•KOWA Party Presidential Aspirant, Prof. REMI SONAIYA
Last week Thursday, April 19th, 2018, City People had the privilege to host one of Nigeria’s most outstanding female academicians and politicians, Prof. Remi Sonaiya of the KOWA Party. The hugely respected Professor of French Language and Applied Linguistics and Nigeria’s most consistent female presidential aspirant (she’s also contesting for presidency next year) was also given the responsibility to deliver a lecture titled “Moving Nigeria Forward: My Thoughts.”
As would be expected of a woman who has spent a large chunk of life in the academia making ground breaking academic accomplishments, Prof. Remi Sonaiya arrived at the City People Event Centre, venue of the lecture, well before the publisiced 4pm kick-off time. Dressed in a simple moderately designed Boubou gown, and with barely no jewelry on, this revered intellectual of high repute, made an unbelievably quiet entry into the venue. Her arrival was devoid of the usual noise and fanfare that accompanies politicians whenever they make public appearances. But the Prof. would have none of that. And that just about sums up the kind of person she is-simple, unextravagant, intensely focused and dignified.
Shortly after her arrival, some of her KOWA Colleagues and long time friends who share in her aspirations and ideologies began to troop in, along with members of the public who got wind of the lecture via social media. And the erudite professor did not disappoint. She delivered a very enriching and illuminating lecture. Below is an abridged version of her inspiring 30 minutes paper on her thoughts on the things we need to do to move Nigeria forward.
It is a great honour for me to have been invited to deliver this first political lecture organised by City People Magazine. I do not take it for granted. I am grateful to God for the opportunity, and sincerely thank the Management and staff of City People. Her suggestions:-
It is a shame that while incredible technological breakthroughs are being recorded around the world, we would still find ourselves bogged down by our inability to provide the most basic services to our people. Moving forward, for me, begins with removing that shame. How do we go about it? The very first step, in my considered opinion, has to do with leadership.
Hardly anyone would contest that bad leadership has most probably been the major reason for our nation’s underdevelopment – at least, since the end of the First Republic.
From military men seizing the reins of government for which they were neither prepared nor qualified, to visionless and inept civilians whose notions of leadership are completely out of sync with the realities and aspirations of their people, our story has been one of repeated, failed leadership resulting in a practically failed state. Francis Fukuyama in his book, State Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century (2004, Cornell University Press) states the following:
“Weak or failed states are the source of many of the world’s most serious problems, from poverty to AIDS, to drugs, to terrorism.” Terrorism is a word which until about a decade ago used to apply to others; now it is a reality we live with everyday, owing, primarily to the failure of leadership. Fukuyama maintains that failed states (resulting from failed leadership) “are unable, or deliberately fail to provide an acceptable standard of living for their people.”
It is the leaders’ responsibility to ensure that ALL the citizens live in dignity – children, young people, adults, the aged, women, men, those living with disabilities; no one should be left uncared for. Government by hand-outs is a fraud and does nothing to improve the standard of living of the entire populace nor enhance their self-worth and dignity.
The distribution of motorcycles, sewing machines, pepper grinding machines, which our elected officials point at to justify their collection of huge sums of money as constituency allowances is in reality a way to keep the people dependent and subservient, rather than self-actualising.
The primary job of leaders is to provide an environment, which would permit the people to pursue their lawful, rewarding activities. Give the people a clean environment – including proper toilets! – which would free them from diseases; provide running water in their taps and set them free of drudgery and also diseases; let there be electricity to enhance productivity and light up their darkness at night; give them good schools, good hospitals, good transportation; and provide security, that they can live in peace. Is that not the job of government?
Unfortunately, we Nigerians have not taken seriously enough the task of choosing our leaders; we seem unable to see the connection between the choices we make and the quality of life we end up living. Rather than take time to closely examine the candidates we have in terms of the values they are known to stand for (do they love and practice truth, justice and fairness in their dealings?); their personal integrity; and their (potential) ability to effectively carry out the responsibilities of the position to which they wish to be elected (for example, what are their qualifications, competences and skills; and are they mentally and physically fit enough to withstand the demands of the office).
What matters more to us are where people come from, their religion, sometimes their gender, and the amount of money they can offer us for our votes.
Just very quickly, let me say a few words on that last point about people being interested in how much money they can get from politicians during elections. That statement would not apply to many of us here because we do not belong to the class of Nigerians that can be bought with N2000 or N5000. We belong to the middle class, which tends not to bother to vote in elections.
We have decided that the way out for us is to ensure that we are successful in our various businesses, making enough money to keep ourselves and our families comfortable: we have our boreholes and generators, we have our private guards, and we have the means to buy our escape from the madness of Nigeria from time to time, fleeing to much saner climes.
