Date Published: 10/14/09
Where are Nigeria's elders? By Pat Utomi
I OFTEN told my children when they were growing up to avoid lying. As I told it then, one thing about a lie is that it has to be covered up. If you tell one lie, you have to tell another lie to cover the first, then a third to cover the second and it goes on and on leading to a major credibility crisis. Building something on the basis of a lie is bound to bring about instability because no matter how you try to avoid this, a credibility crisis must ensue.
This is the case with the present administration. That the election that brought this administration into being was fraudulent and flawed is patently obvious. Even the main beneficiary of the election, the president, has publicly admitted to it. Now having admitted that his election was flawed and making public promises to reform Nigeria's electoral system, many of us gave the president a chance to prove himself. And now more than two years after he made that promise, it has remained unfulfilled like the promise to declare an emergency in the power sector and the promise to have zero tolerance for corruption. The administration seems oblivious or at best unconcerned that it now appears to the Nigerian public as the boy who cried 'wolf'. The failure to fulfill or even pretend to fulfill these promises is causing a huge credibility crisis for the administration. But it appears unconcerned.
The president's lack of concern is even more disturbing given the spate of contradictory statement issued by high profile government officials. First it was the AGF being contradicted by the EFCC, then the Foreign Minister being contradicted by the Chairman of INEC and then the Police contradicting the Immigration Services over Ribadu's visit to Nigeria.
However, the one that got me was the patriotic statement made by Professor Ibrahim Gambari recently which helped to put things into perspective as far as this administration is concerned. According to Professor Gambari, President Yar'Adua was "mis-advised" against attending the UN General Assembly. This was more so as the president did not attend the previous year's Assembly. Perhaps in the diplomatic world, this was the single biggest event for the year, and where was the Nigerian president? He was assisting King Abdallah open a university!
And just like in the wild where smaller animals will attack a huge lion the moment they sense any form of weakness in the lion, smaller African countries that ought to look up to Nigeria for leadership as a big brother are sensing weakness in our leadership and are now actually leading us and lecturing us and talking down at us. Obviously this is to be expected because nature abhors a vacuum, but the speed at which Nigeria has fallen from her heights should actually be a serious cause for concern.
I will give just three examples of incidences that reflect this loss of stature of Nigeria in three very different but vital sectors in a nation's polity.
In August, Nigeria's VirginNigeria airlines proudly announced a technical assistance pact with Ethiopian airlines in which Ethiopian Airlines will maintain their fleet, train pilots and crew members. By this arrangement thinking people will read between the lines and conclude that Nigeria's aviation sector is subservient to that of Ethiopia. Thus Nigeria can not lay claim to leadership in this area and it is even more telling when you consider that Ethiopia is not a rich nor developed country and is actually facing a number of serious challenges which include but are not limited to internal turmoil, a severe famine, a recently ended war with Eritrea which still provokes cross border skirmishes and an ongoing military intervention in Somalia. On the other hand, Nigeria is an oil rich nation at peace with her neighbours with enough resources to feed her population (albeit depending largely on importation) and has double the population of Ethiopia, quadruple her GDP and a per capita income three times that of Ethiopia .
The second incidence has to do with the United Nations peace-keeping forces in Darfur , Sudan . One would expect that with General Martin Luther Agwai's brilliant headship of the UNAMID in Darfur and the fact that Nigeria contributes the bulk of its troops, a Nigerian soldier would be picked to replace Gen. Agwai upon his departure. However, Nigeria has sadly lost place to Rwanda and a Rwandan general, Lt.-Gen. Patrick Nyanvumba, who was trained in Nigeria's NDA and who was a cadet when Gen Agwai and some other Nigerian military officers in the mission were already officers has been appointed to head the UNAMID mission. By the accounts of several diplomats who should know, Nigeria lost the headship of UNAMID due to a 'strange' failure to lobby for the position.
The final example which shows that we are losing our leadership role in Africa is the recent revelation by the Nigerian Senate that it has invited the head of Ghana's Electoral Commission to advise it on the conduct of decent elections. In fact, Dr. Kwado Afari-Gyan even took this a step further by visiting Professor Maurice Iwu at his INEC office and lectured him on the conduct of free and fair elections and was copiously quoted in the Nigerian media as calling for reforms in Nigeria. Ghanaian public officers coming to Nigeria to lecture us has now become a trend as some of my readers may remember that earlier this year, the Ghanaian deputy minister for energy was in Nigeria to 'advise' us on how to achieve uninterrupted power supply. Couple this with the revelation that some multinationals are relocating their business to Ghana and that it is the in-thing amongst Nigeria's elite to send their children to Ghanaian universities and you will begin to have a picture of what is happening to Nigeria under our watch. The case with Ghana is particularly sad especially when we consider that only a couple of years ago, President Obasanjo was giving out interest-free loans to Ghana to help her with some urgent needs. And now Ghana is repaying us by giving us some 'interest-free advice'. It is a great folly for any Nigerian leader to discountenance Ghana's ability to command leadership in Africa especially with the recent discovery of oil in commercial quantities in Ghana.
The case with Ghana is also particularly sad because it appears as though history is repeating itself for the third time. Let me explain. In the early 70s, Nigeria's Head of State, General Gowon was reported by the press as saying money was not Nigeria's problem, but how to spend it. Thereafter he gave out interest free loans to the Caribbean nation of Grenada to pay its workers. Today, Nigeria has difficulty paying its own worker and Grenada which we used to dole out funds to now has a per capita income of $11,500 which is five times that of Nigeria . This act was a historical replay of that of Malaysia which in the 50s came to Nigeria cap in hand to get palm oil seedlings and used these seedlings it got from Nigeria to start plantations that produce palm oil which helped push its economy in the 70s and 80s to the global forefront and eventually became the world's largest producer of palm oil and (wait for it) has in the 2000s been exporting palm oil to Nigeria! Now both President Obasanjo and General Abacha during their time in office gave out huge sums to Ghana as either loans or gifts, and today, Ghana has celebrated multiple years of uninterrupted power supply while we are producing electricity at par with Ghana even when we have about eight times their population. This is the third instance in this pattern of history repeating itself from Malaysia , to Grenada to Ghana , all using gifts from Nigeria as stepping stones to national greatness while Nigeria retrogresses.
Now the renowned novelist, Chinua Achebe wrote in 'Arrow of God' that "a she-goat does not suffer in its parturition while an elder is in the house".
One elder, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, has spoken out saying 'I must say strongly as a very senior Nigerian that there was a greatly missed opportunity in that our Head of State was not advised properly to come to this assembly'. I hereby call, nay I beg our elders in Nigeria to speak up! There is no use pretending that all is well. All is not well! Nigeria is drifting! We are losing our place in Africa and if we do not halt this drift we will be a big 'agbaya' or a"big-for-nothing" in the international community and the vultures will begin to encircle us. I call on the elders of Nigeria to please come to her aid and add their voice to that of Professor Gambari. We have lost the great Gani Fawehinmi and we need another national conscience to help us get some perspective especially in these days when we are not faced with tyranny as such, but with weakness at the centre. We should remember that if evil triumphs because good men do nothing, then mediocrity will also triumph if elders do nothing. The empire is drifting and the emperor is naked. We should not see it as the lot of a child to point this out when there are elders in the land. Where are Nigeria's elders? Once again, God bless Nigeria.
- Professor Utomi was a Presidential candidate in the 2007 elections