Nigerians have been speaking. They have been appraising the state of their country at 60 years of independence. It is a variegated collection of sorts. Some have been painstaking, they have been as sincere as they can. Some others have spoken for the sake of it, their objective is to sound as impressionistic as possible. There is no genuine attempt to say it as it is.
A few samplers will suffice. President Muhammadu Buhari, in his address to the people of Nigeria, told us that we must, at this stage in our national life, begin a sincere process of national healing. Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State holds that we have got it so wrong because the political actors are not sincere. Former Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, is worried that selfish policies are polarising the country the more. Former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nuhu Ribadu, declared that Nigeria has done exceedingly well in the fight against graft.
And Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, supported by a number of other commentators, believes that, for us to get out of the woods, Nigeria must toe the path of restructuring by embracing fiscal federalism, devolution of powers and resource control, among other reforms. We also have the likes of the former governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, who are optimistic about tomorrow. Fashola is hopeful that Nigeria will eventually get it right.
Regardless of the mixed bag that we have before us, there is so much to take away from some of the submissions. Our President wants us to begin a sincere process of national healing. The operative word in the President’s statement is “sincere.” It is the kernel of his declaration. If the President means what he said, then we can begin to understand why the Fasholas of Nigeria are optimistic about the future of their country. They know that Nigeria can be made to work, if the operators are sincere. So far, Nigeria is not working because, as Ortom noted, the political actors are not sincere. If we go by this, we will then be saying that the snag lies in this operative word. It is the keynote in the staccato lyric to which we are being entertained.
But who is supposed to begin this sincere process of national healing that Buhari alluded to? Certainly, it is the President himself. Let me, like Fashola, look on the bright side of Nigeria’s tomorrow. But I do so with a lot of reservations. I do so on the condition and assumption that the President means well. He is the touchstone that will trigger that sincerity of purpose in the national scheme of things. As the President of the country, he holds the aces. He knows what to do to give Nigeria the stability and leap it desperately desires at this point. The first step to take in this regard is to be sincere in our efforts at healing those wounds, which Buhari has recognised and acknowledged as impediments to our national growth.
To make progress here, the President must be sincere himself. As I noted earlier, I am tempted to believe that the President did not speak for the sake of it. I am inclined to believe that he has plans for the country. He must have an agenda for national healing.
I take it for granted here that Mr. President has plans that will take us not to the next level of poverty or divisiveness but to the steppingstone that will usher us into the country of our dreams. As we wait for him to unveil the new Nigeria that he envisages, it is important that we draw his attention, once again, to the submissions of the 2014 National Conference set up by former President Goodluck Jonathan. Since our emphasis at this time rests on sincerity, the President should put politics aside and give Nigeria that structure that will endure. In doing this, the President may not, in one fell swoop, transplant everything that the 2014 document produced, but he can begin with the very urgent ones that will quickly give Nigeria a new, refreshing look.
The concerns of advocates of restructuring come handy here. The President, I assume, must have a unifying and stabilising agenda for the 2023 presidency. But beyond that, issues like true federalism require urgent attention. Those fellows at the National Assembly who keep pretending to be amending the Constitution need help. They are merely scratching on the surface of the matter. The President can weigh in on this matter by looking in the direction of the 2014 document. A recourse to that will give us the fiscal federalism that many Nigerians are asking for. It will bring about devolution of more powers to the residual legislative list. It will settle the vexed issue of how the office of the President can be rotated among the regions or zones. It will give us a local government administration that will work. The delegates to that conference took time to dissect Nigeria. We should give their effort a place in our national history. To throw it away would be the worst form of insincerity. That process of national healing, which the President talked about can begin with this.
To institute an arrangement that will work, we must do away with a situation where one section dominates the other, where the rights of certain Nigerians are being coercively curtailed by their fellow citizens. If we want to be sincere about healing national wounds, we must shun the Hobbesian path that we are treading. Might should cease to be right. We must not be afraid of the herdsman when we see him. He must be the law-abiding Nigerian who should ply his trade in line with the dictates of the law. He must not trample on the rights of other citizens because he believes that the system will protect him. A country where such injustice reigns cannot have peace. And we know that, without peace, there will be no progress.
Sanusi hinted at this national malaise when he talked about policies that polarise the country. Giving killer herdsmen official cover and backing is a retrogressive policy. Millions of Nigerians who have experienced and are still experiencing the oppressive arrogance of the herdsmen have had to question their belongingness to a country that is plotting their downfall. They feel like strangers in a country that should belong to them. They are disillusioned and exasperated. They know that the founding fathers of Nigeria did not plan to enslave them in their own land. They are beckoning on today’s leaders to save the day. If they fail, the people will engage in a mad struggle for space where only the fittest can survive. This manner of struggle, certainly, cannot augur well for the country.
Discriminatory and lopsided appointments are polarities on their own. Selective application of Federal Character policy is as bad. It is bared-faced nepotism. But we should be encouraged by the fact that those at the top understand what the problems are. The only thing that it will take for Nigeria to survive is the will to do the right thing. That will will be there, if those who claim to love the country are sincere. It is not enough to insist that Nigeria must remain one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state. The conditions that will guarantee indivisibility and indissolubility must be there. Otherwise, we will be engaging in mental fights that will lead nowhere.