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Steps Buhari, NASS must take to save Nigeria —Anyaoku,

SENIOR citizens and leaders of thoughts from a broad spectrum of the Nigerian society, on Saturday, expressed grave concerns over the future of the country, putting forward a roadmap to rescue Nigeria from the brink of total collapse.

The elder statesmen were unanimous in separate submissions at the 2021 edition of the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation lecture series, with the theme: Whither Nigeria, that the country has sunk deeper into a frightening multifaceted crisis that required expeditious action and solution.

The event, which was held via Zoom with over 500 participants from Europe, United States, Asia and other continents across the globe, commemorated the 112 posthumous birthday of the sage, who was born on March 6, 1909.

Eminent persons who graced the event included a former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, guest speaker and polemicist, Mr Odia Ofeimun. Others are, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi;  former Emir of Kano and ex-governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Sanusi; elder statesman, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; a former Deputy Governor of the CBN and columnist with Tribune newspaper, Dr Obadiah Mailafia, a former Minister of Health, Professor Adenike Grange, Chief Tola Adeniyi; Princess Olabisi Sangodoyin and many others guested at the event aimed charting the way out of the quagmire and the variegated challenges the country has found itself.

In her welcome address, convener of the event and the Executive Director of the Foundation, Dr Olatokunbo Awolowo Dosumu, set the tone for the discussion. She said with the current unsavoury events in the country, it was necessary to act in time situation.

“As many of you may be aware, the 2020 event had to be postponed due to the then emerging global health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic. Little did we know at the time what a seismic effect that situation was going to have on the entire world.

“We certainly had no idea that the relevance of our chosen topic then, ‘Whither Nigeria?’, would assume such incredible intensity one year later, even in the midst of the ravaging pandemic.
“It would not be an overstatement to say that Nigeria today faces an unprecedented threat to its very existence. The security situation throughout the country has brought into bolder relief citizen discontent with perceived governance deficits and with the apparent insufficient concern about their well-being by those in authority.

“Ethno-religious tensions, irritations and rivalries, social justice practised more in the breach, and deep-seated inter-class resentment, all simmering before, now threaten to explode into multi-locational theatres of conflict, in which no-one is in charge and no-one is safe.

“Increasingly, the perception by most Nigerians is that they are on their own. The country is, no doubt, in a serious crisis.

“If, as a Chinese proverb says, ‘A crisis is an opportunity riding a dangerous wind’, then perhaps this time, dangerous as we deem it to be, is the opportunity for a ‘reset’ for Nigeria.

“This is why, in our usual way at the Ọbafẹmi Awolọwọ Foundation and in the tradition of the man in whose memory the institution was founded, we are seeking through this event, not to criticise gratuitously, but to actually provoke a national dialogue that will ultimately arrive at a consensus about the way forward for this country.

“We are convinced that doing nothing or allowing the nation to drift towards a nebulous destination is not an option.

“We, therefore, invited, and are immensely honoured by the acceptance of, today’s line-up of some of the most credible voices in the country today, to, hopefully, encourage those who have the power to do so, to initiate the process towards an all-inclusive national dialogue.
“None of our eminent guests this evening has been known to paper over or sugarcoat the many challenges that we face in Nigeria. We are also sure that they will dissect the Nigerian situation frankly, honestly and with characteristic courage.

“To the end that, whichever direction Nigerians opt to pursue ultimately, it will be one that is not only patently fair and just and, therefore, accepted and respected by all, it will also be one that will be applauded by future generations.

“We are at a crossroads, and ‘demons wait at crossroads attempting to influence our decisions’ (April Smith). Demons of fear, self, greed and political dissimulation, to name but a few. But history will judge our generation most harshly if we fail to seize the moment, grasp the nettle and do the right thing.

“Permit me to end this address with excerpts from the poem, ‘The Present Crisis’, written in 1844 by James Russell Lowell, an American scholar, poet and diplomat: ‘Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, in the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side… Then to side with Truth is noble when we share her wretched crust… Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ‘tis prosperous to be just…Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside… Hast thou chosen, O my people, on whose party thou shalt stand…They were men of present valour, stalwart old iconoclasts…But we make their truth our falsehood, thinking that hath made us free… Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne… Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown, standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own…,’ she told the virtual gathering.

