A call for Nation building
By Iyorwuese Hagher
The President is ill and power is decaying in Nigeria. For over one hundred days this year, President Muhammadu Buhari has been absent from Aso Rock to treat an undisclosed illness at an undisclosed health facility in the United Kingdom.
The Grand Commander of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic is confined in a space where the doctors and nurses and other medical personnel command him and even exercise exclusive discretionary authority on those he might see and not see. But he is alive. Thank God.
Like the rest and the strongest of us, presidents also, are subject to illness and to aging and deep emotions that attend sudden disruptions from passionate commitments. Yes even as we miss him deeply we must remember the late President Yar’Adua saying, “I am a normal human being who can fall sick, who can recover and who can die.”
Meanwhile the world is praying for President Buhari’s quick recovery; even as his life-sworn enemies, those with skeletons of corruption to hide, and the pretenders to his succession throne silently wish him dead!
President Buhari needs healing more than anything. This is no time for him to ponder on the files in cabinets at Aso Rock for his eyes only, nor about who will be appointed into boards or require his approval to enjoy their share of the national cake. And even the Acting President of Nigeria should tarry awhile and allow his principal to heal. It must have been his desire to be left alone to deal with his illness that he handed power to Vice-President Yemi Osibanjo as specified by the Nigerian Constitution Section 145.
Meanwhile the Muslims and Christians are praying. The Marabout and spiritualist are praying. The farmers and workers, students, politicians and all Nigerians are praying along with his wife and family. This is all we can do; pray. God alone controls the body’s healing process and indeed life.
DECAY OF POWER
But while the president is ill, power in Nigeria is decaying. It has not decayed because of his illness alone even though the illness also has exacerbated the decay. Power; defined as “that ability to get others to do or prevent them from doing things now or in the future” is fast decaying in Nigeria.
The decay of power among the powerful and the growth of power among the powerless is a global phenomenon and one of the most important trends reshaping the world in the twenty-first century, since 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell. Changes in Information Technology, economy, migration, and ease of travel have impacted greatly on how power is viewed, exercised, contested and negotiated. Democratic rule has opened new ways in which power is challenged, weakened, and neutralized.
The voice of the ordinary people has now assumed a special importance despite the arrogance and hubris of the ruling power elite in Nigeria. The ordinary people everywhere in Nigeria have harnessed the power of social media and given themselves platforms to express their views about those governing them. Information is available to nearly every Nigerian everywhere at all times round the clock. Cell phones, E-mails, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Instagram, WhatsApp, and social networking sites are the chief instruments through which the ordinary people have gained power while that of the dominant elite is decaying.
Democratic power is good. It gets better with usage. We have crossed so many bridges not only through the advent of social media, but also through the Nigerian human capital. We are simply one of the most endowed human resources on earth. While the leaders continue to delude themselves that they can rule with impunity; totalitarian power has been decaying since the return to democracy.
When former President Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to browbeat the legislature and the nation to endorse a third term for him, the Nigerian Senate listened to the mood of the people and refused to comply. The power of the ubiquitous godfather is also slowly eroding. It was the power of the people that brought to an end the farcical drama that pitted the loyalists of ailing President Yar’Adua against an apparently weak Vice- President Goodluck Jonathan as the loyalists foolishly tried to hide the true health status of Yar’Adua from the nation.
The public outcry of the powerless against being deceived and taken for granted, not only promoted an embittered Jonathan to Acting President, but also helped him win the next general election.
Jonathan’s victory at the presidential election in 2011 was largely due to his deft handling of the social media, which was emerging as a powerful political force. He became the first Nigerian president with a facebook page and social media presence. He defeated Buhari his challenger.
This lesson was not lost on the APC as they now mobilized public opinion against the PDP and then incumbent, President Jonathan. They used the same social media that brought him to power to highlight the corruptions of his administration and to topple him in the 2015 general elections. The people’s power through the social media and the electronic card reader demystified incumbents, as recent elections across the nation seem to indicate.
