Five Random Thoughts On Nigeria- Tolu Ogunlesi




One. Nigeria can indeed be a strange place. According to Wale Adebanwi, in his 2010 book, “A Paradise for Maggots”, no financial or bureaucratic provisions were made for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission when it was set up a decade ago – no take-off grant, no office space, nothing. All Nuhu Ribadu had were a letter of appointment and a fiery ambition to make a difference.

Before then the same thing had happened with the Oputa Panel. Rev. Father Matthew Hassan Kukah narrates the cash-strapped beginnings of the Commission in his book, “Witness to Justice: An Insider’s Account of Nigeria’s Truth Commission.”

Now, in both cases, the non-availability of funds was not a malicious act, or anything done to deliberately cripple these institutions. No. It was simply the system manifesting itself – configured in such a manner as to be unable to follow through on its (rare) laudable initiatives.

It got me thinking about how we often subvert our good intentions (and my last point will return to this). The wheels of the Nigerian bureaucracy have been conditioned to grind slowly – unless it involves the possibility of self-enrichment, e.g. the urgent need to convene a Ministerial Tenders Board meeting late at night on December 30 to spend budgeted funds before a stipulated expenditure-deadline of December 31. Then, you will realise that the same civil service cursed with loudly creaking machinery has the capacity to suddenly transform into the sort of magically-efficient set-up that a Tom Peters is only able to dream about.

Two. I am often bemused by the exchange of memorable insults that go on amongst our political parties. Over the weekend, the Peoples Democratic Party described the opposition All Progressives Congress as “a party of extremists, party of religious bigots and tribal jingoists. It is a party doomed to fail.” Days earlier, the ACN/APC National Leader, Bola , was in London to deliver a devastating upper cut to the PDP, telling an audience of diplomats and Diasporan Nigerians that “this current Nigerian government is a retrogressive one. Much of what it claims as growth is but the harsh redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top. The bottom gets squeezed while the top expands. It is serving us the salad of corruption.”

Now, let’s switch the allegations. Think of the ACN/APC accusing the PDP of being a “party doomed to fail.” Totally makes sense. Then, think of the PDP telling the ACN that based on its record in Lagos, it is responsible for “the bottom (getting) squeezed while the top expands.” That also sounds like a justifiable accusation.

You don’t need to be a philosopher to realise that in many ways, our political parties are not very different from one another. (Given power, they misbehave, out of power they passionately criticise misbehaviour).

Example: the University of Abuja is regularly in the news, for all the wrong reasons. Most recently, its medical students have spent several years in school, and graduation still isn’t in sight because the medical degree has failed to meet accreditation requirements, and successive university administrations had never exactly demonstrated the capacity to properly run the institution. We can blame the ruling PDP for that, right?

Now, you move over to the Lagos State University, under the control of an ACN/APC led government, and things are not very different. A friend of mine has spent more than eight years in that school, but her certificate is nowhere in sight. Not because she’s not proved herself worthy of graduation (her final exams were more than two years ago), but because that school is so dysfunctional that getting the Senate to sit upon and approve results has become rocket science.

Three. However, in spite of the serial and significant party failures, there’s nothing to be gained from hugging the slippery poles of self-righteousness and trying to totally dismiss/rubbish any or all of our political parties. Whether we like it or not, they’re all we’ve got, and, in the absence of “independent candidacy”, no one, no matter how honest or well-intentioned or revolutionary, will make much of a difference in the political space without aligning with one of the existing platforms.

We can sit and rant and rail from now till eternity, it will not change the fact that Nigeria will not change if those think they can change it for the better insist on staying away from the political space, awaiting the time when a Messiah will drop from the sky and redeem all things with a single sweep of his/her anointed cape. Our circumstances insist that we descend into the “murk”, hoping against hopes that we can make a difference without drowning.

Four. Let’s support the ongoing “Bring Out The Books” Campaign by former political office holders. Now that coinage of mine is supposed to be a play on the Federal Government’s “Bring Back The Book” Campaign (launched with fanfare in December 2010, and then, like all things Nigerian, promptly pushed aside in the quest for the Next Big, Flashy Launch).

Last week, I got a copy of Peter Odili’s “Conscience and History” (“an autobiography”). Parts of it are frankly depressing – for example, where the former governor lists the following amongst his achievements: “(Purchased) -owned executive jet “Our Lady of Victories” fitted with ambulance facilities; cars donated to players of the victorious Dolphin Football Club in 2004; built new and to date the best State Government House in Nigeria, built one of the best State Liaison offices in Abuja; built the first Deputy Governor’s Lodge in Abuja; built an ultra-modern estate owned by the State and leased to the British High Commission in Abuja for their staff…”

But we need all these books, and it’s good that more and more former public holders are utilising their time out of office to tell their stories. Granted, these accounts will be necessarily one-sided and often of hagiographic bent; still, every effort is better than silence. And it is my firm belief that it is only in the multiplicity of published viewpoints that we will be able to come closest to the truth.

Example: Former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State has recently spoken about the dismantling of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Third Term agenda, and laid the credit for that at the feet of then US President George W. Bush. According to Kalu, “the man stopped the third term agenda of Obasanjo was President George Bush of the United States of America because I told him what was happening and he asked President Obasanjo. That’s why President Obasanjo hates me till tomorrow.”

But former US Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, wouldn’t exactly agree with that assessment. In his 2010 book, “Dancing on the Brink”, he writes: “Nigerians, in general overestimate the US influence over everything, often gave us disproportionate credit for the defeat of Third Term rather than where it belongs: with themselves.”

Two varying accounts, like two heads, are better than one.

From Segun Adeniyi’s “Power, Politics and Death” to Nasir el-Rufai’s “The Accidental Public Servant”, to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s “Reforming the Unreformable” to Odili’s “Conscience and History” (and there will be others I’ve missed out), we are hopefully building a culture where public office holders will put pen to paper to tell their own versions of History.

It is still a shame that most of the dramatis personae in the Age of Obasanjo have thus far chosen silence. Where are the books by the Charles Soludos, Femi Fani-Kayodes, Ken Nnamanis and Aminu Masaris?

Five. Everything that Nigeria requires to guide it on the journey to greatness has already been written, whether by Nigerians, or by interested foreigners. Whether it is the substantial Vision 2010 document, or the vanished report from the now-forgotten2005 Presidential Action Committee on Control of Violent Crimes and Illegal Weapons (submitted to President Olusegun Obasanjo on January 5, 2006, it appears to predict the rise of the Boko Haram and associated groups – but there is no evidence that the government took any action on it) or the “Mapping sub-Saharan ’s Future”, the 2005 report by the US National Intelligence Council (which suggested that “religious conflict centred around Islam within Nigeria is likely to continue” and that Nigeria stood the risk of becoming a failed state in the near future) – everything we need to know to build a coherent and detailed map for Nigeria’s future is already in existence, written down, paid for, and gathering dust somewhere.

If today placed an indefinite embargo on the creation of fresh Committees / Panels/ Task Forces, Nigeria would still have enough meaningful and detailed recommendations and reports to last it until the Bicentenary Celebrations of 2114.


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