Bill Clinton, a recent past president of the United States, once said Nigeria is beyond comprehension. He was reacting to one of the late General Sani Abacha’s move in statecraft. Clinton must be right. Up to a few weeks ago, the national conversation was a harvest of frame games, accusations and threats. Then General Gowon spoke. He was followed by Chief Obasanjo, each offering concrete suggestions.
Now, Engineer Muhammad Abba Gana, an ideologue of the Progressives camp in the Second Republic and a man who has humanized power by living his political life above the temptations and excesses of power is following the footsteps of the two senior citizens with his own intervention.
Fairly long a speech but beyond editing without doing violence to both the letter and spirit of his intervention. It deserves publication in full so that everyone who reads it can make up his or her mind above the manipulated and polluted atmosphere of today. It was his address on the occasion of “The Great Debate for National Unity” organised by Igbo Leadership Development Foundation, Gregory University, Uturu and the World Igbo Summit Group at Sheraton Hotel, Abuja March 5th, 2020
It above the temptations First of all let me extend my sincere appreciation to the organizers of this timely and worthwhile Great Debate for National Unity for finding me worthy of participating in this debate.
- I want to begin by saying that what I am going to say here, on this occasion, are my personal views, opinions, suggestions, advice and recommendations in the exercise of my human and citizenship rights and do not reflect or represent the views or positions of any groups, associations, organizations or professions I belong to.
- Accordingly I want to state that all the crises, disputes, disagreements, wars etc., anywhere in the world are reactions to real or perceived injustice, oppression, denials, exclusion, dispossession, maladministration or bad governance carried out in a deliberate or organized manner.
- Here in Nigeria, it will be dishonest to say that we have witnessed long periods of good governance in our about sixty (60) years of existence as independent/self governing country. In any country or organization, things go right or well because of leadership and also go bad or wrong because of leadership. As the saying goes, there is no armour against fate. Had our leaders who got us independence from the British without armed struggle continued to run our country up to say the late 1970’s and handed over to their successors, we could have been as developed as India, South Korea, Malaysia, Brazil etc. But the unfortunate disruption of January 1966 military coup threw us out of the orbit of economic development/industrial development and prosperity and political stability.
- Therefore we are now like a good football team losing a match because of penalty or own goal. So, the owners and handlers of such team go back to the drawing board and avoid all the previous avoidable, self-inflicted mistakes. And the team will end up winning the trophy because they are really good team.
- Like the said football team, so it is with Nigeria. God the Almighty and All-Knowing, Our Creator and Sustainer has given us all the natural and human resources to create great prosperity and great society where all citizens are contented and have jobs to do, houses to live in with good education and health, with no hungry and angry citizens. I believe this is not utopia. It’s doable and achievable within reasonable time if good leaders are elected at all levels to run the country.
- The good examples of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Brazil, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others like the UAE who utilized their God given resources responsibly for the benefits of their people are there for us to copy.
- Therefore, in Nigeria, we must urgently do something about our leadership recruitment process to get out of this under development and poverty orbit. If you give a brand new SUV to a bad driver to drive on good road, I believe the new vehicle will not last.
- So what do we do with Nigeria, our potentially great country, the most populous democratic black country in the whole world, 200 million of us and the largest market in Africa?. For the sake of all the black people of this world, we must make Nigeria work well for the benefit of all Nigerians and to serve as the guardian of all the black people of the world.
- I want to state with all honesty and sincerity of purpose that no geo-political zone, state or ethnic group within Nigeria can be better off outside Nigeria. Our economy and people are so inter-dependent, socially connected by marriage, business and other interests etc.
- As the saying goes, bad times do not last forever but tough people do. Also, there is a book by Edwin Louis Cole, with the inspiring title that says “Winners are not those who never fail but those who NEVER QUIT.
- So we must make Nigeria work for the good of ALL Nigerians. This means that we the stakeholders of Nigeria must forge a great and positive National Consensus on how to Reform or Restructure Nigeria. I like the word Reform: Institutional Reform, Electoral Reform, Political Reform, Economic Reform, Civil Service Reform, Reforming the system of government, Revenue Allocation Reform, Judicial Reform, major changes in attitude to government, politics, religion, ethnicity, business etc.
