Eminent Nigerians troubled by the perilous turbulence of the ship of state, gathered last week to think aloud on the way forward and how to secure a soft landing for Nigeria. The occasion was the 2021 Obafemi Awolowo Foundation annual lecture on leadership, a special lecture in honour of the late Yoruba leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Leading the discussion were the former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, the former Emir of Kano and governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido Sanusi, and the Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka.
The special guest speaker for the event was the poet and social critic, Odia Ofeimun, and Dr. Awolowo Dosunmu, the daughter of late Chief Awolowo, who brought the event together. After hours of intensive discussions and the outpouring of ideas the contributors were unanimous that Nigeria was in urgent need of a concerted effort to salvage it and avoid a destructive political turbulence in the country.
Chief Anyaoku, who was special guest of honour, said the Federal Government and the National Assembly should organise a national dialogue to discuss urgent national issues. Such discussions could take a cue from previous national conferences. Only a restructured government, he said, would ensure that the interests of all sections of the country are guaranteed to enthrone equity, justice and fairness for all the ethnic groups as well as the economic emancipation of the people.
He urged the country to jettison the present constitution which is patterned after that of the United States on the ground that the US is a nation of immigrants compared to Nigerians. Indeed, he opined that the constitution of India is more appropriate because Nigeria shares a lot more common attributes with India. Making a strong case for a united Nigeria, Anyaoku said “there is no section or ethnic group in Nigeria that does not stand to gain from belonging to a country of the size and resources of Nigeria.” It is therefore in the interest of all to sustain, nourish “this our one country.” The country’s problems, he said, include economic underperformance, evidence of growing poverty, worsening insecurity of life and property. Not a day passes without reports of people being killed and kidnapped. Human life has become so cheap that the society now regards the loss of life as of little consequence.
Chief Anyaoku submitted that the national challenges cannot be effectively tackled under the present federal system. Abundant evidence suggests a more economically viable federating units with less dominant federal government is the answer.
The Sultan said Nigerians must embrace dialogue and that nation-building is a challenge owing to the tensions Nigerians inherited from colonialism. The former senior military officer stated that war is not an option as it would not benefit any group. Tensions in the country should be managed and moderated to assuage bitterness and douse tension whenever they arise. He spoke highly of past policies that encouraged national integration like the National Youth Service Corps, unity schools, and inter-ethnic visits and exchanges which foster healing, understanding and accommodation.
Leaders should resist making inflammatory statements. He decried the tardiness and inaction of government which sometimes allowed tempers to run high leading to avoidable loss of lives. “War is not something to wish for, even if you think you will eventually win.” He recalled bitter war experiences in Liberia and Sierra Leone. He pointed out that returning violence with violence only multiplies violence and it is not bravery to attack vulnerable people when you can resort to the law.
Soyinka surmised that there is consensus that the present centralised system of government is not helping and calls for an urgent need to restructure and decentralise. He called on President Muhammadu Buhari to start implementing whatever was administratively possible to decentralise the current system. According to him, “a lot can be done now. If necessary the president can seek advice from lawyers. He needs to take action now.”
Sanusi warned that the system of government was too expensive and not sustainable. He believed that the country could not get enough money for education, healthcare and other necessities because the huge chunk of government resources go into taking care of the people in government.
Undoubtedly, the Awolowo lecture will likely provoke a national dialogue that will ultimately arrive at a consensus on the way forward. We think that the views expressed by the speakers speak for themselves. These views are remarkable for their honesty and simplicity. They require not to be dressed up. We commend the Sultan for his insights and the principles that informed his views and appeal to the Federal Government to listen to the voice of reason and do something urgently to save the nation’s future.