FOR THE purpose of our
reflection, there are those who
might be tempted to argue that
Nigeriais where she is today
because she has allowed ethnicity
or tribal differences to get in the
way. Those who make this point
believe that if only we can get
rid of tribalism, that is, become
detribalised, all will be well.
But, as I have said elsewhere,
the real challenge in addressing
this question is to understand and
accept that differences in tribe
and tongue are not the reason for
our monumental failure to build
consensus around development,
common citizenship and fairness.
There are, however, many reasons
for this failure, to which we shall
now turn.
I have argued that, in the words
of Frost, one of our greatest
tragedies lies in the consequences
of ‘road not taken’. We inherited a
regional arrangement that had its
pitfalls but if we had the patience
we could have finally worked
out a system to accommodate us
all. Undoubtedly we can still do
that. However, a combination of
factors took us continuously back
to the bottom of the hill where
we have remained like frogs in
a bucket, unable to either climb
out individually or collectively.
The greatest tragedy of the nation
is that we have not been able to
create a common vision of an
egalitarian society. In almost every
department, the infrastructure that
the British created has since fallen
into absolute and total decay. A
few examples will do:
Take the universities, those
prestigious citadels of learning
from where the dreams and
visions of a new society were
to be conceived and delivered.
The first three came into being
immediately after independence
so as to provide a platform for the
development of a succeeding elite
whose duty was to transform or
lead our nation to modernity. But
look at what they have become
today: rather than offer the
society light, these onetime great
Universities have turned into dark
theatres of ethnic nationalisms.
These so-called federal institutions
are today largely shells, incubators
of the most tragic, dangerous and
narrowest expressions of ethnic,
religious or regional bigotry and
prejudices. The academic elites
in these institutions have become
trapped in the cesspool of the
same distortions of corruption,
inefficiency, and bigotry that have
come to characterise the larger
society. A Vice Chancellor told
me that to be a Vice Chancellor
was not so much a question of
being a man or woman of letters,
but it depends on if you have a
strong and powerful traditional
ruler behind you. Today, neither
by research nor prestige can our
Universities offer a model of our
society because they are caught in
a web of the same politics ravaging
the larger society.
Or, take the Military as another
example. Ordinarily, everywhere
in the world, by virtue of their
calling, the military represents the
finest values and the vision of a
classless society that rises beyond
ethnic, regional or religious

considerations. It is a moulder of men
and women. That was then. Today,
everyone knows that the military has
lost its allure and gravitas. Like the
rest of Nigeria, years of coups and
counter coups sponsored largely by
powerful civilian elite have seen the
military gradually become trapped
and ravaged by ethnic, regional,
religious and class considerations.
Promotion, demotion or postings are
now a function of connections and
thus, today, the military is merely one
of the fingers of a leprous nation.
Shall we mention the Bureaucracy?
Nigerians are nostalgic about the
Civil service of post-independence
Nigeria when they were both civil
and servants. We continue to marvel
at the Asian Tigers, India or China.
Yet, in these countries, the Civil
service takes only the brightest and
the best. Lee Kwan Yew tells of how
he recruited only the best intellectuals
into the civil service. Today, the
Nigerian civil service is the province
of patronage where powerful people
who have risen to the top turn it into
a land of green pastures to graze only
their family and clan members. Our
Bureaucracy too has been ravaged by
the ill wind of the maladministration
that has been inflicted on our nation
by years of military oppression and
the corrosive effect of a capricious
political elite.
Or look at the Religious
institutions. Today, the kingdom of
God has been taken over by men
and women of the underworld.
Before our very eyes, its members
are daily standing trial for the same
crimes that afflict the larger society
such as, armed robbery, kidnapping,
extortion, failed business deals,
murder/assassinations, and many
more. Today, rather than being called
by God, it is people who design and
build their own structures and then
literally force God to call them, often
both husband and wife, to become
prophets and prophetesses. Little
wonder, some of these people refer
to their institutions not as Churches
but as Ministries where they focus
on amassing wealth and power
and becoming slippery gateways to
dubious prosperity, calling people to
focus on the so-called pastor rather
than on Christ. I imagine that there
are also today many people who
call themselves Islamic scholars and
Imam and preachers who seek for
people to focus on them rather than
on Allah.
