Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I would have come here today with my confusion about what I am supposed to do here, whether I would be the keynote speaker or a keynote speaker. I had communications pointing to the fact that I am a keynote speaker, also that I am the keynote speaker. But the problem was resolved for me when the gentleman behind our presence here today called me and explained that I am one of the keynote speakers.
Unfortunately, as I put these notes together, I read that one of us who would have been here today to be part of this gathering and to speak to us also, has passed on. He was 79. He is elder statesman Senator Sikiru Shitta Bey, a highly respected party leader, from the Action Group days in the 50s and early 60s; through the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) of the 70s/80s, and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) of the 90s; to today’s Action Congress (AC). May the Almighty Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth and all that is between, forgive him his sins and grant him journey mercies to the Garden.
Two other speakers were also listed to address us this morning. No topic seemed to have been chosen. But it is as well because it is clearly stated what the event for today is meant to celebrate. I should come to this later.
But I want to start by saying that I have had the privilege of crossing the paths of the three personages being presented to us in book form today – General Yakubu Gowon in The Supreme Commander; Chief Obafemi Awolowo in Unfinished Greatness; and Ogunsanwo in Baptism of Fire. There is very little anyone can say about them that may not have been reflected in the books on them. But I am quite sure that my personal meetings with the icons will not be found on any of the pages of the books, being as I have said, personal.
I met General Gowon, uninvited, at his home in London in the early 80s, having heard that he was coming back home. He was a man after my heart because he did not throw up his arms in despair when he was overthrown in 1975. He went back to school and the rest is history. I was excited being part of the outcome of that history. So when I was in England, I went to his home in London, and met this man we are celebrating today, a former head of the Nigerian State and /Commander in Chief of its Armed Forces, cleaning a swimming pool in the house he stayed in. It was a modest dwelling in the outskirts of London. It was definitely not acquired with stolen funds, nor was it one of many he would have owned in an era when there was so much money he could be a dollar billionaire if he had been brought up to cherish and nourish tastes outside the spiritual. The information at my disposal was that that lowly dwelling had been given to him by an African head of state! He did me proud by chairing the presentation of four books when I marked my 70 years on earth at the National Theatre on August 20, 2009. I will raise the question whether we know who our heroes are when we mouth the line in our national anthem that speaks of the labour of our heroes past.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the only human hero I ever had. As leader of the Action Group in the 50s and early 60s, I watched in anger and helplessness as he and his followers were being ruthlessly castrated by the powers that were, at the Centre. My elder brother, Kessington Momoh was a die-hard Awoist, and so were we, all of us growing up and who had become literate because of Awolowo’s free education programme in the then Western Region of Nigeria. The problems of the party split it from top to bottom and my brother, then in the House of Assembly and minister in the government headed by Chief Ladoke Akintola, was the first signatory to the petition which endorsed the removal of Akintola as premier of Western Region. On the floor of the House, when the resolution to remove Chief Akintola was to be passed, someone seized the mace from the Speaker’s table and rushed at my brother and broke it on his head. The fracas that followed was the setting for declaring a state of emergency in the Region and giving the powers to make law for region to the Federal Government which appointed a sole administrator for the region. All Action Group members of note, along with Chief Awolowo, were restricted to different parts of the region. I was at Auchi where Kessington Momoh was restricted.He could not go outside three miles radius of his residence. As a lawyer, he took up his wig and gown and started going to court at Auchi. He was restricted to a mile so he could not access the court. He found a short cut to the court, and when the authorities knew this, he was restricted to half a mile! So, he was stuck at home. The police came to search his house and found some communist literature there and accused him of being a socialist! I claimed that the books were mine because they were indeed mine, and I, like every other young man, was rummaging socialist literature to strengthen our ideological posturing against capitalism. When I came to Lagos and became a journalist, it was not too much of a problem for me to reach out to Chief Awolowo, then as Commissioner in Gen Gowon’s cabinet during the Civil War and after, to ask that he should speak at a Guild of Editor’s forum in Lagos. I was then secretary of the Guild. He did, on November 2, 1971 on The Rule of Law Under Military Rule.
