By Tabia Princewill
DESPITE being a Christian, some of my fondest childhood memories include attending “Islamiyaah”, Koranic education classes with my neighbours who were from Borno State. I was around eight years old, and although of a different faith, I was excited to discover new ideas. I even knew a bit of Arabic back then, but little did I know that those experiences, those familiarities with the ways of others, would fuel my determination to see a unified society, one where religion and ethnicity no longer constitute either barriers or glass ceilings for achievements or solidarity.
It was a more innocent time, a time where Muslims and Christians fasted and feasted with each other without either churches or mosques warning their people about the aberrant “dangers” of fraternising with “unbelievers”. Today, loyalty to ethno-religious groups has come close to destroying the ability to see a shared humanity beyond surface differences. Kin solidarity exists primarily to replace a lack of social security: if there are no universal and unfailing mechanisms to get employment, health care or an education without appeals to “man know man”, then nepotism and corruption thrive which has been the case in Nigeria with worsening effects.
When a polity refuses to efficiently allocate economic opportunities or political roles based on talent and merit, the consequence is a country like Nigeria, where little works for the benefit of all, where groups feel threatened and compete to hold onto privileges. Only the masses do not realise that when politicians mention ethnicity it is never with the objective of securing development for their poor kinsmen.
In such an environment, it is always so refreshing to find the likes of the Acting President unapologetically telling it like it is. He once said, Nigeria will not develop through fasting and prayer alone.
This made me smile because he is himself a Pastor, but clearly not one to fool Nigerians into abdicating responsibility for the country’s woes. Osinbajo currently represents the best of Nigeria’s potential.
If only 10 or 20 more men and women like himself could find themselves replicated as governors in some of the poorest states in Nigeria, we wouldn’t be talking about Biafra or “marginalisation”.
We would be talking about performance and socio-economic indices. We are so quick in this country to bring everything back to tribe or religion, forgetting to query our leaders on their performance, preferring instead to believe their weak excuses whilst they blame their under-performance on issues which would have no bearing on their success if they were truly creative, hard-working and well-meaning.
There has long been a practice in Nigeria of federal governments withholding states’ allocations when the states are governed by opposition parties. Bola Tinubu’s ability to grow Lagos’ Internally Generated Revenue rather than focus solely on Obasanjo’s reported decision to withhold payments due to Lagos, could have drastically changed the city’s fortunes. Lagos would be different today if Tinubu hadn’t decided to find a way, to literally make a way out of nothing. If Nigeria is in capable hands today, while President Buhari convalesces, history will surely remember that it was Bola Tinubu who chose such a man for the Vice-Presidency rather than the usual “lame duck deputies” the country had grown accustomed to.
This is the kind of thinking that has assured Lagos’ success over the years. Like the Acting President said during a celebration for the state’s 50th anniversary: “A type of thinking that considers all of our diverse talents; a kind of thinking that does not allow parochialism; a kind of thinking that does not allow us to say anywhere belongs to only a set of people. That is when our country would be truly great.” Lagos has done this. It is time for Nigeria, for all its states and communities to embrace this mind-set as well. If men and women-like Osinbajo are allowed to play their part, Nigerians won’t recognise Nigeria.
The Acting President added: “This Lagos is going to be a leader; it will be a leader in expressing the view that the Black man is capable of governing not just himself but in leading the world”. I have often said in this column that Nigeria isn’t only failing Nigerians, it is failing Africans and Black people as a whole. Sadly, too many of our leaders have neither the depth of thought nor the exposure to fully understand what a developed, prosperous Nigeria, one where citizens have the spending power to afford them a voice in world affairs, would mean. Too many of us are so small minded as to focus on a leader’s ethnicity or religion, forgetting that neither puts food on the table for the average Nigerian.
What would we rather, an industrialised nation, with goods and services which fulfil the wants and needs of the majority, or the puerile satisfaction of hearing one’s own language in the corridors of power? I’m so proud to be a Lagosian, I’m proud of the achievements of ordinary people in this state who make a living for themselves out of pure resolve and inventiveness while others prefer to point fingers and make excuses. The best is yet to come. I want to see young Nigerians prove the Acting President right: there is a generation of detribalised Nigerians coming and they are in search of a leader. Those politicians still trying to appeal to old, fruitless ideas will be left behind. The Lagos spirit has arrived and Nigeria is ready to embrace it.
THE Deputy Senate President rightfully advised that the sit-at-home order given by the groups calling for a new Biafra should be optional. He called on agitators to embrace dialogue rather than violence which was also the right thing to do.
However, the conversation surrounding Igbo marginalisation often refuses to acknowledge the failures of prominent South East politicians to bring development to their regions.
The Federal structure in Nigeria doesn’t quite function the way it should, this isn’t news. But given the fact that the South East has historically been governed by the PDP since the return to democracy which is the same party which has also been in power at the Federal level, collaboration to ensure that both the South-South and the South East develop accordingly would have been easy, if not for the greed and selfishness of many who saw governorship, senatorial or presidential slots, as opportunities for personal enrichment.
When the former President, Goodluck Jonathan for instance, admitted at a re-election rally that he hadn’t done much for his home state Bayelsa, who was marginalising Bayelsans then? Let us focus on getting competent people with plans and proposals for development, elected, rather than talking first about where they are from.
Rather than vague pronouncements about “fighting marginalisation of the Igbos at the federal level” (which often translates to fighting for positions and appointments for politicians with no impact or consequences for ordinary people), Ekweremadu should speak in terms of development. The South East is rich in hotels owned by former governors which the average man on the street can scarce afford, but poor in industries which employ its youth. Young people in the South East must not allow themselves to be manipulated.
CHIEF Nnia Nwodo, leader of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said at the Biafra colloquium last week: “Every part of Nigeria can survive as an independent country. The North with its mineral and agricultural potentials can build a strong nation.
“The West with its cocoa, oil, indomitable intellectual knowhow and commerce can build another Britain. The South-South with its oil… can transform before oil ceases to be a major FX earner. The East with industry, outstanding innovation and little oil may still emerge as the African wonder.
But none of these little enclaves will rival the capacity of a united and reconciled Nigeria.” All we need now is for a detribalised Nigerian to put this theory into practice. It is possible if Nigerians demand it.
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.