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A seminal outing

After a five-year absence on this platform, I am back to the trenches. Evidently, it has been quite a while. At the risk of sounding too personal, I have been away on a leave of absence, attending to a national assignment in far away, Oye-Ekiti. For perhaps the first time in my life, I had a peep into the policy world.

To say the least, this was a most insightful experience. So insightful that, I had a better look-in, as to why Nigeria works or does not work. As I told a friend of mine, I summed up my experience of the last five years in the policy corridor as a trip to the University of the Street where, so to say, I acquired a PhD!!

Certainly, one is much more enriched by the experience. Unlike the earlier columnist embodied in this person, I am now able to see things from a broader perspective. In saying this and in earlier times, one was sold on a Manichean worldview of: black and white.

It does not take much to appreciate that most of those who are not happy with Nigeria are invariably those who are not in the saddle of power

Now I know better, for between black and white, there could be a grey zone. But just like I have changed, the times have also changed. Looking back, it is possible to contend that matters were much simpler. The immediate and urgent question then was how to make our democracy work. Things are not that simple today.

At the moment, the political animal called Nigeria, is gasping. She is being buffeted left and right by sub-national forces seeking to put an end to the arrangement of 1914. For the cynical, these apostles of separatism could be viewed as mere sub-national merchants; who want something from Nigeria, and their way of getting it is to hark back to the strident cries of: To your Tents O Israel. However, one thing that has never failed to surprise is that the separatist game is really an outsider’s show. It does not take much to appreciate that most of those who are not happy with Nigeria are invariably those who are not in the saddle of power. The specific counter-point here is that if these social forces are invited to the dining table of power today, chances are that all will be quiet on the western front. On this note, it is possible to observe that status quo forces like Governors and Ministers are not active players in this game. Let me hasten to add that this is not to trivialize the various cries across the land. Some of them are genuine. But even then, some form of cooption can easily stem the tide. Ask IBB or the late Anthony Enahoro who called it subversive generosity!

Moreover, for those with a keen sense of history, it is possible to fall back on Oscar Wilde’s famous quip that: the present is the past entered through another gate. In other words, separatist passions have always been with us. On this note, one only has to recall code words and phrases like Araba, the mistake of 1914 and on Aburi we stand….

And as if to worsen matters, there are other compelling issues which make the observer to wince that, it looks as if this besieged nation has been running on the same spot for the past five years. These issues revolve around the stubborn issues that have refused to go away. Indeed, some of them rather than get better, have simply worsened. We refer here to the issues of power supply, provision of potable water and youth unemployment. By comparison, other countries, even within Africa have managed to move on, such that, for them some form of Nirvana is in sight.

By contrast, for us, the Nigerian dream has become something of a nightmare. Unfortunately, so fixated is our notion of where Nigeria should be that, now and then, we are given a jolt about our static and even regressive profile.

This happened recently when, Twitter ignored our demographic strength and decided to settle for seemingly lowly Ghana. And by the way, this is not an isolated phenomenon. Time and time again, we have been left stranded by the apostles of foreign investment in a way that the literature on demography and geo-politics is being re-written when it comes to the empirical reality called Nigeria. Let me be more explicit here. The stock notion is that any country with a large population, sooner than later will emerge on the global stage as a world power. Examples; India, China, Indonesia etc.

But with Nigeria, it looks as if this deposition is going to be re-written. In other words, sheer size and demographic strength will not automatically guarantee Nigeria a place among the world powers. We have to work at it like say, China did. Needless to say, all the issues rose in much of the foregoing and more will constitute the basis for discourse in the subsequent editions in this column. And what is the end here, the skeptic reader may wish to ask. The point is that any columnist owes it a duty to himself and his society to continuously show up the mirror to all of us.

This is in the hope that, “Some Monday morning for sure” as evocatively deposed by Nadine Gordimer, someone or a critical mass will listen, such that, this beleaguered Country will come into her own despite all the current odds.

Professor Kayode Soremekun, Chairman of the Editorial Board, BusinessDay, was a Vice Chancellor of Federal University Oye Ekiti

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