The State of the Nation Broadcast is aimed at unveiling the true enemies of Nigeria. Please lend me your ears as we separate chaff from grains, tares from wheat, villains from heroes, and perverts from patriots.
Fellow Nigerians, I welcome you to a new decade in the 21st century. About a hundred years ago, our founding fathers began the quest to build a great nation. The 1920s ushered in the decade of Nigerian nationalism when, for the first time, Nigerians began to embrace the possibilities of nationhood.
The frameworks of the Nigerian state had been laid with the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914. However, six years post-amalgamation, our forebears still regarded themselves not as Nigerians but as Edos, Ijaws, Igbos, Kanuris, Hausas, Yorubas, and so on. They still viewed themselves as diverse local tribes under the rule of colonial masters. However, a shift began in the 1920s as the policies of the colonial masters brought economic and social hardships upon the people.
Under the leadership of patriotic founding fathers, the Nigerian people began to craft a sense of national identity. In 1923, one hundred years apart from 2023, our next election year, the first Nigerian political party, Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), was established by an illustrious son of a priest, Olayinka Herbert Macaulay. For those who may not be aware, Herbert Macaulay was the grandson of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, an Anglican bishop from Osoogun (in today’s Oyo State) who translated the Bible into Yoruba. Herbert Macaulay took the first steps towards forging a nation in which Nigerians, no matter the part of the country they hailed from, and no matter their tribe or religion, would identify themselves first as Nigerians. By so doing, Herbert Macaulay became the first of the founding fathers of the would-be Nigerian nation.
Spurred by the movement pioneered by this man, a coalition of Nigerians from across the nation came together within one decade to begin the cause of wresting the soul of Nigeria from the stranglehold of colonialism on the path to forging a new nation. Following the leadership of Macaulay, one source states: The forces unleashed against the British were now diverse, including soldiers who had served in World War II, the media, restless youth, market women, educated people, and farmers, all of whom became committed to the anticolonial movement. Political leaders resorted to the use of political parties and the media to mobilize millions of Nigerians against the continuation of British rule.ii In the course of traversing the nation and mobilising Nigerians under the aegis of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), Herbert Macaulay fell ill in Kano and later died in Lagos but not without passing the torch to coming generations of patriots. Notably, the creation of the NCNC in 1944 was a joint effort between the then eighty-year-old Macaulay and the 40-year-old Nnamdi Azikiwe who would go on to become Nigeria’s first president in an independent Nigeria Macaulay did not live to see.iii Where Herbert Macaulay stopped, the likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe, H.O. Davies, Ernest Okoli, Margaret Ekpo, Eyo Ita, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa and Funmilayo RansomeKuti picked up the mantle. But our founding leaders were subject to like passions just as we are, and they had their moments of doubt. From the young Tafawa Balewa who dismissed the concept of Nigerian unity as “only a British intention,” iv to the equally young Obafemi Awolowo who described Nigeria as “a mere geographical expression,” v our founding fathers were initially far from convinced about the prospects of nationhood. However, at some point in their respective trajectories, our founders encountered the possibilities of Nigerian nationhood. In those defining moments, they embraced the promptings of destiny and it came into their hearts to build a nation. It was why Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, as Nigeria’s first Prime Minister, would later recall a strong impression from his visit to the United States of America: “In less than 200 years, this great country [America] was welded together by people of so many different backgrounds. They built a mighty nation and had forgotten where they came from and who their ancestors were. They had pride in only one thing – their American citizenship.” vi He would subsequently write to a friend: “Look, I am a changed man from today. Until now I never really believed Nigeria could be one united country. But if the Americans could do it, so can we.”
It was why Sir Ahmadu Bello would declare: “Here in Northern Nigeria…we have people of many different races, tribes and religions who are knit together by common history, common interests and common ideals. Let us forget the difference in our religions and remember the common brotherhood before God.”
Unfortunately, the generation of our founding fathers, after laying constitutional foundations, was forced to hand the nation unceremoniously and without proper succession to the next generation following the January 15, 1966 coup. From that time, our quest for nationhood took an even more uncertain path with twists and turns. History gave us one administration after another: some military, some civilian, and some recycled, but history also gave us one inescapable fact of life – chances, choices and consequences.
