By Tonnie Iredia
A few years back, some international soothsayers predicted that Nigeria would be unable to survive a likely turmoil in 2015. For two simple reasons, everyone suspected that such a fate would be the handiwork of our politicians.
First, they have always been our problem and second the date of the prediction coincided with a general election year. It probably explains the relief everyone had when the defeated incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan accepted the results of the election.
With the coming to power of the All Progressive Congress (APC), many Nigerians naively concluded that the international soothsayers were photocopies of Nigeria’s numerous fake prophets. Unfortunately, since 2015 till date, the level of apprehension in the land as to whether or not Nigeria will survive has been no less high. There is anger everywhere and many are frustrated; as diagnosed by John Cardinal Onaiyekan Catholic Archbishop of Abuja reputed for speaking on a subject without circumlocuting!
Last week in Abuja, the foremost clergy suggested that many Nigerians in different parts of the country are as frustrated as those clamouring for Biafra. He attributed the general anger to how we are governed; the justice system and the equality of everyone before the law. Evidence that this frustration is widespread can be adduced from the call here and there for restructuring which now has the support of other notable Nigerians including former President Babangida.
Of course something will give way in a country where the leaders of tomorrow are educated and rewarded with employment opportunities not on merit and hard work but by prescriptive criteria such as religion, place of origin etc. The position of those in support of restructure is thus valid but some other Nigerians fear that restructure or not, Nigeria has a huge problem that may leave her in perpetual dilemma. This is perhaps a good junction to say that I don’t think restructuring is the panacea. The last time I expressed pessimism like this was in 2103 at the annual conference of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) in Asaba, Delta State.
The Conference which had as its theme “Nigeria beyond Oil: Role of the Editor”, was relevant and apt for the time and also fell in line with the universal role of the media to set the national agenda of a country. Indeed, the Conference underscored the all-important role of the media to serve as the mirror and gatekeeper of society; to point out danger signals in the horizon to avert a woeful end. From the tone of the welcome address entitled, “Diversify or Die” by Femi Adesina -the then President of the Guild, now Special Adviser to the President on information, no one was left in doubt of the grave consequences awaiting the country in the face of dwindling oil revenue. After ample light was shed by several experts on the evils of over-reliance on a single product, the Conference urged Nigeria to wean itself from dependence on oil and gas as a major revenue earner by embarking on deliberate and sustained diversification of its economy. It was suggested that agriculture, tourism and other non-oil sources should be intensively explored, in order to avert the catastrophic consequences of a future without oil.
It was not surprising that the presentations were near perfect because Nigeria usually leads other nations in presenting plans, speeches and even budgets that are always well organized just as she leads too in poor implementation of such lofty plans. This was indeed the cause of my pessimism; that our problem may not have been due to our reliance on oil because if we diversify our economy and earn higher and more sustainable revenues, our stunted growth will not vanish if we mismanage the proceeds as has been done to that of oil. If we garner great resources from diversified sources and a huge chunk of it is misapplied, we shall still have problems like unpaid workers salaries and pension arrears. If we remain unable to develop a good health care delivery system, our elite may continue to go abroad for medical treatment even for headache thereby leaving our hospitals to remain comatose whether or not our economy is diversified. Indeed, what would be the fate of analogue Nigeria when other nations who now live on technology?
To answer this poser I sought to evaluate the impact of the conference on Nigeria by monitoring the main news coming out of the nation that week. Painfully, I found that in spite of the power of the media, ‘Nigeria beyond oil’ did not become the topical issue in the land. Instead, we were inundated by politics and politics. A prominent item was a story of how the then Taraba Governor, Danbaba Suntai was returning home “exceedingly hale and hearty” after treatment for injuries he sustained from a plane crash. Television pictures however showed how the man couldn’t on his own disembark from an aircraft (Pity, he died only some four days ago). Other issues that took prominence in national discourse included a stowaway young chap who took advantage of the lack of perimeter fencing at the Benin airport to gain entry into the tyre of an aircraft which flew him to Lagos. These topical issues which had nothing to do with oil suggested to me that, oil or no oil, Nigeria needs to first solve its basic problems such as national indiscipline and the self-seeking nature of those in government.
This is why I fear that restructuring will be cumbersome and virtually unattainable. To start with, Nigerians may, as usual, not agree on its modalities. If it is a conference of stakeholders to discuss the subject, the composition of the delegates may over heat the polity. If it manages to take-off, the clamour for accommodation and allowances by the delegates may overtake the substance of the conference. The egalitarian principles of true federalism will be the goal but the debate may focus on religion as one part of the federation which belongs to one religious denomination may stall the conference while scrutinizing any provision that may appear to be in favour of the other. So, why is Nigeria-a nation which professes to be a secular state so overpowered by religion?