Nigeria, my dear country, is not a stranger to crisis, nor is she immune to it. In a profound sense, she can be said to have been created out of crisis, a nation state that will continue to strive to subdue and transcend crises.
In over a century of its formalized colonial architecture, Nigeria has grown and made remarkable progress in the midst of crises. The most tragic and horrendous episode in Nigeria’s history has been the 30 month Civil War of July 1967 to January 1970, in which many of our compatriots lost their lives. Indeed, many others also suffered terrible injuries of human and material dimensions.
So, who really wants to go through the depth and dimensions of another Civil War in Nigeria again? Who does not know that that Civil War was preceded and started by intolerance and a series of hate pronouncements, hate speeches, hate conducts and actions that were inflicted upon one another by the citizens? Today, with a deep sense of nostalgia, I still carry within my body the pains of injury from the Civil War: there is nothing romantic about war; in any form, war is bad, condemnable and must be avoided.
I need hardly say I am very worried by the current on-going altercations and vituperations of hate across the country by individuals, well-known leaders, religious leaders, group of persons and organisations. We need to remind ourselves that conflicts are not evidently the stuff of politics and governance, particularly so of democracy, hence we must apply caution in our utterances, body language and news reportage. The management of conflicts is the acid test of maturity, of mutual livelihood and of democratic governance. We cannot and we must not allow the current hate atmosphere to continue to freely pollute our political landscape unchecked. Personally, I reject the proceedings of hate and their dissemination and urge my fellow citizens to strongly condemn the scourge and orgy of the current crisis which, in my view, is an outcome of vengeful appetites within the multiple contexts of our democratic governance and the profound inequalities that have distorted our social relations.
Nonetheless, it is not the place of leaderships to fuel and hype conflicts nor should we allow losers and gainers of our governance regimes to make pronouncements and threats that exploit our ethnic, religious and geopolitical construct.
Democracy, anywhere in the world, is a work in progress and one that is subject to constant evolution and debate. The drums of war are easy to beat, but their rhythms are difficult to dance. Starting wars or political upheavals comes with the slightest provocation, but ending them becomes inelastic, almost unending with painful footages of the wrecks of war. I have been involved and its ripples are tellingly unpalatable, with gory details of destruction and carnage. I am a Nigerian, a citizen, patriot and concerned stakeholder. It is my strong belief that Nigeria can attain greater greatness if we all nurture our minds in the direction of building a nation, and accepting responsibility for its successes and failures.
We cannot deny or repudiate our progress at nation-building in spite of the limitations and challenges that we have continued to experience. As a people, we need a proper study and understanding of our history in order to correct the warped perceptions of our past so as to minimize the dangers of badly skewed stories of our democratic experience in governance; and to regenerate mutual confidence and uphold the tenets of living together as one country. No one government or administration can provide all the answers to the myriad of problems and challenges confronting us as a country; no matter how determined, resolute, committed and motivated such a government is. The citizens have their roles to play and their obligations to fulfill in order to motivate government in achieving its stated goals and objectives. Governance is a function of the leadership and the followership. It is a two-way traffic that demands certain responsibilities from those involved.
Of late, Nigeria has become so sharply divided with emotions running high on the least provocations. Once tempers are that high, the fault-lines become easily visible and with the slightest prompting, the unexpected can happen. But I want to believe that Nigerians are still their reasonable selves, highly endowed in various skills and intellectually empowered to compete anywhere in the global arena. As a Nigerian, I have had the rare privilege to benefit from robust relationships from different people across the socio-political divide; East, West, North and South. I have also immensely interacted with persons from all the numerous tribes, cultures and ethnic configurations dotted across the entire gamut of Nigeria’s expansive lands. I have made friends, built alliances, nurtured relationships and sustained linkages amongst Nigerians of all shades and opinions. In fairness, Nigerians are great people. In those hours, moments and duration of friendship and camaraderie, no one talks about origin, geopolitical zones or even states. The issue of religion does not dictate the flow of discourse. We deal with ourselves based on our character and content, and not the sentiments of what part of the country we hail from.
The inalienable fact that Nigerians can live in any part of the country to pursue their legitimate aspirations is a strong indication that we have accepted to invest in the Nigerian project and are no longer driven by mutual suspicion but mutual respect. That we have not fully realised our potential as a great nation is not enough reason for us to want to demolish the foundation of our nationhood or rubbish the labours of our heroes past; both of which are borne out of our collective efforts to build a truly great nation, and great people. If we have repeatedly done certain things and not getting the desired results, we need to change tactics and approach, and renew our commitment. It is our collective responsibilities to engender a reform that would be realistic and in sync with modern best practices.