Each administration had opportunities to make unique contributions to the emerging nation. There were those to whom history bequeathed the responsibility to preserve the union and to keep the nation together through the test of a civil war. There were those who had the opportunity to map out national development plans and kick start a transnational infrastructure agenda. There were those who fortune favoured to lead the nation at times of boom and who had the responsibility to make decisions on the best ways to manage our seasons of plenty; there were those who mounted the stage of power at times of austerity and had the onerous task of steering the ship of state amidst fierce economic winds; there were those who had opportune moments to lay the groundwork of Nigeria’s foreign policy and to make our nation a force to reckon with on the continent of Africa.”
“Then there were those who were propelled in messianic militancy against the cankerworm of corruption that had begun to consume the fabric of nationhood, and they handed over to those who had, and still have, the opportunity to repair the breaches and rebuild stable democratic foundations.
“Each generation of leaders inherited a unique set of chances, and, through their policy, governance and value choices, they each crafted their respective legacies. In some instances, they made wise and patriotic decisions; in others, they made mistakes and misjudgements, some so severe that our nation is yet to recover decades later. Consequently, one hundred years after the first promptings of nationhood, even as we attain another milestone on this journey, our nation is still in the grip of antagonistic forces. Every Nigerian child who hawks for a living, every Nigerian family in the throes of poverty and generator fumes, every Nigerian who dies moments away from a hospital bed, every Nigerian who is unjustly incarcerated without hope of freedom — every single short-changed Nigerian is a reminder that we still have hydra-headed challenges to surmount.
However, the new decade kick-started by this year 2020 provides us with another opportunity to once more rewrite our national story and shape our trajectory. Therefore, we must learn from our forebears and once again come together as one people to salvage our common patrimony from the grip of the enemies of Nigeria. At this point, you may be asking: “Who or what are the enemies of Nigeria?” Very shortly, I will respond to that cogent question; but first, I would like to make unquestionably clear who the enemies of our nation are not. Make No Mistake: These are Not the Enemies of Nigeria A hundred years ago, when the coalition for nationhood brought together a diverse pool of Nigerians, the common foe at that time was the oppressive rule of colonial masters. However, nearly sixty years after our independence, we can no longer blame the colonial masters for the state of our nation.
“As a matter of fact, in relation to Nigeria, Britain has long transitioned from being a master to a partner. Therefore, we must not be ambushed by the neo-colonial posturing that former colonialists acting in their national interest are the enemies of Nigeria. Furthermore, through the decades of our national existence, we have had agitations for self-determination from different tribes; we have seen the Movement for the Actualization for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB); we have seen the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) and Ohanaeze Ndigbo; we have seen the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) and Arewa People’s Congress (APC); we have seen the Egbesu Boys, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), and a host of other sectional agitators. As nationalists and patriots, the tendency is to describe sectional agitations as counterproductive to the nationbuilding imperative. In some cases, we have even gone ahead to proscribe some of these groups because of their methods, but sectional agitators, so long as their activities are for the public good and within the ambit of the law, are not enemies of our nation.
They become threats to national stability only when they take to subversive tactics. Otherwise, those sectional groups calling for better representation in the context of true federalism, and for self determination within the provisions of international law, are not the enemies of Nigeria. In addition, throughout history, we have seen governments deploy their monopoly on the use of force to silence dissent. We have seen dictators unleash their unique versions of Napoleon’s dogs in Animal Farm to eliminate opposition and mute criticism. In the defunct Soviet Union, we saw the activities of the KGB; in Germany, we saw the Gestapo in action; amongst various African dictatorships, we saw elite squads terrorise the citizenry. Here in Nigeria, we were witnesses to the atrocities of General Sani Abacha’s co-butchers. History records how Abacha’s junta assassinated some heroes and heroines of the June 12 struggle – heroines like Kudirat Abiola, who became the lead advocate for the release of her husband, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, and for the actualisation of the June 12 mandate; heroes like Alfred Rewane who was a staunch backbone of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO. We witnessed how that oppressive regime terrorised the champions of democracy like Pa Abraham Adesanya, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti and Chief Anthony Enahoro, all of blessed memory; champions of democracy like Pa Ayo Adebanjo, Lt.-General Alani Akinrinade (retd), Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd), Dr Amos Akingba, Chief Frank Kokori, and several others.
