Presentation by Segun Gbadegesin, former President of Egbe Omo Yoruba in North America, at the Egbe’s Convention held August 25-27,2017; Kansas City, Missouri, USA.
Physicians have been hard at work in the business of diagnosing the Nigerian malady. Thus far, three theories have been propounded: super-naturalistic, humanistic (leadership), and structural. In recent columns in The Nation, I have dissected these and rejected the first two.
The problem with the super-naturalistic theory in its two forms is that it assumes humans are not the architect of their fortune, thus giving them an excuse to fail. The second—humanistic—puts the blame on poor leadership, but it also fails to address the context in which leadership operates. I illustrated with the submission of Ojukwu who, while acknowledging the leadership qualities of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, identified him only as “the leader of his people.” The implication is grave. It led me to suggest that we don’t have a leadership crisis, we have an identity crisis.
That means we need to attend to the structure of a federation that condemns us to alien-relationship in the same land. If we acknowledge the obvious, that Nigerian contains within its territorial boundary many nationalities, the way to progress and development is to find a consensus around the structure that is adequate for a multi-national entity. As General Akinrinade observed recently, “while a proper political structure does not automatically amount to good leadership, it is clear that appropriate structure can facilitate the job of an average leader who believes in the rule of law.” Until that is achieved, the path of Nigeria to progress and development is marked with landmines of discontent and unhealthy rivalry. Meanwhile there are options for the southwest.
Options for the Southwest
In the last dispensation, marginalization was the battle cry of an integral segment of a political tendency in the southwest. It reflected its perception of a center and its periphery, a core with a favored occupant and a margin with its forsaken elements. The tendency was unwavering in its complaint and, though too little and too late, the presidency was forced to respond in some form. Evidence: The over-publicized reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway which it still was not able to get off the ground until the present administration revived it with a demonstrated dedication.
However, as aggressive as it was, that political tendency was neither dominant nor self-serving. It was not dominant because there was a greater number in the zone that preferred confronting the administration on the vital question of restructuring to asking for crumbs from the federal table. As it turned out, because the former group was not self-serving, and because its complaint was altruistic rather than egoistic, there was a meeting of minds with the other political tendency.
The Southwest complaint about marginalization was less about the distribution of position among political elite and more about the overall development of its infrastructure and the possibility of regional advancement which had been hamstrung in the politics of the overbearing center.
The question for the Southwest has always revolved around the prospect of putting to work, for the advancement of the region in particular, but also the country in general, the mass of largely untapped human and material resources at its disposal. To the extent that it feels helpless in the centralized architecture of a quasi-unitary system that we run in the name of a federal polity, the complaint of marginalization as arrested development makes sense.
Having the memory of what the region accomplished in the golden era of Nigerian federalism in the late fifties and early sixties cannot but be frustrating in the present circumstance of retarded growth and unfulfilled expectations. Without the unfortunate brutal interruption of its forward march in the 60s, there is little doubt about where the old West might be now. But here we are with generations of youths condemned to a present mired in confusion, celebrating ignorance and greed, and a hopeless future. It hurts.
Many of our compatriots who were forced into the trenches in the fight against military dictatorship in pursuit of true democracy truly believed that the successful outcome of the struggle was capable of entrenching freedom and genuinely participatory democracy. In addition, however, they also genuinely believed that the struggle would correct the mistakes of the military regarding the fundamental issue of the structure of governance. But the midwives that delivered the fourth republic and its early pediatricians had also been the loudest cheer leaders for the ruinous policies and practices of the military era. And in and out of office, they have not relented in their defense of the failed ideas and ideals.
The new administration, which was propelled into office by a coalition of forces that included some of the most strident advocates of political restructuring from the southwest, appears to still be finding its way. Meanwhile, many of its loyal supporters are expressing the hope that it does the right thing in the matter that could make or mar the success of the progressive brand in four years. While it is still too early to be despondent, there must be a serious effort in the desired direction to calm worried nerves.
Of course, no one denies that there are too many irons in the political hearth and it takes wisdom and focused attention to get them all in shape. The inauguration of an Electoral Reform Committee is a case in point. Surely, elections are integral to an efficient and effective democracy, and the administration is right to prioritize the reform of the laws that govern our electoral practice.
But it is also important to recognize that, as important as elections are, the structure of governance within which elections occur is equally, if not more, important. If the structure is wobbly, elections will not successfully fix it. The demand for the revision of the structure of the polity in the last thirty years has been so unrelenting, even in the face of several successes in the matter of electoral reform.
So much for crying over spilled milk.
My intention here is not to moan or brood over the failures of a quasi-unitary system. Rather my worry is about the state of the southwest as a cohesive group, a people with a history of achievement that was and is still the envy of others. Assume the worst, that the progressive government at the center, while willing, finds itself in a situation that it cannot deliver on political restructuring. What ought the southwest to do? And since “ought” logically implies “can”, what can the southwest do?
We are cognizant of the fact that, in view of the constitutional provisions under which we operate, the southwest cannot secede. There is no self-determination clause that can constitutionally or legally back such a drastic move, IPOB aspirations notwithstanding. A bloodless divorce must have to be the result of a consensual decision of all the parties. In any case, given the differing and sometimes contradictory tendencies within, it is unlikely that such a consensus is reachable, even within the southwest. The lesson from the recent struggle for democracy is still too fresh to be forgotten.
