By Tonnie Iredia
Across the globe, many people are stupendously wealthy; using their money as they wish, quite often to the discomfort of others. This probably explains why some rich Nigerians buy golf courses and private jets while others establish airlines and private universities in foreign counties. Their counterparts elsewhere especially those who worked for their money, instead of through extortion of public funds are more engaged in wise spending. Among the latter is Bill Gates, the world’s number one philanthropist who only last Monday led other global health donor partners to reaffirm their commitment to ending the deadly polio disease by pledging an additional $1.2 billion. At the opening of this years’ rotary convention in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, Bill Gates revealed to some 37,500 delegates including this writer that “16 million people are walking today who would otherwise have been paralyzed by polio.” In a welcome address, the African-American Mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed was loudly applauded when he described his city as home for all, extolling the virtues of communal spirit where people help one another.
The speakers were quite articulate, eloquent and persuasive giving some of us so much to think about, more so, as the virtue of communal spirit hitherto belonged to Africa, particularly Nigeria which was reputed for sacrificing much of its human and material resources for the continued existence of its kith and kin in Liberia, Serra Leone and elsewhere. It was against this backdrop that I virtually despaired all through the rest of the convention reviewing the news coming from Nigeria that some citizens had given notices to some other citizens to quit ‘their’ areas. My ache was aggravated by another revelation in the conference that of the 125 countries which had polio in 1985, the deadly disease was now limited to 3 countries only, namely: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Somehow, I became scared of the possibility that very soon, Nigeria may be the only one left there because ours is a country where the only important matter is politics and not the security and welfare of the citizenry as envisaged by section 10 of the nation’s constitution. Thus, every year, the national budget is signed into law only in the second half of the year after the politicians in the legislature are through with horse-trading with the executive on self-preservation
Nothing else matters, not even the survival of the nation with every ethnic category claiming to be aggrieved. Contrary to the argument of the past that the amalgamation of 1914 was done by the British to add buoyant southern resources to that of the north for the survival of both territories, attention is being drawn to another version that in earnest, it was norther resources that were used to develop the south. For this reason, the north is reportedly tired of the constant threat of the igbo to leave the country as if the north would collapse without the south-east. Judging by a recent communique by the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council (OYC), the south-east zone ‘will not accept anything other than a president of Igbo extraction in 2019, saying that it is the only panacea to Biafran agitation raging in the zone. The communique said Ndigbo would no longer play second fiddle in Nigerian politics.’ How about the yorubas? The Oodua Peoples Congress, (OPC) says: “if you sample the opinion of the youths and others in Yoruba land, they are even tired of restructuring. They are more in support of self-determination. They want self-determination on the basis of having their own nation.”
Worrisome situation but we must give kudos to 2 people. First, the Emir of Katsina, Abdulmumini Kabir, who waited for no one to immediately disown the authors of the quit notice from the north. The Emir was quoted by the media to have said as follows “Here in Katsina, I am ready to sacrifice my last drop of blood to ensure peace and protect all Nigerians residing in the state.” The second is Acting President Yemi Osinbajo who has been speaking tough to several interest groups about the survival of Nigeria. Painfully, tough speeches, from the benefit of hindsight, may not be the panacea. Are our law enforcement agencies ready to match them with action? Addressing the media at the end of last week’s federal executive council meeting, Information Minister, Lai Mohammed scared me when he said the government was “on top of the matter” – a police cliché which makes people feel that nothing may be done. Such platitude is unsuitable for these times. It would indeed, be a great disservice if under the watch of this government, killings happen over the same subject in due course. The usual style of governance by condolence whereby those in authority visit bereaved families to offer material compensation would be despicable.
To avoid that, the Acting President must not rely on politicians at all, instead, he should hold on to societal institutions which must be aggressively targeted and monitored. By politicians, I mean those who play politics round the clock and do not know the difference between electioneering and governance. They are many and are behind each of Nigeria’s divisive epochs. Only last week, the leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Chief Ralph Uwazuruike revealed that when he started MASSOB in 1999, it was purely meant to be a peaceful platform through which issues of marginalisation of the Igbo in Nigeria can be brought to the fore and tackled. In his own words, “I handed over Radio Biafra which I created to Nnamdi Kanu in London and hoped it would serve the purpose for which it was created, but was disappointed that politicians hijacked him and it became something else.”
Our burden now is to disallow the political class from manipulating ethnic and religious sentiments to destabilize the polity. Nigeria being a secular state as our constitution provides makes the column for religion in official records superfluous. Accordingly, governments at all levels must let everyone practice his faith without sponsoring any pilgrim to his preferred holy land. Most importantly, we should dispense with the contentious federal character principle by removing from our official records, the term ‘place of origin’ and replace it with ‘place of residence.’