The rationale behind such violent suppression of opposition and dissent is the notion that those who challenge the government are the enemies of the state. However, let me establish unequivocally that the champions of our democracy are not the enemies of the state. Those who fight for our freedoms are not the enemies of our nation; they are our heroes as even President Muhammadu Buhari acknowledged when he conferred two of the highest honours in the land: GCFR on Chief M.K.O. Abiola and GCON on Chief Gani Fawehinmi. Fellow Nigerians, it is in this regard that I sounded a note of warning to the law enforcement agencies over the repression and harassment of journalists and advocates of governance reforms, including the case of Omoyele Sowore. You may dislike their methods, you may not like their politics, they may be thorns in your flesh, but mustering the apparatus of governmental force against those who criticise the government by the words of their mouths or the strokes of their pens is nothing but a petty path of vengeance that will eventually boomerang. If these are not the enemies of the state, who, then are? I will let the cat out of the bag shortly as there are still others who must be vindicated. In keeping with the opportunities in an interconnected globalised world, millions of Nigerians, old and young inclusive, but predominantly the teeming young population of Nigerians, are connected through mobile telephony and the internet.
“Beyond these, millions of our young people have turned to social media to engage in profit-making ventures that are legal and moral. This is what living in the 21st century globalised economy entails. With the possibilities inherent in telecommunication, the mobile phone has become a mobile city and we cannot afford to lag behind. These developments have also provided platforms for unprecedented citizenship engagement.
Social Media Bill
“Fellow Nigerians, the fact that some persons have deployed this tool in ways that have been less than honourable does not justify the attempted clampdown on freedom of speech by some legislators who major in minors. I, too, have been a target of social media vitriol. I have been misrepresented, maligned and falsely characterised by mischief-makers on social media, but I will not support the suppression of the most potent tool for citizen engagement in the 21st century through a misguided Social Media Bill.
“To combat abuse, what we ought to do is provide incentives for the proper usage of this tool through reward systems that will encourage the honour code, promote responsible conversations, and discourage dishonourable use. I, therefore, state without equivocation that these young Nigerians who have found their voices on social media are not the enemies of Nigeria. They are the hope of our nation. They are simply expressing the character of our DNA and the virtues that gave us independence – virtues such as the audacity to assemble as communities, including online communities, and to voice their opposition to corruption and oppression. I assure you that if social media had been invented in the days of our founding fathers, they would have deployed the tool in resisting colonial rule and fighting for our independence, just as they effectively deployed conventional media such as newspapers to achieve these objectives. Against this backdrop, let me now unveil to you the true enemies of Nigeria.
The True Enemies of Nigeria
A few days from now, on January 15, we will observe Armed Forces Day; a day earmarked to honour Nigeria’s fallen heroes in commemoration of the end of the Nigerian Civil War. The same day also reminds us of a sad event in the history of our nation, when, in 1966, young army officers abruptly brought the First Republic to an end through a violent coup d’état and the murder of Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Nevertheless, in describing the motivations for the coup, Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu made a statement which could just as well have been about present-day Nigeria. In his words: “Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 per cent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as Ministers or VIPs at least; the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles; those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.”
Fellow Nigerians, the true enemies of our nation are found at every level of government, from the local to the state to the federal levels, and in every arm of government. They can also be found on the streets, in households and in the marketplace. The true enemies of Nigeria are those who, paraphrasing the words of George Washington, seek to build their greatness upon their country’s ruin. xvi John Addison had earlier foreshadowed this sentiment when he asked the vital question: “Is there not some chosen curse, some hidden thunder in the stores of heaven, red with uncommon wrath, to blast the man who owes his greatness to his country’s ruin?”
