigeria and make it real, more and more voices of ordinary Nigerians who are not in the corridors of power must learn to come out and speak for Nigeria.
Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo argued that the problem is that the Nigerian State neither talks to nor engages with groups of citizens who have issues. She drew attention to the crisis in the Niger Delta where the youth know how to get attention. The only time the State will listen to you is after you take action against it. Militancy then becomes the pathway towards finding an interface with the State, The argument of Professor Ebere Onwudiwe was that there is excessive centralization of power with the federal government relative to the States and within States, the State governors monopolise all powers. Engaging the path of the decentralisation of power is therefore the way forward, he argued.
Addressing the issue of religion, Segun Adeniyi recalls a message that was posted in a church he recently attended. The poster warns – do not leave your phone or purse unattended; some people might think your possessions are the answer to their prayers. He was responding to the argument I had made that although a number of survey results have categorized Nigerians as the most religious people in the world because everybody surveyed had said they were deep believers in Christianity or Islam, what we are seeing are fake facts because the values of the two Abrahamic religions are about peace, honesty, morality and respect for your neighbours, which are the opposite of the values espoused by Nigerians today. Yes we spend a lot of time praying and engaging in religious activities but the behaviour of most Nigerians is far removed from the values of the religions they claim.
Dr. Usman Bugaje argued that Nigeria has a deeper problem that needs to be addressed. We are excessively focused on what we can get from petroleum, which is the asset of the past and not sufficiently thinking about the asset we need to develop for tomorrow, which is knowledge. It is because the elite is not working for a greater tomorrow that they find it difficult to talk about the nation. With a self-centred elite culture, it is not surprising that we have a trust deficit in the country. To get the elite to speak for Nigeria, we have to improve the process of leadership selection. The current political parties, the source from which our leaders are recruited are not fit for purpose so we need to build parties that can provide quality leadership he concluded. The new leadership, according to Professor Gambari must move away from the culture of self-service to the dictum that politics should be played in a manner that produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number of citizens. It is when we engage on this path that we can orient the State towards meeting its obligations to citizens, the construction of legitimacy and the constitution of inclusive governments.
Poetry Slam in Kaduna
I was very pleased to be in Kaduna last week to enjoy Hausa sweets and cakes, a debate on Kannywood, books, paintings, music, culture and poetry at the Kaduna Book and Arts Festival. The great Hausa actress, Rahama Sadau, was there to engage the public on what she does and why as well as the implications for her and for society. The high point was the poetry slam last Friday where so many young persons thrilled us with their control of words, emotions and commitments, sophisticated poetry, deep analysis of the Nigerian condition and above all perspectives on how to reduce violence, hate, patriarchy and marginalisation of the youth and women of Nigeria. There is hope because in spite of our numerous problems, some young Nigerians are speaking and working for a greater Nigeria.