When they took power, the soldiers marched out on a straight path towards their vision of a good society. But the mission became more elusive, the closer they came towards it’’ – Robin Luckman.
The problem with admirers of Gen. (Dr) Olusegun Obasanjo, like his other military adventurers from Nzeogwu through Ironsi, Gowon, Murtala Mohammed Obasanjo, Buhari, Babangida, Abacha and Abdulsalami Abubakar, especially those below 60 years of age who never knew we once had an ordered society is their inability to properly articulate our crisis of nationhood.
Haunted by a spectre of journey to nationhood in the run up to independence, Nigeria’s founding fathers had settled for a negotiated federal structure which the military in their elusive search for a vision of good society destroyed. And “confronted with the complexities of our socio-political realities over which they had little control and a task for which they were ill-prepared,” they chose to address symptoms instead of the fundamental problem.
Last week, Obasanjo who along with Murtala Mohammed in 1976, 41 years ago, destroyed the academia and the bureaucracy, the two institutions that guarantee survival of any society and 23 years after hijacking and destroying the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) along with the opposition AD and ANPP through ‘mainstreaming’ misadventure, was asking Nigerians to see him as a part of solution to our national crisis, long resolved before he and his ‘Nigerian army of anything is possible’ came to the scene in 1966.
He first highlighted the failure of the Buhari administration in a 13-page letter by calling attention to ‘poor performance in government – poverty, insecurity, poor economic management, nepotism, gross dereliction of duty, ‘condonation’ of misdeed – if not outright encouragement of it, lack of progress and hope for the future as well as lack of national cohesion and poor management of internal political dynamics and widening inequality’. He went on to insist ‘the situation we are today is akin to what and where we were in at the beginning of this democratic dispensation in 1999 when the nation was tottering; People became hopeless and saw no bright future in the horizon’.
It can be said that the difference between him and Buhari is that of six and half a dozen. While Obasanjo practiced nepotism in reverse by surrounding himself with people of Igbo extraction, exhibited disdain for public opinion, insisted he was not obliged listen to his advisers but only listen to God, Buhari similarly has regard for neither public opinion of that of the party that brought him to power choosing only to listen to a cabal of his cousins and nephews from his Daura village who according to Dr. Junaid Mohammed have caged him.
Obasanjo lacks the generosity of spirit to admit ‘that like him and his hand-picked immediate successors, Buhari failed because all they have been doing is to address symptoms in the absence of a political will to restructure the country along the lines of sustainable development or return to where the rain started beating us in 1966. And even after identifying the current structure as impediment to national development in some of his books, Obasanjo still pretends not to know that ‘corruption, Fulani herdsmen’s menace, nepotism, indolence incompetence, dereliction of responsibility’ are the result of over-centralisation of power and resources in the hand of an inept overbearing centre that presides over both exclusive and concurrent lists while the federating states in the absence of residual list are reduced to parasites waiting for hand-outs from the centre.
Many patriotic Nigerians believe a restructured Nigeria where federating units take control of their lives, by directly generating resources to plan for the health and education of their children, with freedom to protect and project their culture and values without an overbearing centre insisting on uniformity among nationalities at different levels of cultural development, is the only answer to the national question.
But Obasanjo, an active participant in 51 years of an elusive search for ‘a vision of good society’ , is proposing a coalition of the concerned and the willing – ready for positive and drastic change, progress and involvement’ , even after reminding us of Einstein’s admonition that ‘doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the height of folly’.
The danger we face today is that Obasanjo who has reaped bounteously from the current unworkable structure as military Head of State and two-term president just by claiming to be a Nigerian first before being the representative of his tribe is trying to sell the same fallacy to Nigerians below 60 years of age who never witnessed an ordered Nigerian society as obtained under the old structure fashioned out by our founding fathers. Most of the names bandied around as part Obasanjo’s proposed coalition have always known the current unworkable military-created structure. The fear therefore is that they could easily be seduced with a thesis long invalidated by federalism which celebrates individuals and groups as the most important actors in a nation state.
Obasanjo’s hallelujah younger admirers and advocates of citizenship right above group or tribe right must ask him to validate his thesis by providing explanation as to why it is easy for an Igbo man to buy land and settle in any part of Yoruba land while, TOS Benson, first republic minister for information, a Zik ally and a staunch NCNC member publicly agonized before his death over his failure to secure a plot of land in Igbo land to build a house for the remains of his first wife who was of Igbo extraction. To validate his thesis, Obasanjo must find explanation as to why the Emir of Kano will arrogantly insist the governor of Benue State cannot implement a law duly enacted by his state House of Assembly because it did not adequately protect the interest of Fulani settlers. Finally Dr. Obasanjo must find explanation as to why the minister of defence, Mansur Dan-Ali’s reaction to the killing of subsistence farmers in Benue State by rampaging Fulani herdsmen is – “Communities and other people must learn how to accept “foreigners” within their enclaves. Finish.”
Obasanjo also says “The development and modernization of our country and society must be anchored and sustained on dynamic Nigerian culture, enduring values and an enchanting Nigerian dream. We must have abiding faith in our country and its role and place within the comity of nations”.
We must stop deluding ourselves. There is no one Nigerian culture. There is similarly neither an enduring values nor a common Nigerian dream. One proof of this is the ongoing mindless killings across the country by herdsmen who insists open grazing is part of Fulani culture over which they are not prepared to compromise. Similarly importation of fake and substandard goods including drugs that kill Nigerians in their thousands cannot be evidence of an abiding faith in Nigeria. It can only be a demonstration of lack of faith in our nation as a corporate entity.
Obasanjo’s “coalition of the concerned and the willing – ready for positive and drastic change, progress and involvement,” can therefore not be the ‘’only one choice left to take us out of Egypt to the Promised Land”. It cannot be a substitute for restructuring of our country along the line of sustainable development in an age when the federal arrangement is driven by market forces. It is similarly not an alternative to political party – the 17th century ingenious creation of the political elite which as a modernization agent is credited with creation of a more egalitarian society and the emergence of modern states across the world. As Bode Thomas once warned and as was demonstrated by the Yoruba in 1999, the nation must reject being led once again by a one eye-king.