It was years later, as editor of the Daily Times when that paper was still the only newspaper of note in this country, that I met the author of the works being presented today, Otunba Olufemi Ogunsanwo. Femi, as I call him, was my colleague at a critical time when we were fighting to prove that the Daily Times could be independent of government control even after the Federal Government, under Gen Olusegun Obasanjo, had forcibly taken over 60 per cent of the shares belonging to those who owned more than 1,000 units. I assigned journalists to each of the presidential candidates. Femi was attached to do the rounds with Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim, presidential candidate of the GNPP (Great Nigeria Peoples Party) and the unequalled exponent of politics without bitterness. I doubt whether he would tell us in his book, the pressure on me to remove him from that beat because he seemed to be having so much space in the paper that his colleagues wanted the reporters moved around. He may well never have been aware of the pressure. Femi turned out later to be the landlord of my young relation who was running an IT company of which I was chairman. It was then I knew that Femi was as tough a businessman at negotiating rents on his property as he was at his post as a writer of immense clarity. I am quite sure that what we have on the table today will be proof of the pudding in the eating.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. Having established that I know a bit of everyone of the three subjects in the three books we are here to present today, I would like to say that my own contribution to this forum, in the form of a keynote address, was made easy by the theme which is the marking of 50 years of Nigeria’s acquisition of political independence.
What came to my mind when I saw the theme of this outing was what happened on March 18, 2010 at Benin City. It was at the Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre. There were three governors there, and eight state governments represented. About 2,000 trade unionists were there too. It was their day, their forum, for the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria was having its 8th triennial conference.A month before that day, their secretary-general had come to my office to ask me to speak at the forum on Nigeria At 50 – Issues and Challenges. My presentation there is today a little pocket book of 58 pages. If our literary icon Prof Chinua Achebe told us what the trouble of Nigeria is, in that presentation, I gave you the solutions. But have we the political will to do what will grow this country?
I will present 25 copies to this forum as my own contribution to the presentations here today, but I would like to summarise what I said and put in one or two points to show how not ready we are to frontally meet the challenges of development.
Everyone knows that we have a very loaded political arrangement that laps up the resources we ought to spend to grow this country. This lapping up takes place at the federal, state and local council levels. When people are calling for collapsing of the states, and returning to the parliamentary system because the presidential system is a dictatorial financial drain pipe, our lawmakers have been making promises to agitators that 10 more states may be created! We have today, to be celebrated, one man who looked our problem in the face and presided over the creation of 12 states. We increased the number to 19, then 21, and 30 and now 36. With the so-called constitutional amendments being proposed by the national assembly, there is the possibility that we would increase the number of sharing centres which our political structures have become.
But I say we must address this heavy contraption and reduce to the minimum the structures that will make us drop further in the ratings of those countries that are striving to be counted as growing economic powers. While we want to be no less number 20 in the year 2020, the Americans have predicted we would be a failed state at the rate we were driving ourselves in consumptive greed. We did tell them off, describing the views of the American experts as glib talk arising from “dubious or diabolical benchmarks.”
But in my publication, Will Nigeria Collapse, I tried to look at the case the Americans were making. The issues the experts considered included globalization and the impact on political development and economic growth, patterns of conflict, terrorism, and democratization. Let us look at some of them
We have nothing that would compete on the world market. We import almost everything we consume. We are no more than a dumping ground for everything. We have become a tokunbocountry, and are being turned into a tokunbo people. It is true we have oil but we are unmindful of the fact that those in whose land the oil is located are distressed and no one seems ready to recognize the consequences of being driven to the wall. We also refuse to know that oil was the gift of the last century and that this century will, in a short period of less than 30 years, be discussing the ban on use of oil because of its polluting properties in a world that will be aching for a thorough clean-up. Purer and more environment-friendly sources of energy will be downloaded sooner than we think, because this downloading we call inventions are no inventions in the cosmic sense. They arrive as gifts of the Light when the time is ripe. We have not made use of the gifts we have now. We have been pocketing the money and that is why nationality groups always run one another aground about who next should present the President. If we knew what awaits rulers of the next few years, many of us would take cover from public office, especially if we want to continue to take office-holding as a business!
We chose a new dispensation grounded on due process in 1999, but things are becoming more complicated en route by the day. Every government is said to be God-ordained and anyone in power is said to be there on God’s anointing. But the abuses associated with democratic practices, especially in developing countries, and Nigeria is a leader in this regard, can only lead to destruction, not growth, not development. The 2003 elections were globally flawed. The 2007 outing that would have helped to restore some confidence in the walk on our chosen highway buried our practice of democracy. God would never have ordained such blatant thieving. We now have a no-party situation because the political parties are ideologically neutral, have nothing to tell Nigerians that is consistent and predictable apart from falling over themselves to introduce despicable dimensions to robbing the public treasury. The fight to stem the trend can only be cosmetic because we are unwilling to address the causes.
