Former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, stirred the hornets’ nest last week when he told a gathering of Nigeria’s sub-regional groupings in Abuja, that Nigeria is in such a bad shape and slowly becoming a divided and failed state. Before the government’s spin masters could descend on the retired general, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, picked up the refrain. Both have not been great friends, thus erstwhile antagonists suddenly created an unusual but formidable alliance of views, perhaps, the first in recent times.
Present in the Abuja audience were the representatives of the Afenifere, the South West Yoruba socio-cultural group; the Middle Belt Forum for the North Central region, the Northern Elders Forum, which represents the North West and North East, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo for the South East, and the Pan-Niger Delta Forum representing the South South region. They had assembled to exchange views on the constitution amendment proposed by the National Assembly.
To buttress their views, both men, Obasanjo and Soyinka, recited a laundry list of what aches Nigeria. Obasanjo said the government’s poor management of the nation’s diversity was sad and embarrassing, and was leading slowly to a failed and divided state. Nigeria was already known as the poverty capital of the world. He warned against war and secession and noted that to tackle the challenges, the issue of disunity must be addressed. Nigeria, Obasanjo said, is fast becoming an unwholesome and insecure country. Old fault lines have opened up greater fissures with drums of hatred to boot, leading to terrorism, organised crime, banditry, kidnapping, human trafficking, drug dealing, money laundry, and corruption.
These problems can be dealt with if Nigerians are ready to live together in understanding. A constitution review would be a veritable source of waste since it cannot, of its own, solve the problems, especially when leaders keep old prejudices and are fixated on the struggle for power in 2023 without addressing the ills ravaging the nation.
Prof. Soyinka had an even longer list. In a statement titled “Between Dividers-in-Chief and Dividers-in-law,” he said Obasanjo’s views were an accurate reading of the state of the country. Nigeria was “a contraption tottering on the very edge of total collapse and close to extinction as a viable country; a suppurating slaughter slab with a huge toll of mindless killings.” The nation is divided due to the policies of the government and it must accept responsibility. He lamented that as the cattle marauders raped and displaced thousands, the government went to sleep. At one point, the president visited the victims and his solution was to advise the traumatised victims to learn to live peacefully with their violators. Soyinka wrote of the profound distrust and the abandonment of hope in the government as one committed to the survival of the nation as one. Farmers are chased off their farms in large numbers while state governors appease the marauders.
The petroleum sector is “a reeking cesspool of nepotism” and the president is also minister in charge under whose watch such unprecedented contempt for geographical parity became entrenched.
We do not believe that Nigeria is a failed state, but we urge the Federal Government to avoid the line of least resistance in its reaction. It is cheaper, easier though unwise to attack both men for their views than to examine the merits of their argument. However, whichever option the government chooses, it is obvious that both men spoke the minds of an overwhelming majority of Nigerians. Thus, they are the voice of the voiceless and deserve plaudits for their courage.
Although the country can project its authority over its territories and protect its national boundaries, the numerous incidents of kidnapping, banditry and armed robbery place a huge question mark on the country’s ability to maintain security. Even worse is the fight against terrorism. It is nearly five years since President Muhammadu Buhari told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that Boko Haram had been technically defeated. After 10 years of war, we still do not know the identity of the political and financial backers of Boko Haram. How can we win the war without such elementary information? Issues like restructuring, devolution of powers, return to fiscal federalism, need hard work.
We have no doubt President Buhari is thinking of his legacy. He should do that hard work while it still matters and save the country from despair and feelings of helplessness.