A combination of these distorted
narratives has turned Nigeriainto a
forest of frustration and hopelessness
where everyone simply tries to
survive as best as they can. The youth
have become like the young people
caught up in the novel, Lord of the
Flies where, after a period of time in
the forest, they began to show signs
of inhumanity.
A few things must happen if we
are to build a new Nigeria. We have
to focus on a new generation of
Nigerians unencumbered by all the
distortions that have weighed us
down. This country will not survive
if we continue the wild goose chase
of looking for leaders, or messiahs.
There are no messiahs anywhere in
the world. The right people must
come from the sweat of our brow and
not be ferried into public life through
coups and manipulated elections.
The British Empirewas the result
of the vision of an elite, so also
apartheid, even slavery. There is no
single leader anywhere in the world

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who has succeeded or left a legacy
who did not first prepare themselves
for public office and who did not
have a vision to which they were
committed to implement. Perhaps
the best-prepared politicians in the
history of our country remain the
late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and to
some extent Mallam Aminu Kano.
In many ways, it is to our eternal
regret that none of them had the
chance to implement their egalitarian
philosophies at a national level. By
way of conclusion, let us look closely
at some lessons we can derive from
the past for a better Nigeria.
First, there must be a deliberate
admission that the persistence of
claims to so-called tribal identity
is tied to the pre-modern and semi
feudal state that Nigeria is in.
Government has not developed a
clear vision of society where other
categories of identity can both
embrace and surpass ethnic or
tribal identity. Here, we can borrow
examples from elsewhere such as
from Europe, the United States of
America, and even from developing
countries such as Singaporewhere
greater emphasis has been placed on
transparent processes of leadership
recruitment. For the United States of
America, the notion of the military
industrial complex today, which is
a combination of the collaborative
interplay between the private sector,
intellectual elite and government
whose interests converge and are
driven by a capitalist class in a liberal,
free market economy. So, whether
in war or in peacetime, the fruits
of intellectual research provide the
skeleton on which the system ensures
that American interests are protected.
Secondly, Leadership should not
happen by accident, as is too often
the case with us here. No one simply
drops from the sky to become a
President, Governor of Congressman.
Our leadership recruitment processes
are bereft of goals and processes
and are instead wrapped in the
myth of secret and conspiratorial
manipulations. To make progress,
Nigeriamust erect signposts for
excellence and transparency. It is not
an accident that there is a linkage
between getting to the White House
and not only a record in public service
but association with prestigious
University institutions, known as Ivy
League Universities. Nor is getting to
Number 10 Downing Street outside
the Oxford-Cambridge network. It
is affiliation with these prestigious
institutions that have replaced racial
or gender categories, the equivalent
of tribalism, regionalism and religion
in our case.
Thirdly, it is infrastructure that
changes the way a society sees itself.
For example, the struggle against
corruption will remain a mirage
as long as this fight focuses only
on threats, punishment and moral
exhortation. It is technology that
ends impunity, not the threat of
punishment, which the corrupt can
always circumvent by frustrating the
bureaucracy and the justice system.
By not providing adequate and
modern services and infrastructure
throughout the country, the
government has left our people at
the mercy of villains, thieves and
criminals who, ironically are their
heroes, heroines and modern day
Robin Hoods!
Fourthly, the crisis of lack of
transparency in admissions to
University, job placements, allocation

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of resources: open and despicable
nepotism has created a sense of
anomie. Since the government
has allowed men and women of
influence to determine who is
admitted or employed, whether in
the universities, security agencies,
or the civil service, it lacks the ability
to claim the loyalty of her citizens.
People will remain loyal not to the
nation but only to those who helped
them climb the ladder.
Fifthly, there is the issue of intermarriages.
Marriage is at the heart
of human civilisation. More than any
other institution, it is the glue that has
held people together and ensured
the perpetuation of humanity.
After years of war, it was marriages
that sealed the bond of warring
empires, emperors and society. Every
civilization had to contend with the
prejudices of one tribe over another.
