Sunday, August 28, 2016

Is Nigeria a nation in tow?

The above question was what many journalists and distinguished guests who graced the public presentation of my second book, ‘A Nation in Tow: Essays on Governance and Leadership in Nigeria’ asked me last Thursday, August 25, 2016. It was a rainbow coalition of sort as people from all walks of life gathered to celebrate with me on the August occasion of the two in one event which also featured a public lecture that was delivered by a literary icon and eminent scholar, Professor Isaac Olawale Albert from the University of Ibadan. Among the very important personalities who attended the occasion were the chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu who was ably represented by the INEC Director of Voter Education and Publicity, Barrister Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi;  the Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Commission, Dr. Boboye Oyeyemi, MFR,mni represented by   Deputy Corps Commandant, Raymond C. Uduche;  the immediate past Executive Secretary of Tertiary Education Trust Fund, Professor Suleiman Bogoro;  Secretary of Women’s Right Advancement and Protection Alternatives, Hajia Saudatu Mahdi, MFR;  wife of the immediate past Inspector General of Police, Mrs. Agharase Arase;  Member representing Donga/Ussa/Takum/Special Area Taraba State in the House of Representatives,  Hon. Rimamnde Shawulu Kwewum and a Chartered Accountant ,  Mr. Muritala Adegboyega Ajani.

The question as to whether Nigeria is a nation in tow was answered for me by the book reviewer, Dr. Abubakar Umar Kari of the University of Abuja who observed thus: “From the cover, the book captures the imagination: an apt illustration of a badly damaged car hanging from and being driven away by a towing vehicle. The caricature metaphorically, yet perfectly depicts the reality of Nigeria – a nation that has received quite a mauling and which needs to be quickly towed away for prompt attention of mechanics.” Indeed, the book title is a metaphor on Nigeria. The country is challenged in many areas. Little wonder there is a strident and persistent call for the restructuring of the country which is akin to panel-beating of a vehicle that is badly damaged in an accident.

I have put 26 years of my life into writing for our national development. In the over 600 published articles I have to my credit, I have been an advocate of devolution of power from the centre to the federating units. I have severally called for the diversification of Nigerian economy from oil and gas to agriculture, tourism, solid minerals, sports and information, communication technology, among others. Furthermore, I have advocated for improved inter-governmental relations among the tiers of government (federal, state and local) as well as arms of government (executive, legislature and judiciary). These are my own ideas and ideals of restructuring.

As rightly observed by Hon. Kwewum at the book launch,  Nigerians needs to improve their reading culture. Many of the trending issues today had been debated in the past and solutions proposed. For twenty six years, I have been contributing to public policy discourse aimed at betterment of Nigeria. Many a time, I have a feeling of dejavu about Nigeria as the nation keep marking time on the spot and failing to fulfill her great potentials. A reporter asked me at the event if there was a correlation between the title of my book, ‘A Nation in Tow’ and the topic of the public lecture presented by Prof. Isaac Albert which is ‘Elite Fragmentation and our Common Future’. My response was that there is an associational linkage between the two. Indeed, Prof. Albert in his speech gave me a clue as to why many noble ideas recommended by well-meaning Nigerians like me have been largely ignored by successive government at all levels.   

According to the academic juggernaut, “The most dangerous problem besetting the nation, perhaps, is that of elite fragmentation. This is because without elite consolidation none of the problems facing Nigeria now can be constructively solved. A fish that is rotten from the head has no chances of survival. Nigeria is rotten from the head and our common futures are imperiled.”  He observed further that:  “A negative impact of elite fragmentation is that it leads to ‘washing dirty linen’ in the public. It has to do with the elite breaking their own secret codes and when this happens, the ordinary citizen is shocked by the revelations that follow as the politicians trade accusations and counter-accusations. However, it is in this negative impact that democracy finds its relevance. The more the ruling elite fragments, the more information they provide to the public about how they conspire against the society in the name of ruling. This helps to strengthen democratic governance as the society is expected to use this information for engaging their leaders. However, elite fragmentation becomes a threat to democracy when it is monumental in terms of the number of people involved, the complexity of the issues and the refusal of the issues to go away easily.”

In concluding his lecture, Prof. Albert submitted that Nigeria cannot move forward until personal transformation takes place in the ruling elite in the country. To ensure this, he recommended thus:  “The first is for the political class in Nigeria to acknowledge the fact that they and not the people they rule constitute a major burden on the democratisation efforts in Nigeria. They would need to have a change of attitude. Money and positions must not be the attraction for coming to take up public offices but the genuine interest to serve the people. For now, Nigerian politicians demonstrate a poor knowledge of how the ruling elite can be held together. This is obviously a minus for the present system.” Albert suggested that the scrapped Centre for Democratic Studies established by the Ibrahim Babangida administration should be revived and that politicians should be made to spend some weeks there before they are allowed to assume power. He ended on a dispirited note that:  “Even then, no amount of training would heal the demented heart and mind of a politically greedy person. Unfortunately that is what the majority of the Nigerian ruling elite are: a greedy pack of selfish individuals.”

Very insightful thoughts there. I have posited more solutions to Nigeria’s problem in my two books: “Nigeria, My Nigeria: Perspectives from 1990 – 2010” and my latest tome, “A Nation in Tow: Essays on Governance and Leadership in Nigeria”. These are my modest contributions to public policy and national development which I hope our policy makers and researchers will find very useful as we chart the way out of our national quagmire. I’m glad not  to be among the people Frantz Fanon referred to in 1969 when he said that  “The future will have no pity for those men who, possessing the exceptional privilege of being able to speak words of truth to their oppressors, have taken refuge in an attitude of passivity, of mute indifference, and sometimes of cold complicity.”

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult.