…how will electricity generation be tripled in the next ten years? How many local governments will be self-sufficient in power generation as a result of distributed power production that will therefore attract the best and brightest to itself? How will infrastructure development companies be developed locally to challenge the tertiary institutions to supply more able products?

It is pertinent at this time in our history and national underdevelopment to ponder about a few things. Nigeria, to some, a geographical expression; to others, the indivisible nation to which we must pledge allegiance, like it or not, is once again at crossroads. Crossroads, for many great peoples and nations, are often events or periods of great national calamity that cause peoples to reimagine their future. Great peoples such as Indians and the Chinese, which were humiliated by decades, if not centuries, of domination by Western powers, reached their crossroads in the middle of the 20th Century. Chairman Mao had then asked himself: “In this vast land, who rules the destiny of man?” With a strong determination, he embarked on his “long march”, closed his country to foreigners for another half century, taught self-reliance, educated his people, and organised his country until his grandchildren, capitalising on the structures he created, are now a giving the same Western powers nightmares, while teaching them lessons in human capital and social development. It is an ongoing story.

India, another great nation that had been humiliated, is not too far behind. Its own was a completely different methodology. When Nehru created the Indian Institutes of Technology around the mid-20th century, he may not have imagined that his actions would lead to the near dominant stranglehold that later Indian generations would have on the worldwide tech industry, particularly in our time. India has seven companies among the world’s largest 500 companies, according to Forbes Fortune 500. While India is not known for being an oil rich nation, the combined revenues of Indian oil companies is as large as half the revenues of the larg,est oil companies in the world! At the end of the Korean war, South Korea was devastated, hungry and desolate. Helpful Western charities kept orphanages for many homeless children. In fact, up to the early 1970s, South Korea’s electricity production capacity was lower than that of Nigeria! Today, they are not only producing 50 times per capita the Nigerian production, they are also manufacturing semiconductors, consumer electronics products, cars, and trucks, in addition to their historical world leadership in heavy industries including ship building! The return of the so-called losers of the Second World War, whose cities were flattened by bombs, into economic winners in its aftermath, is another case in point of what successful nations do when they are at crossroads.

Wrong Questions

Beginning from organisations such as Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and movements for the Yoruba nation, centrifugal forces have been unleashed via the ineptitude and nepotism of the Buhari government, in an atmosphere of conspiracy theories about the intentions of the Fulani nation that, despite their minority status, have long dominated Nigeria’s politics. The land needs healing from the banditry, kidnappings and killings attributed to the herdsmen of Fulani stock, Boko Haram and ISWAP all over the country. Brave Governor Ortom has been shouting from the Benue and others have simply had enough and are ready to break the nation into smaller pieces. How these will all end requires a prophet to tell us – not the kinds of prophets that Nigeria is famous for – Horoscope prophets, living and dead!

While uncertainty pervades the air, unelected ‘Deputy President’ Garba Shehu has been doing what he does best: thrown a little more fuel into the raging fire by making pronouncements, insolent to be charitable, idiotic to be accurate, on the reason why it was necessary to attack Igboho’s house, in looking for arms, while ignoring the people that routinely kidnap Northern children and take ransom money from hapless travelers nationwide! The professionalism of the boastful DSS operators remain AWOL when it is needed to confront the Boko Haram/ISWAP alliance that have recently held “elections” in Borno State, now having its own “governor” and other paraphernalia of office! That is where Nigeria finds itself in 2021! And, of course, the situation makes people to ask questions.

Channels Television had two contrasting guests last week: Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, a Fulani former Secretary of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and a vociferous “Southern stalwart” in Dr Katch Onanuju. The questions they were asked and the issues that appear to concern many in Nigeria are not about electricity, roads or jobs, but such like where the next president should come from in 2023! First of all, listening to Baba-Ahmed, I wonder, given that such articulate Fulani people exist in this country, why it is that the ones who actually get to be president have to sometimes have their WAEC certificates presented to them after they have become head of state? If we must have a Fulani president, give me Baba-Ahmed and replace all else we have had in this land!

The truth is that Baba-Ahmed, cleverly advancing the Fulani agenda, asked the correct question! What is a Southern president supposed to do? (Baba-Ahmed did not ask this question about the Northern presidency in 2015.) Are we going to have a Southern equivalent of Buhari? A president who will further alienate the North?

