By Chief Emeka Anyaoku
It is unusual for this 2021 Obafemi Awolowo lecture not to be taking place in a physical gathering as has been the case in the past. In the prevailing environment of the coronavirus pandemic which compels us to stay indoors, I must say thanks to modern technology that the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation has been able to ensure that the lecture is being held today by zoom.
I would like to thank the Chief Executive and driving force of the Foundation, Ambassador Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosumu for organising the lecture.
I would also like to thank our Chairman Professor Wole Soyinka, our Royal Father His Eminence Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, Sultan of Sokoto, and of course, our Guest Speaker Mr Odia Ofeimun for making time to join in honouring the memory of our revered Sage and philosopher leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo today the 112th anniversary of his birth.
I intend in what must be brief remarks by a special guest on the theme of the lecture to make 4 main points.
My first point is that there is no section or ethnic group in Nigeria that does not stand to benefit from belonging to the one country of the size and resources of the present day Nigeria. Therefore, it is, and should be in the common interest of all its ethnically and religiously diverse component parts to sustain, nourish and progress our one country.
My second point is that the current state of affairs in Nigeria is not sustainable if the country is to avoid becoming a failed and broken state. There are undeniable facts about the current situation in Nigeria.
In addition to the country’s economic under-performance with its evident consequence of growing poverty among the population, there is worsening insecurity of life and property which is now spreading from the North to all parts of the country.
Not a single day passes without reports of many people having been killed and kidnapped, including many young students from their schools – the latest incidents include the kidnapping of 617 boys and girls from their schools in Kagara and Jangebe and in the last three days of 60 women and children in Zamfara.
There are also incessant reports of people being killed in their farms and their homes being destroyed by terrorists now euphemistically described as bandits, and reports of women and young girls being raped.
Indeed human life in Nigeria has become so cheap that the society is now being progressively inurred to the loss of human life as being of little consequence.
And accompanying all this is a growing level of distrust and divissiveness among the different ethnic and religious groups which are undermining the cohesion and threatening the continued existence of one Nigeria.
The question must therefore be asked: for how long can the leadership of Nigeria continue to ignore these facts which have led many of our prominent citizens, including former Heads of State with impeccable commitment to the unity of Nigeria, to warn of an inevitable national calamity if these challenges are not urgently addressed?
My third point is to say once again that it has become clear that these national challenges cannot be effectively tackled under our present type of federal system of government.
After my over thirty-four years close association with governance in the fifty-four diverse Commonwealth member countries, I can say with reasonable confidence that from the experiences of other countries whose national attributes are comparable to Nigeria’s, there is abundant evidence to show that a federal system that is based on more economically and socially viable federating units with a less dominant central government, is what will restore Nigeria to the path to greater political stability and a more assured economic growth.
Although there are the essential ingredients of genuine democracy such as free and fair elections, freedom of speech and association, rule of law and independent judiciary, accountability of the government to the governed, every stable democracy is based on the characteristics of the country concerned.
I believe that in constitutional governance, the model for Nigeria should be India not the United States of America with its mainly immigrant population where it was relatively easier for its leaders to define the country’s national ethos that underpins its constitutional practice.
In contrast, India is a country of diverse population whose component parts have lived in their separate areas for centuries, but which has succeeded in sustaining a united country and a thriving democracy.
Nigeria’s national attributes have much more in common with India’s, and so a Nigeria with a governance structure that is informed by its national attributes, can, I believe, aspire to equal if not surpass the level of democratic political stability and economic development that India has achieved with its own autocthonous federal system of governance.
My fourth and final point is what to do in order to arrest the current deteriorating situation in our country. Here, I join in calling on the Federal Government and the National Assembly to urgently organize an all inclusive national dialogue.
The dialogue should take into account the recommendations of previous national conferences, and the many proposals emanating from various major stakeholders, with a view to modifying our present governance structure and producing a consensus Constitution that can truthfully be described as the product of “we the people of Nigeria”.
I would like to conclude my remarks by stressing the view that, with the current challenges confronting the country, it is only a restructured governance system, that is a Constitution which in practice can guarantee the treatment of all sections of the population with equity, justice and fairness, that will secure the integrity and political stability of Nigeria, as well as the achievement of its deserved socio-economic development.
I thank all of you the participants for your attention.
Chief Anyaoku, a former Secretary General of the Commonwealth made these remarks as Special Guest of Honour, 2021Obafemi Awolowo Memorial Lecture held on March 6, 2021.