Dr.Muiz Banire SAN
‘Making Nigeria Work’ –Dr.Muiz Banire SAN
As the year runs to an end and as we all, as individuals and entities, continue to take stock of the year in retrospect, I believe it is auspicious that the state of the nation be equally diagnosed towards possible prognosis for recovery and possible growth. There is no doubt that the country is in a quagmire, putting it mildly, as some contenders believe that the country has even failed.
As debatable as this could be, the truth remains that all certainly is not well with our nation. Is it the economic eclipse, prevalent and high level of insecurity, collapsing infrastructure, soaring state of unemployment and underemployment, health care that is virtually comatose, vanishing quality education, galloping and excruciating inflation with virtually valueless currency, progressive and ‘fantastic’ corruption impairing service delivery in all ramifications, continuous challenge to the rule of law precipitating anarchy already, grave level of policy incoherence and summersault, disturbing level of poor leadership engendering bad governance, moral and ethical decadence, political misdirection, etc?
The list is endless and I can continue to multiply same. The afflictions are just too many to catalogue but suffice to simply and courteously state the country is challenged on all fronts. How did the country end up in this state? And what is the way forward, as hinted above, shall constitute the fulcrum of this conversation. A few months ago, I had raised in this column the question of “Who will save Nigeria?’ In no distant a period, I was invited by my friend Niran Adedokun, during the celebration of his golden jubilee birthday to speak on a seemingly identical subject, “What is Wrong with Nigeria, the Structure or the People?”
Again, about a week or two ago, the Alumni Association of the University of Lagos, Lagos State Chapter, invited me as a participant in a symposium tagged “Is Nigeria Worth Saving?” and, most importantly, this column commenced a few years ago with a similar excursion of five series on how Nigeria got to the mess it is presently in. In all of these engagements, I expressed my disappointment and frustration on the state of the nation to the extent that I always summed up my position that “the nation’s precarious situation is not only hopeless but irredeemable” exempting divine intervention or the act of a benevolent dictator.
Further to this conviction, I had taken steps, as seemingly rightly suggested by Pastor Adefarasin, not only to have Plan B, but actually have Plan C. I am definitely ahead of the pastoral proposition as I wouldn’t want to be caught napping. This pessimistic predisposition was largely based on my evaluation of the leadership of the nation at all levels as the country continues to parade comfortably inept leaders that are not only visionless but clueless as to the modes of governing a people.
This position of mine is buttressed by the present warped electoral system that is incapable of giving birth to credible leaders. In a recent effort to salvage the situation, a botched attempt was made at overhauling the Electoral Act, the legislation that governs the process of conducting elections in Nigeria, presumably with a view to improving the electoral process.
The rightness or wrongness of the precipitating factor of the collapse of the Bill is outside the discourse here, hence, I shall not pursue it further beyond stating that the failure makes the future of electoral progress of the nation bleak. In the light of the gloomy conclusion I had reached about the country, I made up my mind, going forward, to be indifferent to the political occurrences in the country, both in terms of governance and politics. This is coupled with the fact that the revival I was struggling for on behalf of the less privileged Nigerians, who are victims of the misgovernance, interestingly, is being resisted, not so much by their oppressors, but strangely by a majority of this class of the ‘oppressed’. Expectedly, I gave up and only opted to continue engaging the system, no more on the masses’ side but for posterity. This remained the state of affairs until about two months ago, in the course of a conversation with a friend, when he made a point that struck me and which probably will influence others in my state.
His statement was against the background of my continuous lamentation about the nonchallant and vilifying attitudes of the Nigerian masses on behalf of whom I believed I was crusading. The fact is that as you struggle with the system in favour of these victims, the more they themselves crucify you. At a point, therefore, you start wondering if you are not crying more than the bereaved. My resolution was consequently that, by the time the majority of them are dying in instalments, they will react appropriately against the system oppressing them. A philosopher once said that a people who glorify their oppressors are not victims but conspirators.
