A debating Society or a Productive Republic? By Issa Aremu


Men love their country, not because it is great, but because it is their own.  ~Seneca

Nigerian patriots have somehow become endangered species. You can count the remaining proud Nigerians on your finger tips. Proudly Nigerians of the old are being displaced in Nigeria’s shrinking public space by unashamed modern narrow minded bigots and irredentists of varying hues. Almost every notable Nigerian (who without Nigeria would not have been known anyway), seeks instant cheap relevance by uncritically questioning the existence of Nigeria and the natural bond of Nigerians. Certified Senior Advocates of Nigeria (CSANs) are outdoing each other to advocate against the very Republic Nigeria they are certified to speak for. In place of liberating and progressive rewarding enterprise to “Make Nigeria”, false energies are being dissipated on doomed project to “Break Nigeria”. Instead of “Reclaiming Nigeria”, from underdevelopment, poverty and abysmal low productivity, some uncritically ape the global mantra of those who lost out in global capitalism to “Occupy Nigeria”, already occupied by charlatans and rogue leaders anyway. The divisive banners of regionalism, ethnicity and “religious” labeling dwarf and completely eclipse the national flag. Many happy returns to a Nigerian (note; not a regional) poet, Odia Ofeimun who turned 62 at the weekend. My friend and comrade at 62 remains proudly Nigerian and even more proudly African with his ever audacious African print brand. Odia Ofeimun is among the few endangered Nigerian patriots still standing today. He stands for a united productive functional Nigeria and Africa and not a debating continent.  While many a Nigerian hit the headlines from the reverse calling for a so- called National/Sovereign Conference, Odia takes an exception to the passing fad and unapologetically makes a case for a productive Nigeria that works. Walking his talk, at 62 he reaffirms his faith in Nigeria, releases a compendium of his reflections on Nigeria over the years entitled; Taking Nigeria Seriously. It is a compulsory read for those who still have faith in Nigerian project and above all those who are endowed with basic common sense that nation-building is a process not an event. Born in present day Edo state, he was educated at the University of Ibadan. He was once a personal assistant to the Nigerian politican Chief Obafemi Awolo before joining the editorial board of the Lagos Guardian. He subsequently became general secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors. Odia is not haunted by his humble local origin, he has remade himself through acquisition of knowledge capital to become a proud global citizen. He is an author of many poems and books that included, The Poet Lied (1981; revised and enlarged, 1989), Handle for the Flutist, London Letter and Other poems,  Dreams at Work, Under African Skies, A feast of Return, Go Tell the Generals, A Boiling Caracas and Nigeria The Beautiful. His remarkable collections fill a library. Yours truly was at the celebration of Nation hood (that turned to be Odia’s 62nd birthday) at Muson centre in Lagos last Friday with thought- provoking dance drama that invoked the nostalgia of colonialism, nationalism and independence struggle. The message was clear; Nigerians should see nation building as work in progress not work in lamentations and revisionism and even despair. We need some harmony amongst the peoples and above all also celebrate our strengths and opportunities rather than getting bogged down by our weaknesses and shortcomings. Please by all means let’s remain loud on our weaknesses but we dare not be silent our strengths as a nation, and above all, on our opportunities. It is time for us to change the narrative of Nigeria from hopelessness to that of hope. We must change the discourse from that of violence to that of peace; disunity to solidarity and cooperation; corruption to development; disintegration to a united and prosperous Nigeria. The call for the so-called Sovereign National Conference is in itself a product of our democratic heritage. The challenge is to deepen democracy and not to undermine it. A call for conference outside an open democratic space regardless of its constraints undermines rather than deepen democracy.  More so that people making the call are those who lost out in recent elections again regardless of their limitations. No short cut to power in a democracy rather than elections that need constant perfections. We have the 36 state houses of assembly; we have the two chambers of the National Assembly. Debates go on there every day. We have more than 60 political parties. We have a vibrant and talking media – the best in Africa. These are platforms for daily conferences. It’s time we move from a debating society to a productive society. It is time to walk the talk, for development. Nigeria strives to be part of the leading 20 economies in 2020. The remaining 19 countries (which must definitely include China, South Africa, Brazil and India) are certainly not debating societies like Nigeria. On the contrary, they are functional productive economies. Nigeria must definitely be part of this club of productive economies now

Issa Aremu ([email protected])

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