Let me just challenge us on our social responsibility. It is not proper that our very beautiful homes have stinking, overflowing gutters surrounding them, and that we waste many hours sitting in our expensive cars because they have to be driven on pothole-ridden roads which create terrible traffic jams. Gladly, things have begun to change, as many are getting involved politically. It is a change that must continue. Please, let us all ensure that we get our PVCs, and also encourage others to do so.
Let us wrap up the matter of leadership. Sir Richard Branson, the Chairman of the Virgin Group, while folding up his businesses in Nigeria in 2012, was reported to have been scathing in his condemnation of Nigerian leaders and politicians, describing them as “corrupt and insane”. One also heard that he was of the opinion that “Nigerian leaders hate their people”, and that ours is a country he would never consider doing business with again.
I believe he was right about the leaders hating the people. Interestingly, there is currently a lot of hue and cry about “hate speech” by the current administration; but what if you do not speak, but you act out hate? The penury in which the overwhelming majority of Nigerians are condemned to live and the constant wastage of their lives in numerous ways, while, we were informed (and by no less a personality than the former CBN governor, now Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi) said that an overwhelming percentage of our annual budget goes to service the political class – is that not hate? As we choose new leaders at various levels of government, let us choose right. Now, I will go on to identify, but not in as much detail, other areas that are crucial for moving this ailing, tottering giant of a nation forward.
This will be the focal point of the campaign I plan to run if I am chosen to be the standard bearer of KOWA Party in the 2019 presidential elections. Calls for restructuring the country are being made across the land, and even the ruling party, APC, has mentally assented to it, based on the report submitted by its Restructuring Committee, chaired by Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna State, which equally made recommendations in favour of resource control, making local government an affair of states, effecting a constitutional amendment to allow the merger of states, state police, state court of appeal and independent candidacy.
The red herring, which those who oppose restructuring have found useful to throw into the pool is to ask what restructuring really means or what it would involve. This is nothing, but feigned, ignorance, since most if not all of them were alive when Nigeria attained independence and operated a negotiated structure and system of government, which gave substantial autonomy to the regions, allowing them control over their resources and the determination of their priorities. We must, therefore, scream it, yell it, pound our clenched fists on the table until Restructuring happens. We are killing ourselves by running this mindless, crippling, centralised system imposed upon us by the military – and what is meant by restructuring is a dismantling of that system.
(3) FEDERAL CHARACTER
An important and immediate advantage of this Restructuring would be freedom from the burden of the policy of Federal Character. I have found it totally unjust that states that have demonstrated little or no interest in developing their human capital are given the exact, same rights to public office as those which do – what then is the quality of individuals they present for federal positions? When the governor of a state declares that the best and happiest day of his life is the marriage he was able to organise for a thousand or so couples, what is one supposed to make of it? What skills and expertise would such people bring to the facing the challenges of governance and the development of their states? And when they happen to be our representatives or officials at the federal level, would their influence not be negative over all?
Federal Character, rather than a merit-based and merit-driven public service has had the effect of pulling down the country. Imagine what happens in federal secondary schools which are operated on this quota system stipulated by Federal Character. What would be the effect on the child, who scored 90% on the admission examination of having classmates who scored 5, 10 or 20%?
As a teacher for over thirty years, I know that the presence of students who are in reality not fit to be in a class compromises the whole enterprise of teaching and learning; they slow the others down. When freed from the burden of Federal Character, those states (or regions) which so desire are thus at liberty to identify individuals who are best qualified and suited to help them achieve their set goals, in line with the priorities determined. Others, according to their own priorities too, may continue to quibble over which local government area somebody comes from and what religion they practices.
(4) TRUE FEDERALISM AND RESOURCE CONTROL
Of course, Restructuring means, in effect, that we will more rightly and honestly bear our name, the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The devolution of power from the central government to the states or regions, will enable the government at the national level to focus on those aspects that are rightly and essentially in its purview, the primary one being the security of the whole entity referred to as Nigeria. The head of any of the sub-sections of that entity will also be in charge of the security at those level – thus, the obvious sense in the agitation for state police.
While I studied at Cornell University, in the USA, we had a campus police outfit. Policing is effective when it is close to the people – they know the lay of the ground and can respond quickly when any situation arises. Police officers should not have to wait for orders from above to be mobilised for action. As we are well aware, cities around the world have their police departments. Why can we not follow a good example?
Restructuring and True Federalism also mean that the states or regions will control the resources found in their localities. I do not wish to dwell too long or waste time on this issue. We have run such a system before, with the regions contributing their appropriate quota to the running of the central government. It is amazing the profligacy which has been demonstrated over decades in the management of the nation’s resources. The matter of the allocation of oil blocks could be cited as an example. For God’s sake! I was shocked, many years ago when I visited Warri for the first time to see a sign which had been put up as one entered the town: “Beware of potholes”. This was in a region that produced the wealth of the nation! Utter callousness.
