Obasanjo and Consultative Dialogue Group

President Buhari’s widely acknowledged mismanagement of our crisis of nation building last week brought the forces responsible for political polarization in the country: Northern Elders Forum, Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, Afenifere, Middle Belt Forum as well as Pan Niger Delta Forum, together as a consultative dialogue group. They jointly denounced the on-going Senate review of the constitution, dismissing it “as a money-gulping activity and veritable source of waste without end”.

Polarisation arising from absence of elite consensus has always been the bane of Nigerian politics. The dominant ethnic groups, the Hausa-Fulani, the Igbo and the Yoruba at different levels of cultural development do not share a common view of the world. Whilst the political elite in the West according to Awo realized the Yoruba would not vote for you because you are Yoruba except you have a programme that will impact positively on his life and therefore worked for a more egalitarian society for their people, the East and the North saw their peoples as tools for attaining political power. While the North or the East could be regarded as one-party region, elections are often fiercely fought in the West. And since democracy is a game of numbers, the two never wanted dismemberment of their regions in spite of quest for self-actualization of minority groups in their regions.

Their rivalry over the soul of the country after the constitutional crisis that followed the disputed 1964 elections led the two which share a common view of how Nigeria should be run to lure the military into politics in 1966 with dire consequences. They plunged the nation into a civil war but only to re-group as NPN/NPP coalition in 1979 with Ojukwu, the Igbo war hero returning from exile to join them. In 1999, they re-grouped as PDP imposing Obasanjo on Nigeria to spite the Yoruba that roundly rejected him.

Obasanjo, an active player since 1975 who was on hand to address the consultative group last week fitted the bill. He conceded the successful struggle for independence to the generations of the Awolowos, Nnamdi Azikiwes, the Sardaunas, Aminu Kanos, Tafawa Balewas and others and on behalf of his fellow military adventurers and their new breed politicians took responsibility for the collapse of the buoyant economy they inherited. “When I banned the importation of toothpicks, another president came and lifted the ban”, he lamented. “At that time our maximum from all the power plants in the country was 3, 900 mw…one of the two who came after me in four years did not add one megawatt”, he added. He was however silent on over $20b frittered away.

He expressed the fear of Nigeria drifting into “a failed state, a basket case and poverty capital of the world, and unwholesome and insecure country”.

Speaking for government, Lai Mohammed however insists “whatever situation the country has found itself in, things would have been much worse” adding “it is Buhari’s assumption of office in 2015 that prevented Nigeria from becoming a failed state. He went on to accuse Obasanjo and some of his group of frittering away a great opportunity to put Nigeria on a sound socio-economic footing, at a time of financial buoyancy, thus planting seeds of today’s insecurity in some parts of the country.

Lai Mohammed’s claim may be correct but that unfortunately will not wish away indicators of a failed state that stare Nigerians on the face. It has become apparent the state is finding it increasingly difficult to guarantee security in the face of warlords masquerading as Boko Haram, herdsmen, bandits, kidnappers and other criminals.

The Council of Foreign Relations 2020 global Conflict Tracker recently claimed that “Since 2011, attacks by Boko Haram, the Islamist jihadist militancy in northeast Nigeria, has led to about 37,500 deaths, 2.5 million displaced people and nearly 244,000 Nigerian refuges”. The BBC also put the figure of those kidnapped in Nigeria since 2015 at 372 while the 2019 Fragile State Index ranked Nigeria as the 14th most fragile state in the world and the ninth in Africa with three of the 10 failed African states –Chad Sudan and Southern Sudan as neighbours.

On the economic front, there is mass unemployment partly because of lack of political will of government to confront economic saboteurs who in the name of commerce have turned the country into a dumping ground for second hand and substandard goods.

Lai Mohammed also insists that the nation “is courageously tackling its challenges and building a solid infrastructure that will serve as the basis for socio-economic development”. While many will appreciate efforts of government, one is however not sure whether a government that appears to listen only to itself has reflected on why such efforts in the past brought little or no joy to ordinary Nigerians.

After all, Babangida and his economic wizards, Olu Falae and Kalu Idika Kalu told us the regime was ‘sacrificing their present for our future’ while Obasanjo and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala promised an economic El Dorado. The reality is that the objective situation of ordinary Nigerian is today worse than it was in 1985.

But contrary to Obasanjo’s claims, the current manifestations of a weak state cannot be said to be the products of recent mismanagement of diversity by President Buhari. The ‘old fault lines’, he referred to, have never disappeared. If there was any time ‘drums of hatred, disintegration and separation and accompanying choruses’ were muted, it was perhaps during those periods the elite who falsely swear by the names of their people were as coalition partners or party stalwarts eating with their 10 fingers.

The first challenge of those who gathered in Abuja last week is to admit we need help in form of an umpire. As a multi ethnic society with different value systems, no one group can impose its value on others as the military has tried to do since 1975. The threat of a big brother was the secret of the 1946 constitution which brought regionalism and provided support for unity in diversity; the 1951 constitution which created House of Representatives with 136 elected members, 68 members from the north, 31 elected members from the west plus three members of the House of chiefs and 34 elected members from the east. The 1953 London Constitutional conference allocated specific powers to the centre leaving residual powers to the regions and the 1957 Lancaster London Conference paved the way for self-government for the west and east while it allowed the north to wait as long as it desired.

Compare the above with Babangida, Abacha and Obasanjo whose 1988, 1994/95 and 2005 confabs were designed to commit fraud. Jonathan on the eve of election embarked on his 2014 doomed conference for the purpose of seducing Yoruba voters, the advocate of restructuring.

President Buhari is a symptom rather than the cause of our current crisis of nation building which his predecessors including Obasanjo who today blames ‘inadequate dialogue, old prejudices and bias and lack of commitment to the love of the country’, had opportunity to redress.

As presently structured, Nigeria is a nation without stakeholders. This is why she is an easy target of rape by abusers such as migrating Fulani herdsmen, insurgents and callous importers of fake drugs and substandard goods. Return the country to its owners, the ethnic nationalities who have stakes in their communities and allow them to develop at their own pace within the greater Nigerian nation without interference from a dysfunctional centre, most of our crisis of nation building will disappear in three years.

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