I confess that I was very angry with you during your brief stint as military ruler, 1983-5. First, you seemed to me to be power-drunk at the time—because you made no distinction between the corrupt who had been stealing and sharing public money under Shagari and those who were known to have been resisting the robbery. I belonged to the frontline of senators who were well known to have, on the floor of the Senate, resisted the mass corruption, and yet your military government detained me (and many like me), and I languished for four months in prison without any accusation – even without being asked any question by any official.
First of all, I congratulate you warmly for winning the nomination of your party for the presidency of Nigeria.
Though you and I are different in ethnicity and religion, we have many important things in common. I am a few years older than you – which means that if you and I had been Yoruba boys born in the same Yoruba town or village, we would have belonged to about the same age-grade Association ( with us Yoruba, age-grade loyalty is traditionally a very important factor of life). Moreover, you and I were young Nigerians in an era, the 1950s, when our up-and coming country of Nigeria was a source of great pride to its citizens, and an emerging titan eagerly awaited by most informed people all over the world.
The three regions of our federation (East, North and West) were engaged in an ambitious rivalry for progress and for improvements in the quality of life of our people. They were able to do that and achieve considerable successes because our constitutional structure gave them much leeway to manage their own affairs within the common Nigerian family. We arrived at independence in 1960 believing that our country was set on the path to becoming the blackman’s world power of modern times.
Unhappily, now that you and I are in our seventies, there is nothing left of our country’s ambitions and pride – indeed, there is hardly anything left of our country itself. Relentlessly crooked up, violated, robbed and depleted since 1960, our Nigeria seems now to be stumbling towards its demise.
As you prepare for your election, I decided to write you this open letter concerning our country, because I know you will understand the pain and expectations behind my words. The purpose of most of Nigeria’s rulers since 1960 has been to weaken and even destroy regional and local initiatives in order to gather all power, control and influence together at the federal center. Their success in doing that has enabled them to remove the management of development far away from our people, and to institute at the federal centre a viciously corrupt, wasteful and incompetent monstrosity. Reduced to the status of beggar clients of the federal robber barons, the state governments, as well as the local governments, collapsed and fell in line as submissive incompetents and mini-robbers.
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In the process, real and productive enterprise quickly declined among our people, as the best and most ambitious rushed to join the ranks of the sharers of fraudulently acquired wealth from the public coffers. Our schools and universities, our public service, our police force, our military, our judiciary, all our governmental agencies (electoral commission, secret service, central bank, ports service, immigration service, public examination bodies, etc) – all collapsed under the weight of crooked control, massive corruption and generalized disloyalty. Poverty descended mightily into our country and became the lot of the overwhelming and increasing majority of our people. Our government itself admits that, today, about 70% of our citizens live in “absolute poverty” and that that percentage keeps increasing. With the growing poverty have escalated horrific crimes, a culture of dishonesty, a rush of our youths to Salafist fundamentalist terrorism, and mass flights of the educated to other lands – all of which are compounding the poverty.
From your well-known record as a leader of our country, I know that you are not only aware of these things, but that, in common with many members of our generation, you are seriously pained by them. I confess that I was very angry with you during your brief stint as military ruler, 1983-5. First, you seemed to me to be power-drunk at the time—because you made no distinction between the corrupt who had been stealing and sharing public money under Shagari and those who were known to have been resisting the robbery. I belonged to the frontline of senators who were well known to have, on the floor of the Senate, resisted the mass corruption, and yet your military government detained me (and many like me), and I languished for four months in prison without any accusation–even without being asked any question by any official.
And then, you and Idiagbon expended most of your obviously shining capabilities in pursuing nebulous and amateurish programmes like WAI (War Against Indiscipline), when what our country really needed was (after you had fiercely shot down corruption as you did) to massively divert our enormous oil revenues into investments in the lives of our people–through programmes for expansion and diversification of education, modern job skills development, entrepreneurial development, small business development, promotion of modern farming, policies for improving the quality and reputation of our labour force and thereby attracting investments and businesses into our country, policies for promotion of exports, etc. Put a people to work and persistently multiply the economic opportunities available to them, and the attraction to prosperity through competitive enterprise will gradually suppress indiscipline in their land. Fanciful programmes like WAI can have no lasting benefit or future – as I hope you must know by now. That is why the man who ousted you, Babangida, was able quite easily to wipe out all the patriotic gains of your regime.
Furthermore, I though t it was a pity that you did not appear to recognize that the over-centralization that was being given to our federation was the foundation of our ills as a country. You were wrong in thinking that punishing the corrupt leaders would destroy corruption abidingly. What is needed is to change the system into which corruption has been built. In our country’s case, we needed (and we need) to reduce the magnitude of our federal government and empower our state and local governments, which are nearer the people, to bear most of the burden of development. Then we need to give recognition and respect to our various nationalities in structuring the federation – which should mean that our larger nations would each constitute a state, and contiguous groups of our smaller nationalities would be assisted to form states, just as the Indians sensibly and profitably did in the 1960s.
By refusing to go that route, Nigeria has abysmally depressed its nationalities. For instance, my Yoruba nation came into Nigeria in 1914 as easily the fastest modernizing nationality in Black Africa; and we entered into independence with Nigeria in 1960 as the development front-liner and pace-setter in Africa. Today, we are a battered, poor, and disoriented nation, and most of our achievements have been wrecked, thanks to our being part of a Nigeria that destroys its peoples. Every other Nigerian nationality has similar stories to tell. My brother, I am, by nature and by upbringing, averse to merely lamenting an evil development; I act to change it. My potential urge, even as I write this, is to exert myself with others like me towards pulling my Yoruba nation out of Nigeria if Nigeria will not change course – and that is something that we Yoruba are perfectly capable to achieve if we are pushed to start upon it. And the same is true of some other persons and nations. In short, let’s not ignore or minimize the danger of Nigeria’s dissolution.
I know you have what it takes to change and save Nigeria. I wish you luck in your election – and I wish Nigeria luck.
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