By Hakeem Baba-Ahmed
If the villagers are happy, look for the village head— African proverb.
THESE are very challenging times for our nation. We have been living with challenging times for a long time, but these are particularly tough. These are days that make you look around and ask whether this is one hurdle we may not scale. The ‘we’ here refers to those who still habour genuine preference for the survival of Nigeria as one country, with all its current constituent parts.
My feeling is that these are in the majority, but their numbers are diminishing under the onslaught of politicians and fringe elements who have found a niche in irredentist language for every ill or shortfall they see with the nation.The challenge of surviving breakup is only one threat facing the nation.
Worse threats are surviving as one insecure, poor and deeply-divided nation.Even the most ardent supporter of one nation will place a caveat: the nation must have peace and security, and assure all citizens of justice and economic progress. As things stand, Nigerians face very difficult prospects.
The country must be thoroughly re-engineered if it is to overcome its threats as one country, yet the prospects for this are very dim. In my view, there are fundamental pre-requisites that are needed to give the country some hope for continuing to survive, but survive as a country worth fighting to preserve.
Addressing the fundamentals of our union: Nigerians designed the current structures under which we live, and Nigerians now demand that these structures be revisited and addressed. Our federal system insults the concept and practice of federalism. It causes massive instability to our political system by locating too much power and resources around a centre that has proved distant, wasteful and incompetent.
It provides the perfect cover for incompetence and corruption, while it feeds alienation and frustration among Nigerians looking for accountable and responsive leadership.
It is very unlikely that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari will accept the historic challenge to initiate the processes for restructuring the country. Nor should the nation expect the legislators who form a major part of the beneficiaries of the damaging influence of Abuja in our lives to undertake anything beyond superficial tinkering with the constitution.
The real threat to the prospects of restructuring the nation, however, lie in the absence of elite consensus and the cultivation of an informed public support for it. The current demand for restructuring is basically ill-fated for two reasons. It comes as an expression of demand and threats from Nigerian politicians who find their paths blocked by other politicians.
Politicians who demand restructuring if the presidency slot will not be taken to their doorstep miss the point that the nation needs to be restructured before the 2023 elections, or “their” son will be the biggest obstacle to restructuring. Secondly, the cause for or restructuring is damaged by poor salesmanship. Nigerians need to understand its basics, its benefits and the manner it should be achieved.
You cannot restructure the country to everyone’s satisfaction in one fell swoop. There are competing interests that will frustrate attempts to reform our basic structures. There are too many versions of what it means. Sadly, too many of the champions of restructuring the nation are people with very little respect, opportunists who hold on to it today because it is the only game in town.
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They are mostly tribal champions who feed fat from abusing other tribal champions for a little applause. Never in the history of causes has so much been wasted for lack of credible champions.
If the Nigerians waste precious time abusing each other over something no one has, but everyone needs, restructuring the nation will be an election item.No one vested with the awesome powers which the current arrangements bestow on leaders will lead the charge to whittle his powers.Nigerians need to find credible and respected champions to address the nation’s future.Nothing is more important and more urgent.
Securing the nation: No one outside the Presidential Villa will argue against the reality that this country has never faced more sources and manifestations of insecurity. It is tempting to say that those who will succeed President Buhari will fix the nation’s security. That will be, to be polite, facile thinking. At the rate Nigerians are becoming more exposed to insecurity, what type of leader will deal with it, and how?
The criminal and small arms now have greater influence on how we live than the government. We have lost the war against a ten-year old insurgency by failing to defeat it. We are losing the war against other violent crimes such as banditry, kidnapping, cultism, armed robbery, rustling, piracy, and many other threats to lives and livelihood.
Now we have a police that is half-way in and half-way out following the protests. Nigerians are virtually unprotected, and to wait under worsening circumstances for another two years for another president to fix our security will amount to passing a death sentence to our future as one nation. Who will fight to preserve or protect a nation under the influence of killers and rapists?
If there are people left in this country that the president listens to, they need to exercise that rare privilege and advise him to place security as the nation’s first priority. The nation needs to restructure in part because policing is such a vital issue that requires addressing. It is too important to leave this issue to the whims of the Federal Government, and Nigerians should be weary of do-it-yourself policing which some politicians tout as solutions.
We need to re-invent a fighting military, policing institutions that are effective and accountable, and a leadership that will plug the entry of small arms into every hamlet and criminal dens. If we cannot make substantial inroads into improving national and citizen security, the future of this country will be even more seriously threatened.
Fixing the economy, fighting poverty: It is unlikely that the federal and state governments will find the will or the means of improving the economy. This administration has never been an expert at breaking new grounds in managing the economy or fighting poverty. Between worn-out excuses about a past, the impact of COVID-19, and the absence of quality advice and management, the economy will worsen.
We saw glimpses of poverty and the perceptions of a leadership which does not seem to care during the riots and looting that followed the protests. Poverty levels will rise, as more and more policies which cushion poverty and basic economic activities are released on the public. There is little point in asking this president to improve his responses to the challenges of the economy.
This may be one issue that will have to await new leaders, but it is also the most important reason why Nigerians must elect leaders who bear absolutely no resemblance with our current leaders. If the next leadership does not have a vision, the competence and a programme for re-inventing the nation’s economy and radically reducing poverty levels, the future of a nation where citizens are safe is extremely uncertain.
Different leadership: I wish it were possible to place this item first, but even the best leaders will be severely challenged by massive insecurity, dysfunctional systems, a crumbling economy and rampant poverty in a country with a young population. It is important to say, though, that those who will succeed our current leaders must be as different a breed as we can produce.
No one needs to remind us that we are where we are today basically because of the choices we made in those who should lead us. We still have that power, but this time we must use it better. No one should be elected because he is from a part of a country, because of his ethnic group, his religion or his party.
These factors have been used by politicians to hurt us and destroy the country. We need competent leadership that will work for all of us. We need people with the energy and the hunger to serve. We need Nigerian leaders who will fix Nigeria.