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Restoring Nigeria will require hard choices

By Obi Nwakanma
LAST week, the famous Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe received an unlikely guest at his home in the Catskills. Nuhu Ribadu, Nigeria’s former anti-corruption cop went to see the sagely fabulist. It might have been a social visit, but one thing led to another, and soon Nuhu Ribadu and Achebe began to talk about the prodigal nation.

By the end of the day, Achebe had uttered his wish: Nigerians should rise towards a revolution. The times demand it. A revolution, in the circumstance of Nigeria, is a good thought; even a great advice. Chinua Achebe is not known for flippancy.

He does not use words carelessly. He must have taken a hard and steady look at things and come to his conclusions. The trouble is that revolutions require revolutionaries. Nigerians have no revolutionaries. She has NGO-radicals; mostly paper tigers. But there is no greater urgency today than to find among Nigerians, as among the inhabitants of Sodom, just one virtuous leader for whom history will spare the impending consequence of our historical mistakes.

It is an impossible task, perhaps because we’ve have been looking for a leader – that is, one archetypal herculean figure – on whom we can rest the crown and who would then embody the will of the nation.

The wrong aspect of that search for this singular individual remarks upon something that we have hardly factored into the causes of the crisis of leadership in Nigeria. Nigeria has absorbed far more of the monarchical and feudal tendencies than the democratic and egalitarian tendencies that humanizes modern societies.

We do not need “a leader.” We need leaders. Highly conscious and capable men and women who can dream, roll up their sleeves, and dig out the muddle in which Nigeria is stymied. However, our language – the question of those who would “rule” rather than about those who can “lead” us – reflect this monarchical tendency. In modern terms, humans ought not be “ruled.”Citizens ought to be “served” by its true leadership.

But we in Nigeria invest so much in the rhetoric of “rulership” that we sometimes forget the particular implication of these terms. Perhaps also, it reflects the exact situation of our lives as long oppressed and mastered people, who have found ourselves mostly under the jackboots of those to whom we delegate the power to govern this nation. For long, Nigerians abandoned their rights of consent. They kept quiet under tyrannies.

They hid their heads, unwilling to fight for their freedom. Only a handful of courageous women often stood up, and when it came to the crunch, they were often left in the lurch, abandoned. In the end, scoundrels became our “rulers.” But developments in Nigeria in recent times seem to suggest that people are increasingly unhappy, and unwilling to be oppressed or “ruled” any more.

There is an increasing destruction, perhaps challenge, to the sources of authority in the nation. The kidnappings; the failure of the institutions of law to rein-in disorder; lawlessness, and insecurity are increasing symptoms or manifestations of dissent; a testimony that the state as it is constituted is rapidly decoupling.

This is merely indeed a reflection of the unhappy truth that more people are tearing up the social contract with Nigeria, because it is increasingly seeming like a dud cheque. There are, of course, the optimists who may say, well, this is an extreme view. It may well be. But if we look a bit around, the answer my friends, may be blowing in the wind.

And this leads me to two recent reports in the Nigerian newspapers, which provide important food for thought as we grapple with the situation in Nigeria. Last week’s Mobolaji Johnson’s interview with the Sun newspapers, and about three weeks ago, the renowned political scientist, Professor B.I.C Ijomah’s address at the Igbo day lectures in Owerri specifically. I will touch slightly on what each man said.

First, the retired Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson, pioneer governor of Lagos, took us on a tour de force of the Aburi conference. This was a landmark interview in two respects, for me. One is that it destroyed the argument that “Ojukwu’s ambition” led to war. Secondly it points to the missed opportunities that Aburi offered for a transition towards a restoration of the republic.

Since January 1966, Nigeria has suspended its republic, and the federalism principle which guarantees the foundations of the federal republic. The central government has so fully appropriated the power and rights of the federating regions that what we have in Nigeria is effectively a feudal centre.

This is not working for Nigeria, and it is obvious that the crisis of the nation stems chiefly from the distortion of our republican status. Indeed, it is a subject which Professor B.I.C Ijomah touched upon in his lecture to the Igbo in Owerri this past September. Any clear observer of Nigerian affairs ought indeed to know that the forces are drawing us closer towards a massive crisis. The current president is too sick to act.

The structures of the state are too weak to remain resilient against the pressures of Nigeria’s multiethnic character. Professor Ijomah specifically noted, and I agree with him, that Nigeria must return to the agreements of 1957 which the nationalist leaders reached and incorporated into the independence and republican constitutions, but which the subsequent military regimes suspended.

Those agreements created the basis upon which Nigerians agreed to live together as a nation. Unless we return to those principles incorporated in our foundational charter, which were suspended in 1966, Nigeria will inevitably head to the rocks.

In its current character, this country does not represent many of us; its current formation is the product of an oligarchic military order set towards conquest and control. But to restore Nigeria will require us to make hard choices.

Indeed, one of the haunting questions, and I think it is urgent, is to rest the ghosts of 1966-70.This country is unlikely to move forward without reconciliation, and without restoring the basis of law and citizenship.


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