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Return of Buhari: An Opportunity to Redirect the National Discourse and Agenda

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By Amb. Ozo Nwobu 
Once held the strong view that the ills of our country are traceable to the failure of leadership. The underperformance of our economy, our stalled efforts at nation building and a host of other poor indices of growth and development attested to this fact. I also saw our rabid resort to ethnic and religious cleavages as a device of the leadership class to divide the Nigerian people, one against the other, to their advantage. Above all, I indicted the Nigerian entrepreneurial class and decried their preference for cheap slush funds instead of putting the country to work. I also believed that the elite and entrepreneurial class and indeed all those who provided leadership and helped, in one way or the other, to shape the national discourse, determine the national economic activity and define the moral values of the country, had failed the nation.

The elite and entrepreneurial class, in my view, was parasitic, feeding fat on the vast resources of the nation and had perfected the art of creating slush funds from where they sourced their enormous private incomes. The elite and entrepreneurial class had no incentive for real investment and have shown little interest to engage in any meaningful economic activities. What truly mattered was their link to political power and access to the national vault.

The Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) under the leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan personified that failed leadership. The change agenda of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the incorruptible leadership qualities of its presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, offered new hope to Nigerians for a better future and country. President Buhari came into office riding on the goodwill and support of Nigerians yearning desperately for a new direction for the nation. In his inaugural speech on 29th May, 2015, he outlined his vision for the nation and also committed himself to serve everyone. President Buhari at that epoch event said ‘’ Having just a few minutes ago sworn on the Holy Book, I intend to keep my oath and serve as President to all Nigerians. I belong to Everyone and I belong to Nobody” That commitment to a higher ideal of leadership, his solemn pledge to the nation still rings out very loudly in my head just like, I believe, it does in the heads of most Nigerians.

I have had cause to ask since the heightened ethnic tensions, grand standing, hate speeches and songs, what has caused Nigeria to drift into the dark treacherous road of ethnic parochialism? How come we have forgotten so soon, the anguish and pain of our gruesome historical past? What has fueled ethnic tensions in the country to the point of another round ethnic of conflagration, with the attendant high risk of an implosion of the country?

As I interrogated these issues, I did not lose sight of the fact that nation building is an infinite process, and that Nigeria is not alone, even at this time, in asking very serious questions regarding the state of the nation. The fact that the USA, after more two hundred and forty (240) years of nationhood and its very strong democratic institutions, is still grappling with divisive racial issues, should remind us that nationhood is an unending process. What, therefore, defines a nation is the constitutional/institutional arrangement for managing these divisive national issues.

Regrettably, the constitutional/institutional arrangements for conflict resolution in Nigeria are weak and failing us. It is for this reason and the fact that the over centralization of power in the Federal Government has become a burden to the nation that the need for restructuring becomes imperative. The call for restructuring of the nation is not a separatist call as is being bandied in certain quarters but rather a patriotic call to save Nigeria. The real danger is the adamant refusal to hold a national dialogue on the political future of the country.

New Opportunity to reverse the National Course

The return of President Muhammadu Buhari to Nigeria after a prolonged medical vacation provides the APC government under his leadership another opportunity to fine tune their party change agenda and policy. It provides the President an opportunity to redeem the solemn pledge he made to serve all Nigerians.

His address to the nation on Monday 21st August, 2017 while it could be adjudged to be short on details given the issues before the nation, it nonetheless offered signposts of the critical areas the government will focus its attention.

Very importantly, the President reaffirmed the right of all citizens of Nigeria to live in any part of Nigeria and to pursue their business without let or hindrance. The reaffirmation tangentially addressed the Quit Notice and reassured citizens who felt threatened or targeted by the ethnic grandstanding. It is expected that government will in due course reveal the details of how these assurances will be guaranteed.

Aside from the above, the President also acknowledged that there are legitimate concerns and grievances held by each group and underscored the fact that our federation allows for grievances to be aired and discussed. The President equally called on Nigerians to eschew their petty differences and come together to face common challenges. He itemized the issues to be addressed in this order; economic security, political evolution and integration as well as lasting peace amongst all Nigerians.