Human lives have become cheap…

Explaining how things have deteriorated in the country, Chief Anyaoku, who was the special guest at the lecture, with Professor Soyinka as chairman, lamented the precarious state of the nation which he said was unsustainable. He observed that not a day passed without reports of worsening security evident in violent criminal acts such as kidnapping and abduction of schoolboys and girls, stating that terrorists are current euphemistically described as bandits.

According to him, human lives in the country have become so cheap now. He said that given his wealth of experience as the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, which comprised more than 50 countries, the types of problems confronting Nigeria could not be solved under the current system of government the country modelled after that of the United States of America.
He suggested the India model of federalism as opposed to American system because of certain peculiarities. India, he said, is a country of diverse population, while Nigeria’s national attribute is much more common with that of the Asian country.

To save the country from catastrophe, Anyaoku called on the Federal Government and the National Assembly to urgently organise an all-inclusive national dialogue where the participants would also use reports of past conferences to fashion a truly people’s constitution for the country.

Advocating oneness of Nigeria, Anyaoku maintained that each of the constituent units was bound to gain because of the size and resources of the country.

Part of his speech read: “I intend in what must be brief remarks by a special guest on the theme of the lecture to make four main points. My first point is that there is no section or ethnic group in Nigeria that does not stand to benefit from belonging to one country of the size and resources of present-day Nigeria. Therefore, it is, and should be in the common interest of all its ethnically and religiously diverse component parts to sustain, nourish and progress our one country.

“My second point is that the current state of affairs in Nigeria is not sustainable if the country is to avoid becoming a failed and broken state. There are undeniable facts about the current situation in Nigeria. In addition to the country’s economic under-performance with its evident consequence of growing poverty among the population, there is worsening insecurity of life and property which is now spreading from the North to all parts of the country.

“Not a single day passes without reports of many people having been killed and kidnapped, including many young students from their schools – the latest incidents include the kidnapping of 617 boys and girls from their schools in Kagara and Jangebe and in the last three days of 60 women and children in Zamfara.

“There are also incessant reports of people being killed in their farms and their homes being destroyed by terrorists now euphemistically described as bandits, and reports of women and young girls being raped.
“Indeed human life in Nigeria has become so cheap that the society is now being progressively inured to regarding loss of human life as being of little consequence.

“And accompanying all this is a growing level of distrust and divisiveness among the different ethnic and religious groups which are undermining the cohesion and threatening the continued existence of one Nigeria.

“The question must therefore be asked: for how long can the leadership of Nigeria continue to ignore these facts which have led many of our prominent citizens, including former Heads of State with impeccable commitment to the unity of Nigeria, to warn of an inevitable national calamity if these challenges are not urgently addressed.

“My third point is to say once again that it has become clear that these national challenges cannot be effectively tackled under our present type of federal system of government.

“After my over 34 years close association with governance in the 54 diverse Commonwealth member-countries, I can say with reasonable confidence that from the experiences of other countries whose national attributes are comparable to Nigeria’s, there is abundant evidence to show that a federal system that is based on more economically and socially viable federating units with a less dominant central government, is what will restore Nigeria to the path to greater political stability and a more assured economic growth.

“I believe that in constitutional governance, the model for Nigeria should be India not the United States of America with its mainly immigrant population where it was relatively easier for its leaders to define the country’s national ethos that underpins its constitutional practice.

“In contrast, India is a country of diverse population whose component parts have lived in their separate areas for centuries, but which has succeeded in sustaining a united country and a thriving democracy.

“Nigeria’s national attributes have much more in common with India’s, and so a Nigeria with a governance structure that is informed by its national attributes, can, I believe, aspire to equal if not surpass the level of democratic political stability and economic development that India has achieved with its own autochthonous federal system of governance.

