By Bola Ajibola
ALL elder statesmen and other concerned Nigerians must be thoroughly disheartened and worried by the major headline news in print and on air in the last few months. Honestly, one must be worried stiff by the deluge of hate speeches and calls for the dismemberment coming from sections of the country during the last year or so. There is no need to recall Nigeria’s history here but one must state that Nigeria started well shortly after independence with all the potentials of a great country. Many people of my age bracket had big dreams and worked hard to realize them with the attendant positive effects on early post-independence Nigeria.
The country as one entity has achieved a lot in nearly all fields of human endeavour with excellent performance in Medicine, Law, Engineering, Academics, Business and sports. We were able to rub shoulders and even outshine people from different parts of the world when the playing fields were level and rules applied justly and fairly across board.
Our sons and daughters have won prestigious global awards in virtually all fields while our scientists graced frontline laboratories in every corner of the world. Some of us seem to forget the axiomatic statement that ‘’ united we stand, divided we fall.”
Along the line, Nigerians were selected on merit to serve and even to lead many international bodies where they represented the country very well. Up till now, we still read about countless stories of Nigerians doing extremely well either as academics or students all over the world. Our military men have been highly commended for meritorious professional conduct on peace keeping missions in foreign countries for the United Nations and the African Union.
When I was Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, I attended a dinner where the then British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott engaged me in a discussion on Nigeria. He wondered aloud that all his life, every Nigerian he met have been brilliant people in their chosen fields. “If Nigerians are like that, why then is Nigeria like this?” he exclaimed with a tint of confusion and sympathy on his face.
Why is Nigeria like this? How did we manage to get here? What happened to all the potentialities and possibilities of a blessed country like Nigeria? Why do we always resort to hate speeches and strident agitations for breaking the country up whenever there is crisis?
Answers to these posers do not lie in any curse or predetermination but in our curious will to undo ourselves at will through unbridled corruption and appropriation of our common wealth for personal use. If there is any curse it is the discovery of oil and easy money that flowed into our national coffers initially, before public officials started to help themselves. Easily available money also led us to abandon agriculture and other sources of alternative revenue on the platform of laziness and national indolence. As have been said before, oil boom quickly turned into oil doom.
Selfless public service gradually gave way to outright and widespread theft cum diversion of public money and even brazen banditry in government. Corruption became the order of the day developing from drips to torrential rainfall and into an avalanche in the last few years. Large sums and caches of money in various denominations began to surface in ridiculous places some without anybody claiming them.
Many people in the position of trust and their cohorts eventually stole and robbed the country into recession awaiting depression. Money meant for infrastructural development and planning has been shared by people with access to the national tills while the plight of the common man went from bad to worse. On the United Nations Human Development Index, Nigeria suddenly found itself in the company of countries like Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Congo DR and post war Iraq. It should be noted that all these countries are in one form of war or another.
In Nigeria’s case it was a war of bad governance unleashed on the populace with similar effects in terms of crater ridden roads, health care provision in comatose, educational system starved of funds, widespread unemployment etc. Without any iota of doubt, corruption is the cankerworm and virus that has led us to these dire straits approaching a slippery descent into the abyss.
Corruption is at the centre of all our national problems debarring us from deriving any benefits from our diversity. Diversity if well managed could be a source of harnessing talent from all sections and turning them in tools of development. For example, the United States of America, an amalgam of various tribes and tongues from all over the world and has
managed to get to where it is today with over 300 million and some states as large as southern Nigeria. Recently, the Scottish voted to remain in the United Kingdom in a referendum in spite of the Scottish National Party campaigning for a break away. The Welsh too have continued to benefit from membership of the Union: ditto the Irish of Northern Ireland. They have had continued to confront and overcome their challenges with good planning and unity of purpose.
India as a subcontinent of over 1 billion people with many religious faiths and tribes is the world’s largest democracy with no section calling for dismemberment in spite of its crises. On the contrary, the country has been able to fashion out technological and socio-economic advancement from its diversity. It is therefore clear that the way forward for Nigeria is to confront, fight and kill corruption and not to clamor for secession or breakage. We need to rejuvenate our morality and conduct in and out of public office to serve as good role models for the next generation.
With this level of endemic corruption in the national psyche, breaking up is akin to multiplying avenues of corruption. We need to nurture a new generation of Nigerians through a review of our education curricula to promote good conduct, morality and globally acceptable conduct.
The easy and indolent way is to yearn for breaking up at the slightest opportunity while calling people with opposing views names. We should not encourage greedy and self-centred people who will always prefer to “cut the baby into two” if they cannot possess it. Those against secession are not fools but proactive people who know that a corruption free Nigeria under the unfettered reign of the rule of the law are the antidotes to all these calls for the balkanization of the country, otherwise, the best alternative way forward would be to conduct a national referendum.
Justice Bola Ajibola, SAN, CFR, KBE, is a former Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Federation and a former Judge of the World Court, The Hague Netherlands.