Today’s Nigeria and Awo’s Counsel (2), By Dele Agekameh
As Awo said, the re-building or reconstructing process is a never-ending task and we must not be taken by all the noise of restructuring into thinking we can immediately and conclusively find a one-size-fits-all solution at a go. There needs to be an understanding that it is a process…
Last week, this column brought to you excerpts of an address delivered by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, on Monday, May 15, 1967, on the occasion of his installation as the first chancellor of the University of Ife (now rechristened Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU) at Ile-Ife, Osun State, South-West Nigeria. The 50-year-old speech clearly presented food for thought. Below is the concluding part of the analysis:
Calls for restructuring are in no way new to the country, as restructuring was also a major issue right from the beginning of our journey as a country. For instance, the Midwestern region (today’s Edo and Delta States; formerly Bendel State) was created in 1963, despite opposition by Chief Awolowo’s Action Group and others. It was created on the back of the clamour by Midwesterners. However, there were similar calls from other parts like the COR (Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers) which never materialised.
The creation of 12 states by the former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon and the subsequent state creations until we reached the present 36 states, General Olusegun Obasanjo’s shifting of the political system from a parliamentary one to the current presidential one, were all forms of restructuring, amongst many others. They were decisions taken in response to agitations or exigencies, as circumstances demanded. The reality is that after all these episodes of restructuring, we are still talking about restructuring today. This is indicative of underlying issues yet unaddressed, that if left permanently unaddressed, will leave us with this bitter clamours that would be more self-serving than they are progressive.
In the 1967 speech, Chief Awolowo made a medical analogy that may, perhaps, explain the re-occurrence of the same issues throughout our history. On the problems plaguing the country at the time, Awo suggested that what was needed was a palliative, borrowing the medical parlance, to douse the tension already created, before a more robust, curative solution could be introduced. He further warned that “an inflexible insistence on a curative, when there is so much sharp disagreement among all the doctors (stakeholders) in attendance, may prove fatal to the patient (Nigeria)”.
This is instructive of the critical point the country now finds itself. We have all been taken with the calls for radical changes to our polity because of the diverse issues we face which seem too daunting for any progress to be made. With the words of caution of the late Awo, it may be prudent to begin with measured steps to address the fundamental disagreements that exist so that the major decisions made afterwards could be smoother and met with greater receptiveness from the diverse peoples of this country.
Also instructive in the speech is Awo’s summation of the function and role of the military in governance through the years. He described the military as an essentially corrective regime, whose task is “to perform a quick and successful surgical operation for the purpose of removing, from our body politic, a malignant and debilitating morbid growth”. On that premise, he pointed out that the military “was never expected, and it would be too much of a risk for it to attempt to undertake the massive and never-ending task of rebuilding or reconstructing our body politic”.
We must identify institutions and systems that carry too much military signature and either dismantle or recreate them into democratic structures. The mark the military has left on governance and the economic structure of the country is extensive, even as its nature makes it unqualified to make such structures.
As we all know, after the time of the speech, this was exactly what happened and the polity is still reeling from the devastating effects today.
However, now that the many deeds have been done, we must focus on the way forward without forgetting the crucial lessons of the past and the wisdom of those, like Awo, who came before. As Awo said, the re-building or reconstructing process is a never-ending task and we must not be taken by all the noise of restructuring into thinking we can immediately and conclusively find a one-size-fits-all solution at a go. There needs to be an understanding that it is a process, and we must first address the most fundamental issues towards settling disputes and fostering agreements on major issues. We need to craft a common narrative for the nation, as this is critically lacking. Until we do, no amount of restructuring will suffice.
We must identify institutions and systems that carry too much military signature and either dismantle or recreate them into democratic structures. The mark the military has left on governance and the economic structure of the country is extensive, even as its nature makes it unqualified to make such structures. The delicate task of democratisation of these structures is dependent on unity and camaraderie. While the military ignored the diversity of the various peoples in the country, we can build on that diversity to create a unified nation that, in the least, meets the basic and fundamental tenets of nationhood.
Permit me to also recant here the exact words spoken by Awo on that occasion of his installation as the first Chancellor of OAU, Ile-Ife. I quote: “Whether we are conscious of or acknowledge it or not, the fact remains stubborn and indestructible that poverty, disease, social unrest and instability, and all kinds of international conflict, have their origins in the minds of men. Unless we tackle and remove, or at the very least, minimise these evils at their source, all our efforts in Nigeria to bring about happier circumstances for our peoples, and all the endeavours of mankind to evolve a better world, would be completely in vain.
“It is only when the minds of men have been properly and rigorously cultivated and garnished, that they can be safely entrusted with public affairs with a certainty and assuredness that they will make the best of their unique opportunity and assignment” (to genuinely contribute to the progress and development of the country).
The late sage garnished his speech by quoting copiously from Haddock: “The power to think, consecutively and deeply and clearly, is an avowed and deadly enemy to mistakes and blunders, superstitions, unscientific theories, irrational beliefs, unbridled enthusiasm, fanaticism.” According to Awo: “It will be seen, therefore, that the power to think clearly, correctly, and scientifically, is the greatest of all the powers that a man can possess”.
Our lawmakers at the National Assembly whose prerogative it is to facilitate a constitution that will put the growing agitation all over the place to rest, are already betraying symptoms of myopia and selfishness….
The truth is, from this particular speech of the late sage, it could be seen that Nigeria is a country in motion without movement. Whereas, we pride ourselves for having won independence almost 57 years ago, there is hardly anything inspiring about the country. Today, all our leaders do is to steal and or mismanage our common patrimony at the slightest opportunity.
With poor and abysmal infrastructure, lack of basic amenities for the meaningful existence for the citizenry, coupled with bad governance at all levels of our political existence, there can only be one thing and that is: The future of the country is bleak. Regrettably, the neglect of the people and abdication of responsibility by our leaders have now metamorphosed into unimaginable crimes and criminality like kidnapping, armed robbery and other violent upheavals that have, so far, defied any solution all over the country.
Right now, we are presented with a golden opportunity to amend our constitution in order to tackle the myriad of problem staring the country in the face. So far, what are we seeing? Our lawmakers at the National Assembly whose prerogative it is to facilitate a constitution that will put the growing agitation all over the place to rest, are already betraying symptoms of myopia and selfishness which will invariably lead to a colossal failure of the whole exercise. This is so because rather than tackle burning issues affecting the polity, they have set their priority on self preservation by granting themselves immunity. Could that be immunity from good reasoning?
At any rate, to get out of this straight-jacket, we must reflect on the spoken and unspoken words of our past great leaders like the late Chief Jeremiah Oyeniyi Obafemi Awolowo, of evergreen memory. May God help us; help this country!
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