The year 2002 was a very tense year in Nigerian politics. The members of the House of Representatives were dead set on impeaching President Obasanjo. Peopled mostly by members born after the civil war, they were not in the mood to bother about consequences of their action. For quite a number of them, Heaven could fall but Obasanjo must go. It took a lot, involving so many actors and players to eventually stall this. As a ministerial aide, I observed how some of the actors played out their intervention, especially the media end. But the ultimate peace makers were General Yakubu Gowon and Alhaji Shehu Shagari. They were the ones who got Speaker Ghali Na’Abba and his colleagues to reckon with the implications and get off that course. Their summative point of entry was: How can you impeach Obasanjo when we have not put behind some of the consequences of June 12?
The logic of this recollection is that it is not in every circumstance that the formal organisation of power and authority works. In many circumstances, especially in very fragile polities where power does not reside in a father figure or some form of enlightened dictatorship, they rarely work well and informal intervention has to be relied upon. This is so basic that it does not have to be belaboured.
As everyone else has observed and concluded, the situation today is, indeed, very ominous. Nigeria today is like a condemned criminal on a death row waiting patiently and helplessly for his or her appointment with death. Every weekend, we hold our breath for one form of violence or another. Or hear voices confidently proclaiming how Lord Lugard has provided for secession in the amalgamation document. Beside these, the society has progressively been deteriorating in every sphere under the weight of complete elite failure.
For the past thirteen years, the country has not been able to do any of the things that will make it a candidate for serious reckoning anywhere beyond organised ratings by some self-satisfied do gooders who know what they are getting from the country. There is virtually no economy. We are still not one of the societies with world class electricity supply. Even in the best of times, the country itself is a totally unplanned, chaotic, lawless, agrarian and an unproductive economy. We are not counted among any of the countries on the move, industrially: China, Brazil, India, Russia, South Africa, etc. The quality of governance that determines peace, security and development has eluded us.
It is very surprising that a nation in this situation will still be engrossed in nothing but elaborate scheming for office in 2015 by an army of ambitious individuals, most of them without any road map(s). This is in spite of the clear signs that no election looks feasible with the existing level of violence in addition to that which the gangs and militia already assembled will unleash as the elections draw near. All of these point to the impossibility of convincing and honourable victory by any party or candidates anywhere in Nigeria in 2015. Instead, it would be war of all against all across kindreds, clans, villages, districts, local government councils, within and between states, religions, ethnic groups, regions and even the arms of government. Nigeria is simply so divided that electoral democracy is imperiled because we are all lost in and overwhelmed by extreme sense of bitterness, hopelessness, mistrust and acrimony that good sense is not prevailing anywhere. We are not even in a position to frame, not to talk of debating our crisis with any sense of objectivity.
This is a calamity for any society. We would continue to have nothing to show for democracy if we don’t break out of this bondage of democracy defined by a zero-sum calculus. We need restoration through good sense, a process which cannot be handled by the players who are already in the political trenches, waiting to unleash private armies made up of a generation that has known only violence but nothing of “respects for others, of productive work, of planning, of family life”.
Nigeria can still avoid collective ruin to which it is stubbornly heading again by quickly shedding our reservations against some of our senior statesmen and investing them with the task of somehow bringing down the temperature and getting the country off its current date with anarchy. The truth is that Nigeria has simply exhausted the potentials of electoral democracy and nothing less than this sort of intervention will stop the House from crashing under the weight of multiple contradictions.
We have no better alternative at the moment than that of our most senior statesmen, although, as card carrying members of one political party or another, I don’t know how General Obasanjo, Buhari and IBB would fit into the category of senior statesmen even as I can’t contemplate their absence from such a make or break intervention. There is no reason why these few and those who just have to be co-opted in for the necessary balance cannot come together for Nigeria at this point when it is very clear that that the state itself is distressed and authority has broken down. They would merely be repeating what they have helped to accomplish in other deeply divided societies in Africa.
There are also no alternatives to them at a time like this when the big powers are all troubled at home and/or have good reasons not to be too bothered by a country whose elite are so lumpen that they simply can’t get it right. And at a time when the internal structures and mechanisms that should moderate democracy and governance such as the intelligence community, the bureaucracy, the intelligentsia and the political parties are all in indeterminate state. Comparatively speaking, only the media is awake, whatever deformities observable there.