- In order to design the Nigeria of our choice we must avoid all kinds of threat, blackmail, abuses and dangerous rhetoric. We must involve leaders who are on moral high ground, nation builders and nationalists and they are available in each and all the states of the federation. Our problem is we do not want to involve good people in our affairs.
- Some people believe that the six-geo political zones can be made into six regions. Such people are unmindful of the politics of the creation of states since the 1st republic years, General Gowon regime down to Murtala Mohammed regime, up to IBB and Abacha regime. The agitation still continues. But we cannot continue to create states, which are unviable. I believe we have reached the optimum number. The Northern part of Nigeria occupies about 75% of the landmass of Nigeria and about 55% or so of the population of Nigeria. In the military arithmetic of bringing government closer to the people, the Northern part of Nigeria has 19 states and the Southern part which occupies about 25% of the landmass was given 17 states. In my submission to the presidential committee on National Dialogue in 2013, I argued that one and only one additional state be created for the South East zone for the sake of justice and fairness. I still stand by my recommendation.
- In the same submission to the committee on National Dialogue, I recommended that additional one hundred or so LGA’s be created for some states, in both the Northern and Southern parts to address some anomalies in the number of LGA’s in some states.
- It is clear that out of the six geo political zones, only the South West, South East and the North West (minus Southern Kaduna) can be converted to happy and homogenous regions. The six states of the South South zone, the six states of the North Central zone and the six states of the North East zone have all extreme ethnic diversity that they will not agree to forgo their existing self governing status, with each state having a self-governing status, with each state having a governor. So in order to make the restructuring/reform acceptable to all, the 36 or 37 state structure of the federation should be retained and more powers and functions of the federal government be devolved to the states and LGA’s and the revenue allocation formula should be reviewed to give more to the states and local governments to enable them shoulder the additional responsibilities devolved to them.
- The other very important issue, which should form part of the coming reform/restructuring, is the matter of putting the rotational presidency into our constitution. Our political elites are very idealistic and elitist. Every country in the world make their constitution and form of government to suit their historical, cultural, religious, ethnic diversity etc., background. Most countries in Europe have different constitutions and forms of government. Take the British for example, who still retain their monarchy or the French who have a president and a prime minister, the Germans with their own different system and so on. In the USA, the Senate President is the Vice-President. And they have complicated system of primaries and electoral college. Therefore, in Nigeria, we must design a system which ensures/guarantees political stability of our country. In Europe, Switzerland adopted the rotational presidency because they have diverse ethnic groups; from Germans to French, Italians etc.
- Now, let us examine why National Unity has become elusive in Nigeria after about sixty years of self-government. In my opinion, it is the tendency of the political class and the elites to always manipulate religion, region/regionalism, ethnicity, culture etc., to gain political advantage instead of talking about economic, social and industrial development and using a template of social and political and economic justice. So the manipulation of religion, ethnicity, culture and region/regionalism for political purposes undermines National Unity and also makes getting National Consensus on any issue very difficult after about 60 years of self-government.
- Therefore, in order to make progress, the present generation of leaders must consciously and deliberately avoid/stop this tendency of manipulating/using religion, ethnicity, regionalism, culture etc., to gain political advantage. Instead, let us talk about bringing peace, unity, security, creating jobs, giving quality and affordable education, health care, transportation, industrialization, electricity and water supply, housing and food security. This is the way to build a prosperous and united country in diversity.
- Accordingly we must ensure that the good efforts of our 1st republic leaders who got us independence without armed struggle from the British should not be in vain. Also we should ensure that all those who died in the Biafran war of Nigerian Unity did not die in vain by establishing a truly united, peaceful, secure and prosperous Nigeria where poverty, unemployment, hunger, income, inequality are largely absent and all Nigerians are feeling good and contented.
- We must realize again that our leadership recruitment process needs to be improved substantially. If the right things happen it is because of good leaders and if wrong things happen it is because of wrong type of leaders. But getting good leaders needs a lot of effort from all citizens and stakeholders and institutions of state. Once we get critical mass of good leaders at all levels the jigsaw will fit, all National Questions will get the right answers, food will be on the table, naira in the pocket, security will be abundant and life will be nice, fun and good.