But the drastic option of secession is just that.
The object of the rallying cry for restructuring is to enable the components of the federation to develop efficiently and effectively. For this object to be realized in the southwest in lieu of restructuring, there is a more viable and perfectly constitutional and legal option than secession. It does not even require any out-of-the-box imagining. It only requires us to address ourselves to the questions: what worked for us in the past as a people? How is the present different from the past? In the light of the difference between the past and the present, what adjustments do we need to make to our past approach so that we can have a good outcome in the present.
To the first question there is a simple answer. We had a fortunate combination of selfless leadership with the skill sets for economic and social development, a people with the inculcated values of hard work and the urge to self-improvement, and a large expanse of land and territory that was a boost to the fundamental requirement of the economy of scale.
Consider this last factor for a minute. From Okeho in the north to Ikeja in the south, from Ado-Odo in the west to Ado Ekiti in the east, the products of the land complemented one another. Production was enhanced by friendly governmental policies such that there was enough for domestic consumption and export. We saw the beginning of an agro-industrial complex with Lafia Canning Industry, Ado-Ekiti Textile Factory, and a host of others. There is a need, therefore, to understand what is different from the past in the present. Is it leadership? Is it followership? Is it availability of resources or factors of development? Or something else?
First, on leadership, I would like to assume that we still have a crop of leaders who are genuinely committed to the development of human and material resources. To be voted into office in a free and fair election in which electorates vote their interests based on manifestos shared with them and promises made to them, those electorates must be persuaded of the genuine motivation of the candidates.
And perhaps more than the writer of the Book of Proverbs, our people believe in the sanctity of names and the fact that riches and honor are important only to the extent that they are not products of activities capable of spoiling one’s good name. Therefore, good leaders try to make their mark and, if they succeed, they have their good names unspoiled. Consciously or unconsciously, Awolowo got it. His name has therefore remained unforgettable.
Of course, I am not a reader of minds and I cannot unequivocally vow for every person that seeks leadership position what their motivations are. It is possible that the people are deceived and manipulated by sweet-talking political charlatans. It is also possible that the people are too poor and ignorant to know when they are being conned. Such would not be unique to our clime. It happens everywhere including in the most advanced countries.
But I know that the only reason that a genuine human being with a moral conscience would consider making the sacrifice to run for a leadership position is to make a difference in people’s life and to make a mark. That was the case with the leaders of the West in its golden era. I would like to assume that our current crop of leaders shares this motive.
And I would also assume that they have the skill sets needed to make a mark. There could be a difference in the degree to which these skill sets are shared. But that is not unusual and it should not be a liability in the discharge of the responsibilities of leadership. Therefore, between the past and the present, leadership should not be the difference. To the extent that my assumption is wrong, we have a serious problem.
How about followership? There is no doubt that there has been a serious erosion of the values that sustained us through the 19th century civil wars and the brutal colonial exploitation. But erosion, serious as it is, is not annihilation. Those values still predominate in the larger Yoruba culture despite the incidences of 419 and it is by appeal to them that we judge actions and behaviors, including those in the economic and political realms.
We still hold dear our obsession with hard work as we detest laziness and parasitism. We still believe that good education is key to a successful life. Therefore, every household makes the effort to give their wards good education even when they must pay through the nose. And what must be a concern to all is that the poorest worker or artisan now holds firmly the belief in the superiority of private schools over public schools and is not deterred by the exorbitant cost.
I think that it is safe to assume that our people are generally good and they have an abiding faith in those cherished values. However, they need the encouragement of leaders and the hope that their hard work will be rewarded.
To my mind, however, one important difference between the past and the present is the “us” versus “them” mentality that comes with the artificial division of the region into autonomous states. Surely, not all was well between the sections of the Yoruba nation in the remote and immediate past. I touched on this sordid history in my column some weeks ago. And as we know, the creation of states has inadvertently reopened some old wounds of tribal animosity to the detriment of the desperately needed cooperation across the southwest.
It was because I believe strongly that we must find a creative way of blurring the sharp and dangerous edges that the artificial boundaries between states have created, and remove the wedges that had effectively blocked the development of the entire region that I and other well-meaning citizens welcomed the emergence of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) a bold initiative of the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) a few years ago.
For no matter the divisions, the people of southwest are one and their leaders, no matter what the temptations are, must refrain from putting them asunder. States are supposedly created for administrative purposes. They must not be used in a way that retards growth or limit the opportunities for the people, and certainly never in a way that tears apart the fabric of the Yoruba nation.
In the light of the difference between the past and the present southwest in terms of the transition from one region to six states, what adjustments need to be made to ensure that the people still matter and their social and economic interests are enhanced?
Voluntary regional integration must be the policy objective of the leaders of the states and region and party affiliation must not stand in the way of this important ideal. Years ago, I made this point in a keynote address to Egbe Omo Yoruba National Convention that took place in Baltimore, Maryland. It was also part of my submission when I gave the Bola Ige Memorial Lecture a few years ago. DAWN had not been established in those days, and the partisan war over rigged elections was still very much fierce. The challenge was for victims to accept the leadership of those who stole their mandate and work with them for the integration of the region. Happily, that war is over and political enemies of the past now wine and dine together on the same political table.
What needs to be overcome now is fiefdom mentality and leadership temptation to resist cross-fertilization of ideas and practices across territorial boundaries.