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May 27, 2024

Rethinking Nigeria amongst Wakirike kinsmen and Tinubu’s unforced errors, by Owei Lakemfa

Rethinking Nigeria amongst Wakirike kinsmen and Tinubu’s unforced errors, by Owei Lakemfa

IN two days, May 29, it would be a quarter of a century since we began our third journey on the democratic path. Some insist, this is not democracy, but civil rule. It was a bloody process getting back on this path, past three military regimes that brooked no opposition. We lost hundreds of fellow Nigerians whose lives were cut short in our determined fight to kick the military out of power. Today, even the most optimistic of Nigerians would admit, this has been, at best, a bumpy ride.

As I stood this Saturday, May 25, 2024, on the podium of the Thirtieth Annual Convention of the Wakirike (Okrika) USA, in Newark, New Jersey, these were my reflections. My mind raced back to the bloody street battles for democracy and the “renewed hope” for democracy under President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

The USA Chapter of Wakirike, a sub nationality of the Ijaw Nation, had invited me to give the Keynote Address on “Educating The Wakirike Child”. But my mind was racing through the unforced errors of the Tinubu administration in its first year in office and the future of the country.

In his very first hour as the country’s President, Tinubu had announced an end to fuel subsidies. This worsened the living conditions of the people and pushed millions more below the poverty line. If I were the President, I will keep pride aside and revisit the subsidy issue. I will also stop the waterboarding of the Naira that has also greatly devalued life in our import-dependent country.

Also, there was no need to have dissolved the governing boards of federal universities and polytechnics when there were no ready replacements.

I had wondered what was the hurry in Tinubu signing the ill-advised Student Loans Scheme just 12 days into office only to withdraw it and sign a reviewed one which still did not address the fundamental issue: that government should fund education not pilgrimages.

The same hurry in dissolving the school councils, was again, evident in his September 2023 recall of our ambassadors with immediate effect. There were also embarrassing gaffes such as announcing that the United Arab Emirates had lifted a year-long visa ban on Nigerians. Another presidential story refuted was that Maersk, the Danish shipping company, had agreed to invest $600 million in the Nigeria port sector.

There are the somersaults on the estimated N15 trillion the Calabar-Lagos coastal highway, including a change of route twice within months.

Tinubu was a beneficiary of a fearless press. He was also a supporter of the media. Therefore, the spate of journalist abductions by soldiers and other security men under his administration is an assault on his past.

But the basic issues we face are beyond the Tinubu administration. Our country has become a collection of ironical stories by an otherwise progressive people. The reason for government is the welfare and security of the people. On both scores, our governments have scored pathetically low marks. There is general hunger in the land. As for security, the control of the Nigerian state over the means of violence is now hotly disputed by bandits, terrorists and ‘Unknown gunmen’.

Our politics has been reduced to a criminal enterprise. On July 10, 2003, a sitting governor, Dr Chris Ngige of Anambra State, was abducted in Government House and detained by his godfathers. They accused him of not following their dictates contrary to an oath of allegiance he reportedly swore to at the Okija shrine. His well-known abductors, were never prosecuted because, according to the then Obasanjo administration, Ngige never won the elections. Rather, his abductors ‘stole’ the votes. Despite this truth, Ngige was not removed. In a beatification of electoral fraud, a dozen years later, he was appointed Minister of Labour. A second story. President Muhammadu Buhari was the military dictator from 1984 to August, 1985. During his dictatorship, he made laws like Decree 4 of 1984 which criminalised both false and true reports in the media, backed-dated laws that led to the execution of young men, brutalised the populace, imprisoned people like former Governor Adekunle Ajasin who were found innocent by the courts and, generally ruled in an abnormal way. Thirty years later, he was allegedly elected President and continued his unique rule. Perhaps the most kleptocratic ruler in our history is General Sani Abacha. Under the Buhari administration, various countries were returning huge sums looted by Abacha, yet Buhari swore Abacha never stole!

The legislature can be viewed from the lens of the Chief Whip of the Senate, Ali Ndume. On May 15, 2024, he argued on Channels Television that stealing by politicians should not be classified as theft. To him, politicians who do not steal more than N1 billion ($800,000) should have immunity from prosecution!

With the electoral system subverted, the executive and legislative arms compromised, the military and security arms sometimes behaving like rogue institutions, the country is in need of a rebirth.

To make matters worse, the Constitution tells a grievous lie against itself by claiming to be a federal document when in truth, it is a unitary constitution.

As things stand, it is almost impossible for the Nigerian people to remove the government and elect another; it is in fact easier for the government to remove the people, and elect another people.

Yet, Nigeria’s problems are not insurmountable. The basic solution includes the mobilisation, unification and determination of the people to change their circumstances as happened on April 2,2024 in Senegal. We can bring about the needed change, as Malcolm X would say, by any means necessary.

A primary problem in Nigeria is impunity and the basic step necessary, is to ensure and insist that for every crime, there must be punishment. In China, stealing from the state can earn as high a punishment as execution; I do not advocate capital punishment, but long prison terms, including life imprisonment for thieving elites will be appropriate.

We also need constitutional amendments to reflect our pre-independence desire for a federal system. In this wise, the three items that should be on the Exclusive List are currency, foreign policy and defence. All other matters, including the creation and maintenance of local governments, should be on the Concurrent List.

Emphasis must be on the welfare and security of the people, including enabling them to be engaged in self-defence, rather than criminals, in the absence of security forces, having a monopoly of violence.

States must be encouraged to be financially self-reliant. In this wise, food self-sufficiency and agricultural development, should be encouraged, derivation returned to 50 per-cent and, unviable states should be encouraged to merge.