- The Nigerian federation is the most unique in the whole world but unfortunately Nigerian elites and the political class are not conscious/aware of this fundamental matter. In the other major federations there is always one major ethnic group consisting of about 65%-75% of the total population of the country. The remaining ethnic groups constitute about 25%-35% of the population. So no matter what happens the major ethnic group provides political stability and the leader emerges through their consent. In the U.K. for example the English is the major ethnic group, the Scottish, Irish, Welsh all are not much more than 30% or 35% of the U.K. population. In the U.S.A the Blacks, Hispanics, Indians etc., do not account for more than 35% of the population or even less. So, the Whites can determine the leadership. The black population alone could not make Obama President of U.S.A. In the former Soviet Union, the Russian ethnic group is the largest group, constituting up to 70% of the population. In India, the Hindu group is the vast majority. But, in the case of Nigeria, no single ethnic group constitutes more than 30%-40% of the total population. None of the three major ethnic groups: Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo on their own can hold the country to ransom. Total population of the minority groups in the North and South may be equal or even more than any of the three major ethnic groups in population. So the Nigerian federation is unique because none of the three major ethnic groups or all the minority ethnic groups can, on their own, determine the leadership or anything to the exclusion of the other two major ethnic groups. So, there is always a close tie or stalemate. So rotation of presidency is necessary to ensure permanent political stability.
- This is the reason why the 1994/1995 constitutional conference adopted/approved the rotational presidency and the Abacha government approved it. The same thing is happening in Switzerland where ethnic Germans, ethnic French, ethnic Italians etc., adopted rotational presidency whereby each of the ethnic groups produce the leadership of the country turn by turn.
- It is a matter of commonsense for Nigerians to adopt rotational presidency so that our political stability and peace, unity, security, progress and prosperity are assured forever. We should not be violently and bitterly disputing election results after 60 years of self-government.
- Again we have to take advantage of the coming political reforms or restructuring as some groups describe it to re-examine critically which form of government would serve our needs best between the presidential system we are now practicing the parliamentary system we used to practice in the 1st republic. It is abundantly clear that the presidential system is more expensive for obvious reasons. One, for the position of the president ,the candidate has the whole country as his constituency i.e. the 36 states and FCT. S/he has to open campaign office and employ necessary staff and supply them with all the logistics and campaign materials in contrast to the parliamentary system where a federal member who has won election in any federal constituency within his or her state may end up as prime minister if his political party has majority of members in the parliament. Same thing goes for the position of state governor. In the presidential system any state gubernatorial candidate has the whole state as his/her constituency and must open campaign offices in every LGA of the state and employ staff to run such offices. In the parliamentary system any of members of the State House of Assembly may end up as the state governor if his or her political party has majority of the members in the house of assembly.
- In the parliamentary system, ministers in the cabinet are appointed from amongst the members of the federal house, usually from the same party as the prime minister. But if there is coalition of political parties forming the government the prime minister can appoint ministers from amongst the members of the political party forming the coalition. Same thing goes for the appointment of commissioners at the state level. The state governor appoints his commissioners from amongst the members of the state house of assembly. In presidential system, the president and state governors are free to appoint any suitable person, elected member or not, politician or not. Sometimes even apolitical technocrats are appointed ministers or commissioners.
- Therefore, we need to decide which form of government best serves our needs along with other matters under the National Question. If for any overriding reason the presidential system is preferred we must face the reality of high cost of its operation and high cost of electioneering campaigns particularly in the case of presidential, gubernatorial and senatorial candidates needing billions of naira for campaign. We cannot get good leaders elected because quite a large number of suitable candidates cannot afford to raise the billions of naira needed. Therefore a way must be found to drastically reduce through whatever means the high cost of elections, otherwise the leadership recruitment process will forever remain in favour of the highest bidder not necessarily the best or most suitable candidate. So good governance, transparency, accountability will suffer in such leadership recruitment process. And good governance, accountability and transparency is the need for the system. Well, once there is will there must be way.
- The other problem of the presidential system is that it puts a lot of state power and material resources under the control of one person, the president or the governor. It is a matter of common sense that if you put so much material resources and state power in the hands of one person, the president or the governor, the chances are that such material resources will be mismanaged from time to time and also the state power will be abused from time to time.