For the very first time, we also heard the President agree that the issue of farmer versus Herdsmen clashes constituted a security threat to the nation. He also committed that the administration would address the issues of Kidnapping and reinvigorating the fight against the Boko Haram terrorists. He rightly observed that the Boko Haram terrorists have of late increased their attacks on soft targets with dire consequences on innocent civilian population of the North East, and warned that these could reverse the gains made in the fight against terrorism. He was equally resolute in condemning and to deal decisively with radical and extremist elements who were heating up the polity and their political sponsors.

Arise to Nigeria’s Call

I do not share the views expressed in some quarters that the President offered nothing in his address because he ruled that the issue of national unity was settled and non-negotiable. His reaffirmation of the sacrosanctity of the Nigerian nation is not different, in my mind, to all the other affirmation and declaration of loyalty to the Nigerian federation even by the most ardent advocates of restructuring.

What is of interest and indeed comforting in the address, is the acknowledgment by the President that the time has come for a discussion amongst Nigerians on the vexed question of the political evolution and integration in the country. While I am encouraged by that acknowledgement, I am not convinced that this important conversation should be held solely by members of the National Assembly and National Council of States.

Nigerians yearn for a clean break from this unitary federalism and it is imperative that the process of political evolution and integration of the country be broadened beyond the political class advantaged by the current constitutional arrangement. Aside from this, I have earlier on observed that the political class have demonstrated over the years that they pander only to their narrow self-interests. The process if entrusted to the National Assembly and National Council of State will be overbearingly influenced by their private and political party interests. We already have an inkling of their thoughts on this issue as evidenced in their recent debate on constitutional reforms.

I am more inclined to the suggestion that a Constituent Assembly of elected members from across the nation be convened to deliberate on this issue of our political evolution and their outcomes put forward for adoption in a national referendum.

Meanwhile, it is indeed a relief to note, as a follow up to the presidential address, that the Coalition of Northern Group (CNG) has suspended the Quit Notice issued to the Igbos to leave the north by the 1 October, 2017. While a withdrawal would have been the ideal thing to do, it is an important first step in the right direction. It is equally gratifying to note that the President has held meetings of the two major political parties the APC and PDP to deliberate further on the state of the nation. His call for a stronger and well positioned opposition party in the country is most welcome, especially to ensure that all views are aired in the national dialogue.

The offer by the CNG is a political gesture which should be seen within the context of a compelling national peace process. The Northern elders and political class have, by the suspension of the Quit Notice, reined in their youth radicals. The symbolic appearance of Northern Governors and political heavy weights alongside the Coalition of Northern Group (CNG) should not be lost on the South East Governors, political heavy weight and elders.

The implied demand on the Igbo political leadership and elders is also to rein in the radical elements in the South East. The Igbos have constantly stated that the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) narrative is not the Igbo narrative. Now is the time to clearly and unequivocally demonstrate that. The Igbo political leaders and elders must find a way to prevail on the IPOB leader to allow constructive engagement and dialogue prevail.

The news has just broken even as I write that the Federal Government has asked the courts to arrest Nnamdi Kanu for violating the conditions of his bail release. I believe that it is imperative as we search for peace and lasting solution to these lingering national questions, that the Federal Government should allow the political leaders and elders of the South East time to engage IPOB leadership and to extract a firm commitment to give peace and dialogue a chance. Arresting Nnamdi Kanu will further heighten the tension and impede the process of the national dialogue and peace engagement that is so urgently needed in the country.

President Buhari, the All Progressive Congress (APC) and indeed the nation, has been given a unique second chance to make a fresh start at nation building, political evolution and integration. We cannot collectively afford as a nation to falter or fail.

 Nwobu is a retired Nigerian diplomat. He was prior to his retirement from the Nigerian Foreign Service, Director of African Bilateral Affairs Department, as well as Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Nigeria.


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