2023 and the Familiar Song
With the way we are running our country, I said in my Platform Nigeria 1st May 2019 presentation, ‘An Economy on Life Support: Time to Pull the Plug’, a convulsion was inevitable at some point. “It’s either we have a conversation about the future of our country in an orderly manner or it is forced upon us when we may have little or no control. We are already living on borrowed time.” I then highlighted how different Nigerians were responding to our existential threats, before I zeroed in on “those who, like my friend Louis Odion would say, enjoy presiding over the seating arrangement in a sinking Titanic.”
That perhaps is the only way to interpret the statement by the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) spokesman, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, that the North “will lead Nigeria the way we have led Nigeria before, whether we are president or vice president, we will lead Nigeria.” Quite naturally, the statement has provoked the ire of several ethno-religious entrepreneurs across Nigeria, as perhaps it was intended. But what is clear to me is that the obsession with political power that confers nothing more than the opportunity to dispense patronage (sometimes without regard for our diversity) has not translated into progress either for the ‘North’ or the entire country.
Baba-Ahmed is a man for whom I have tremendous respect and he is not a frivolous person. I therefore fail to understand what motivated the outburst. A fierce critic of the current administration, Baba-Ahmed has, at various times, expressed concerns about the lack of development and the challenge of insecurity in the North. So, when he romanticises about Northerners leading Nigeria, especially at a time like this, I see it more as self-indictment. Given our enormous potential as a nation, nobody should be proud of what Nigeria is today. For the record, this is the picture of the Northwest where Baba-Ahmed hails from, painted by his own Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, on Tuesday: “I represent the north-west zone in Human Capital Development Council. And as you know our part of the country is afflicted with the highest numbers of out of school children. Some of the highest poverty rates and some of the highest drop-out rates in our schools.
“As if that is not enough, many of our schools are now closed due to the insecurity around our boarding schools. In most of the states of the northwest, schools have been closed for a while, while security operations are taking place making our educational situation even worse. Our health statistics are not better. When you disaggregate the national data into zones and regions, most of Southern Nigeria have statistics that are middle income country nature while most of the Northwest have human development indices that are closer to those of Afghanistan. Our region is in crisis.”
If the North-west from where the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari hails is in such a deplorable condition and the Northeast is held down by insurgents who have killed thousands of people, displaced millions and practically rendered the zone prostate, should we be singing from an old hymn book about the future of our country? Should the prerequisite for leadership not change from where someone comes from to what they can deliver?
For the masses of our people (whether in the north or south) who understand that this elite game is never about them, what they desire in 2023 is a president who can make a difference in their lives regardless of which section of the country he or she comes from or the religion such a person professes. Even in the context of the ‘turn-by-turn’ politics that we play in Nigeria, the only legitimate conversation (and I intend to address this one day) is about the place of South-east (what I call the Ndigbo Question) in this whole arrangement. Aside that, the debate about 2023 should be on how to rescue our country with one of the challenges we face today being that of mounting debts.