15th August, 2012
By Chido Onumah
Two retired generals and former heads of state stirred up a hornet’s nest recently when they proffered solutions to the growing insecurity and hopelessness in the country. Coming on the heels of a war of attrition between them, there was enough reason for Nigerians to be guarded about the intervention by Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida who ruled Nigeria cumulatively for 19 years.
The periods that these generals ruled (1976-79; 1985-93; and 1999-2007) were about the most glorious of the nation’s history, not in terms of development or genuine attempt to redefine the future of the country, but in terms of hope and desire on the part of Nigerians to lift up their country and make it a global contender. As it turned out, Obasanjo and Babangida made sure they were the years of the locust. Obasanjo and Babangida orchestrated perhaps the greatest despoliation of Nigeria, its wealth as well as human and material resources.
Obasanjo and Babangida talked about the greatness of Nigeria and Nigerians, but they did everything possible to undermine the country and its people. They had the opportunity to write their names in gold as true statesmen, but they botched it. Of course, on the personal level, both Obasanjo and Babangida have received adequate response to their unwelcomed intervention so I shall not dwell on that. I shall focus on the thrust of their intervention.
“Nigeria’s existence not negotiable – OBJ, IBB” was how one newspaper headlined the intercession of the retired generals the morning after. The paper reported Obasanjo and Babangida as saying that “the worrying trend emerging from the violent attacks, bombings and mindless killings of innocent Nigerians was creating room for doubt about the end of the carnage, but that ‘the continued unity of this nation is not only priceless, but non-negotiable’”.
I wonder what our rulers really mean when they say the “unity of Nigeria is not negotiable”. If you hear this glib talk from people who actually did something to advance the unity of Nigeria, then it is understandable. It becomes worrisome when those who advance this proposition are those who have done everything possible to undermine the unity of the country. In simple terms, “negotiable” means “open to discussion; not fixed, but able to be established or changed through discussion and compromise”. Considering the current state of the nation, the social and political upheavals that go to the very core of national existence, only a masochist will deny that this is time to “negotiate” Nigeria.
A nation is usually united around a common national ethos, a set of values and principles that are abiding. Not so in Nigeria. For the ruling class in Nigeria, the only unifying factor is corruption, as one of their own, Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, eloquently espoused in his speech at Chatham House, London, in June. For the majority of Nigerians, the unifying factor is a life of grinding poverty and hopelessness. No country sustained by corruption and the poverty and hopelessness of its citizenry can survive for too long.
In a sense, therefore, the real threat to the unity of Nigerian has come from those who have succeeded in dividing Nigerians through their pillage and misuse of our patrimony. Our rulers know that the country is not working because of massive corruption and that we can’t sustain the current system for too long. Yet, because our elite, and in some cases ordinary Nigerians, seem satisfied with the proceeds of corruption, they are blind to the danger we are all entrapped in. While we are nibbling at the seams of the nation, we willfully assume that the country will still hold together and that things will get better. It is this same false hope that led us to the London Olympics after just three months of preparation. As I write, the London games ended without any medal for Nigeria. Anybody who understands Nigeria will not be surprised that this may yet be our worst Olympics.
Regrettably, our youth on whose shoulders the survival of this nation rests, appear to have imbibed the worst examples of the “wasted generation” before them. That is the real tragedy of our situation. Just last week, the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy held a lecture to mark the 2012 International Youth Day. It was meant as a sober occasion for our youth, the greatest resource of our nation, to reflect on their role and contribution to national development as well the responsibility of the government to the youth. Many of the so-called youth leaders that came for this event arrived with much fanfare, with retinues of aides in tow. All someone close by could mutter was: “if these people ever come close to power, they will do worse than our current crop of rulers”.
When I look at corruption in Nigeria, our dismal showing in London, the attitude of our dehumanised and traumatised youth, and the war mongering going on, it all makes sense to me. The conclusion I have arrived at is that it is necessary but not sufficient to do critiques of sectoral deficiencies of our problems as a nation. Nigeria has collapsed. It is imperative, therefore, that the systemic dysfunction in Nigeria is confronted and changed to cater to all in a truly law governed country. And the only way to do this is to “negotiate” Nigeria through a Sovereign National Conference (SNC), not just of so-called ethnic nationalities, but also of marginalised and pauperised people of Nigeria.
Part of the reason corruption thrives so much in Nigeria is the structure of the country. Political violence is rife, states and ethnic nationalities are threatening secession, yet there are people who still insist that it is forbidden to question the status quo. Those who are really concerned about Nigeria and genuinely fear that the country will break up if it goes the route of SNC, as opposed to those who mouth “the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable” should rest assured that it won’t happen without a very bloody war or wars. It is not exactly clear which ethnic nationality wants to embark on that futile journey. The greater prospect now is that of anarchy (as in Somalia) or the rise of fascism through what Edwin Madunagu describes as “a coalition of the most unlikely bed-follows’”.
What Nigeria needs now is a radical change that will redefine the country and create a new national ethos. It is for this reason that all those who have bled the country and brought it to its knees should be wary, not just of social media, but also the street anger of Nigerians.
This street anger must fester and yield positive results if we are to achieve a national renewal and end what a colleague has described as the hackers’ paradise called Nigeria.
• Onumah is coordinator of the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy, Abuja. E-mail: [email protected]