“My fourth and final point is what to do in order to arrest the current deteriorating situation in our country. Here, I join in calling on the Federal Government and the National Assembly to urgently organise an all inclusive national dialogue.

“The dialogue should take into account the recommendations of previous national conferences, and the many proposals emanating from various major stakeholders, with a view to modifying our present governance structure and producing a consensus constitution that can truthfully be described as the product of “we the people of Nigeria.”

“I would like to conclude my remarks by stressing the view that, with the current challenges confronting the country, it is only a restructured governance system, that is a constitution which in practice can guarantee the treatment of all sections of the population with equity, justice and fairness, that will secure the integrity and political stability of Nigeria, as well as the achievement of its deserved socio-economic development.”

In his remarks, the chairman on the occasion and Nobel Laureate, Professor Soyinka, reiterated the need to restructure the country, stating that whoever felt otherwise was only being deceitful. Soyinka tasked the state governors to seek more authority from the constitution to enable them to deliver and enhance the fortunes of their people. He attributed state governors’ inability to maximally deliver on their mandates to much-centralised mentality embedded in their minds.

“There is a consensus that this country, whether in terms of governance, economic relations, security, educational policy, cultural policies, requires, restructuring. That is a consensus right across the board, whatever the challenges are.

“And in fact, even that word, ‘restructuring’ has been restructured in so many directions, looking for a cogent expression which will mean the same thing to everybody. To me for instance, I prefer decentralisation. Others use the word ‘reconfiguration’.

“And because of that, my position is that anyone who opens his/her mouth or puts pen to paper and says “I don’t know what they mean by restructuring”, I think dialogue is ended with that person. That is willful ignorance.

“We all know that we have now is not working. We can’t continue along the same route and say that we are working. That is a sign of madness.

“Push this federal dialogue as far as it can go even while we undertake the technical aspects of restructuring. It simply has to go on all the time. Governors, particularly, should know that they are charged with the responsibility of their people.

“I have interacted with the constitution and consulted with lawyers and they agree with me that the governors are too timid. There’s too much centralised mentality embedded in their minds and they are afraid to come out of their cocoon.

“Their primary responsibility is not to the centre, but to their people,” Soyinka said. He expressed delight at the efforts of the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation in putting in the front burner, issues confronting the country, with the aim of proffering solutions to them. He also commended the Foundation on the choice of the speaker, Mr Odia Ofeinum, whom he described as a multi-talented person.

“He remains one of those individuals who are very passionate about issues concerning Nigeria,” Soyinka said.

Similarly, the royal father of the day and Sultan of Sokoto lamented the precarious state of the nation, noting that there has been pervasive tension across the land in the last two months.

He said the art of nation-building is always very slow and a painful process but blamed the government’s inaction for the tension. Warning against the grave consequences of war, he went through the memory lane and noted the aftermaths of armed conflicts in Pakistan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Syria and Yemen, “where conflicts disrupted their progress.”

The Sultan said it was time for talks, to avert war, warning that war wasn›t a desirable item on anybody›s wish-list because it brings forth conflicts, deaths and destruction of lives and property. Sa’ad noted that there was need to appeal to all senses that no one has monopoly of violence.

He, therefore, admonished the elite to reflect deeper and learn from the history of other countries, since no problem, according to him, is beyond dialogue. He also urged governments at all levels to act promptly and swiftly on all troubling issues by sending clear signals and walking their talks.

“War is not something you wish for. While I was serving in the army, I saw conflicts and deaths and destruction of lives of people who were comfortable and these had left a vista in those nations.

“We need to appeal to our senses that no one has monopoly of violence. Like Nelson Mandela said ‹great anger and violence can never build a nation.

“As an educated elite, we must reflect deeper and learn from the history of other countries. No problem is beyond dialogue. You must sit around a table to work out peace. Government must send clear signals and walk its talks.

“We must never be afraid of talking to one another on all issues affecting us. May God give us the courage to do the right thing at all times,” he said.

