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Two conversations – and a nation on the rack

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Two conversations, and a nation on the rack

By Femi Olugbile

The conversation, organized by Voice Of Reason as the second installment of its Goke Omisore Annual Lecture series, was titled, ‘Creating an inter-generational dialogue for the Nigeria we want’.

The other conversation, organized by ‘Radio Now’, was titled, starkly, ‘Tactics and strategies for pulling Nigeria back from the brink’.

The two conversations took place on the same day, anchored in the same city – Lagos.

Voice of Reason is a sociocultural group of older intellectuals from various walks of life who are focused on ensuring the growth and development of the South West of Nigeria within a restructured federation. They have gone so far as to prepare a draft Constitution for that restructured entity – a true federation of willing, equal peoples operating in a level playing field with no hidden rules.

‘Radio Now 95.3 FM’ is a refreshing new presence in the radio broadcast scene. The lofty goals of the station include ‘to bring Nigerians across the world together in the task of nation-building’. The Chief Executive Officer, and the persona around whom the whole concept is built, is Kadaria Ahmed, internationally renowned broadcaster and media entrepreneur.

The anchor for the VOR discussion was Leke Oshuniyi, medical doctor and social activist. For the Radio Now event, Dele Olojede, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and publisher of the defunct NEXT newspaper had been ferried all the way from his base in the USA. Though he was decked out in white kaftan in which he could have passed for a well-to-do Lagos entrepreneur going about his daily ‘hustle’, he let it be known that he felt like a concerned alien coming ‘home’ to dip his toes in waters that have grown turbulent in his absence.

A somber note was set straight off by the Chairman of VOR in his opening speech, remarking that Goke Omisore, the group’s convener, would have been seventy-two on this day. He also remembered the recent death of Oye Ibidapo Obe, a member of the group.

Though the topic portended a well-reasoned discussion about the need for the excluded majority of Nigerians – the young, to be brought centre-stage instead of being excluded, brutalized and killed by the instruments or failures of State, it was clear that there was only one issue on everyone’s mind – the National Question, how things had been allowed to slide to a sad, dangerous pass, and how the nation needed to be urgently rescued.

Obadiah Mailafia set off the discourse. The statement by a serving State Governor that ‘not all bandits are criminals’ was the oxymoron of the century, embodying the absurdity and lack of common purpose underpinning the Nigeria project. The Nigerian Constitution, flawed as it was, guaranteed the right of self-defence to anyone who faced an imminent threat to life, and it was the right of citizens to defend their community. ‘Nigeria is a country of greatness, but we are being strangulated by leadership misrule’.

To Tokunbo Sholu-Ekukinam, who spoke for the ‘over-sixties’ generation, ‘no one is safe in Nigeria at the moment…Nigerians do not know their rights anymore…The younger generation should take up the challenge, fight for their rights…’

Lawyer and former Student Leader Dele Farotimi, with his familiar head of dreadlocks, complained that the younger generation had been turned to chartered slaves who the police could shoot at any time, and they had no access to amenities, dignity or liberty. He referred to the #EndSARS protests and the fate of the protesters.

Yemi Adamolekun, of Enough is Enough (EiE), proclaimed that all the evidence was that ‘the youth mean nothing to the older generation’. In the broad picture of widespread insecurity, she charged the Director General of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN), a participant at the webinar, to ensure that Amotekun was deployed to all local government areas in the South West to protect lives. In her view, though the Constitution guaranteed a right to live anywhere, no law stopped governors from requiring that all newcomers to their territories be registered.

Pat Utomi, Annkio Briggs, Bassey Henshaw, Tony Nnadi, Icon Olawale and Inibehe Effiong all added voices of concern about the situation of youths and the challenges of definition, ownership and participation bedeviling the Nigerian nation.

In the other conversation, which principally featured two governors, Nasir El-Rufai and Kayode Fayemi, along with Minority leader in the Senate, Ehinaya Abaribe, El-Rufai avowed that Nigeria could be saved by adoption of an elite consensus similar to the Deng Xiao Ping formula that took China from poverty to world power in one generation. Joint commitment to the rule of law. Quick dispensation of justice. Common citizenship. Restructuring with devolution of powers, including policing, rights to oil and mineral resources and the structure of the judiciary. ‘Sedentarising’ cow herding, making it a business and not a lifestyle. Taking out the poison of identity politics. Meritocracy and equal citizenship for all. Devolution of powers to create true federalism. Firm and decisive security enforcement.

Listening to the logical assertions of Fayemi, the calm assurance of Abaribe about how the National Assembly could indeed take action on the constitution and the measured voice of one of the other speakers, Sam Adeyemi, a pastor who in his ‘other’ business was a Motivational Speaker and Trainer, it was reassuring to think there was reason for hope.

And yet the thread of anxiety linking audience and speaker in the two conversations was palpable because of questions that nobody was answering authoritatively in all the land. Who was a Nigerian citizen, and who was not? What were ‘Residency Rights’? What were ‘Residency Obligations and Responsibilities’? In other words, what duties did ‘newcomers’ owe to the local people in the communities they settled in? Were Nigerians truly and verifiably equal – East, West, South, North? By what miracle of Psychology could citizens begin to trust their government and its organs? Certainly not through official platitudes or pious invocations of a ‘patriotism’ they did not – yet, feel in their bones. These were the questions that needed to be answered, fast, and the anxieties put to bed, firmly, finally. Nobody who was anybody was addressing them in any meaningful way.