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A letter to Goodluck Jonathan

By Obi Nwakanma
Dear Dr. Jonathan. I greet you in the name of the Republic. I hope we still have a republic to speak of, seeing that over the years, the foundational republican idea on which this nation was negotiated and founded in the various rounds of constitutional conferences leading to independence has been fundamentally eroded.

It has been eroded by the unique attempts to redefine the terms of the being of this nation by the various interests, on the one hand by conservative monarchists who are bound by a blind regard for “tradition” and on the other hand by feeble voiced republicans, who are guided by the enlightened idea that all men are born free and equal. That in a modern republic such as was endowed to us at independence, there are neither kings nor peasants.

Only citizens subject to the laws of the state. There should be no space for “ancient” kingdoms and principalities and no royal highnesses in the republic. It would be like having two captains in the ship of state. There should only be the parliament of the people constituted as the voice of the people with elected citizens speaking for their fellow citizens in a body of peers.

But as you see, Nigeria is a ridiculous nation, and seems driven by two spirits – one of an incommensurate past of dead kingdoms struggling to reclaim their being and the other is of a modern nation, uncertain of its future – and all these make Nigeria a schizophrenic state with schizoid identity. Nigeria’s national schizophrenia manifests clearly in the situation that has thrown you up as “acting President” of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

It threw up a situation, which more than any other period dramatized the fact very forcefully to any keen watcher that Nigeria’s sovereignty is a terrible lie. Nigeria is trapped between the East
and the West – between Mecca and Washington DC; between the dreams of a new Ottoman Empire and the bulwark of the Trilateral Commission.

We the people now increasingly feel like mere numbers, victims of a chess game whose moves we can neither understand at the moment nor control. I feel an urgent need, however, to address you in your new capacity as the chief of state, acting or not. I wish to draw your attention to the possibilities that your current position presents to you to make a most radical contribution to the process of change in Nigeria. You have less than one year to complete the term of this administration which you have inherited.

You must cast your minds back and see the hands of providence. Those who believe in God might in fact say, that God is intent on using you to right the course of this floundering republic, institute the rules of a just order, and wipe the tears of the oppressed. I will keep it secular, Dr. Jonathan, and suggest that you were born of humble circumstances; you have tasted both sides of the Nigerian condition, and you must not forget the millions of Nigerians trapped in the ghettoes, living in some of the worst conditions on earth.

You must not forget your own frustrations as a research scientist working without tools, yet aware of the many trapped geniuses dreaming of using their skills to transform the social and material conditions of our society. You have been thrown into the circumstance of privilege, but the great mark of a man of distinction is the capacity and willingness to use power and privilege for the greatest common good.

To understand that every call to service is a privilege by which we either endow posterity – your children and those who will survive them – with the greatest gift, a memorable name, or the worst, to be associated with villainy. As you know, Nigerians have placed a curse, and many die still cursing certain names of people who have known great power and who have used it to great ill and disservice to Nigeria.

You must choose where you want to be consigned: among the dung of history or on the plinth of immemorial heroes of this republic. I would like to point out, as I end this letter to you, Dr. Jonathan that, you have in my view taken an initial wrong step in the choice of your ministers. It is a ministerial list that recycles the same old, same old crutches and hangers-on, and it seems as though ministerial appointments in Nigeria have more than ever become something of party-favors and not based on any conceptual clarity. Perhaps it speaks to the rather fraught nature of this republic, but Nigeria does not need 36 ministers!

The United States of America for example does not have up to 36 ministers in government. Indeed, the US operates with 15 cabinet secretaries (ministers) and if you add six cabinet-level advisers to the president, a total of 19 cabinet positions that run the government of the United States. We must of course bear in mind that one state in America – the state of Texas alone – is bigger than N
igeria, and that fact ought to instruct us about the folly of our enterprise.

Nigeria needs only eight cabinet ministers and four total cabinet level advisers to the president. You have an urgent task to reform the structure of Nigeria’s state administration for effective delivery of services and a reduction in the massive waste of scarce resources to service the mostly hollow rituals of federal ministries that have become mostly pits of corruption and troughs of patronage.

There seems to be a fog on the purpose, and an incontinence that largely characterizes this nation, and Nigerians feel a sense of powerful drift and purposelessness. Democracy has not earned them the benefits of good, independent and sovereign government, the freedom and prosperity so much hoped for. It’s now your call, Mr. president to make it up to Nigerians. I thank you.


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