Need to re-invent Nigeria…

He lamented that the country is on the brink again years after the civil war, even as he cautioned that no problem was beyond dialogue, urging the traditional institution to restrain their subjects from taking laws into their own hands. For the guest speaker, poet and polemicist Mr. Ofeimun, the good thing about putting the Fulani ethnic group in the centre of discourse in Nigeria is that it has made it a must for every other ethic group to be centralized so that Nigeria can move forward.

His words: “The form of being Nigerians was being removed by the criminalization of ethnicity in such a way that we could allow anything to happen.

“I am praising the centralisation of the Fulani as an ethnic group because Nigerian ethnic groups need to be so centralised and given the freedom to be themselves.

“We need to free our ethnic nationalities so that Nigeria can be free. Every nationality should have free control of where they live.” Ofeimun added that Nigerians must discuss the country in a straightforward manner, so that a Nigeria where every citizen is protected by the law can be enthroned.

Ofeimun frowned on security vote for state governors saying that it has been appropriately sanitised in favour of future loot-sharing, that by-passes formality.

According to him, the governors have employed tax consultants as a means of beefing up their war-chest for electoral purposes, to make sure that their political money continues to flow in. This, according to him, was borrowed from military adventurers in power. Also, comparing the previous administration with the present, Ofeimun submitted that whereas in President Goodluck Jonathan’s time, it was his party that abandoned their leader in search of ethnic solidarity, in the case of President Muhammadu Buhari, he was the one that abandoned his party in pursuit of his ethnic and personalistic agenda which is narrowing down the system.

On education, the poet regretted that what should have been a campaign for Western education in the way that Chief Obafemi Awolowo and later his followers: Bola Ige, Bisi Onabanjo, Michael Ajasin, among others who spent years building and campaigning for primary and secondary education, what Nigerians got was a campaign for different kind of revolution that says no schools but grazing reserves for castle, no colleges but cattle republics.

A high-profile participant, former Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, queried the current size of government the country runs, demanding for a unicameral legislature.

He said the bloated structure of elective offices being run by the country, is an absolute recipe for irresponsibility. The former governor of CBN, queried the outcomes of national conferences held in the country and what became of their reports, echoing same demand by Chief Anyaoku.

He explained that building a consensus is a process but should be guided. Lamido, therefore, urged that the number of political offices be reduced and unicameral form of legislature be embraced.

He said, “have we thought that the bloated structure of elective offices is the absolute recipe for irresponsibility? 109 senators and 360 rep members. who is responsible? 36 state legislatures?

“I think building a consensus is a process but the process itself has to be guided. We have had many so-called national conferences and reports have been written. What happened after that, nothing. “Why not reduce the number (legislators), make it (legislature), unicameral, improve quality, so they know why they were elected beyond constituency projects.”

Professor in his closing remark as the chairman reiterated the call for a total overhaul of the structure of the country. According to him, “There is a consensus that this country, whether in terms of governance, economic relations, security, educational policy, cultural policies, requires, restructuring. That is a consensus right across the board, whatever the challenges are.

“And in fact, even that word, ‘restructuring’ has been restructured in so many directions, looking for a cogent expression which will mean the same thing to everybody. To me for instance, I prefer decentralisation. Others use the word ‘reconfiguration.’

“And because of that, my position is that anyone who opens his/her mouth or puts pen to paper and says “I don’t know what they mean by restructuring,” I think dialogue is ended with that person. That is willful ignorance.

“We all know that we have now is not working. We can’t continue along the same route and say that we are working. That is a sign of madness.

“Push this federal dialogue as far as it can go even while we undertake the technical aspects of restructuring. It simply has to go on all the time. Governors, particularly, should know that they are charged with the responsibility of their people. I have interacted with the constitution and consulted with lawyers and they agree with me that the governors are too timid. There’s too much centralised mentality embedded in their minds and they are afraid to come out of their cocoon. Their primary responsibility is not to the centre, but to their people.”

The forum, which had over 500 participants from different parts of the world, was moderated by a former Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University, Professor Michael Faborode.

-Tribune

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Posted by on Mar 7 2021. Filed under Latest Politics, Legislature, Muhammadu Buhari (1983-85), Presidency, Senate. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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