As it is with the leadership, so it is with the citizenry. Leaders and citizens have their citizenship in common; they are drawn from among us and are a reflection of our basest instincts or our highest ideals at every level of government. In Nigeria, the vast majority of our people regularly take turns perpetuating the cycle of corruption either as beneficiaries or benefactors. These enemies in citizens’ clothing are those who choose to be spectators while the nation goes down the drain on their watch; those perverts on the pulpit who hide under togas of godliness to manipulate the vulnerable; those economic behemoths who window dress their underhandedness with filthlanthropy; those who are perpetually “not on seat” because they can’t “come and go and die;” those who rob, rape, raze, pillage, abduct, murder, dismember in the name of hunger or misguided rage; those who sell their votes or connive with political bandits to short-change their children’s children; those who partake of loot and celebrate looters from the same ethnic group or religious organisation; those who say of the looters, “We know say na thief, but this thief na our thief.” These are the true enemies of Nigeria. At the local level of government, the true enemies of our nation are those agents of oppression who place excruciating multiple tax burdens on often defenceless Nigerians – the petty traders, okada riders, keke drivers, bricklayers, pepper grinders, carpenters, vulcanisers, mechanics and other artisans – not because they want to amass the proceeds for the benefit of the people, but because they must make remittances to their morally bankrupt political benefactors. These are the true enemies of Nigeria. At the state level, the true enemies of Nigeria are those state governments that feed fat on unaccounted-for security votes; those who deploy the paraphernalia of office in their selfish interests rather than in the service of the people; those who connive with zonal political oligarchs to personalise and privatise the state; those who deploy the force of state to quell dissent; those who paralyse local governance structures in such a manner that discredits genuine arguments for restructuring and devolution of powers; those who give critics an excuse to postulate that if state governments are already abusing the little power they currently wield, what will they do if we devolve yet more powers to them? These power-drunk state officials are the true enemies of Nigeria. At the zonal level, the enemies of Nigeria are those who have perverted their influence and turned the states within their zones of influence into personal estates. They are the political puppeteers who rig the system to enthrone their stooges and use them to corner resources and opportunities. They are the political bandits and pseudodemocrats who are maniacal in merchandising the will of the people, from masterminding vote-buying to engineering seemingly spontaneous outbreaks of political violence. These are the true enemies of Nigeria. At the federal level, the true enemies of Nigeria are in every arm of government. In the judiciary, they are judges who pervert justice and auction judgements to the highest bidder.
In the legislature, they are those legislators who rob the nation “under the guise of constituency projects” xix and are quick to pass laws that undermine our national freedoms, thereby threatening our national stability. In the executive arm of government, the enemies of our nation are those who deploy the machinery of state against hapless citizens; those who serve self rather than the people; adversaries clad as advisers who could inadvertently destroy the legacy of any president through fabricated facts and contrived counsel in a bid to protect their political careers. These are the true enemies that we must stand up against, not the angry young fellow who throws salvos at Mr. President hoping to get a few retweets, not the journalist who stares the government squarely in the face, and certainly not the dissenting voice in the midst of sycophants.
Putting aside religious differences
Now is the time to put aside religious, zonal, ethnic and other differences and to speak with one voice against the enemies of our common patrimony. Now is the time to come together, from Lagos to Maiduguri, from Oyo to Bayelsa, from Aba to Abuja, from every nook and cranny of our nation, to build a New Nigeria, a New Nigeria that works for every Nigerian – a Nigeria where no child goes to bed hungry and no child is left out of school; where our homes, schools, streets, villages, highways and cities are safe and secure; where our hospitals are well-equipped life-saving institutions; where no youth is unemployed and our young men and women are job creators; where businesses thrive on innovation and ideas are facilitated by functional infrastructure and cutting-edge technology; where no part of our nation – North, South, East or West – feels marginalised, and every Nigerian is proud to say “I am a Nigerian.”
I firmly believe we are at the cusp of winds of change that will usher in the New Nigeria; a New Nigeria that will lead Africa to greatness, until the once upon a time Dark Continent becomes the world’s leading light. Thank you for listening; God bless you, God bless our beloved nation, Nigeria, and God bless the continent of Africa.
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