Hence, my deliberate neglect of the events militating against their survival. In the conversation I alluded to earlier with my friend, he had said to me that you cannot blame these people (masses) as they are incapable of differentiating what is wrong from what is right due to their battered psyche. Poverty has so much brutalized them that they cannot reason anymore, a factor that explains their continuing patronage of their oppressors. In such circumstances, therefore, the struggle must be to liberate them from their ignorance to see the light. This is the duty of those of us in the struggle and the enlightened, not necessarily the elite, owe them and must be executed. This reasoning sounded convincing to me and filled the lacuna in my thought process and probably will jolt your thought also. Since that discussion, I resumed my crusade against misgovernance and there is no going back. It is my counsel to fellow comrades and well-meaning Nigerians who felt the same way I did, to review their strategy in favour of this new role.
The first struggle in our hands is to enlighten these vulnerable lots and, secondly, agitate against the oppressors. In the quest for the reformation of the country, I had always believed that the reform must not only involve Nigerians but structures that make Nigeria. This has continuously been my thesis. We must engage in ethical revolution bordering on moral and value regeneration. We must develop and strengthen our institutions. The country must promote the rule of law and strengthen her judiciary. The political system must be urgently overhauled and reformed.
Fiscal restructuring must happen, particularly the reduction of the cost of governance, which must necessarily affect the nature of our legislature. Unicameral legislature on part time basis must be embraced. Elimination and realignment of multiple needless parastatals and agencies of government and of course, restructuring of the polity. All these, I believe, would engender progress for the country. This captures the reformation of the people, structures and the geographical entity called Nigeria. This view governs my crusade so far. I know that opinions across the country differ on this, as it is the belief in some quarters that the only challenge of the country is the content, that is, Nigerians and their attitudes. On the other side of the divide are those that believe that the hurried merger of the provinces then without due regard to linguistic, social, cultural, educational, religious and economic differences accounts for the static nature of the country.
Your perspective will largely depend on your experience and knowledge, particularly on the evolution of the country called Nigeria. For a while, I have been ruminating over the divergent thoughts as to the melting point. Fortuitously last week Friday, at the Jumat service (Muslims weekly congregational prayer) I attended, the Imam based his sermon on the way out of the nation’s challenge. Interestingly, he was of the view that, since the challenge is that of Nigerians, all that is required is change of attitude by Nigerians in order to solve the various ailments of the country. The Imam drew the obvious distinction between Nigeria as a nation and Nigerians as a people. To his mind, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the entity called Nigeria but a lot is wrong with the contents that constitute the inhabitants of the nation. He, therefore, counselled attitudinal change on the part of Nigerians.
Instantly, I felt the Imam had goofed and must be engaged towards correction of that philosophy. Hence my interrogating him after the prayer session. Remember that my position had been that without addressing the challenges associated with the entity called Nigeria, nothing can be done to cure the ailments or afflictions affecting the country. Let me quickly confess that at the end of our conversation which took over an hour, I had come to appreciate the point made by him albeit not in absolute concurrence.
His contention that even if by accident of history, different ethnic nationalities had been merged into what is now known as Nigeria, it behooves us as Nigerians to unite and make the relationship work, is appealing.
This duty is what Nigerians have failed to discharge and which is the contributory factor to its seeming failure. Rather than observe this duty, Nigerians mostly engage in all manner of vices that are individually and collectively derailing the destiny of the nation, not only stultifying the growth but actually wrecking the nation. Corruption, for instance, has become our way of life thereby negatively impacting all deliverables essential to the development of the nation and the happiness of the people, in the words of Sheik Makthoum of Dubai. My contrary view is that notwithstanding the wayward attitudes of Nigerians, the forced merger of several ethnic nationalities with distinct religious, cultural, linguistic, political, economic, educational and moral standards remains an impediment to the take off and growth of the country, meaning that the multi-ethnic nature of the country without absorptive capacity of the differences is a fundamental obstruction to the development of the nation.
Thus, except we restructure the country along those lines in a loose federation conferring substantial autonomy on the ethnic nationalities, it might be impossible to trigger, much less, consolidate on any growth. This has been my standpoint on the issue. Of course, my Imam will not yield to that postulation as a religious leader who believed that it was not by accident that we were merged but by act of God. To that extent, God knew those differences existed before using the instrumentality of colonialism to bring us together. God, therefore, expects that we as a people will not only deemphasize the differences but actively promote our unity and by extension, growth. As plausible as the reasoning is, it sounds to me as the religious concept of destiny. Simply put, we are destined as a people to live together. In his perspective, agitation and aggression in such circumstances are unhelpful and meaningless.
