BY Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA — EMINENT Nigerians, yesterday, disagreed on the progress so far made by Nigeria in its 100 years of existence to warrant celebration but agreed that corruption and impunity must be ruthlessly tackled for the nation to move forward.
The Speakers, made of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal; Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Matthew Kukah; Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana; Niger Delta activist, Ms Ann-Kio Briggs and Dr. Sule Bello, Director, African Research and Development Agency, bared their minds at the 10th Daily Trust Dialogue, in Abuja.
The dialogue with the theme “Nation-Building: Challenges and Reality,” was chaired by former Botswana President, Mr. Festus Mogae, who described Nigeria as an outstanding nation with huge human and capital potentials that should be well harnessed by the leadership for the well-being of all Nigerians.
While some of the speakers vilified Nigeria for achieving nothing since the amalgamation of the country in 1914, others waxed philosophical and praised the nation for the giant strides so far made and called for more action to take the nation to a greater height.
We’ve made progress but must unite to perfect our unity — Tambuwal
Tambuwal, who delivered the keynote address, said Nigeria should not be seen as a mere geographical expression but as a great country that had withstood major challenges to make history in its 100 years of existence.
Tambuwal noted that Nigeria, like any other nation in the world, had its own challenges, which could best be resolved by the collective effort of Nigerians through dialogue, debates and willingness to accept one another’s viewpoint.
Tambuwal said: “The challenges of nation-building in a place like Nigeria are many and sometimes messy. The diversity of culture and character; the difference in religion and tradition; the clear gap in values and orientation; and the dubious legacy of our colonial history, make the prospect appear daunting.
“Practically, every nation formed by people from diverse backgrounds and inclinations must contend with similar conflicts. It is the ability to constantly see beyond these differences to the bonds that hold us together that is key to our success.
“By next year, we will be celebrating 100 years of being together as one nation. I do believe that it takes deliberate, even determined effort to achieve such a feat. We must credit the ordinary people of this country for their wondrous generosity and love for one another which have made the unity of this country an established truism.
Conflict not necessarily bad thing
“There will always be conflict but that is not necessarily such a bad thing in itself. Indeed, some democrats believe that conflicts are the catalysts in a democracy, often leading to a more perfect union.
“The truth is that the random acts of violence we see everyday which some critics call signs of a failing state are in reality clear indications that we still have work to do. We must look for ways to put more jobs in peoples’ hands and get our kids off the streets. But none of these is a problem peculiar to our country.
Nothing to celebrate — Ann-Kio Briggs
But Niger Delta activist, Ann-Kio Briggs, dismissed Nigeria as a toddler at 100, with nothing to show for all the years, contending that the celebration should be shelved and the money used for more beneficial purposes.
Briggs said corruption and failure of good governance were the main vestiges of the amalgamation between the South and Northern Protectorates by Lord Lugard in 1914.
She said the British government packaged in 1914 and put together one giant nation called Nigeria with over 250 ethnic groups, ignoring the obvious differences in culture, religion and languages of the people they colonized.
She contended that the challenges confronting Nigeria would make it impossible for it to attain greatness because of the unresolved distrust and suspicion among the different nationalities in Nigeria.
She said: “The different people who make up Nigeria generally do not share a common national identity, except for the name Nigeria.
Therefore, nation-building remains difficult, leaving Nigeria to discuss nation building every 10 or 12 years. Nigeria has so far failed to attain nationhood as nation building is about building on that common national identity.”
Briggs who called for the re-introduction of regional government to check claims of marginalization, boundary crisis and injustice, said the mantra that Nigeria must stay as one nation at the expense of a few states for the interest of many other states was unfair and would lead to the crisis that might bring it to the breaking point.
Most African leaders are surrogate —Bello
Director, Africa Research and Development Agency, Dr. Sule Bello, however, attributed Nigeria and Africa’s problems to overdependence on foreign influence, adding that most of the countries were still serving as surrogates and agents of the West.
Bello disagreed with Ms. Briggs that Nigeria had nothing to celebrate after 100 years of its amalgamation, stressing that one of the greatest problems facing the country was not only the problem of impunity but foreign influence which had affected the economy of the country.
According to him, some of the African leaders are mere figure heads whose policies and programmes are designed by the Western powers to better the lot of their economy to the detriment of the African continent.
Revolution’s imminent —Falana
Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, noted with dismay that the level of poverty in the country had provided a fertile ground for recruitment of the economically un-captured to perpetuate wanton ethno-religious violence and warned that a revolution was imminent unless the government addressed the crises.
Falana said: “If the Federal Government does not proceed speedily to address the crisis of insecurity, poverty, unemployment and official corruption in the country, the January 2012 protests may turn out to be a mere rehearsal for the social revolution which President Jonathan has rightly predicted.”
He said the solution to the problem was massive investment of the material resources of the country on development and employment creation, which will lead to the restructuring and diversification of the economy, tackling of corruption and the commitment to development which will be true and central.
The human right activist noted that the problem with the country was not lack of institutions but that the existing institutions had underperformed and had been hijacked, domesticated and used for certain group interests.
“By institutions, it refers to the electoral body, police, media, judiciary and religious and ethnic- based groups. The more these institutions are divorced from ethno-religious interests, the more they champion the quest for nation-building.”
He also said that for the country to make remarkable mark in nation-building, some individuals should not be above the law while others are being subjected to the law, noting that the current system was replete with cases where certain individuals had deliberately disobeyed the law and obtained court injunctions for personal interests.
There’ll be no revolution in Nigeria —Kukah
Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Rev. Matthew Kukah, sounded positive that no revolution would take place in Nigeria despite all the challenges facing the nation and its people.
Kukah, who described himself as a “merchant of hope,” asked Nigerians to come together and proffer solutions to the nation’s woes rather than lose hope and sound pessimistic, insisting that no nation has ever been free of challenges.
The priest also dispelled the notion that all office holders were corrupt, pointing out that many of the leaders were honest and patriotic persons who should be celebrated by Nigerians.
Nigeria must stop impunity — Mogae
Former President of Botswana, Mr. Festus Mogae, who chaired the dialogue, advised Nigerian leaders to always strive to uphold the principle of the Rule of Law and stop the practice of impunity which had tended to retarded the growth of the country.
The former leader suggested that those who break laws in the country should promptly be made to face the music to deter others from acting with impunity.
Mogae said: “Nigeria being the largest black nation on earth with more human and capital resources than other African countries should do something about corruption so as to take its rightful place on the continent.
“Nigeria should play a leading role to promote prosperity in Africa by stemming corruption and impunity by punishing law-breakers, to move the country forward.”
While acknowledging that development had taken place in Nigeria since amalgamation, Mogae advised Nigeria to take steps to make education available to all Nigerian children of school age and tackle unemployment, which he noted was highest in Africa because the continent also had more young population in the world.