For example, restructuring has become a national appeal as we speak, whose time has come. I will strongly advocate for devolution of powers to the extent that more responsibilities be given to the states while the Federal Government is vested with the responsibility to oversee our foreign policy, defense and economy. Even the idea of having Federal Roads in towns and cities has become outdated and urgently needs revisiting. That means we need to tinker with our constitution to accommodate new thoughts that will strengthen our nationality. Restructuring and devolution of powers will certainly not provide all the answers to our developmental challenges; it will help to reposition our mindset as we generate new ideas and initiatives that would make our union worthwhile. The talk to have the country restructured means that Nigerians are agreed on our unity in diversity; but that we should strengthen our structures to make the union more functional based on our comparative advantages.
Added to this desire is the need to commence the process of having State Police across the states of the Federation. This idea was contained in my manifesto in 2010 when I attempted to contest the presidential elections. The initial fears that State Governors will misuse the officers and men of the State Police have become increasingly eliminated with renewed vigour in citizens’ participation in and confidence to interrogate power. We cannot be detained by those fears and allow civilisation to leave us behind. We must as a people with one destiny and common agenda take decisions for the sake of posterity in our shared commitment to launch our country on the path of development and growth. Policing has become so sophisticated that we cannot continue to operate our old methods and expect different results.
I also want to appeal to the Nigeria media to be more circumspect in their news reportage. They should always weigh the security implications of the contents of their news and the screaming headlines that stare us in the face every day, especially at this fragile period of our political emanations. The media play an important and remarkable role in shaping the flow of discourse. Their level of influence is also not in doubt, but as the fourth estate of the realm, it has a greater responsibility to moderate public discourse in a manner that will cement inter- and intra-cultural relationships. If Nigeria works, it benefits all her citizens; if it fails, it hurts all her citizens too. The media should be patriotic in its present engagements to berth a new Nigeria of our dreams.
On a final note, I really wish we see strength, determination, commitment and confidence in our diversities rather than adversities. As a heterogeneous country with flourishing skills and numerous endowments, we should dictate the pace in Africa and lead by example of what is possible amongst a people that are focused and determined to pursue common national goal. As a former Military President who had the rare privilege to travel around Africa to sustain the African cooperation through peace-keeping operations, I have come to the conclusion that nations are driven by a common ideal and not by the homogeneity of their race. I saw Somalia, such a homogeneous conclave yet one of the most troubled countries in Africa today. I saw South Sudan, which broke away from the old Sudan, but peace and stability have eluded them. Rwanda genocidal experience is not romantic either. But a President from the minority ethnic group has repositioned the country to assume its pride of place in the comity of nations. That a people share common identity, language, history, doctrine, culture, mores and values is not synonymous with development, growth, stability and peace. When we went into peace-keeping operations in Sierra Leone, Somalia, Liberia and Congo, we had in mind to sustain oneness in Africa even though we are a continent of different countries all bearing different logos and identities. Our motivation was simply that we are Africans.
I am therefore appealing to the sensibilities of all of us, young and old, leaders and followers, groups and organisations, that in the interest of peace and stability of our country, we need to sheathe the sword. At 76, I have seen it all. I have seen war. I have fought war. And I have survived war, even though I still suffer the pains and injuries of war, it is part of the selfless sacrifice to keep the union afloat. We must build a country that is forward looking for our children and future generations of Nigerians. We cannot afford to toil with the destinies of the 170million Nigerians by the shape of our discourse and the content of our interaction. We must carry out conscious attitudinal orientation that will change the mindset of our youths and the held beliefs of the elderly. We must explore the therapies of dialogue and constructive engagements in our desire to make life more meaningful for our people. My friends cut across all regions, zones and states. I am proud to be a Nigerian because I see hope in the youthful population of Nigerians. I see remarkable skills and raw talents that can stimulate enterprise and innovations.
This is the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan, a month in which Muslim faithful have dedicated their lives to seek closeness to God, and forgiveness of their inequities. It is a month of penance; a month of prayer for physical, moral and spiritual rejuvenation, regeneration and rebirth. I urge my countrymen and women to use the occasion to look ahead with hope and renewed dedication to the service of our country.
GENERAL IBRAHIM BADAMASI BABANGIDA, GCFR.
1, IBB ROAD, UPHILL MINNA.