It is not just the social media and card reader that are changing the power equation of the nation. Our country Nigeria has undergone a mentality revolution. It is this revolution that is slowly sapping the power of those who have betrayed the people’s trust and have set themselves above the laws of the land.
Late Yar’Adua initiated many good policies and must be credited for boldly initiating the reforms in the nation’s electoral system where the biggest systemic corruption resides. Nigeria’s mentality revolution has been largely a demographic revolution. Nigerians are among the most educated people in Africa and in the Western World. The interface between these highly educated professionals abroad and the nation’s underprivileged (the precariat) has given rise to an irreversible mentality revolution.
The main force behind the ongoing Nigerian mentality revolution is the Nigerian diaspora. This should not be a surprise. In 2015, the Nigerian diaspora remitted 20.8 billion dollars to the Nigerian economy. In 2016 they remitted 35 billion dollars. This money is sent for school fees, wedding celebrations, medical and funeral expenses and to supplement civil servants, workers and aged parents whose salaries and pensions have not been paid.
They send money for rents, business start-ups and building projects. They receive wages and welfare from their host nation’s with the right hand and give welfare to their Nigerian citizen’s kinsmen and women with the left hand.
Meanwhile the leaders of Nigeria turn up their noses against the people and steal. The Nigerian diaspora is aware that the mass of Nigerians, live in poverty, dress in rags, live in thatched huts and dingy hovels, while the power elite lives in walled, gated and perimeter electrified barbed wire mansions and palaces. They daily watch Nigerian television, read online papers and social media and reflect in shock at the idiocy, predation, and clowning going on in Government Houses and at the National Assembly. They react in horror.
Apart from money, the diaspora community also remits consciousness that has ignited the mentality revolution that is now irreversible and unstoppable. They have exported the readiness and willingness to protest against bad and toxic leadership in Nigeria. The 180 million Nigerians are beginning to realize that they have been too dumb, too docile and have for too long endured a political class that feeds the citizens grass, tempts them with carrots and whiplashes them with poverty, disease, and death.
Events in Nigeria are x-rayed everyday globally and instant feedbacks garnered and fed through social media outfits. It’s a tough time for foreign diplomats. Lying for ones country has never been so difficult. The Ministry of Information and culture and its Ministers are now pitiful oxymoron. The hitherto weak and vulnerable in Nigeria now daily reveal, for the entire World to see, the nakedness of those in power.
Their warts, lesions and fistulas are revolting and horrendous and intolerable. Those in power have lost power because they have lost the most important ingredient of good leadership. They lost the trust of the people they purport to lead.
Governors, ministers and party leaders are exposed as liars, corrupt, foolish, intemperate and insidious. Covert plans by the powerful are exposed in real time and derailed by overt disclosures. There is a gathering throng of collective howls of outrage against a corrupt system that rewards only the politicians while the citizens live like animals. The diaspora is changing the ways Nigerians view their political, military, traditional, and even religious leaders.
The social media has exposed the National Assembly as unserious, self-seeking, lazy and irresponsible kleptomaniacs. Many of our senators are caricatured as having no business being in the red chamber except to cultivate fashionable stomachs, which they labor to carry back and forth as they dodge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC officers in Abuja.
The exposure of colossal grand corruption of the PDP does not excite any more. New realities and information available everywhere is that the entire political class in Nigeria is tainted with corruption. The Nigerian citizen knows better now that there is little to differentiate between the APC and the PDP and conclude that these are inseparable and indistinguishable.
The political alphabets and platforms are merely whitewashed graves under which lie the decomposing skeletons of visceral corruption. Their accusing of each other of corruption is nothing more than grand-standing. They conclude that there are only two parties in Nigeria: the power elite comprising all politicians, bureaucrats, certain traditional rulers, retired Generals and business men on the one hand and on the other hand the poor, downtrodden others; comprising the rural peasants, workers, the poorly educated unemployed and unemployables and the rising millions of educated but unemployed graduates.
These now empowered others, are asking serious questions in need of urgent answers; why should they hail and continue to hail a nation that is failing to live up to its promise as the exemplar of the world’s largest black democracy? They cannot understand; why Nigeria and its political and business class are so rich and the citizens so poor and wretched? They cannot understand why Nigeria has the highest number (over ten million) of young children out of school in the world? And they are frankly sick and tired of being sick and tired, of the political class, for keeping Nigeria so unsafe, poor, unstable, unjust and unequal.
AN AILING PRESIDENCY
President Buhari’s sickness has robbed the powerless of an iconic liberator against their oppressors; those who assumed power not to serve others but to enjoy the feeling and prestige that power gives them to oppress the people and then to steal without any feeling for the many being deprived by grand corruption.
The mass of followers who voted for Buhari believed that the liberator would show Nigerians a better way so that things in Nigeria do not need to be as they always have been-pre-modern and pathetic. The hapless citizens had hoped that Buhari as liberator would restore order, responsibility, honor, integrity, honesty and hard work to governance.
But even before the liberator took ill, the after-glow of the victory was short lived. The APC government started in a discordant manner, with a splinter at the National Assembly and a judiciary that stood accused of corruption. At the very beginning of his presidency, Buhari, seemed thunderstruck by immobility. Critical decisions and appointments were not made on time, but when made and taken, were too little too late, watered down and ineffective. The government apart from its limited success against the Boko Haram is not just incompetent, it is egregiously incompetent. The APC has failed at managing change, conflict and crises to the stage now where it appears; early faith in Buhari was misplaced.
The APC governor of Kaduna state Nasir El Rufai, has kept warning his party of their strategic and tactical incompetence and the ailing president of a capricious management style. All too soon we are in the era of an Acting President and the great endless waiting for Godot, has begun.
Indeed power has decayed and left Aso Rock. It has gone back to the creeks where the acting president is chasing it, hoping to negotiate and subtly eviscerate its destructive propensity. Power has been restored to Boko Haram, which has stubbornly defied extermination and gleefully celebrates its victories at Sallah with parades of captured munitions. Armed robbers, kidnappers, armed Fulani bandits and warlords have seized power. They have sprung up in almost every state challenging the power of the state as they undermine, impede, thwart, and sabotage state effort to provide law and order and protect life and property.
The biggest beneficiary of the decay of power and the poverty of policy and ideas, of the ruling elite is the young British-Nigerian, Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Biafran “resorgimento,” the IPOB. He has harvested the social anger and inchoate rage directed at the ineffectual government that is fragmented, diluted and paralyzed! He is master of strategy of the newly acquired power after all barriers have come down and Igbo power hierarchy stoops to kiss the ring of their new Messiah.
He taunts, attacks, undermines and ignores the government that is in coma. He has become surreal and godlike as followers now even claim to receive healing from his handshakes. Kanu has become a major political centrifuge that is feeding on the social media to excoriate Nigeria’s decaying power.
President Buhari and his government are being cast in the role of villains trying to precipitate a constitutional crisis with deception. Buhari the president, is losing grip as a national icon and being denigrated as a merely Fulani irredentist goading a covert take over of the country by the Caliphate, and instigating the obliteration of Christianity and the Christian education in the school curriculum. Strong Forces are already gathering momentum in opposition.
President Buhari is no ordinary Nigerian President. He is a resilient dogged fighter, a moral absolutist and moral compass, a man of strong personal disciplined character forged in an austere lifestyle and piety. When he toppled the civilian regime of Shehu Shagari in 1983, he ruled with an iron fist. He was a supreme dictator who muzzled the press, imprisoned politicians perceived to be corrupt without due process, alienated his fellow officers and showed little muscle in managing the economy which had started ailing under Shehu Shagari due to US refusal to buy Nigerian oil.
