By Muyiwa Adetiba
What really does Atiku want? Funny enough, this question came up—of all places—in a police station where I had gone to ‘honour an invitation.’ During the wait between writing a statement and being released—it can be a long one, sometimes taking up to a full day, because time, your time especially, is of little essence at a police station in Nigeria—different conversations came up to kill time.
One of them was the leading question I started the column with. An officer replied that ‘he wants to rule Nigeria by all means and he will fail’. My contribution was that Atiku had every right to rule Nigeria and his failure was not as certain as the officer was making out. The officer insisted that his file would be dusted and used to nail him.
Again I argued that his file was neither heavier nor dirtier than the files of those angling to become the next president. Besides, he had developed overtime, a vast network across the country and, to his advantage, cannot be described as a tribalised Nigerian.
The arguments went ‘to and fro’ which is probably what Atiku himself wants at this point in time. Besides stating the facts as I saw them, my aim was to kill time by playing the devil’s advocate and wherever possible, learn. I personally don’t think Atiku or any of his ilk, is what Nigeria needs in 2019.
The challenges of modern statehood should be left for younger, more intellectually endowed men and women. In other words, the digital world needs digital leaders; not analogue leaders with baggage to boot. We have all seen and applauded, the freshness, articulation and vigour that Acting President Osinbajo has brought to leadership in recent times.
This conversation might not have been worth mentioning but for the fact that Atiku himself became a news item the following day. At a lecture organised by the Faculty of Law of Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife, Atiku Abubakar had nothing but strong words for the country’s mode of governance which he described as ‘Unitary Federalism’ which would not serve the country or any of her sections well.
While speaking on the topic: ‘Constitutional and political framework for reconstructing Nigeria for true federalism and national integration,’ Atiku opined that the country’s current federal system needed to be restructured in order to give the citizens of Nigeria a better life while leaving a worthy legacy for the generations yet unborn.
He listed over dependence and addiction to oil revenue, excessive centralisation and concentration of powers and resources, intense political competition and instability as some of the factors responsible for the country’s problems.
On the issue of viability of the states, he had this to say: ‘there is no doubt that many of our states are not viable, and were not viable from the start once you take away the Federal Government allocation from Abuja. We have to find creative ways to make them viable in a changed federal system. Collaboration among states in a region or zone will help.’
Now, only Atiku can know what exactly Atiku wants in 2019 and beyond; but I think he got the diagnosis of Nigeria’s problem spot on. And it was, coming from a Northerner, also courageous. The over concentration of power in the centre has led to ‘a winner takes all’ type of governance which in turn has bred, ‘do or die’ politicians.
The addiction to oil money and allocation rather than generation of wealth has led to a proliferation of states which in turn has bred greed, sloth and a dysfunctional economy. How do you describe a situation where a zone contributes zero to the commonwealth and yet gets 15-20% in allotment?
How do you describe a situation where a zone scoffs at the hospitality business but profits from its proceed through the VAT collected from other zones? How do you get creative and industrious when money is given to you on a platter? Why do you need to work when you can become a billionaire through government patronage or by simply holding a political position?
The system we operate today is lopsided and exclusive. This is why the cry for separatism or even secession is getting louder. It does not make sense to stay in a union that seems determined to give you a raw deal.
It is time to begin to look into the legacy of the elder statesman who turned 80 last week in terms of what could have been for Nigeria if he had been a different kind of leader. This is because Chief Olusegun Obasanjo is probably one of the most influential Nigerians dead or alive.
Not only did he have the rare opportunity to govern Nigeria twice, he also influenced the election of at least two other presidents. To his credit, his first outing witnessed some achievements. The Nigeria Airways had a large fleet, the National Shipping Line had a large fleet, NEPA had its last major investment in many years and so did our refineries.
But more importantly, we were respected, not only in Africa where he spearheaded the anti- apartheid struggle but round the world. His second coming was not that impressive but he successfully negotiated our debts with the Paris Club and left a robust reserve. He is regarded by many as a passionate, extremely hardworking and completely detribalised leader.
On the flip side, he is seen as vengeful, petty, egoistic and abrasive. There is no denying however, that he took his job as a leader seriously. There is also no denying that he is an intelligent man who clearly developed himself. Which is why it is surprising that the diagnosis of his Vice President on Nigeria escaped him.
With his knowledge of Nigeria, he should actually have written the gospel of true federalism and decentralisation that Atiku is now pushing. But instead of decentralising Abuja, he made it stronger. Instead of strengthening our institutions, he made them weaker.
The state of the legislature and the judiciary would have been different if he had not interfered as President. The state of PDP, his erstwhile party might have been healthier today if he had not kept interfering with its running as President. More importantly, Nigeria had the unique opportunity of a clean slate in 1999 to tow the path of true federalism but we missed the turning early.
I wonder what Nigeria would have been today if we had had a man with a different vision and a different personality. Would a man like Dr Alex Ekwueme who envisioned the six zones have given us true federalism? We would never know. But what we do know is that sooner or later, we would have to reduce the federal presence in the regions and let each zone or region earn its keep, develop at its pace and compete against the others.
Then we would explode into the world rather than implode into ourselves.