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Guiding political philosophy for a democratic Nigeria

Osita Chidoka  Dateline 2008: Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, then Secretary to Government of the federation called me and inquired about a meeting I had in…

Osita Chidoka 

Dateline 2008: Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, then Secretary to Government of the federation called me and inquired about a meeting I had in London with then EFCC Chairman NuhuRibadu and Mallam Nasir El-Rufai to launch an international media campaign to discredit President Umaru Yar’Adua as part of plans by the Obasanjo boys to remove President Yar’Adua from office. I was alarmed. Shortly after that discussion another senior friend of mine Chief Mike Nwakalor frantically called me and said I should thank Amb. Kingibe for standing up for me and insisting that the Osita he knows would not be part of a plan to discredit a government he is serving as a Chief Executive. Chief Nwakalor had also told some of those peddling the story that unless Ojo Maduekwe was part of the plot he does not see how Osita would plan such. 

The truth was that I had come out of Paris from a road safety conference with my wife and checked into the Hilton Metropole where incidentally NuhuRibadu, who arrived from a Thisday Event in New York was also staying. We met in the lobby and he told me he was waiting for Nasir to go and see Gani Fawehinmi who was very sick at the time in London, I quickly offered to go and see Chief with them as I hadn’t seen him since he was hospitalised. After the visit I left with Nasir and Jimi Lawal to join the Awujale of Ijebu for Iftar dinner as it was Ramadan. The following day I left for Nigeria. 

The story of the plan to discredit President Yar’Adua was only symptomatic of a more fundamental problem of ideological differences between the so called “Obasanjo boys” and the emerging “Yar’Adua group”. This difference arose largely because the PDP at that time was not constructed along any guiding political philosophy hence the immediate effort to dismantle what some termed the Obasanjo hegemony. Subsequently NuhuRibadu was removed as EFCC Chairman, Nasir El-Rufai went on exile and in my case a Presidential Panel was set up to investigate allegations that my appointment did not follow due process and other sundry allegations, same petition was also sent to ICPC and EFCC. Luckily for me Ambassador Kingibe and then Permanent Secretary General Services Office Hakeem Baba-Ahmed stood their ground and saved my nascent career from the forces I worked day and night with President Obasanjo to bring to power. 

President Obasanjo in his last year made effort to construct a new paradigm for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by bringing to life a new manifesto with what he termed Irreducible Minimums on all the key areas to enable PDP elected official across all levels of government to deliver on an agreed set of deliverables that will distinguish PDP from other parties. He also worked on a document titled ”PDP Candidates: Desirable Qualities and Code of Conduct”, I will handover to the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library a version of that document with the handwritten corrections of President Obasanjo. Today is not about history but sooner than later I will write my own book to respond to the historicity of  El-Rufai’s and Obasanjo’s facts and conclusion in their controversial books Accidental Public Servant and My Watch about my role in their various accounts.

President Obasanjo, is exceptional in his ability to spot talents and utilise them effectively. Age and tribe is no barrier to his unquenchable thirst for talents. I speak as a witness. Now l invite you to join me in spirit as we span over centuries and continents in the quest to locate the role of guiding philosophy in nation building and development of political culture.

Is Nigeria a mere geographical expression? Answers in this room will be varied but this sentence has continued to haunt our country and may continue to haunt us if we do not do the needful. That needful is the reason why we are here. First we are sitting in the presidential library of a former President. The first library so built, standing as a monument not to Olusegun Obasanjo the man but to the ideas, history and record of Obasanjo in the publc space. The construction of this library though of material nature made of stone, sand and concrete, is one of the pointers that as a nation we are marching towards transmutation of matter to the ethereal. The library is a symbol of Obasanjo’s pioneering role in the effort to transform Nigeria from a mere geographical expression to a geographical expression of ideas.

A library is a repository of knowledge. Its significance is not in the physical structure housing it but in the ideas it stores and the mind it transforms beyond the imagination of the authors of the ideas. Hence my job today is to give expression to ideas that will enable a new generation to rethink, remap and reimagine Nigeria as an expression of ideas providing a home to all who seek to dwell in a geographic space housing those values that unite disparate groups, breathe life into a constructed entity and create a sense of union.

Countries founded along homogenous ethnic or racial identities are widespread and yet at some point in their evolution they rise above blood, family, caste and tribe to find a philosophical reason for existence. The British wrote the magna carta, arguably the most important foundation of contemporary law making and such legal principles like habeas corpus. The Magna Carta underpinned the evolution of the British democracy and the rights we take for granted today. We can state that the magna cartatransformed Britain from a patrimonial geographical expression to an expression of idea that propelled the rise of the British empire.

The French revolutioninstitutionalised, if it did not invent, the philosophical underpinning of French society under the slogan Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. These thought triad continue to define and symbolise the ideals that French men and women live and die for.

The United States of America is a classical example of a nation founded on ideas. Ideas that speak of truths self-evident, of equality of men, of rights inalienable, of endowoment by their Creator and listed some of the rights to include Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

70 years later Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg spoke of a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. What is the philosophical idea that our nation was conceived in and to what proposition are we dedicated to? Lincoln was at Gettysburg to dedicate a burial ground for soldiers who gave their lives at the battlefield during the US civil war between the Northern and Southern part of the country. He defined the war, drawing from the declaration of independence, as testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived or so dedicated can long endure. 

In the three examples we have cited above none spoke about unity, about progress, about faith, about peace rather they spoke of natural and legal rights. They spoke about the expectations of a human being from the union or state. When we today speak about supremacy of the constitution, habeas corpus, mandamus and other legal protection that individuals enjoy, we must remember that its origin is in the fundamental philosophy of states. These philosophies did not arise out of philosophers but a product of the struggle between contending forces be they economic, social or racial. 

At independence our leaders failed to define the qualities of an exceptional country so diverse yet so similar that other African countries can discern a Nigerian no matter the ethnic origin.  The emphasis was on replacing the colonial masters and enjoying the benefits of a distributional and extractive governance philosophy primarily designed to enrich the home government of the colonialist. In adopting that philosophy without the administrative competence of the colonial administration it was only a matter of time before the vacuous organising principle of the new state led to Africa’s worst pogrom and civil war.

The end of the civil war offered an opportunity for the wining coalition to redefine the organising principle of the Nigerian state and propose new ideals upon which, a state exceptional in its combination of three strong and many other small ethnic groups that had overcome a civil war, can be founded. Yet again we missed it. 

(Continued next week)

Text of a paper presented on the occasion of the public lecture organised by the Youth Development Centre of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, Abeokuta, May 2017.

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