Even though he fought corruption and launched the war against indiscipline, his counter trade measures worsened the economy. There was a massive exodus of Nigerians and foreigners from Nigerian soil. They voted with their feet against a military dictatorship that promoted human rights abuses and opened the vaults of festering poverty where the citizens were whiplashed into long queues waiting to buy sugar, salt and soap.
His military colleagues toppled him after he had ruled for a year and eight months. He was powerless. Without a whimper, the strong man was overwhelmed. He accepted his fate, but in 1991 had a political epiphany after the Soviet Union collapsed under Gorbachev. He converted from military dictatorship to party democrat and respecter of the power of the ballot over the gun barrel.
He subsequently stood at the sidelines and watched in retching horror the uncontrolled pillage and corruption of successive regimes and the retired military billionaires who became kingmakers and plutocrats. It was impossible to ignore his looming presence as a reproach to those that succeeded him.
General Abacha rehabilitated him and also trusted him to deliver as the Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund. He began to worm his way into public acceptance and worked his way back within the ranks of democracy by slowly cultivating a cultic band of followers who grew and grew until he became a human avalanche that stormed and routed the Jonathan incumbency in the general elections of 2015. In hindsight, it is conceivable that if the rest of the parties and the APC had come together as one party and contested against Muhammadu Buhari alone in 2015, he could have defeated them all. But now all is wishful thinking of what could have been if all was well, and power was still within his grasp.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE
Nigeria is facing a grave situation. Power has decayed and is decaying. A religious war is raging, militants are rising, just as crime and calls for a break-up of the country are competing to be heard. Insecurity of life and property has reached unprecedented levels. Insurgents and hate rhetoric is rife. The government is clearly unable to cope.
This is a wakeup call. We cannot afford another coup-d’état. Experience has shown us that the Armed forces have brought us to this destination, and they could be a worse alternative. An armed revolution is conceivable but very undesirable since it is easy to start but almost impossible to control as armed malcontents and dissatisfied factions may drag Nigeria to become Somalia, a land of anarchy and warlords. The takeover by the ousted PDP in 2019 is also conceivable but if that party has forgotten nothing and learnt nothing this could lead to farcical counter probes and revenge and recriminations.
The elite would make a lot of noise but the citizens left in limbo and despair. The political parties have lost relevance in the rapidly changing new power equation. Parties come and go by change of alphabets but the people remain. We can dissolve the parties but we cannot dissolve the people. We have lost power because we have abused it. We have upheld private interest over common good.
It is reported that the ruling elite in Nigeria stole $1.2 trillion dollars from the nation, since we forged this union. This would have contributed in giving us the most modern road and rail networks as well as stable electricity and pipe borne water in all our cities. We drove abroad our best brains to boost the health and education of other nations. We have betrayed Nigeria. But worst of all we have left the people without a hope. This is why our power is decayed. To bring back hope and rescue the country from terminal decline I suggest the following:
GRAND NATIONAL CONFERENCE
We need to re-open discussion on all aspects of our national life that are in contention like; religion, security, ethnic identity politics, and how to deal with corruption. The space for discussion should be more than mere window dressing. It should have a constitutional significance and spell out clearly where the 1999 military constitution has failed us.
There is need for flexibility and innovation. Call it the Grand National Conference, but with the power to amend the constitution, since the National and State Assemblies seem to have lost the confidence of the people who elected them. The decisions of the Conference should be binding on all tiers of government. You may call this the National Sovereign Conference if the term is more appealing. But we cannot go forward unless we come together to examine our democratic journey and achieve a national consensus, which will give a clear vision and direction to politics and governments regardless of any political party in power.
RESTRUCTURING OR NATION BUILDING
Since the inception of democracy in 1999, the language of politics has grown more nebulous and imprecise. Different words are thrown into the polity, which mean different things to different people. Two of the most used (abused) words in the English political lexicon in Nigeria are marginalization and re-structuring.
