By Uduma Kalu, Providence Obuh & Monsur Olowoopejo
LAGOS — Three former Nigerian Heads of State, yesterday, led the way as eminent citizens took critical assessment of the state of the nation and the ills plaguing the country.
Notable among them were Gen Yakubu Gowon, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and the Chairman of the Interim National Government, Chief Ernest Shonekan, who were among the group of eminent Nigerians that looked at the state of affairs in the country, 13 years after the restoration of democracy in Nigeria.
The leaders expressed concern over the corruption in the country, especially in the judiciary and concluded that the problems facing Nigeria today were due to the failure of institutions and systems.
They asked younger Nigerians to build on the labours of the generations of past Nigerian leaders. Specifically, the former military head of state, General Yakubu Gowon urged younger generation of Nigerians not “to break Nigeria.”
Other eminent Nigerians at the 4th AES Annual National Conference 2012, with the theme, “Strong Systems: Necessity for Building a Virile Nation,” included former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mohammed Uwais; Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Fashola; legal luminary, Prof. Itse Sagay; former Ambassador Greg Mbadiwe; President of Academy for Entrepreneurial Studies, Nigeria (AES), Dr. Ausbeth Ajagu and chairman of the AES Excellence Club, Dr. Nike Akande. The event was organised by Dr. Ausbeth Ajagu and was chaired by Gowon at the NIIA, Lagos.
Don’t break Nigeria—Gowon
Gowon, who was decorated as a fellow of the Academy refused to accept the appellation, ‘Father of United Nigeria’, saying that “Nigeria was united before him and that his generation never thought of breaking the country.”
He said he fought to reunite Nigeria in a gentleman’s way. He eulogised his generations and those before him for making their children believe in Nigeria. He told the younger generations never to stop criticising the leaders for the right thing to be done in Nigeria. “Never think of breaking this country. This country is good for all of us,” Gowon said.
What went wrong with Nigeria —Obasanjo
Obasanjo in his reactions to comments earlier made at the conference went down memory lane to explore how the rot crept into the Nigerian polity. “We are concerned for Nigeria. Justice Uwais, I share your concern for the judiciary.”
Saying much comments about Nigeria are in the negative, Obasanjo asked: “Is there hope for Nigeria?”
For him, there are also good things to celebrate in the country. He chided Nigerians for identifying with the wrong things about Nigeria and not what is right. He said Nigeria should identify what is right in the country and condemn the wrong ones.
“Why are we not identifying and saying those things that are right with Nigeria and at the same time condemn those things that are wrong with Nigeria?”, he said, adding; “You don’t see and you don’t hear as much as I hear, mainly bad things and some good ones, because what you hear is what is wrong with Nigeria. But the question I often ask myself is what is right with Nigeria? Is there nothing right with Nigeria?”
Let’s build on institutions, governance —Shonekan
In his remarks, former Interim Head of State, Shonekan, said for Nigeria to become a great country, it must get its political and economic environment right.
“In a population of over 150 million, one out of every six black in the world is a Nigerian, and the fact that when added to oil, agriculture, others, these things put together make us a natural leader in the continent. There is no reason why this country should not be a leader in the continent.
“Ninety per cent of Nigeria’s income still comes from oil and gas. To become a strong economy, the government must diversify the economy so that it can actually be the natural leader in the continent.
“Going forward, I believe the future of Nigeria is bright, if we can all build on the various institutions put in place by government and build on governance. Nigeria wants to be one of the 20 leading countries in 2020. For that to be achieved, each and everyone of us must strive to do our own little bit.”
Democracy is built on strong judiciary —Fashola
However, Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State said democracy is built on strong judiciary and that judiciary does not belong to the government, but is part of the government.
Fashola said: “If we do not have efficient police, well remunerated police, well equipped policemen and have moral right to sanction, then judiciary will find its work very difficult.
“When institutions succeed, great people have succeeded and when institutions fail, it is also men and women that have failed. So whether the men should come first or the institutions, it is proverbial. Institutions are determined by men with character and compassion that can build. We have chosen a form of government that is next to none, there is no alternative to it,” he said.
Fashola noted that the rot in the judiciary was exposed recently with the judgement of the British court that pronounced judgement on the former governor of the Delta State, James Ibori who was pronounced not guilty by the Nigerian judiciary.
“On the same set of facts, our court said there is no case to answer but on the same set of facts, our citizen submitted to an English court. This raised a profound question about the value system in this country.”
On the solution to the challenge facing the Nigerian judiciary, Fashola said that there was need for increased federalism in the administration of justice.
“It will be recalled that before our traditional system gave way for our present system of government, the regions had their courts and appoints their judges.
“If the judicial system ensures that there is enforcement of law and order and the administration of criminal laws, it has a great effect on the efficiency of the police to conduct investigation. Therefore, if we do not have an efficient police that is well motivated to perform it duties diligently which can be sanctioned and if it failed to perform it duties, the judicial arm of government will find it difficult to function effectively.”
Uwais said, “When I was the Chief Judge of this country, I worked with the president to removed quite a number of the judges from office on the recommendation of the Nigerian Judicial Council (NJC). This is because they were found wanting. That was the standard we expect from the NJC. But unfortunately, judges who were corrupt are allowed to go scot free.”
Sagay posited that for the judiciary to function effectively, there was the need to give it more independence. He urged all Nigerians to give the judiciary the deserved respect.