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Opinions of Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Columnist: Niyi Akinnaso

Gifts Buhari should not have rejected

Ordinarily, the celebration of a nation’s independence anniversary is an occasion for reckoning and self-assessment.

The nation’s gains and failures are evaluated by the government and the governed. In the process, gifts are exchanged between the government and the people. Such gifts are often symbolic, rather than material.

The government’s symbolic gifts are often packaged in a speech by the nation’s leader, as witnessed on the occasion of Nigeria’s independence anniversary on October 1, 2020. Perhaps unknowingly, the President invited symbolic gifts of counsel from the citizens in Paragraph 9 of his speech: “Sixty years of nationhood provides an opportunity to ask ourselves questions on the extent to which we have sustained the aspirations of our founding fathers. Where did we do the right things? Are we on course? If not, where did we stray and how can we remedy and retrace our steps?” The gifts of counsel discussed below are various attempts to identify where things went wrong and how they could be remedied.

As usual, one-time military Head of State and two-term President, General Olusegun Obasanjo, initiated the series of citizens’ symbolic gifts on September 11, 2020. The shattered debris of the World Trade Centre, plane-bombed by a terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, lurked in the background as a coincidental backdrop for Obasanjo’s warning against the disintegration of Nigeria in the face of what he aptly described as “mismanagement of diversity and socio-economic development of our country”.

The “mismanagement” has engendered various indices of possible failure-terrorism, banditry, sectarianism, nepotism, kidnapping, religious and ethnic bigotry, a depressed economy, rising inflation, separatist agitations, and so on. The thrust of Obasanjo’s statement was a call to mend broken and breaking fences in order to avert state failure, realising that “… even if Nigeria is broken up, the separated parts will still be neighbors … they will have to find accommodation as neighbors or they will be ever at war.”

Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, followed with an endorsement of Obasanjo’s advice and chastised government functionaries for the insolent response in which Obasanjo was described, among other things, as “Divider-in-Chief”.

A few days later, Lt. General Alani Akinrinade, former Chief of Army Staff and later Chief of Defence Staff, offered his own gift of counsel to Buhari through Lt General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, the present Chief of Army Staff, on the occasion of the latter’s visit to commission projects in Osun, Akinrinade’s home state.

After highlighting popular public perception of President Buhari in mainstream and social media as an ethnic bigot, a religious fundamentalist, a purveyor of lopsided appointments, and a failed fighter against terrorism, Akinrinade called on him to take charge: “He needs to stand on his table against the motley crowd of advisers and take a firm stand on their organisation of our country, physically, politically, economically and socially.” The veiled reference to Buhari’s aloofness, torpidity, and tardiness cannot be missed in Akinriande’s speech. The key solution he suggested is the restructuring of the country, which he likened to “reorganisation” in the Army.

More recently, three respected clergymen came up independently with their own offerings, all reinforcing a similar message to President Buhari: Act quickly to avoid disaster in the face of various problems facing the country today.

Admitting that “Nigeria is sick unto death”, Catholic Bishop Emeritus of Lagos, Cardinal-Priest, Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, highlighted four significant sources of downfall to avoid, namely, (1) selfishness; (2) falsehood; (3) the 1999 Constitution; and (4) “those who would manipulate our ethnic, religious and regional differences to attain and remain in power”. Echoes of Obasanjo’s and Akinrinade’s gifts are unmistakable.

The Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah, sees Nigeria literally as “a pool of blood”, starting with the cold-blooded murder of our first Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, in the name of a military coup in 1966. Today, “After 60 years of bloodletting, blood has become embedded in our culture of existence”, Kukah added. He concluded that “our country now looks like a boiling pot in which everyone is trying to escape” owing to disrespect for the nation’s Constitution, sectionalism, and failure to fulfill campaign promises.

The General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, completes the trilogy of gifts by Men of God. Without mincing words, he advised the Federal Government to pay immediate attention to restructuring the country in order to provide a lasting solution to Nigeria’s economic challenges and separatist agitations. Adeboye recommended adaptation of aspects of presidential and parliamentary systems as well as the inclusion of traditional rulers in governance, by constituting a House of Chiefs.

The language of the above presentations may appear strident, conveying a sense of urgency. Nevertheless, the call for restructuring the country is an old song. Two national conferences have even been held, each suggesting various forms of modification of the current structure.

Central to these suggestions is the need to restructure the country in order to make it more governable and more responsive to the people’s yearnings and aspirations. This was also the key message of the Nigeria Governors Forum, as echoed by its Chairman, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, following the meeting of all 36 state governors last week. The Governors called for two types of restructuring. One, they want their present loans restructured. Two, they want the country restructured. Specifically, they called for the devolution of powers and fiscal federalism.

The average age of the six interventionists discussed earlier is 80! The Buhari administration may not always agree with their views. However, dismissing them with a wave of the hand and calling any of them names is the height of insolence, as acknowledged by Professor Soyinka: “In place of reasoned response and openness to some serious dialogue, what this nation has been obliged to endure has been insolent distractions from garrulous and coarsened functionaries, apologists and sectarian opportunists.”

By rejecting the gifts of counsel and remaining impervious to the calls for restructuring, Buhari is perpetuating widespread public perception of a sectarian leader, who panders largely to a particular ethnic group. The persistent resistance of leaders of that ethnic group to restructuring is all too familiar.

Yet, restructuring would have been Buhari’s major legacy had he listened. But whether he does or not, this country will be restructured sooner or later.

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