(5) DECREASE CONSUMPTION, INCREASE PRODUCTIVITY
While not being an economist by training, it is nonetheless obvious that an economy, which is tilted overwhelmingly in favour of importation is not a sustainable one. One doesn’t have to be an expert to understand that a country of producers and manufacturers has a stronger economy than one that simply consumes. Unfortunately, we are primarily consumers, not producers. And Nigerians do know how to consume! We spend a huge proportion of our resources to purchase luxury goods and live lavishly; what we need to ask ourselves is, what do we contribute tangibly in exchange for these goods? Also, do we add our own quota to the global pool of innovation? Interestingly, Nigerians in the diaspora are participating actively in contributing to the development of the countries in which they live. When shall we provide the enabling environment to make us producers in our own country as well?
We have paid lip service to developing other sources of revenue to shore up our dwindling income from oil. When shall we roll up our sleeves and settle down to work? How much has the Ajaokuta Steel Complex and other similar perpetually abandoned projects cost the nation? How come other nations, even here in Africa, are able to set targets and achieve them? What has prevented us from getting ourselves a functional rail system as the Ethiopians have done?
(6) CREATE EMPLOYMENT
Every single stretch of bad road in the country should remind us that there are jobs which need to be created, but which our leaders choose to ignore. I have imagined, for example, that all the roads and highways in the country could be divided up into chunks (of 2, 5, 10 and 20 kilometers each, for example) and allocated to contractors who are resident in the localities where those roads are found. Of course, this would not be a federal government affair but, rather under the supervision of states and local governments. This would create employment for an army of small contractors around the country.
The benefit to the society would also be that there would be a database of the individual contractor responsible for every stretch of road; we would know who to hold accountable in case of negligence. This proposal, of course, assumes that the contractors would be promptly paid for their work, just as they would be held to account. A country which is comfortable with having such a high percentage of its children and young, able-bodied people running after vehicles on the roads selling plantain chips and La Casera has not begun to take its future seriously.
(7) POPULATION CONTROL
But how can we continue to provide employment for a population whose rate of increase is almost exponential? A German scientist once confronted over the issue of Africa’s uncontrolled population growth. Our physical resources are finite; the land mass of Nigeria is not increasing, and neither are our mineral resources. We all know that the standard of living of any household significantly improves if there are fewer individuals to cater for. We will have better fed and healthier families if the members to take care of are fewer. Again, this is not an issue which has completely escaped our attention; there were efforts during the General Babangida regime to sensitise the populace to the need to control the number of children born by each woman. As usual, our good ideas and intentions are not backed by concerted efforts at execution. The last figures received from the UN only last week put our population at 198 million. We are preparing for serious trouble if we do not address the matter urgently.
(8) GIRLS AND WOMEN
We just discussed the issue of our population. Any nation’s population is made up roughly of an equal percentage of males and females. Is one group to be regarded as being more human than the other and, therefore, worthy of more respect? If not, why then is it that our nation refuses to take care of our girls and women? Why do we wink at those who rape our little girls and force our daughters into marriage at a tender age, when their bodies are yet unripe? Why are we helpless and unable to rescue all of our girls abducted by Boko Haram from their secondary schools? Why is it that our President would stand beside the woman who is one of the world’s most influential and declare that his wife’s place was the kitchen, the living room and the other room? What kind of message does that convey to our young girls who are dreaming of making their mark in the world as CEOs, computer scientists, pilots, researchers?
How does a nation truly prosper if it despises half of its human capital and relegates it to the background?
(9) FINALLY, CORRUPTION
Corruption makes nonsense of everything. The level of corruption in Nigeria is stupendous, mind-boggling. One wonders what demons have taken hold of people’s minds. When there is no immediate punishment meted out to convicted people, corruption will continue to thrive. Indeed, the judicial system is such that it takes ages to even get a conviction. There appears to be an unwritten law that the members of the political elite, even when convicted, will not be made to serve their sentence. How can we move forward when crime is committed with impunity? I personally view corruption as a crime against humanity. No, our corrupt leaders do not necessarily put a knife to their victims’ throats and slaughter them like the Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen do; but they kill us nonetheless in more indirect ways – by embezzling the funds meant to provide services for us (so, people go to hospitals to die; lives are lost needlessly on our bad roads, etc.)
(10) THE WAY FORWARD
Like I said in the Introduction, Nigeria is ripe for drastic measures. Individual states can begin to register their opposition to longstanding rules, which have held them down and prevented their people from enjoying a fulfilling life. Who says the federal government alone must run railways or own all the nation’s mineral resources? I would like to call on the people of Nigeria, possibly state by state, to begin to formally register their refusal to continue to subscribe to a system, which degrades their being and forces them to live in indignity and penury. We must ask ourselves: Why have we allowed this system to go on for so long, even though we were sure it was leading us down the path of self-annihilation? Why have we been so tame, so easy to be tyrannised? Let individual states begin to choose and insist on fashioning their own destiny. Let referenda be organised across the land, giving the people the needed voice to DEMAND that changes be made to our governance system. We definitely cannot continue in this manner. We MUST not.