A catalogue of Nigeria’s grievances found outlet, Saturday, at the 2021 Obafemi Awolowo Lecture, when prominent national voices including Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Emeka Anyaoku; the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, and public intellectual Odia Ofeimun traded arguments in defining the nation’s current state of anomy and how to save it from the brink of tragedy and state failure, as reported in the Premium Times.
Mr Anyaoku, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, speaking as guest of honour, focused on the nature and the management of Nigeria’s federalism which he said was in urgent need of evidence of “equity, justice and fairness for all ethnic groups” as well as the guarantee for the economic freedom of citizens.
The former Commonwealth scribe asked the nation to look more towards India than the United States in search of more practical mechanisms to manage many of the recurring fault lines in Nigeria particularly with regards to religion, ethnonationality and competing cultural identities. “It has become quite clear that these national challenges cannot be effectively tackled under the present federal system of government,” he said.
Sultan Abubakar, the co-guest of honour, located the current difficulties in the country to what he called the divide and rule tactics of the British colonial administration, and advocated dialogue and restraints in the utterances of leaders holding political office.
“Nation building has always been a slow and painstaking process. This is particularly so when these nations are created by colonial fiat,” the sultan argued, saying “By disrupting the slow but sure process of social integration, they generate social tension, which needs to be managed over time to avoid conflicts.”
Constraining as it is, Mr Soyinka, chairman of the event, said, the current constitution still offered some decent room for manoeuvre if elected political leaders, particularly governors, wanted to truly render dutiful stewardship to citizens.
Nothing has been more sickening, the Nobel laureate said, than seeing elected governors shackle themselves in a “centralist mindset” state when indeed they ought to be challenging some of the unitarist over-reach of the federal government.
“Take in your hands any form of authority you can, if possible, constitute legal teams to advise you,” Mr Soyinka counselled the governors, many of whom have been recently criticized as acting as handmaidens of a federal government that often overstepped its bounds to subvert the rights of states and subnational governance structures.
Mr Soyinka backed Mr Anyaoku and the guest speaker, Odia Ofeimun, in calling for a restructuring of current governance principles in the country which he said were unquestionably unitarist and undemocratic.
“And for those who claim they do not understand the meaning of restructuring,” Mr Soyinka advised them to invent any available language that helped them understand that the current constitution and the management of federalism in the country made no sense in democratic definition.