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The imperatives of taking our country back

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu: “We have taken our country back.” The statement makes for a good slogan for the president who promised to renew our…

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu: “We have taken our country back.”

The statement makes for a good slogan for the president who promised to renew our hope. Slogans are powerful statements usually intended to whip the populace into line. It is not for nothing that communist countries and dictators love them. Slogans also constitute an important support system for the administration that births them.

The Tinubu administration packs the fervent hope of all Nigerians for a better now and a greater future for themselves and their nation. We have run the rounds for too long. Time to break out of the circle and make real progress in our national development. The locusts were here under Buhari and left a trail of devastation in their wake.

Tinubu has been in office for only about two months. It would be unrealistic to suggest that he has done some titanic things, but it would be fair to suggest that he has set his sight on doing some titanic things. But it is not possible, as he claimed, that we have taken back our country under his watch and within such so short a time. And what does it mean to take our country back – and from what or whom? We have not taken our country back. We have not even begun the process. It could be long and frustrating for the country and its political leaders.

It is important for us to interrogate the president’s statement lest we are lulled into believing that within only two months in office, he has already fulfilled a vital part of his campaign promises. It may not be possible to have a consensus, but we need to broadly agree that our country needs to be freed from those ills that afflict it. Taking back the country is a multi-dimensional challenge. It means tackling the problems that have held the nation back from realising its full potentials as a great nation rather than as a perpetually potentially great nation.

No simple or easy task. No one should think it is less difficult than demolishing a bowl of amala with ewedu soup. It is serious and must not be approached with any degree of casualness or levity or with soporific sloganeering. We may not be able to place our fingers on it, but we do know that our country has been held back by white or black forces that have condemned it to its current status as a potentially great nation moving blissfully in circles.

At independence, our country showed potentials as the authentic African leader and a beacon to black people everywhere. But we lost our position through various acts of omission and commission that have more or less left us at the starting block. Smaller African nations less endowed with the level of our wealth in human and natural resources have walked past us.

The imperatives of taking back our country are greater than ever before because we are clearly polarised along ethnic and religious lines with our fault lines widening to the point of creating gulfs. Every administration promises and raises the hope that being a new broom, it will sweep cleaner and do things differently and achieve different and positive results. Every administration inherits the failures of its predecessor.

It must clean up after the previous government and chart its own course. Indeed, it is for righting the wrongs of a previous government that brave politicians put themselves up for national service at national and sub-national levels; therefore, no new administration need be persuaded that the imperatives of taking on the urgent task of lifting the country up from the marsh of failures of its predecessor is its first task in national development.

The first step in any programme or policy of taking our country back should start with the inventory of the problems that confront us as a nation. Here is my own inventory. One, our form of government. The structure of our federation and the nature of our federalism are still worrisome social and political problems. Our founding fathers chose the federal system as the best for the country given the makeup of our country. Under the British colonial authorities and in the second republic, the country functioned as a true federal system with each constituent region enjoying a measure of autonomy consistent with best practices in a federal system.

This changed when the generals rewrote the book on the structure of our federation and the nature of our federalism. The nature of our federalism became become what Professor Isawa Elaigwu calls military federalism. We have 36 states and six geo-political zones. Which is the structure of our federation?

Military federalism is strange to a federal system and the nature of federalism. Centralisation or uniformity among the constituent units of a federation is inimical to the nature of federalism. It stifles initiatives. State governors are not military prefects who take orders from the GOC. The long-running debate on restructuring is an argument for taking our federalism back from military federalism. Two national conferences had been held to address and resolve a matter so critical to our country, but we still dance around it.

Two, insecurity. Every Nigerian, be he a lowly labourer or a big man protected by a phalanx of security details, permanently has his heart in his mouth. It is the fear of the gun that has empowered the poor and weakened the rich. After our civil war, the gun became a source of power in the hands of its holder. Armed robbers emerged on the scene to show that if soldiers could change governments with the gun, resourceful civilians could also use the gun to deprive their fellow Nigerians of their property.

Of the eight million small arms in circulation in the West African sub-region, six million are in our country. Ours is about the most violent country on the continent today. Thanks to the gun, banditry, kidnapping, Boko Haram, senseless and wanton killings, and sundry criminals hold our country hostage. The first constitutional duty imposed on the government is the security of the country and its people. Yet under Buhari’s watch the Nigerian state felt really helpless. To make any progress outside the loop of cosmetics, taking our country back should mean prying it out of the hands of violent criminals.

Three, corruption also known as cankerworm. I rate this as number three in my inventory, not because it is less important but because it has become our way of life. One of the longest-running wars in the world must be our anti-graft war. Nothing that our leaders did ever impressed corruption. It waxes stronger and the war has become unwinnable. You are not hearing it from me for the first time that corruption is the king.

The commanders and the foot soldiers have fallen under its spell and accepted that it is easier to join the corrupt than to fight corruption. Some of our legislative leaders in the executive and the legislative arms of government were being prosecuted for corruption by EFCC but their new power and position have granted them immunity – forcing the country to either ignore or forgive their sins against their own people. Evidence, if any was ever needed, that we are ambivalent about ridding the country of corruption. The survival of corruption is the arrest of our developmental ambitions, hence our landscape filled with uncompleted myriads of projects.

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