Nigeria as a wayward child

By Casmir Igbokwe
THERE are different sides to the name Raila Odinga. As a computer virus created recently by hackers, Odinga replicates itself and attacks hardware. As a politician, the name reminds one of the violence that trailed the Kenyan presidential election earlier in the year. The violence was sequel to the allegation that President Nwai Kibaki out-rigged Odinga in an election he presumably won. As the incumbent Prime Minister of Kenya (a position he got after a power-sharing deal with Kibaki), Odinga is now a leader on whose shoulders many of his compatriots lean for support. An aggregate of these attributes came to play last week when the Kenyan leader X-rayed the problems of Africa, nay Nigeria, in a lecture he delivered to mark the Silver Jubilee anniversary of The Guardian newspapers in Lagos.

At first, Odinga identified and attacked what one may call the hardware of Nigeria’s problems. According to him, he was in Nigeria during the 1999 and 2003 elections as well as in 2006. Somebody told him then that the presidency was rotated between the North and the South; that since Chief Olusegun Obasanjo had taken the turn of the South, it was time for the North to ascend the throne again.

The Prime Minister stressed, “I asked what happens to the South-East and I was told that the situation is like that because Northerners do not trust the Easterners. If you say that some people can vote and cannot be voted for, then why are we here? Something similar to that happened in Kenya too in the past when they said that the uncircumcised could not lead the country. This situation causes disintegration. The right to vote also confers on one the right to be voted for.”

Amplifying Odinga’s standpoint, renowned author, Prof. Chinua Achebe, said, “At the end of the 30-month war, Biafra was a vast smouldering rubble; the cost in human lives was a staggering two million souls, making it one of the bloodiest civil wars in human history. I find it difficult to forgive Nigeria and my countrymen and women for the political nonchalance and cruelty that unleashed upon us these terrible events, which set us back a whole generation and robbed us of the chance clearly within our grasps to become a medium range developing nation in the 21st Century.” He described Nigeria as a wayward child.

Clearly, there are animosities and mutual mistrust among different entities that make up Nigeria. And this is at the heart of the country’s problems. Some may say leadership is the major problem. Others may say it is corruption. To an extent, that is true.

We need purposeful leaders who will galvanise the people towards a common goal; leaders who will not only promise to build roads, hospitals, and provide water and security, but will also fulfil such promises in record time.

As for corruption, the challenge is also enormous. Last week alone, there was a harvest of arrests, detention and prosecution of leaders suspected to have engaged in corrupt practices. In Abia State, for instance, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission reportedly intensified investigations into the money laundering allegations against the Abia State Governor, Chief Theodore Orji. The Commission had purportedly detained the state’s Accountant General, Mrs. Bridget Onyema, for allegedly transferring a total of about N1.9632bn as travel estacodes for the governor, his deputy, their wives and families and 23 others to attend World Igbo Congress in the United States in September this year.

Besides, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Thursday in Abuja arraigned the Chief of Staff to Rivers State Governor, Mr. Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike, over alleged N5bn fraud. The EFCC, also that Thursday, arraigned former Minister of Aviation, Babalola Borisade and three others over their roles in the N6.5bn aviation fund scam. The same Thursday, the EFCC raided the offices of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc in Lagos to unravel the mystery surrounding the mismanagement of NAHCO’s N210m.

I don’t think it’s in our blood to be inherently corrupt. I don’t also think that it’s in our system to breed dubious leaders. Individually, Nigerians excel in any endeavour they find themselves, anywhere in the world. Why then is it difficult for us to excel as a country?

The answer lies in Odinga and Achebe’s observations. The burning nationalism that moves people to die for their country is lacking in most Nigerians. That is why a leader goes to Abuja not to serve the greater interest of the people, but to loot the treasury in order to satisfy his selfish interests. The nation can go to blazes for all he cares. Arrest that leader tomorrow, his townsmen will be the first to protest and accuse the authorities of witch-hunting their son.

The common assumption in Nigeria today is that the North will not allow Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to assume the mantle of leadership if anything happens to the President.

The truth is that it is easier for a Nigerian to get better opportunities in a country like the United Kingdom than in Nigeria. A brilliant student of Southern extraction will likely be denied admission in most universities in the North because Northern students, who may have performed below average, must be admitted first. Same thing goes for a brilliant Northern candidate seeking admission into a Southern university.

This is partly why there is a proliferation of ethnic groups like the Arewa Consultative Forum, the Oodua People’s Congress, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, Ijaw National Congress and so on. These groups are basically there to champion the interests of their own people.

The delusion in many parts of the East now is that Biafra will soon gain independence from Nigeria. Already, we have characters who go by the name Igwe (king) of Biafra. Some have made themselves commissioners or ministers in the yet to be actualised Federal Republic of Biafra.

I was home in August and I had a chance encounter with one Igwe Biafra in my home town. He was so sure that President George Bush of the US had consented to the independence of Biafra that he vowed to commit suicide if it failed to materialise by September this year. Well, September has passed, and I’m not sure my Igwe friend has committed suicide.

Nigeria needs to reassure the Biafran Igwes that they are still part of Nigeria. It needs to reassure the Ijaw man that the oil in his backyard is a blessing and not a curse. It needs to let the OPC man, the Arewa irredentist and sundry ethnic jingoists know that there is no deliberate attempt to sideline any of them in the scheme of things in the country.

One major way to do this is to hold a conference of ethnic nationalities. Representatives of each nationality will tell one another the home truth and then map out strategies on how to live together as a nation or how to separate peacefully if need be.


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