One, the lesson of the past thirteen years in Nigeria is that freewheeling democracy cannot bring about beneficial politics. Nigeria has reached a point where only a leadership deliberately and consciously decided will serve the objective of good governance. This time, it should be done by senior statesmen. I am not ignorant of real and apparent tension between these men. But this should not stop them from coming together for Nigeria at a time like this if they are, indeed, statesmen.
Two, unless some people are persuaded to sacrifice their ambition for Nigeria, there is very little hope. And there are many such people in the country right now.
Three, could an Assembly of Statesmen come up with a considered position with a better understanding of what is really going on? At the least, their position will be on record. Is it Boko Haram we are dealing with or something more systematic but using Boko Haram’s name?
Four, it is about time Nigeria decides on her fatal infatuation with the so-called market forces economy. For, that is the origin of the present peril. A bureaucratic state like Nigeria cannot deliver social transformation through private enterprise of parasites, cabals and foreign surrogates. More so that what we have as the organised private sector here is in no managerial and technical position to run the commanding heights of the economy and create the millions of jobs we are looking for. At the same time, it amounts to an oddity to expect the private sector of other countries we are competing with in the international market to run the commanding heights of our economy for the good of the Nigerian people. Why did Niger Republic not wait for foreign investors before building own refinery, from where we are embarrassingly importing refined products now. Are we beyond shame?
In fact, Nigeria must be the only country of its size and potentialities to believe that her competitors will teach it how it will supersede or beat them to it. The Asian Tigers never waited for anyone. In most cases, they ignored the promoters of market forces. It is a matter of commonsense that if the IMF could not persuade President Obama right there in Washington from pumping billions of dollars into saving privately owned automobile companies in an advanced industrial economy, then we here in a tomato and garri economy have no business even talking about market forces because our economy is a pre-market economy.
Who, for God’s sake, is preventing the Federal Government from building a refinery in each of the six geo-political zones as a matter of national emergency warranting withdrawl from external reserves by an Act of the NASS? The statesmen should make a statement on this especially as they, with the exception of Gowon and Buhari, are the ones guilty of taking us down this hopeless direction.
Finally, the statesmen should make a statement on the cheap and silly orchestration that Lord Lugard said after 100 years, anyone could secede. The realities of the modern state make it a very backward agenda which only our kind of elite will even mention without shame. Is Lugard from Obalende or Zaria or Buguma or Wukari?
If going back to history were to work, then the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, many countries in Southern Africa, several countries in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America will never be what they are today as they will be permanently sorting out historical claims of who was where. The impossibility of neatly separating Nigerians into the different ethnic, linguistic and territorial identities means that breaking up is only a way of humiliating ourselves further by throwing our people back into the dark ages at a time of unbelievable advances in science, technology, medicine, engineering, architecture and agriculture. The fact of numerous cultural groups does not mean that we are different peoples except in the eyes and mouth of unlettered politicians. It is the very logic of our multiplicity that is sustaining the people. Our strength is in our number. In the face of strategic threat to coastal areas globally from rising sea level as the ice in the Artic melts from rising temperature, break up should be the last thing on anybody’s minds.
There is no comparing Rwanda with Nigeria but nothing will excuse Nigeria’s failure to draw lessons from Rwanda’s tragedy of the magnitude of the 1994 genocide in that country. According to General Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian Commander of the United Nation’s Assistance Mission in Rwanda, (UNAMIR) in Alan Thompson’s Media and Rwanda Genocide, a representative of one major powers went to him within the first week of the genocide to say that, after doing an assessment, they had decided that they were not going to intervene to stop the carnage. Said he, “You know, this country is of no strategic value. Geographically, it provides us nothing. It’s not even worth putting a radar station here. Economically it’s nothing, because there’s no strategic resources, only tea and coffee, and the bottom is falling out of those markets”.
Unlike Rwanda, Nigeria has oil and is a big market but would that make the United States, for instance, respond to “outburst of civil strife or militant nationalism simply by sending in American forces?” Although the international community has accepted abandoning Rwanda and has apologized, the point is that we would be on our own if we drag ourselves into another needless horror from Africa. The rest of the world would go on with its obsession with soccer, fashion and sex as we boil in our own stew of pointless violence.
Adagbo Onoja is at the University of Ibadan