Patterns of conflicts
Have we not been witness to what has been emerging since the annulment of the 1993 Presidential election which Moshood Abiola won? In spite of the fact that amends are said to have been made through the emergence of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, have we agreed to forget June 12? I am not American, but I did do a book entitled Experiment with Disintegration in 1993 when I saw the dangerous rollicking of our ship of state. Abacha came and left, but the seeds of youth restiveness had been sown countrywide. The respect, accommodation and active support for youth movements countrywide only point to what is to come when this country explodes in our hands because we have been misreading the signs. The conflicts are not only emerging at nationality levels. The religious groups are getting more interested in what others do wrong rather than what they themselves should do to be acceptable in the sight of the Lord. The removal of the chief referee of our electoral process is not the solution in a situation where we want to sustain the instruments of theft of peoples’ votes.
The youths countrywide seem to be speaking more with one voice than the leaders who are more interested in what they can get out of Nigeria than what, for a change, they can give to their country. All the youth organizations have a common stake in a strong viable Nigeria. I am frightened when I see them speak with so much concern that I wonder whether those governing this country ever send feelers to such fora. I recall youths of the Niger Delta telling us boldly in Calabar at the meeting of Niger Delta Ethnic Nationalities that they are waiting for us to tell them when Nigeria would be restructured to reflect true federalism and resource control. They said they were not asking whether such a step would be taken! The truth is that where justice is denied and the structures that should protect everyone are seen to be twisted to achieve diabolical ends, then terrorism becomes attractive to the deprived. If people push for change now, it is because that is the only way they see a light at the end of the tunnel.
We know that we have not been obeying the rules of the road since we started the walk on the democracy highway on May 29, 1999. Everyday that passes shows that we are unwilling to make our democracy work. We have blatantly abused the ballot. We are angry at dissent. We repress protests of any description. We even kill when we become impatient with those who prod us. We have not equipped the managers of due process in elections to work. INEC is not funded, and is not equipped to produce a register of voters or update it or conduct any credible election. Are we wanting democracy to grow when we look at individuals and want to make law that will entrench injustices that cannot be defended? We told military men to quit the military, wear agbada and go into the political arena and seek votes. Now, we want to scheme them out of power by ignoring the constitution that gives everyone above 18 the right to vote and, in appropriate cases, ask to be voted for. What is the difference between those who announce take-over of power on radio and those who take power by writing up results of elections they did not win? To the restive youth, there is no difference between six and half a dozen.
Intervention of young military officers
This can only be one attempt to restore sanity to walking the road taken. But those who try this option will fail, and this is the greatest threat to Nigeria. The reason they are likely to fail is that no coup d’etat in Nigeria that was ever resisted succeeded. All the coup attempts that succeeded were radio coups. As Nigeria is structured today, on tenuous lines based on iniquitous inequities, the danger we face is more that of mindless killings than coups. Each nationality group will have to find their ways to their tribal tents and defend their homesteads.And that is where coming together will be more difficult. The Americans have read the signs well and any attempt to fault them here is unfortunate.
So, looking at what is at present, all the signs point to a Nigeria that will be a failed state in fewer years than the years projected by American experts. I thought we could make use of the 2005 National Political Reform Conference to attend to issues of Nigeria, not issues that must elevate the constituent parts. The Nigerian chain needed strengthening, and this I believed and still believe can be done when we reduce drastically the cost of running government now. It is too high and everyone knows it.
In other countries where democracy is the chosen path, people go into government to give service, and are poorer doing so. Here, we take government as a business and go in there using the questionable means of ungodly businessmen. I spoke to this issue comprehensively at the lecture I gave at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs some years ago to mark the 80th birthday of Chief Bob Ogbuagu, public relations guru and one of the few surviving nationalists who fought for a Nigeria they thought could make the difference in world affairs.
The difference Nigeria will make in world affairs is ordained and that is why it will not break up, why it will not be a failed state. How it will come about belongs on High. Those who have an opportunity in leadership positions today to smoothen the re-engineering for high spiritual recognitions that will ground it, should not miss the present opportunity to do so. But from what I see happening today, I doubt that we do know or care about a Power that will call us to account for whatever we do here when we do leave this plane of experiencing.
What the Americans are telling us are the visible signs that can destroy a vision and a mission. But while we are trying to destroy a vision through what we think we can gain today from temporary advantages, missions do get achieved in spite of the greed, in spite of the short sightedness of those called to prepare the ground. And now that we know that Nigeria does not just have a future but a mission, can we not make the fulfilment a happy and joyful one by deliberately working to smoothen the path being so clearly shown to us?
We will be 50 in October and we say better late than never, but if a fool at 40 is said to be a fool forever, I wonder what we can be said to be at 50? Idiots and nincompoops? I will never give up on Nigeria and that is why having shown what I think we ought to do at this late stage, I anchored my presentation on the national anthem in questioning how willing we are to accept the challenges of growing a country such as Nigeria is.
