By Yinka Odumakin
Thank you for transporting the grand recollections, hopes and outlook that we shared during our days in what we knew as the greatest citadel of learning in Africa. In search for greener pastures, shortly after we left Obafemi Awolowo University, I stumbled on a closely held secret. Our academic curriculum was enormously designed by and after the University of Michigan.
In this riposte to your well thought out and brilliant analysis, I rise to sustain the issues by taking a slightly unusual perspective. Before I do so, I need a few words to take us back to a few occurrences that should augment this exchange.
Many changes have taken place
Over two decades ago from our days as residents of rooms 241 and 242 in the 3rd floor of a Fajuyi Adekunle Hall in Ife, a lot seems to have taken place and yet the memories remain fresh. As an officer of the Student Union, you were entitled to an accommodation in the medical block and as 2nd year student; I was a happy and privileged executive guest of Wole and Gbolade.
The official student term at the time was a “Squatter” but you may not know except I told you. The memory and image of you jamming Fela’s “beast of no nation” and showing off your smooth afro beat dance moves remains indelible.
While some things have remained unchanged, many changes have taken place:
A huge decline in the quality of education as you noted
New and weird kind of student union activism
Massive decay and decline in infrastructures in the entire country
Unlike before, Ghana and South Africa have superior tertiary education for Nigerian students
Disturbing decline in the quality of the fourth estate of government
And then some things have remained the same:
Our supreme and frightening reliance on oil
The Otta farmer remains relevant, a sure sign of how diffident we are
The expectation and hope for a responsible government remains doubtful
As expected corruption and bribery in public and private institutions as a way of life
Voids to be filled
As our homeland wobbles into the next two decades, I cannot help but ask who if any individual or groups have filled or intent to fill the very important voids left by the exit of the following selected titans and idols of mine.
Dr. Tai Solarin
Chief Ajibola James Ige
Fela Anikulapo Kuti
Chief Gani Gawehinmi
Beko Ransome Kuti
Alhaji Lam Adesina
Yinka, I believe that our dreams have to be bigger than each of us in order for us to sustain the force to make them come true. As a people we have come too far but have been very unfortunate not to have leaders who see the Nigerian project as a dream bigger than them.
The Nigeria of President Mohammadu Buhari’s dream has to be bigger than him.
In order to actualise this dream, he has to invite and tolerate dissenting voices no matter how annoying they may seem. It will be a grave mistake not to do so because they provide a fresh stance and help in a strange way to validate assumptions.
I was a regular reader of Dr. Tai Solarin’s weekly prolific writings in the Nigerian Tribune. At a point in time, I found out through other sources that he travelled to Sokoto in company of Bashorun MKO Abiola to visit former President Shehu Shagari. The report did not disclose the purpose of the visit. I felt betrayed that a man who preached against the excesses of the elites could be a double agent. I wrote a harsh but very decisive dispatch of ethical criticism to him demanding explanations and possibly apologies.
Rather than dismiss my views as that of an irrational, dissonant and irresponsible youth, he identified a teachable moment and invited me to a meeting in his house in Ikenne. I took the first available date that he offered and embarked on the arduous trip to Ikenne from Ibadan. I was 22 years old at the time. I had no idea what to expect but against all odds no matter what they may be, his explanation was very important to me.
Arriving at his home on the first available date, he was waiting for his inquisitive eminent visitor. Dr. Solarin updated me on his lifestyle with a quick tour of his house. He told me that Chief Abiola personally came to his house and repeatedly requested that he should accompany him on the trip to commiserate with the former President who lost four of his sons in an accident. He inquired about my academic pursuit and listened with captivated attention. I was overwhelmed with his love, humility and dedication to mankind.
I visited him one more time before “checking out” of the country. The impression he made on me will live with me for the rest of my life. It amazed me how Solarin who fiercely challenged military authorities and languished frequently in jail for forcefully speaking truth to power would be so humble and found it necessary to convince a young man without a strong social or regular media presence.
Buhari’s slow pace
Since President Buhari assumed office, many Nigerians have been frustrated by the slow pace in assembling his cabinet. He recently told a Washington DC audience that at this stage in Obama’s presidency, his cabinet was not nearly complete. The truth is that a few days after Obama became President-elect; he swung into action and started vetting his potential cabinet appointees. One of such people was Hillary Clinton with whom he fought a very long and bitter primary election. She was invited to Chicago and later became his Secretary of State. The same was true of Larry Summers, his treasury secretary and other key cabinet appointees.
When President Buhari started announcing the names of his aides, it was a bit unsettling to notice that they were from the northern part of Nigeria except Femi Adesina. It is a common practice for leaders elected or appointed to surround themselves with people that they feel comfortable with. President George Bush appointed people who were his classmates and political associates of his family at the very early stages of his presidency. They were all members of the Republicans but he made sure they were not all Caucasians from the South. The appointments were very insensitive on the part of President Buhari even as we all know he will be making subsequent ones that should reflect the federal character.
Nigeria, a complicated society
If the earth was flat and mankind was perfect, it should not matter where elected officials and political appointments come from. Nigeria is a complicated society and it does send the wrong significance that the leaders of the three arms of government are all northerners.
I am not and have never been an advocate of turn by turn government. The guarantors of this system of managing Nigeria cannot point to one successful evidence that it does indeed deliver as intended other than to benefit a few who are connected to the appointees. The immediate past coordinating minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala is from Umuahia in Abia State which is about an hour away from my village. There is no known shred of evidence that her coordinating activities were felt in any affirmative way in Abia State.
This arrangement is diffident, disused, counter-productive and prejudiced. In continuing this discourse, I have every objective to offer more insight as to how we can de-emphasise this policy. We copied the American system of government but strangely enough forgot to modify the key implementation piece to align to our unique environment and circumstances.
Until then, “Na only Fulani waka come?’ Please kontinue!