The Executive Governor of Delta State, Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa has said that the absence of a national ideology that all the component parts of the country subscribe to, is among other reasons why we are yet to forget that sense of oneness and unity.
He stated this in Lagos while giving a Keynote Speech at the 2021 Annual Lecture and Symposium organized by Ripples Centre for Data and Investigative Journalism (RCDIJ), held Wednesday, August 25, 2021, at Sheraton Lagos Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos.
According to Okowa, the crux of the matter is that the absence of a national ideology that all the component parts of the country subscribe to is why we are yet to forge that sense of oneness and unity. In the absence of a shared national vision or aspiration, primordial loyalties and sentiments largely hold sway among the citizens.
In his words, it is not a secret that during elections most people vote along sectional lines, be it religion or ethnicity. In the corporate world, academia and other sectors of our national life, our default mode are to queue behind someone from our ethnic group or who shares our religious beliefs. Even the war against corruption is subjected to all manner of scrutiny based on our ethnic affiliations and religious persuasions. The sad reality is that we seem to derive more comfort, protection and security from our ethnic identity. The concept of one Nigeria is still just that – a concept.
Taking, as an illustration, Governor Okowa who was also the Chairman of the occasion noted that the Americans have the American Dream, the British, Rule Britannia, while, in recent times, the United Arab Emirate has developed a vision to be the biggest and the best in everything she does. What can we point to as Nigeria’s overarching vision that motivates the average citizen or that everyone aspires to actualize? How can we have and pursue an overarching vision when we think Fulani or Hausa or Yoruba or Igbo instead of Nigeria?
He added that bad governance at different levels of government is a major contributory factor to disunity in the country. Bad governance is what results when (a)a State, “based on the principles of democracy and social justice” (as Nigeria is described in Section 14 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended), fails to uphold, in all its operations, “the principles of democracy and social justice”; and (b)when a Government fails to fulfill its “primary purpose” which, according to Section 14 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution is to provide “the security and welfare of the people”.
Another factor responsible for our current disunity, he said is the lack of political will to devise a constitution that supports true federalism. The 1999 Constitution (as amended) centralizes political and economic powers in the Federal Government and emasculates the States by denying them powers to secure their own territories and control their natural resources for the development of their territories and people.
Take allocations from the federation account, for instance. While the federal government takes 52.68%, the 36 States and 774 Local Governments that carry most of the burden of development get 26.72% and 20.60%, respectively! This does not augur well for effective grassroots development, inclusive economic growth and social cohesion.
While he stressed that anti-true federalism is the provision of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) regarding the creation of Local Government Areas, which is the empowerment of the National Assembly and the Presidency to ratify such creation by states, he argued that true federal structure recognizes the autonomy of the federating units in connection with powers devolved to them. It is, therefore, aberrant for the State to create Local Government Areas and submit same to the Federal Government for approval!
He who was accompanied to the event by Honourable Ndudi Godwin Elumelu, a Member of the Federal House of Representatives, further asserts to the admiration of the youths present at the event that the disenchantment and alienation of our teeming population of youths is another disuniting factor. They feel hard done by Nigeria’s current climate of hopelessness, massive unemployment, insecurity of lives and property, poor quality disruption-ridden educational system, inaccessibility to quality health care, the rising cost of living, and a ruling class living extravagantly in the face of the widening gulf between the rich and poor.
To copiously quote him, he said in parts; Truth be told, many of our youths see no future for themselves in this country. This was why the EndSARS protest of 2020, which began as a protest against police brutality, quickly snowballed into a mass movement against a country that has failed them. Many parents here can testify that our youths would rather migrate, even illegally, to greener pastures in other countries and, where migration isn’t possible, resort to anti-social behavior inimical to the unity, peace and progress of the country.
The last cause of disunity in Nigeria which I want to mention is the growing lack of faith in the electoral process. The great desideratum of modern democracy is that it must be participatory and undergirded by some non-negotiable fundamentals, notably the power of the people to choose their leaders as well as majority rule and minority rights. These must be in place for a country to be seen as free and democratic. He concluded that the current lack of faith in the electoral process by the Nigerian electorate has resulted in the massive apathy and self-disenfranchisement prevalent during elections. The people feel that their votes do not count and have, therefore, sunk into disillusionment, resentment and resignation.
Moving away from lamentation to finding a solution, the Delta state Governor underlined that we are better and stronger together, and that, with appropriate, visionary leadership and good governance, we can turn our diversity into a great source of strength and a springboard to build a strong multi-ethnic and multi-religious country that will be the envy of other nations.
‘Leadership is key, as 2023 approaches, the focus should be on electing a pan Nigerian as president, a person with the capacity and charisma to cast a vision for Nigeria and rally all Nigerians behind it. We need a selfless, sacrificial, sincere, broadminded, caring and capable president that will inspire hope and confidence in the country; a leader who values merit over mediocrity, competence over cronyism, while upholding the fundamental principles of fairness, equity, and justice. This country brims with immense human and natural resources, which cry to be effectively and efficiently harnessed by a responsive – and – responsible leadership for the socio-economic development of the country’.
