It is a season of votes once again. It is a season of making decisions to reject poverty in all its ramifications. It is a season to inject in ourselves another consciousness of development akin to what obtains in other climes. And therefore, I would love to cite a Russian proverb with indirect relationship with the theme of my analysis. The proverb relates to our past, our present and the steps we must take to secure our future. The proverb says that if we use our past to regulate our present, we are less likely to go blind on both eyes. Being blind on both eyes and being blind on one eye is not the same thing. As a matter of fact, to lose an eye is not to be blind per se. We are conversant with the quip that in the village of blind people, the one-eyed man can be emperor. My import is that we often ignore the past, or any past for that matter to regulate our present conditionality and therefore our future remains uncertain.
Let me substantiate: Nigeria is not the only country with divisive linguistic, religious and political schisms. Other countries use these schisms to cement their diversity. If they are unable to, they discuss the way forward. It happened in The Kingdom of the Netherlands. In that Kingdom, there were actually two countries, the Dutch and the Belgians. The Dutch were Northerners and Protestants. They occupied nearly every organ of government. They even made Dutch the official language of official communication. But for several years before the independence of Belgium in 1830, there were rumblings in the South who were mostly French-Speaking, and who owned most of the instruments of the wealth of The Kingdom of the Netherlands. But the status quo did not survive the deep rumblings which reverberated every once in a while. And so one night, all of Belgium rose up like a man and demanded independence. Of course independence for Belgium was not gotten on a platter. There was a fight but it was nothing serious. The Netherlands eventually allowed the Belgians to have their independence. Therefore, what was significant about the new relationship between The Netherlands and Belgium, and the centre-piece of this discussion is the need for a people who have different interests and aspirations to sit down to resolve these differences.
Nigerians will not be asking for restructuring if the state does not seem to be aiding and abetting the use of these economic, religious disparities to goad us to a precipice. We would not be asking for this discussion on restructuring if the alienation of Nigerians does not seem to favour only one section. But more importantly is that institutions of governance that should address these infractions become involved in the promotion of these disparities and alienation.
Just very recently, police officers in the United States killed a couple of Africans. And just about when Africa-Americans were beginning to take the laws into their own hands, we heard the president, an African American speak up and denounce the reprisal. That does not happen here. Several Christians have been murdered in the name of religion but what is our president saying? When he came in initially, there was talk of his ‘body language’, to the extent that policy matters waited on his body language. Governance must not be reduced to mood, and certainly not to anybody whom Hillary Clinton has said can be baited with a tweet.
Let me offer government a suggestion from a personal experience, which hopefully will nip calls for restructuring in the bud. Last year, there were reports that the Nigerian Navy Logistics Command, Oghara, Delta State, had illegally acquired lands belonging to the local people. We found this an old wives tale – the Nigerian Navy is a very responsible institution founded on protecting our maritime territorial integrity. What was it doing with land and within a local community? The purported land was supposed to be for a barrack, but aren’t barracks usually built far away from civilians most of whom claim that the lands in question are ancestral and income-yielding lands taken without compensation? So on October 2015, I went with another journalist to investigate. Thrice, the Navy rebuffed us. They ignored the structured interview which we sent to the FOC through their information officer. The only response we got from the OC-info was that the FOC was too busy to see us, even when we hinted that the community was restive and tempers were rising to boiling point.
But it was not until last week when the community took to the streets and blocked a Federal highway with thousands of youth, old men and women, demanding their land back that the Navy began to scamper here and there. First, it brought out a suspicious looking Certificate of Occupancy dated May 2015. Then they went on a media bombardment to address the very issue we had patiently and persistently asked them to discuss with us. Now, if this does not give an inkling of the mindset of governance at all levels, nothing would. It seemeth that the system wants to test your resolve at self-help before it responds very negatively. Restructuring Nigeria must begin with the restructuring of the mindset of the actors who occupy any office related to governance in Nigeria.