Perseverance, endurance and sacrifice become the tools of happiness. To fortify his position, he supplied the narrative of an intending passenger on a flight that was assigned a seat with another passenger that he disliked. In the event of no alternative, he would have to make the best of the journey and endure whatever reservations he had till his final destination. He would either make the journey pleasurable or agonizing for himself depending on his attitude to the situation. This is the expectation of God in the 1914 merger, and the reality of the way forward for the country in his humble view. Indubitably, the reasoning and the conclusion is divinely unassailable but challenging in the free world. In other words, in human comprehension, the natural logic could run into hiccups where freewill governs.
In this realistic world of freewill, therefore, where the forced merger becomes impracticable and a source of misery for the inhabitants, the relationship ought to be reviewed in the collective interest of everyone. it is either that the space is redefined and where impracticable, separation becomes the available substitute. An analogy is the case of a husband and wife that could not tolerate each other in a home, the option is usually separation or divorce, even within the same enclave. This scenario of voluntary marriage compares with that of forced marriage as in the formation of Nigeria. The point must be made that most marriages too could be described as destined and for the peace and survival of the parties, review of the relationship always occurs.
The truth is that human beings will always remain one and the same in all contexts. As a friend once said, leave the divine realm aside until we reach the venue and let us deal with the present. The present, if not well and urgently handled and managed, can accelerate the exit of nigerans to the world beyond. The message, therefore, is that where the accidents of our history continue to haunt us, it is inevitable that a structural review must be undertaken. What this portends is that the country’s problem surpasses the content which are the Nigerian people but also the hardware which is the geographical entity called Nigeria. Conditions of merger, by way of continuous co-existence, amongst other issues, must be addressed. Arrangements must be put in place to ensure the recognition, preservation and accommodation of our various peculiarities. This is what some agitators called restructuring of the nation. In my humble view, therefore, we certainly need to recalibrate the nation towards ensuring fairness, equity and justice.
Except this is done, our challenges might continue to abide with us. The implication is that the agitation, not only for restructuring of the nation, would continue, but the call for secession will exacerbate. The summation of my view, therefore, is that as we inch towards the general elections in the year 2023, it is pertinent that we address the issues so as to have a smooth sail. Beyond this, let me also say that in line with the conclusion of the Imam but from different angle, I suspect that the people will still end up being the catalysts of all the proposed reforms. In this context, where the country is able to produce credible visionary and missionary leaders that understand all the issues and able to address them, then the take off and the growth of the country is assured.
And since the restructuring itself will not occur by miracle, it will still require human intervention. This is where Nigerians will play a vital role in the emergence of those credible leaders that we badly need. The only mode known to the Nigerian Constitution is through the ballot and it is in this regard that Nigerians need to wake up and meaningfully participate in the electoral process. Nigerians must not only massively proceed to register; they must actually vote and defend their votes. Enough of apathy. Prior to this voting, Nigerians must evaluate their candidates, particularly in terms of their pedigree and competence. Refrain from merchandising their votes nor voting on parochial basis. I shall say more on this in my Letter to the Electorates in the new year.
However, I believe this is the pragmatic way to go. As I, therefore, wrap up, let me sum up by reminding us that although there appear to be two broad perspectives on the source of the nation’s problems, divine and pragmatic, it is my belief that there are several meeting points of the two. The way to go, therefore, requires tinkering with the two as demonstrated above. Hence, to grow Nigeria requires the combination of the reformation of the minds of the people at large, and the salvation of the entity called Nigeria in terms of structural arrangement. This is the herculean task that confronts the populace.
What this connotes is that the reformed people will ultimately end up with reformed leaders that will reform the polity and the entity called Nigeria. The import of this is that reorientation of the people can lead to the reformation of the entity called Nigeria. To attain the objective of credible leadership through the ballot, I shall be addressing the politicians and the electorate in the new year, God willing. Compliments of the season.