(Vanguard of Sunday, September 2, 2001)
We had an exciting time at the Metropolitan Club Lagos about mid-August. There were some 30 media houses in attendance at a roundtable which had been organized by the Alumni Association of the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies currently being chaired by Prince Julius Adelusi- Adeluyi. Dr. Ismail Babatunde Jose, eminent media veteran and statesman to whom I owe everything good in my career as a journalist, was the guest of honour.
I gave the lea paper which was discussed by some of my colleagues in the media. They included the President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, who because of the profile that brought out in two pages of colour in Thisday, is now known and called “delectable Mrs. Remi Oyo”. There was also the editor-in-Chief of Tell Magazine, Mr. Nosa Igiebor. Mallam Kabiru Yusuf of Trust, the paper that is reflecting the Northern Voice that has been missing for some time now, raised some dust when he suggested that the three major ethnic groups should be distant from power at the centre for a whole generation. Dr. Adidi Uyo of the University of Lagos, was his usual self in penetrating analysis of what is there to be handled. And of course there was the unmistakable baritone voice of my brother John Momoh of Channels Television, who told his colleagues how they have done good jobs badly by not following up on stories, by not asking relevant questions.
What I said at the forum is not being reproduced here. That would qualify the exercise for the description of my handicraft teacher at Government School, Auchi, who said a repetition of the design of the cane chair we were making was tautological. I therefore will address only one of the side-line comments for reasons you will soon discover.
I recalled with nostalgia my relationship with NIPSS, the National Institute. I also had a funny one when I tried to focus the subject-matter which Prince Adelusi Adeluyi preferred to render as Quo Vadis Nigeria which my manager in the office thought was Chinese. I wanted, too, to address this question of round tables because I had been invited to speak at round tables only to get there to discover that the tables were anything but round. In my way of looking at things, I believe that I have to make people laugh before we address a situation that should lead to national mourning. What can any serious person say about Nigeria, our fatherland, our motherland, whichever way you may like to refer to it; but our land all the same. If every day we do things that give the impression that it must always be business as usual, even when we have opted for a dispensation that guaranteed certain rights which we in our official capacities maintain more in the breach than the observance, then we have a lot to do with deeds than the consistent and persistent mouthing of promises.
Because of my feeling for the National Institute, I should emphasize what I said at the forum. I told the alumni association that I regarded myself as the most privileged non-member of the National Institute. I had my impeccable credentials for the claim. I was the only member or non-member of the Institute to have been listed in two Courses, Courses Two and Three. I was late in getting to Jos for Course Two and pleaded in vain to be allowed to stay. The clearance would not come because the Director-General was adamant. He said the course was not theoretical and there was no way I could be let off the first segment which wad drawing to a close. That segment was one of interaction. Everybody who had anything to say was brought there to say it, and be asked questions. Right there were the men and women who had been at the top of their careers or very near the top. Colonels and Commissioner of Police and permanent secretaries and professors and top labour leaders and top business – all sat side-by-side as students! And like students, they laughed and joked and listened to views they would never have had any other opportunity to have listened to.
These views cut across politics, the economy, ethnicity, religion, professions. The first part would end with a tour of the country in groups. This was the part that was drawing to a close and which the director-general said I could not be allowed to miss. He told me there was no way I could catch up on the experiences that had come through the interactions of the first module.
There would be a place for me in Course Three. There was indeed a place for me in Course Three, but the Daily Time would not release me for a whole year which the programme had been reshaped to take. My name features, therefore, on Course Lists Two and Three. And right there in one of the apartments are the names of those who had been through the institutions and had stayed in there. My name is right there as number 3. Who else can lay a better claim, in equity, to membership of the Institute?
If there is any institution I wanted to attend, it was one where interactions made you a new person for where is the better way to access knowledge than through experiencing? And if experience is the best teacher, why should this place which I believe is our version of the Imperial Collage not be the last port of call for those who aspire to national office in the country? Must that be the Siberia that those to be retired permanently must be sent to? Who twisted and subverted the vision of the founders of the National Institute?
Back to the topic of the presentation, I had to speak on Quo vadis Nigeria.
Whither indeed is this country? Are we not aware that we have just 13 years to be a hundred years ole as a geographical expression? Are we sure as we want to be that this country is a federation of equal units that can claim to have any measure of autonomy over the way people live in this little acre that God has given them?
If things are as cosy as we pretend they are, why do people are for conferences? Why are the major players in our polity meeting at nationality levels? Why are new parties being floated? Why are people complaining about the way our political actors perform their chores? Why are some of our rulers not going by the words of the Constitution to give Mr. President a power they know they cannot give so that he can determine the appointment of a civil servant using the innocuous yardstick that he was corrupt – without trial, without the opportunity for a fair hearing! What is happening in this country and where are some people leading us to?
I must been getting on the nerves of our fashioners of pergrammes the way I have been bellyaching over certain things; over our missing the opportunity of a life-time in not initiating structural changes that will integrate this country; over our reluctance in the deregulating government so that the economy can deregulate itself.
Kabir believed that the three major nationality groups in Nigeria have failed the nation and that they should be made to distance themselves from power for the next 25 years. Some people clapped. I would gain if such a decision was taken, being from South-South. But I know that would create more problems than the solutions we envisaged.
What is happening in this country is more than an ethnicity problem. It is a human problem writ large and until we address the human condition in this country, we shall have more on our national plate to contend with than we ever imagined possible.
The President is a man of structures. He will give us light and telephones and functioning airports. But he will fail to decongest governance because his eyes do not seem directed at the heaviness of government, which is not of his own making but that of the constitution. But must he leave this country with a constitutional albatross that can destroy it? What would his second coming have yielded? What is going on? In the words of Ras Kimono, what’s gwan? Quo Vadis Nigeria?
(Published in Vol. 1 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 274 – 277; Lagos, 2003).