Look at the first stanza of the National Anthem:
Arise O Compatriots, Nigeria’s call obey
To serve our Fatherland
With love and strength and faith
The labour of our heroes past
Shall never be in vain
To serve with heart and might
One nation bound in freedom, peace and unity.
In my presentation at Benin, I addressed the important words in the anthem — Arise, Compatriots, Nigeria, Call, Obey, Service and Fatherland.
On Nigeria, Service and fatherland, I said,:
Nigeria: This is a country made up of disparate groupings. There is a population of more than 140 million people made up of more than 250 nationality groups. It has a history that should guide our ways, but we are too lazy to study it…
Service: The call is a call to serve. When you serve, you must know who you are serving, what you are to do, how you are to do it. In journalism we refer to the five W’s and H which are the first tips we are given in presenting a rounded picture of every event we cover. What is it you are called upon to do; why are you asked to do it; where will it be done and when; who is it that must do it or that it must be done to; and how is it to be done? One thing about service is that no reward is a prerequisite for rendering it. Service here is a duty which you must perform.
Fatherland: Our fatherland is Nigeria. The service is therefore a service to Nigeria. The call of Nigeria is to Nigerian compatriots to wake up to serve Nigeria, their fatherland. This is no denial to serve the ethnic group, the community, the family, the individual. These are degrees and levels of service. But there is the call to serve the nation, to put the fatherland first in relation to any other “fatherland”, be it internal or external. How this service must be rendered is stated. It must be in love, not in enmity, not in distrust. It must be in strength, which means collective strength, united action, cooperation of all the areas of manifestation of life in our country – labour, students, market associations, the organized and unorganized private sectors; in politics, culture, in government and its arms; among the young and the old; the major nationality groups and the minor nationality groups, the north and the south, the Berom and the Cattle Fulani et al. All must harbour a volition for what is good for this country and keep that volition alive in action through our thoughts, our words and our deeds. And all these we must do in faith. It is when we obey the call to serve that we can agree that the labour of our past heroes would not have been in vain. But who are our past heroes?
Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen. I challenge you as I did the audience in Benin on March 18, 2010 to tell us who our heroes are because our lack of knowledge of our heroes is an issue and our acquisition of such knowledge in the school system is a challenge. How do we know who our heroes were when there is no opportunity to study history? In our community schools, there must be a programme to enable the children growing up understand who the builders of the community were, how they came, where from, why etc. The development of the community in its social, economic, cultural and other aspects must be taught. Who were the good guys and who the bad guys? What was the system for maintaining law and order? The secondary schools should teach the history of the ethnic or culture group and the university must teach Nigerian and African history.
It must have been part of the colonial agenda to deny our past by exposing theirs. So, in growing up, I played in the school band on Empire Days where we sang God save the Queen and agreed that Great Britain ruled the waves and had an empire where the sun would never set! We were happy to be part of that empire and to be honoured with being slaves and servants to the Queen and her representatives. Jomo Kenyatta, a hero of Kenya’s nationalist struggle, described the colonial experience succinctly when he intoned. “They came, took our land and gave us the Bible.” Of course, there is much to being given spiritual food which the Bible and the Qur’an contain, but how do people eat spiritual food without access to the physical food that would give health to the body?
We cannot be proud of a country whose past, whose builders we do not know. In the absence of knowledge of those who worked hard to build a nation, there must be absence of values to look up to, to live for and where necessary, die for. But in the absence of such values, money becomes the yardstick for measuring success! Corruption becomes part of life and living, and he who cannot make his first million before he is 30 is, in the current way of thinking, a monumental failure.
We must therefore bring forth the past to our remembrance so that we can learn its lessons to help our planning for today. For it is today’s child that is tomorrow’s father. It is what we sow today that bears fruit for harvest tomorrow. On October 1, this year, those who were born on that day in 1960 will be 50 years old. Won’t they?
So, today, we celebrate two icons this country should never undermine because of what they represent by any yardstick for measuring values. Femi Ogunsanwo’s effort is one by an individual. But how much collective effort have we provided for celebrating those who have grown this country and running aground those who have derailed it?
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, in my presentation here today, I have tried to show that we have all there is to growing a country and a people. In every facet of life where we have been challenged, there have been mountains of solutions, but we have lacked the political will to work for the benefit of the people who look up to us for their security and welfare. This greed must be tamed, and the way out is suggested here in the booklet, Nigeria at 50 – Issues and Challenges.
Believe me when I insist that it is my own solution to what Chinu Achebe so eloquently described as the Trouble With Nigeria.
I thank you for your attention.