- The problem is that in our practice of presidential system in Nigeria, the separation of powers among the executive, legislature and judiciary has been compromised in practice. Obama, former U.S.A President said in Africa we need strong institutions. But in Africa, too many strongmen do not allow institutions like legislature, judiciary, political parties, electoral bodies, and security agencies to become strong and independent. And even the media and civil society are sometimes compromised, sometimes subtly and sometimes directly.
- In the parliamentary system, power is more diffused/shared. This is because the prime minister at the federal level and the governor at the state level are also elected members of parliament and they operate on the floor of parliament – matters are openly debated, questions are asked and answered by the prime minister/governor on the floor of the parliament, with speaker presiding and in control of the proceedings. The presidential system we have is really like mild dictatorship or monarchy because the separation of powers does not work properly, for now, and the institutions of state are compromised or can be compromised by strong hands of the executive. So, what to do?
- The time has come to stop copying political systems from other countries without infusing our peculiar needs and taking into account our level of political and social development etc. The electoral code which made/produced the most free, fair and peaceful election, the Abiola victory was our own open ballot system. Voters queue behind the photograph of the candidates of their choice. The result: zero rigging. Nobody complained among those who contested.
- All over the world countries make constitutions, rules, regulations and social and economic policies which reflect and accommodate their history, well known peculiarities and social, economic, religious and ethnic diversities. That is how the much desired unity in diversity can be achieved or realized by having sensible rules and realistic fundamental laws for our meaningful existence on our God given, full of resources territory called or named Nigeria.
- Now for the concluding thoughts. We must note and realize that ordinary Nigerians are really not the problems of Nigeria as a country. The ordinary people live peacefully with each other and manage to sustain themselves with really very little support from governments at all levels. Even the minimum expected from the governments at all levels, security and the welfare of the people is now difficult to access.
- In this situation, the least the political class should do is to avoid making the existing bad situation even worse through dangerous rhetoric, incitement, disinformation and misinformation. As far as I can assess, most of the crises and difficulties in Nigeria are caused by the inordinate ambitions, greed and ego of not more than one thousand (1000) privileged Nigerians and the 200 million Nigerians are in hostage situation. It is a fact that the inordinate ambition of one leader or the unchained/unrestrained evil in one leader can destroy a whole country like Hitler in Germany, bad leaders in Latin America, Africa, Middle East and elsewhere in the world.
- Therefore the present situation in Nigeria needs to be managed carefully, responsibly, patriotically, patiently and with fear of God. This is why the recent nationwide resort to prayers and fasting is welcome development because God is Almighty and All-Knowing, our Creator and Sustainer and He Alone Has Power over everything. We should also know that some cures can be much worse than the disease. And curing the disease by killing the patient is definitely no use.
- Nigeria as presently constituted and with a vision for the future, no ethnic group can be better off outside Nigeria than remaining inside Nigeria. They say there is always safety in Numbers. All the influential and important countries of the world, even the most prosperous ones, have large populations. In human affairs and in the march of human civilization things happen in God’s own time and not when we human beings expect. What we cannot achieve now our children and grand children can achieve in their own time no one generation can resolve or find solutions to all problems and difficulties arising in the nation building process. Therefore we must not spare any effort to keep Nigeria one and united for the sake of our children, grand children and future generations of Nigerians and also for the sake of all the black people of the world.
- In times like this we must think and worry about the unintended consequences of what we do and what we say. This is because every action, every law and every policy, every doctrine etc., has unintended consequences, both positive and negative. All these must be objectively assessed by knowledgeable and patriotic persons, not by the mob or crowd.
- At the age of 77, I would like to leave behind a united, peaceful, prosperous and secure Nigeria. I would like to caution that there is no easy or peaceful way of dividing or breaking up Nigeria and I HATE to see it happening in my life time. God forbid.
- 39. Finally, for now, the most urgent matter facing all of us in Nigeria is really an existential one. This is to quickly overcome the multitude of internal security crises and restore peace, unity and security of lives and property throughout our beloved country, Nigeria.
- This is one task that must be done with our prayers to God the Almighty and All-Knowing and Our Creator and Sustainer for He Alone Has Power over everything. With all our hands on the deck and our Lord’s help and mercy on us to return our beautiful country to normalcy in permanent peace, unity, prosperity and security Amin!
- Thank you for your patience and God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.