NIGERIA @ 55: KEY MATTERS OUTSTANDING
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Last week, Nigeria commemorated 55 years of freedom from colonial rule. As has become our routine in the last five years or so, the celebrations were low key. I believe the last boisterous celebration was in 2010 which ended tragically as a result of bomb blasts at Eagle square. Since then, the government retreated to the safety of the Aso villa for the commemoration of the independence anniversaries. To be true, I was shocked that this year's event was done 'indoors'. Given the well advertised victory over Boko Haram in the last four months, the military and fearless personality of PMB and in line with the change mantra, I had hoped we would resume at Eagle square this year. Certain realities change slowly!
All these are indications that things are not well with Nigeria. And my question is how long will we remain 'caged' even when celebrating freedom. Indeed, it was the fear of Orkah and his MEND that drove us from the Eagle square, but it is now the fear of Shekau and his BOKO HARAM that has kept us 'imprisoned' in the villa. Who know's whose fear will keep us out of Eagle Square in the years ahead. How pathetic!
For me there are three key issues confronting this Nation which we must address to return this Country into a Nation and stop the roller coaster trajectory where we spend up to a quarter of our annual budget defending ourselves against ourselves. If half of the money we had spent in the last ten years were deployed to improve infrastructure or promote Agriculture, the impact would have been monumental. Somebody should please add up the figures and see what price we are paying for running a disunited Country. There are many issues confronting Nigeria, but if we can pay serious attention to these three, may be we can liberate ourselves from our selves.
1. UNITE NIGERIA
That this Country is not united must be clear to all who like to hear the truth- convenient or bitter. The signs are all over for everyone to see. The militant posture of the Arewa Consultatíve forum( ACF), the Odua Peoples' Congress(OPC), the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta( MEND), and the passive resistance of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra( MASSOB) and the Lower Niger Congress( LNC) ,are only just a few of the manifestations of a dismembered and disunited Country. When each of these organizations speaks about Nigeria, you wonder which foreign and enemy country they are speaking about. They are all angry about Nigeria, anger that is only slightly soothed when their people hold political power at the centre. MEND calmed a little bit when GEJ was in power, though the amnesty programme was a major calming factor. When the programme runs off this December, there is bound to be a flare up. ACF has calmed its bellicose rhetorics against Nigeria and has assumed the leading role of attacking other contrary expressions.
The point must be made that these expressions and manifestations predated PMB's arrival at Aso Villa. But as the current President, he must see this as an important task. As a military man, he must resist the temptation to think that these manifestations of disunity will be sorted out by repressive acts or adhoc negotiation with disgruntled elements. After the most recent bomb blasts in Kuje and Nyanya last weekend, it must be clear to PMB that the advertised obituary of Bokoharam may have been either hasty or exaggerated.
I have been relentless in emphasizing that this is an urgent task that must be undertaken. Chapter twelve of my recent book-The PORTHARCOURT VOLUNTEER which had been reproduced in this column dwelt on this imperative task. Those who have not read it may do well to do so . The summation of my treatise, which is in no way novel is that the State and its paraphernalia must take a conscious decision to build an all- inclusive Nation, where every Nigerian will feel a sense of belonging. Right now many feel as outsiders, strangers,passer byes or outright enemies. Every segment of the Nigerian Society, every ethnic group, every tribe, every class,every professional group, every party, young and old, able and disabled must be made to feel that they have equal stake in the Nigerian Enterprise. All discriminatory policies, overt or covert must be systemically dismantled. Governments at all levels, must take a holistic review of all laws and practices and ensure that there is no discriminatory policy or practice anywhere. I know that what I am asking may sound utopia and will be difficult to attain as it is in the nature of man to take advantage for himself. But if we must unite this country of disparate nationalities and halt these regular cataclysmic and spasmodic eruptions that keep us taking two steps forward and three steps backwards, then we must make a determination to pursue the unity of Nigeria. This is why the recommendations of the last National conference can not be ignored.
2. KEEP EVERY NIGERIAN WORKING AND PRODUCTIVE
It is true that we can not have sustainable peace in Nigeria with the current high level of unemployment, underemployment and poverty. Therefore job creation must be at the centre of all of our economic policies. We need to strengthen the new policy that promotes entrepreneurial training for all students from Secondary school to Universities. When People leave school they must be encouraged to consider entrepreneurial pursuits. Those already in business must be deliberately encouraged and supported to grow. We must copy the Small Business Administration( SBA) act of the United States of America and revolutionize enterprise promotion. We need to double support to Agriculture and vocational education. We need to get all Nigerians doing productive work, not necessarily seeking employment.
Therefore the focus of our economic management effort must shift from just talking about the size of our Foreign reserves or exchange rate mechanisms to the size of our productive manpower and Gross domestic product. We need to expand and open the opportunity space to accommodate many young Nigerians . Our economic policies must therefore be directed squarely and forcefully at expanding the economy, not shrinking or contracting the economic and market space as we seem to be doing now- perhaps inadvertently. I have always felt that it does not make sense for a man to have a fat bank account while his children are dying of hunger or suffering from kwashiorkor. What is the savings for then? Perhaps for lavish burial ceremonies!
If most Nigerians are gainfully employed with the active support of the governments at local, state and federal levels, crime rate will drop and the quality of life of many Nigerians will increase and the feel good quotient will rise for the Nation.
3. ENFORCE THE RULE OF LAW
Nigeria has a reputation for being a Nation where laws are broken at will with minimum consequences. The World holds us in disdain, for this singular characterization and this affects everything else. We need to reform our Police, our Security system, our Regulatory agencies and our judicial system. If you ask me, we do not need too many new laws. What we need is a determination to ensure that any one who breaks any law, small or big, must be brought to book without fear or favour and certainly without any political coloration.This is a task we must pursue with zeal and determination. All the fight to take corruption out of our public space must be anchored on the effective and dis passionate enforcement of the rule of law.
If any one is happy with the way Nigeria is, then please accept my apology, except that I will like for us to celebrate our next independence anniversary, the way other free Nations do theirs. We can not be celebrating Freedom in fear of ourselves. Let us liberate ourselves with Justice, Equity and fair play, in thought, word and deed. That is the primary challenge of today.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR