February 8, 2023

The Compatriots

By Hakeem Baba-Ahmed

Our children may learn about the heroes of the past. Our task is to make ourselves the architects of the future —Jomo Kenyatta

WHAT do these Nigerians have in common? Obong Victor Atta, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, Prince Tom Iseghohi, Alhaji Murtala Aliyu, Kadriya Ahmed, Mulikat Akande, Prince Niyi Akenzua, Chief Silas Mak Ikpa, Pastor Tunde Bakare, Dr. Kabiru Chafe, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, Rev. Bitrus Dangiwa, Hajiya Inna Chiroma, Dele Farotimi, Professor Rahila Gowan, Dr. Enyantu Ifene, Ambassador Godswill Igali, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Sefiu Adegbenga Kaka, Hajiya Nene Lanval, Professor Pat Utomi, General Zamani Lekwot, Chief Simon Okeke, General Saleh Maina, Nkoyo Toyo, Bello Suleiman and Mrs Nella Andem- Ewa Rabana, SAN. They are known as the Compatriots. They are not a club or a WhatsApp group. They are very serious about Nigeria. They gave themselves the name Compatriots, borrowed from our national anthem, which recognises all Nigerians as compatriots and asks them to “Arise” in the service of the motherland. They dare to believe that it is a country worth serving and saving. They recognise that they can have different faiths and cultures, personal values, and ideas about what is wrong with Nigeria today and the way out of its challenges, yet still work together to influence its trajectory into a nation that will live up to all its potential and greatness.

If you are familiar with regional politics, in which socio-cultural groups have led the charge against each other on every issue from what to do with our cows to how Nigeria can be rebuilt on different, more enduring philosophies, systems, and structures, you are likely to see prominent members of Afenifere, the Arewa Consultative Forum, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Pan Niger Delta Elders Forum, and the Northern Elders Forum on this list. You will also see Nigerians who have been in the trenches literally all their lives, working to create a working country for all its citizens. There are a few who gave their lives for the protection of our rights, freedoms, and security as Nigerians. If you attend their meetings today, you will be surprised to see only Nigerians from all parts of the country just being Nigerian.

The Compatriots are a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. They are the visible part of tens of millions of Nigerians who lament the state of our country and the absence of gatekeepers who should limit our exposure to fear, uncertainty, and comprehensive failure. They are sick of living or being with fractions when the whole can be recreated. They are standing where many others, most of them well-meaning, have given up. They are volunteers who are not afraid of asking questions like: “What is the point?” They understand the point: some Nigerians have to step up and help stop the slide, because Nigerians have retreated so dangerously that everyone is at the point of losing everything a nation can give to its citizens. They ask the questions: “What can we do for Nigeria?” And: “How will the newer generations of Nigerians live if we all walk away from service to the nation, to each other, and to history? Long after the Nigerian elite had finished erecting barriers around their families and comfort zones, their countrymen had done the same.” They see in each other the same characteristic: isolation and guilt over the seeming failure to be able to answer questions about their place in history. They reach out to each other and find that distances are largely fiction, and everyone has the same problems. Then they reach out to younger Nigerians to give hope to replace helplessness; strength to replace weakness, and positive attitudes to replace bitterness and hate.

The Compatriots give themselves these goals, among others:

a) To serve as a symbol of unity and service to all Nigerians;

 b) To serve as a platform for improving the coexistence of all Nigerian communities.

 c) To mobilise the best intellectual and other resources available toward assisting in the improvement of the quality of governance at all levels and in all forms in Nigeria;

 d) To serve as a think tank on specific and general issues and challenges in Nigeria;

 e) To work with, and mentor younger generations, so that they are better prepared to lead the nation with commitment, responsibility, and excellence.

There are other ambitious goals this group of elite has set for themselves. The group has no illusions that it will transform leadership-citizen relations in our country on its own. It recognises the poverty of the nation in its stock of elite who should lead change and critical reforms on a routine basis. It is sensitive to the distances that have grown between the generation that benefited the most from the previous elite, which managed a complex nation with vision and courage; laying the foundations for future generations and making mistakes for which our country as a whole is still paying. These Nigerians who dare to dream of a nation that can be salvaged and redirected are gradually attracting national attention. In many circles, they must appear as a curiosity. Outside political parties, you do not see voluntary organisations that are not virtual, made up of people who come from all parts of Nigeria and speak Nigerian. Even political parties exist to capture power or actualise a few ambitions. Compatriots disagree, but they eventually agree on how to improve the quality of our democratic process; our widespread insecurity and its impact on citizens, the economy, inter-community relations, and the future of our country are all driven by the needs of the citizen.

The Compatriots have enough value and integrity to knock on all doors in Nigeria. It has been pursuing an ambitious programme of engagements recently, with eminent Nigerians and other leaders who have responsibilities to steer our nation away from some of the frightening scenarios that are being painted for it. Last week, it met with four of the five contestants, who are asking us to trust them with the presidency of our country. Prince Adebayo of the SDP and Kola Abiola of the PRP came in person. Senator Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, running mate to Peter Obi of the Labour Party, was there. Former Governor Boni Haruna represented Atiku Abubakar of the PDP. The engagement turned out to be extremely inspiring and productive. Four Nigerians gave us hope that we do have a  great future, and they had enough wisdom and exposure to point out genuine obstacles to that future. They had very clear ideas about the challenges of the elections, which they shared, as well as the vital need for Nigerians to appreciate the historic nature of these elections. We had a glimpse of hope in the four candidates and their representatives, and we were reminded of the daunting challenges that the nation faces. Young people, including students, must vote; communities under the influence of non-state actors must be freed to choose their next leaders; the judiciary, which ultimately pronounces who shall be our leaders in the vast majority of cases, must improve its integrity; issue-based campaigns must drown out violence and insults; and the elections must strengthen, not weaken, the democratic process.

The best legacy the compatriots will leave will be to inspire other elite to step up for the country; to assist alienated, young Nigerians in effectively integrating into the construction of a great nation; and to mobilize more Nigerians to become gatekeepers for our country, one large home with many different rooms. So far, the compatriots are on the right track.