As to marginalization we can now conclude that the power elite are the oppressive center while the workers and the rural dwellers are at the margin; the marginalized. But the word restructure is yet to be crystalized precisely. But let us not argue about this. We all know that the Colonialists constituted Nigeria into a state structure. Soon after independence the military took over and embarked on massive re-structuring. They created more states, allocated local governments to themselves and changed the nature of our federation from strong federating units to weaker units to create a center that has remained so strong and the units so weak and ineffectual.
Central to this concern has been the issue of the revenue sharing formula. The idea of resource control, derivation, need, fiscal federation and all bucket wish lists are jumbled into a menacing screaming battle cry – restructure. To restructure Nigeria like the military did is to change, alter, re-constitute, re-shuffle, re-construct it etc.
Many important Nigerian opinion leaders and politicians have advocated for restructuring. I respect their views. True the country needs to be restructured. The word restructuring carries with it synonymous interpretations to also mean overhaul, overthrow, break up, and revolution! But while Nigerian leaders have been re-structuring the nation from time to time they have not been engaged very much in nation building.
Nation building is the use of the power of the state in creation or repair of cultural, social and historical ties that bind people together to create a national identity. We have yet to do this!
Restructuring can be done by a single broadcast but nation building requires painstaking steps by a caring leadership. Re-structuring essentially is faultfinding and tearing apart. What we need now as a fragile state torn apart by; personal, ethnic, regional, and political rivalries and grudges is to stay action on restructuring and consider nation building a fundamental priority.
So let us agree to a consensus on nation building now rather than restructuring since our tensile strength cannot withstand the stress of restructuring. Restructuring is taken care of once nation building becomes a priority and not vice versa. Nation building makes demands on our creativity based on fellowship rather than isolation, love rather than pride and clarity rather than ambiguity. Nation building cannot be done for Nigeria by any foreign powers or the IMF and the World Bank.
We need new leaders; who filled with love of country, will sit and fashion a way to build the society, economy and polity to meet the basic needs of the people so that we can overcome poverty, corruption, inequality, and unemployment.
CHANGE THE POLITICAL CULTURE
It is a proven reality that our mainstream politicians in all the parties share a peculiar political and organizational culture. Their distinctive and patterned way of thinking has been lacking in common decency. They are disrespectful to themselves in individual capacities and of the offices held by individuals.
Worst still they are driven by extreme selfishness, which limits their radius of identification to self, family, ethnicity and then the nation and others come last. Patriotism is a scarce commodity. The National Assembly and state assemblies are lethal war zones where bad character and poor breeding is consistently exhibited to showcase pre-modern primitivism. The choice of insulting words, and in worst cases when fists are used instead of words is a political culture we can do without.
There is need for all the parties to rebrand, retool and reorganize themselves to build Nigeria and to deal with change that is coming faster than we can anticipate. We need a moral code in our national life to make it more sustainable and just for all. We need a humility code that will limit our arrogance and our desire to living only for pleasure and bring integrity to politics and politicians. We need the political class to provide space for common decency and self-restraint to make our society a caring, responsible and respecting society.
This essay expresses my pains as a Nigerian intellectual who was born before independence; saw the horror of the Tiv revolts and the ensuing police brutality. I have since watched my country degenerate in spirit and substance. I experienced the pains of the Nigerian Civil war from the Nigerian side, and the worsening mismanagement of the country by successive military and civilian administrations. This essay is a call to all Nigerians to rise up to our responsibility to rebuild our country. This is a painful process that will require discipline, sacrifice and tears. There is no painless way to proceed and there should be no blame to be apportioned or motives to be impugned. All generations in Nigeria today, the young and old alike, have a compelling and irresistible duty to leave the next generations a new Nigeria based on fairness and justice, where all our people can be treated with respect, decency and understanding. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria. MA
Hagher is President, African leadership Institute, USA; Pro-Chancellor of the Afe Babalola University and Nigeria’s former High Commissioner to Canada.