November 14, 2009

Masters of the universe


I JUST finished reading The Law, The Lawyers & The Lawless’, a fascinating book by Dele Ogun, a solicitor based in the UK. In one of the chapters, he describes an encounter with the ‘masters of the universe.’ He was on tour of the stately home of George Washington, the founding president of America, with Donald Easum, a former US ambassador to Nigeria during the first reign of Olusegun Obasanjo. This encounter was during the Abacha/Abiola impasse. In a general conversation, the ambassador casually asks Ogun what he thought of the on-going tensions in Nigeria, and if he could proffer a hypothetical solution. Of course, having lived most of his life in the UK, Ogun wasn’t on top of issues back home, save for the usual pathetic commentaries that most Nigerians in the Diaspora are fed with by their visiting kinsmen. Besides, what has that got to do with a solicitor visiting the USA with a view to furthering his career in the UK? Anyway, he allows himself to be engaged in the conversation when Mr Ambassador then casually asked, hypothetically, what Ogun thought would happen if the two main protagonists were no longer around? Well, that would be interesting, Ogun thought. Mr Ambassador goes on to ask if Ogun could think of a leader who would be acceptable to both the north and the southwest and thus calm things down.

While Ogun was still considering the answer, Mr Ambassador quipped in ‘what of Obasanjo?’ ‘What do you think of him?’, Ogun replied, ‘Yes, now that you mentioned it, I can see him being able to hold the fort.’ Their conversation soon moved on to other more practical and useful things to Ogun’s relief. Three years later, Abacha died suddenly; and as the Afenifere were jubilating and re-demanding their kinsman’s mandate, Abiola also died while having tea with the then US ambassador to Nigeria. This same America has predicted that Nigeria is a failed nation and 2015 is the predicted date of demise. There is no doubt that Nigeria was created to serve the purpose of the retreating colonialists who left chaos and confusion in their departure in order to ensure perpetual enslavement and manipulations for their own benefit.

However, we love Nigeria as one, ‘….one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity’. Yes we do not want it to fail; we hope/pray it does not. What we need to urgently do is have a conference and draw up the modalities of practising a true federal system. Each state should be fully autonomous in matters concerning health, education, housing, roads, policing, power generating, transport, in fact in all public administrative matters save for defence, immigration and other diplomatic matters. If all states become fully autonomous, we will experience rapid growth and development of which China would be envious!

Each state should be allowed and indeed encouraged to develop at its own pace and within its own socio-cultural colorations. Thus, a state that wants to offer pure Islamic education, once its parliament has endorsed it, should be allowed to do so. Each state should be able to cultivate whatever resources within its geographical region as it deems fit and all resources within each state should belong to the people of the state. The states have become so complacent and dormant in terms of looking inwards and developing their own resources, both human and material.

A system of taxation should be formulated so that each state pays tax to the Federal Government for our collective national use. This would immediately cause rapid regional development and sustainable growth, and bring an end to the present state of collecting handouts from the centre, immediately depositing 80 per cent of it in foreign banks and then twiddling their thumbs until the next payday! It’s all too easy to go to Abuja to collect; in fact, I am sure there are some governors who think their main mandate is to go and collect state allocations every month and share it as they deem fit!

We would also devise legislation to ensure checks and balances on the state administrations to avoid regional tin gods and we must ensure that state governors are accountable to the people so that we never again have situations whereby governors build lavish and obscene mansions in Abuja and other parts of the world with their state revenues while their people lavish in abject poverty. There would be less reliance on oil, and, of course, a reverse in the environmental degradation of the Niger Delta region. Oil will not last forever but the effects of the massive over exploration of it, coupled with the lack of environmental safeguards resulting in pollution of air, contamination of land and water etc, will be suffered, unfortunately, by generations yet unborn.

The oil wells do have a bottom. Wise and forward thinking nations such as the UAE are already exploring and developing alternatives and have invested its oil resources for the benefit of its entire people. Dubai is in the forefront of tourism, commerce and trade and her economy is booming. What do we have to show for our oil resources? Not a few Nigerians have choice properties in the choicest areas of Dubai! We ought to urgently start to diversify: cocoa, groundnut pyramids of the golden years, textile, manufacturing a la Aba, tourism, agriculture, fishing, football leagues, in fact the possibilities are endless and we have what it takes. Manpower and natural resources are in abundance. Each state would tap into its own resources and determine what and how to do it. We must never undermine the principles of identity and self determination of a people.

A Yoruba man will no longer be the chief policeman in Enugu where he really has no affinity, nobody there knows his family nor is he really concerned and affected by the local sensibilities; it is just another transfer for him. However, there is nothing wrong with a Yoruba man being the police chief in Enugu if, for instance, he grew up there and has genuine affinity and connection with the place. Each state should develop at its own pace; the people will have genuine sense of belonging and identity, a sense that they are stake holders in their state project, because, let’s face it, there is a lack lustre attitude towards the concept of being a Nigerian; the sense of pride and belonging will be rejuvenated once Nigeria is strengthened and Nigeria will be strengthened by working, strong effective components that make up the entity.

States would be able to generate power supply for their own use and possible sell the surplus, they would be free to build refineries and purchase crude oil (if they do not produce in their own state) for refining and use of their own people. There will be thriving trade, healthy competition and collaborations among the states.

We will continue to be our  brothers’ keepers in time of need but not for the heck of it! There would no longer be those aberrations called ‘federal character’ and ‘quota system’, holding public office would be on merit and merit alone and not because you come from Idanre! Students will write examinations set by universities and, if they pass, will be given admission purely based on performance and not just because they are from a particular part of the country. We must stop lowering standards to accommodate some; rather we must work towards high standards for all Nigerians all the time. I will definitely vote in my state to mandate all public office holders to send their children to public schools in Nigeria. I will also vote to ban them from seeking medical treatment abroad because surely my vote will count then.

We would still have federal machinery such as the army, navy, air force, customs and excise, National (sic) Assembly, diplomatic corps, NYSC and, of course, the Supreme Court, among others. “Government should be set up so that no man need be afraid of another” – Montesquieu. All Nigerians will be free to live and work in any part of Nigeria, belong to their chosen religious group without fear and intimidation because economic growth and development will put an end to poverty which, in turn, will put an end to idleness and lack of opportunities which creates tensions and unrests.

We must develop a strong EFCC to ensure public administrative and financial accountability ; SSS to ensure national security; customs and excise to stop Nigeria from being a dumping ground for other countries and to stimulate and sustain fair trade and exports, and the Supreme Court, to safeguard liberties, equity and justice. While celebrating our ‘Nigerianess’, we must acknowledge the fact that we are a country of different and diverse people, with different languages, culture, and way of life lumped together by fate. Therefore, we must urgently devise a practical and effective way of co-existence that would ensure development, equity, peace and unity for the alternative is unthinkable and indeed unimaginable.

Let us pray and hope that 2015 comes and goes without the prediction of the Americans coming true.  Let us also pray that corruption, greed, poverty, lack of patriotism, crime, endless queues for petrol and darkness currently rampaging our land would be replaced by accountability, growth, development, constant power supply, job opportunities, quality education, good healthcare for all, security of lives and property, peace and unity by the year 2015. Because, of course, the masters of the universe are watching and waiting!!One nation, different destinies, and why not!
Aina-Craig is a lawyer based in Abuja