By Eric Teniola
ALLISON AKENE AYIDA (86) is the fifth secretary to the Government of the Federation. He served between 1975 and 1977.On January 27 1987, he gave a convocation lecture at the University of Jos. Some of the issues he raised at the lecture are still relevant in today’s Nigeria. The lecture is hereby reproduced.
“It is a singular honour and a privilege for me to be invited to deliver the convocation lecture this year. I am indeed grateful to you, Mr, Vice-Chancellor, and your colleagues on the Council and Senate for the invitation which I could not refuse, especially as this would involve my first contact with the enterprising spirit of the new University of Jos and a revisit to the serene city of Jos, the holiday capital of Nigeria.
This occasion has brought back memories of my first visit to Jos in 1958. My family was apprehensive that I was travelling to the mysterious and unknown parts of the country in the far North and would not be heard of for seven days. I was a young Assistant Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Finance accompanying the late Mr. Roy (and his wife), Governor-Designate of the proposed Central Bank of Nigeria. My assignment was to persuade them that Nigeria was a beautiful country ready to take off so that Mrs. Fenton would agree to live in the new Nigeria with Mr. Fenton on secondment from the Bank of England. When we arrived in Jos, Mr. and Mrs. Fenton were booked at the Hill Station while Mr. Ayida was to stay at the Catering Rent House because there was no room at the Hill Station. Mr. Fenton was embarrassed. W explained to the Resident, our host, that I was an Administrative Officer; I was found a room with suitable apologies, and not left in the manger. Nigeria and Jos have gone a long way since 1958. When we consider the tribulations of our brothers and sisters in South Africa, we should always remind ourselves that but for the grace of God and the fellowship of the malaria-parasites carriers around, apartheid might still be the order of the day in Nigeria today. I believe we should also give some credit to our political leaders and the foresight of the British colonial administrators for sparing us the humiliation of apartheid.
If I may recall another pertinent experience. As a young officer, I had to cover many schedules of duties, including being appointed in 1958 the Custodian of Enemy Property sequestrated during the Second World War. The Custodian acquired a property in Ikoyi and the Building Lease Agreement with the Nigerian Government dated 22 July 1940, referred to: all that parcel of land situated at Ikoyi, Lagos known as Plot X of the European Residential Area….The purposes for which the land demised may be used: To provide residence for Europeans and their domestic servants. The Lease covenants with the Governor (inter alia),:Not to permit any person other than Europeans or domestic servants of Europeans occupying the said premises or part thereof to reside within the boundaries of the area hereby demised.
In the public service, there were references to European post and European hospitals and churches and so forth. Today, the picture is significantly different. No more racial segregation. We, however, have discrimination by state of origin and by the pattern of distribution of government patronage income and wealth. We shall return to this vexed question later.
The purpose of these introductory remarks is to show that the theme of this lecture can be sustained—the History and Philosophy of an Experiment in African Nation Building; i.e., the welding into a modern nation-state of different peoples with relatively different cultures and traditions, religion and languages.
The idea is to ask from our historians and intellectuals, why do some nations decline and fall while other nations seem to sustain their prosperity? From biblical times in the building of the Tower of Babel and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire and nearer home, African Empires in Songhai, Ghana, Mali and Benin, the lessons of history are there. Every Nigerian student of my generation can tell you off the cuff why the sun finally set on the British Empire and the so-called Commonwealth died. Why then is Nigeria following the path to its decline and imminent fall? Having been associated with some of the landmarks in the recent history of Nigeria, we shall be concerned mainly with the intimate experiences and the lessons of experience. The philosophical element is by way of introspection and reflections on the principal actors and their actions. My apologies in advanced if the lecture is more emotional in tone than I am accustomed to.
Let me make a personal confession. I stand here before this audience as a sad Nigerian. I feel sad because of the sense of doom around and the shadow of doubt hanging over us. There is too much human misery around. The emmiseration of the rural poor and the pulverization of urban dwellers as demonstrated in apparent lack of collective will to survive, has gone too far. It is difficult to imagine how the urban poor survives today. We have to look at the human aspects of the saga in an attempt to get a true historical perspective. What does the future hold for Nigeria? I have come to realize that the economist is not only a ‘preacher’ in the title role of Professor George Stigler in The Economist as a Preacher, but he is, in the African context, “the prophet of doom” while the historian has been truly described as “a prophet in reverse”(Friedrich Von Schlegel). Let us, therefore, learn more from the lessons of history and experience and rely less on experts and economists from the IMF and the World Bank without practical experience or sufficient knowledge of the Nigerian situation.
There has been too much preoccupation with the economic depression, especially the fall in petroleum production and pricing, which to the historian and philosopher, is a blessing in disguise. It is a challenge for us to re-examine the great issues that face us as a nation. If the petro-naira were still flowing, many of us would have thought that the Nigeria nation was endowed with great statesmen and leaders of men at the helm of affairs. Now is the time for us to pause and think of the basic issues at stake in this Great Society of ours.