By Iheanacho Nwosu,Abuja
Former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, yesterday, said Nigeria is facing a grim situation. He lamented that widening tribal and political crevices as well as economic hardship were taking huge toll on the country.
Abubakar who spoke during the public presentation of a newspaper, the Daily Stream in Abuja warned that unless the structure of Nigeria which he said is currently posing an impediment to growth was retouched, the country’s situation may worsen.
The former vice president who was a guest speaker at the lecture which theme was: “The challenge of unity, diversity and national development: Nigeria at a crossroads” said the structure of Nigeria’s federation and governance constituted an impediment to its economic development, political stability and social harmony.
“Changing them would help to place our country on a path to phenomenal and unhindered development. To persist in what we are doing now is to do injustice to ourselves and jeopardise our future. We should endeavour to effect the needed changes by talking among ourselves and across our various divides – engaging in meaningful dialogue.”
He added: “Unity, diversity and national development are among Nigeria’s greatest challenges. Unity has been a scarce commodity among our country’s diverse peoples and communities, as a consequence of the way and manner the country was put together by British colonial authorities and our collective failure as a people to create a true and viable nation out of the union.
“This has become a major source of disquiet, anxiety and frustration and a veritable obstacle to national development.”
He expressed regrets that disagreements and controversies over the best political structure to be adopted, size and responsibility of government, the nature of relationship between and among component units, the type and system of government, as well as how resources available in and accruing to the country should be allocated have continued unabated.
“Those controversies have sometimes threatened the very existence of the country. A huge pall of pessimism hangs over a section of the citizenry, and the ranks of those who harbour real doubt about the future of the country swell by the day.”
He emphasised that the country is facing one of its worst moments. “The country is truly at a crossroads, and things are made worse by the cocktail of economic, social, political and problems which we have had to contend with, and which add to the abysmally low estimation of our country even by its own citizens.”
However, he enjoined the citizenry not to lose hope.
“I am not here just to lament over the sad and unenviable state of affairs in Nigeria. I firmly believe in the viability of the Nigerian project, I remain unshaken and completely persuaded that we can eventually change the story of Nigeria for good by collectively making Nigeria a productive, prosperous, peaceful and united nation whose people are happy and contented and one that is able to really lead Africa and assume a pride of place in the comity of nations.
“To achieve that, he said: “we must elevate and steer conversation away from empty rhetoric and platitudes. We must instigate and see to the full and faithful implementation of profound changes in the political structure, organisation, functions and performance of state, and a radical re-organization of government, its organs and personnel.”
On the country’s skewed structure which, according to him is working against the growth of Nigeria, the former Vice President said: “There are several reasons why we have failed to be welded into one nation after over a hundred years since we became one country. I would like to talk about the nature of the country’s structure as one factor. We purport to operate a federal structure, but over the years our federalism has experienced fundamental distortion to the extent that there is now a huge, acrimonious debate as to the true nature and character of our brand of federalism. I call it unitary federalism because while we still have a formal federal system, the centre has become too powerful relative to the increasingly unviable federating units.
“As regions, the different levels of government were fairly viable, notwithstanding their modest financial standing, and were largely administered according to established rules and procedures. Accountability, probity and relatively prudent management of resources were evident. The citizens were happy and substantially felt part of the governance process – at least they recognised the existence of government, paid their taxes and could point at tangible deliverables from government.
“Now as indigenes of states, the citizens are largely disgruntled and unhappy. And although most of them don’t pay taxes directly to the government coffers, they often feel short-changed and complain of abject neglect. They hardly feel that they are part of the governance process, and they often hold their leaders in contempt – or at least they are more likely to blame than praise their leaders. Some have emotionally and for all intents and purposes, completely de-linked themselves from the Nigerian state and now inhabit a surreal world where they believe in all sorts of strange ideas.”