Putting Nigeria First Indeed By Oba-Rotimi Arowolo
The 53rd anniversary of Nigeria’s independence was celebrated recently and as usual the President, Goodluck Jonathan, made a broadcast to Nigerians and in the course of his speech touched on so many issues.
While listening to the President, I had him emphasise the need for Nigerians to put Nigeria first. This proposition or position by the President is laudable but there is the need for an explicit explanation of the true meaning of putting Nigeria first against the backdrop of the unenviable or abysmal performance of our leaders and especially the political leaders at almost every level of governance except for some few exceptions. Someone said recently that Nigeria as a country has been fortunate not to have significant natural disasters but has been unfortunate in having serious leadership disaster.
I cannot agree less going by the current state of our nation and the palpable poverty ravaging over 85 per cent of Nigerians all over the country in the midst of abundant natural, financial and human resources that most developed countries lack. If the country’s resources are properly harnessed and justly distributed, they would have made us a country to be celebrated and possibly envied among the comity of nations contrary to the shabby treatment being given to Nigerians in other parts of the world and surprisingly too, foreigners in our midst treat Nigerians shabbily on our own soil. For example, the British government could not have contemplated slamming a £3,000 bond on Nigerians willing to travel to the United Kingdom if we had got our acts right as a country and as a people.
It is cheery though that the President in the course of his speech made it clear that he is in support of a National Dialogue/Conference to address fundamental issues that have constituted a clog in our wheel of progress. This act of courage by President Jonathan should be saluted though with cautious optimism. It is good that an advisory committee has been inaugurated to develop a framework and define the mode the dialogue will take but it must be stated that if we truly want to put Nigeria first as the President stated, there must NOT be any no-go areas in the course of the actual discussion. If we set any no-go area, I can predict that the exercise would have failed before its take-off. It is time for Nigerians to tell one another the truth and endeavour to agree on how we want to live together as a people with a common destiny possibly and if not how we want to separate and still relate thereafter while learning positive lessons from the examples of Sudan and South-Sudan, the former Czechoslovakia, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, former Yugoslavia, Ethiopia and Eritrea etc.
If what the President meant by putting Nigeria first in his speech is the indivisibility of the country, I am of the opinion that the position is faulty. While I am not against the genuine attempts at keeping Nigeria together, I am of the opinion that putting Nigeria first should mean putting the well-being of Nigerians first. Nigeria is not about the geographical entity or landmass called Nigeria but the people therein. Consequently, putting Nigeria first demands that our political leaders from all parties must demonstrate their genuine commitment to the welfare of the people irrespective of which tribe or ethnic group they belong by putting in place policies and implementing those that will enhance our common good and ensure fair play in the allocation of resources, opportunities and appointments.
It is no longer news that what politicians at the federal, state and local government levels take both legitimately and otherwise from the treasury and our commonwealth is much more than their fair share and this has been a major reason for the frustration of Nigerians which explains the steep rise in unemployment as well as the rise in criminal activities among the youths. The bloated structure of government we operate will make Nigeria pass for the country with the most expensive governance cost in the world. Interestingly, some Nigerians and non-Nigerians have been bold and patriotic enough to tell every government in power since 1979 till date that our major problem as a country is corruption that manifests in outright stealing of public funds, misappropriation, injustice, nepotism among others but it seems our leaders have deliberately turned deaf ears to such comments and in some instances labelled these patriotic voices as subversive elements. The lack of political will to tackle corruption frontally all this while is what has brought Nigeria to her knees now and the nation is almost at the brink of becoming history if drastic actions are not taken to rescue it.
A situation where it is the small thieves in Nigeria that get punished while the big thieves go scot free and sometimes get celebrated in the corridors of power and by their kinsmen is worrisome and must stop. It is time for us as a people and particularly our President and other leaders to do the needful to save this country. Those who are fraudulently benefiting from the system of injustice who are already saying there should be no go-areas must not have their way this time around. Every matter should be discussed with the fear of God and not because of some parochial interests that will make the exercise a charade. For example, how can Lagos State with the highest population in Nigeria have only 20 local government areas while Kano State with a lesser population have 44 local government areas in Nigeria when funds allocation and political appointments are shared on the basis of population. Also, in a country that subscribes to federalism, if some states want to set up State Police, why should other people from other states stand in the way of such a noble act? The obvious thing from the state of security in the nation is that State Police is long overdue.
This new opportunity to engage in a dialogue is God-given to get it right this time, and we must not fail again as we had done previously. If we are not to fail, there must be inclusiveness in participation this time around. The exercise cannot be left to the National Assembly members alone going by the fact that some of them were not duly elected into office but forced their way there and as such can’t be regarded as genuine representatives of their people.
Let me suggest that this time around, discussants should include traditional rulers, politicians not holding any elective or appointive positions in government, market men and women, representatives of professional associations, students’ representatives, Academics, spiritual leaders with integrity, special appointees by the state governments who are not in politics etc. Eventually, the decisions reached after the discussion will have to be subjected to a referendum. Nigerians must truly decide if they want to live together and the terms of staying together in order to reduce the much seen friction with this present unworkable arrangement and constitution. A new constitution must evolve from this dialogue and I pray we will all have the courage to do what is right for our generation and generations yet unborn.
•Dr. Arowolo, a development consultant based in Lagos, wrote in via email@example.com
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