Senator Okowa further underlined that the experience of some balkanized countries, such as Yugoslavia, which was balkanized into seven states, shows that, until the fundamental issues of good governance – justice, socio-economic equality, mutual ethnic and religious tolerance, inclusiveness, etc. – are effectively addressed in the mother nation, each new country will be bedeviled by the same divisive problems already in their genes. So, why not tackle the problems in the mother nation that would make a greater impact on the world, unlike the tinier new nations?
He, therefore, urged the Federal Government to frontally and transparently tackle insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, criminal herdsmen operations, and all purveyors of insecurity in a way to obviate the popular impression that they are executors of a pre-planned genocide. The war against terror is seriously undermined when the ransom is paid to these criminal elements.
Aside from a modern security architecture anchored on technology, he stressed that we must muster the political will to deal decisively with criminals, regardless of their ethnic groups, religions, or status. In America and other developed countries of the world, that is what makes their institutions stronger than individuals and keeps even the poorest in the society confident of getting justice before the law. For democracy to be sustained and the goodwill of the populace retained, impunity must not have even a toehold in our body polity. Our security agencies must be well funded and equipped; training of personnel to build capacity and collaboration between agencies is the key. Furthermore, directives must be clear and goals unambiguous.
Similarly, to help restore faith in the electoral process, he says that there should be stiff penalties for electoral violence and other malpractices, regardless of which party is culpable. Election results should also be transmitted electronically at the point of counting the votes at the polling units to remove the opportunities for later alterations of figures. It goes without saying that the refusal by the National Assembly to include a mandatory electronic transmission of election results in the Electoral Act has deepened the distrust that the public has for politicians and the ruling class.
It should be clear to everyone by now that glib, official declarations like “The unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable” or “The unity of Nigeria is sacrosanct” cannot diffuse the tension, resentment, anger and sectarianism prevalent in the country today. Only conscious, consensual action to remove the causes of mistrust and disunity identified above can.
“I also think it is time we embrace the idea of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with membership drawn from the six geo-political zones. I do not canvass for a Commission that will dig into history to apportion blames and pass judgment on political leaders. Rather, I envisage a Commission that will freely discuss the current state of the nation, debate the things that bind or divide us, proffer strategies to reconcile our differences, and recommend a sustainable path to true nationhood based on good governance. I think this is important in the light of all that the country is going through right now”.
Nigeria can only grow if ethnic, religious and tribal divides dissolve, and a pan-Nigeria goal is truly desired and pursued by all. Despite its challenges and leadership defects and the circumstances of its birth in 1914, we have come to be a nation. We must unite and make it work for all. We had declared in our National Anthem (composed in 1960) – “Though Tribe and Tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand”. The political class, religious/community leaders and elite must sign up to this and our leaders must begin to act the pan-Nigerian dream into reality
On the current state of our Federal system, he captures it this way; the governance system at all levels particularly at the federal must be just, fair, equitable and seen to be inclusive. There is too much power at the centre, and this needs to be devolved to the federating units for greater effectiveness and efficiency. The devolution of powers and resources to the sub-national governments, and the guaranteeing of a constitution that allows equity, justice for all and inclusiveness in governance such that none is left out or oppressed is imperative. Urgent steps need to be taken to ensure fairness in resource allocation, taking into cognizance the degradation of the environment by the Oil and Gas resources and the impact on the health and livelihood of Niger-Deltans.
Waxing spiritual, Okowa proposed that interfaith dialogue and the building of networks should be institutionalized. Different religious identities he added, need to seek mutual understanding, respect and tolerance, which allows each faith to live, appreciate and cooperate with one another. Government and faith-based organisations must, through advocacy, seek for the common good, and put processes in place for prevention of conflicts, peacemaking and post-conflict rebuilding.
While he highlighted that the herdsmen/farmers conflict is fast becoming the greatest threat to our nation’s unity and economic well-being, Okowa cautioned that such threat to our country’s stability and unity needs to be addressed urgently by our federation. ‘It is my opinion that ranching and cattle colonies with support by the Federal Government are a way out of this challenge. The Federal Government of Nigeria must urgently tackle this challenge to reduce the level of insecurity and to ensure food security. Criminal herdsmen must be dealt with within our Laws and Internally Displaced Persons need to be quickly resettled in their homes.
The medical doctor turned politician finally invited media professionals to this onerous responsibility of building a united Nigeria. The media must come to the rescue. The government at various levels should, as a matter of exigency, enlist the support and cooperation of the media in advocating for peaceful coexistence and national unity. Generally, I think the media should be more discerning and restrained in giving voice to violent extremists and criminals in our nation. Giving undue recognition to these elements has the potential to fuel ethnic conflict, electoral violence, and exacerbate the divisions among us. He concluded.
BY JEROME-MARIO UTOMI