These prejudices were captured in
proverbs, songs and other cultural
expressions. Often, these prejudices
persisted until intermarriages broke
the deadlock and myths. New
generations then emerged from
these unions unencumbered by the
prejudices of their parents. For us in
Nigeria, the National Youth Service
Corps has done extremely well
as a strategy for intermarriages. I
watched a programme on NTA last
night about socialization processes
and the harmony that had grown
out of the years of intermarriages
between the Hausa settlers and the
Yoruba in Abeokuta. It was really
inspiring listening to these Hausa
people speaking fluent Yoruba! All
those who spoke on the programme
said that conflict was alien to them.
In Northern Nigeriathe issue
of interreligious and intercultural
marriage presents a serious problem
and unless attitudes change to
this issue, and to the mentality
it represents, there is little doubt
that the long drawn violence and
suspicion between Christians and
Muslims will persist. Muslims in
northern Nigeria believe that their
sons can marry Christian women,
but consider it haram for Christian
men to marry their daughters! These
are the kinds of prejudices that
produce the superiority complex
and its resultant extremist attitudes
such as that manifested by Boko
Haram. Sadly, the region will never
get away from war and violence until
young men and women begin to
build families together. The idea that
Christian men cannot marry Muslim
women unless they convert is a
distorted cultural myth. It is based
on the fear bred by ignorance, not on
faithful adherence to Islam.
Sixthly, we require a high level of
judicial activism to sustain the vision
of a united and peaceful multi-ethnic
and multi-religious Nigeria, which
is contemplated in our Constitution.
Our society will never be entirely free
of people who hold deep prejudices
and hate and hide these under
religious, ethnic or regional bigotry
to demean the other who is not like
However, if we have a transparent
and active judicial system we can
ensure that these people are called
to justice for any criminal actions
arising from their prejudices and
hate. The world has seen prejudice
and its violent expression crumble
inSouth Africa and the United States.
We saw the end of slavery, racism
and apartheid. We either have
change willingly or we will drown

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in the cesspool of ignorance, as we
have seen from Boko Haram.
The landmark Supreme Court
case of Brown vs. Board of
Education in 1952 in the United
States of America is an illustration
of how the Judiciary, here the
Supreme Court, can bend the
arc of justice and help to create a
harmonious society. By that ruling,
the Supreme Court declared
the setting up of separate and
inferior schools for blacks to be
unconstitutional. In the process,
education became available and
accessible to all American children.
In 1963, President John F Kennedy
proposed the most comprehensive
draft of the Civil Rights Act,
arguing that the United States will
not be fully free until all its citizens
are free! As we know, he did not
live long enough to see it through.
However, his successor, Lyndon
Johnson signed it into Law in
1964. To show his enthusiasm and
the historic nature of this epoch
changing assignment, President
Johnson used 75 different pens to
sign the Act into Law. The country
looks to the Supreme Court to
develop a sense of urgency about
human rights, citizenship rights
and Constitutionalism.
Nigeria must understand that
there is nothing in our society that
is new. Most societies in the world
went through various stages of
development and growth, but
each nation had to produce men
and women of great imagination,
men and women of courage
and sacrifice, men and women
prepared to commit all their
energies to developing a vision
society. We have not been so lucky
Nigerians must not be deceived.
The Fulani or Ikulu cause is not
served by how many of its sons
or daughters become Presidents,
Governors, Ministers or even
Bishops in Nigeria. As long as
millions of Fulanis and Hausa
are still roaming the treacherous
landscape and the streets of
Nigeria, whether as Almajiri
or herdsmen, mired in poverty,
none of us is free. As long as
the Ijaw or Ogoni person is still
drinking or fishing in poisoned
waters from the lagoons, none of
us is free. It does not matter how
many Yorubas, Tiv or any of our
ethnic groups become President,
Governor or Minister. As long as
poverty and deprivation still stalk
our land, none of us is free.
We are all inhabitants of the
treacherous swamps and lagoons
of death in Nigeria. Poverty
remains a tragic scar that reminds
the world of the injury done to us
by our leaders. However, we must
drain these swamps before we all
drown in them. I know the job
has been made more difficult by
the fact that ours are no ordinary
swamps. They are, as the British
writer Michael Peel titled his
book, Swamps full of dollars.
Draining the swamps is our
national dilemma, but it is also our
promise. Let us start now. Thank
you for your attention.