Of course, he did his best to feign ignorance of the attitude of Northerners in demanding the presidency after Jonathan; such is the subterfuge that pervades the national discourse in Nigeria. Asking for the ethnicity of the next president, unfortunately, is the wrong question in an era of secessionist agitations, large scale insecurity, stagflation and poverty, unemployment, absence of social infrastructure and general despondency. Baba-Ahmed asked what the demand for a Southern president would achieve. A journalist drew his attention to the fact that he did not ask the same question when the Fulani irredentist, Professor Ango Abdulahi, made the same demands in 2015. Baba-Ahmed masterfully dodged the question!

The truth is that Baba-Ahmed, cleverly advancing the Fulani agenda, asked the correct question! What is a Southern president supposed to do? (Baba-Ahmed did not ask this question about the Northern presidency in 2015.) Are we going to have a Southern equivalent of Buhari? A president who will further alienate the North? Is it supposed to be a temporary opiate for the South till another version of Buhari comes again, with his own man-Friday like Garba Shehu? Suppose there is agreement for a Southerner to succeed Buhari, will that trim the wings of the forces of secession already in full flight? What happens if A Yoruba man becomes the president in 2023? Will that stop Nnamdi Kanu from calling Nigeria a zoo, making him and some fellow Biafrans zookeepers the only humans in this land? Suppose we have an Igbo president, will that assuage the following of Sunday Igboho that believes that nothing short of an Oduduwa Republic will be needed to stop the humiliation of Yoruba people, whose potentials have been curtailed by the heavy load of belonging to an unworkable contraption called Nigeria? Will such a president be able to mobilise Northerners against the Boko-Haram/ISWAP alternative governments that only slowed down a little when, Buhari, their spokesperson, was made President? Can the agreement for a Southern president create an atmosphere to begin to develop Nigeria?

Right Questions

I have little optimism that the present regime will end well. I pray to God that I be proved wrong, while trembling at the fact that I may be right! That will be a shame because we shall all pay for the errors committed by Buhari and his government, one way or another. We have started paying for these, in fact. We pay in hard cash at the market where the most basic food item is becoming difficult, if not impossible, for the average family to buy; we pay in ransom to Fulani herdsmen in the bushes around the highways; in the payments by various governments and individuals to retrieve kidnapped schoolchildren; in the disruption of society by social mobilisations for secessionist movements; in midnight visits of “professional” DSS operatives who win their successes in unarmed civilian neighbourhoods, where they can kill and suffer no concomitant casualties; in the exportation of privileged youth whose parents despair about a future for their children and therefore package them overseas to start afresh in new lands where they will need another two generations to fully belong; in many other ways.

It is not likely that these will be our last payments. If we are not careful, the success or failure of the secessionist movements may easily place us in the same position as Southern Sudan. Divide Nigeria to any number of parts you want, the border of the new entities will be drawn by blood. And that will be our blood. Perhaps that will be necessary, for what is the need to live a useless life when there is a good death to die? Perhaps, after such bloodletting, another set of peoples will emerge who will allow the different peoples here to reach their potentials. They may look back and thank us for shedding blood when it was necessary to give them a sense of purpose and a bright future.

Instead of asking where the next president will come from, let us first of all ask: President of what? Will there be a Nigeria to preside over or, if you like, “rule”, as Information Minister Lai Mohammed informed us? How will such an entity, if it survives, generate the competition among its constituent elements to create better schools…?

The question we need to ask ourselves at this time is: Whither Nigeria? Today, there is no corporate entity in the whole of Africa in the Fortune 500 wealthy companies worldwide! Not even South Africa nor Egypt has an entry! Nigerians like to ask those of us in the universities how we rank compared to the rest of the world. Wrong question! Universities in Nigeria exist in an ambience, a system and an environment! How do the roads in Nigeria rank? How do the motor parks in Nigeria rank? How does the garbage collection system in Nigeria rank? The danfo vans? The public toilets? The Police Stations? The hospitals? The courtrooms? The two-bedroom flats in major and minor cities? The hygiene of the food service? These are the corresponding questions that help to situate the answers you get. They are related!

Instead of asking where the next president will come from, let us first of all ask: President of what? Will there be a Nigeria to preside over or, if you like, “rule”, as Information Minister Lai Mohammed informed us? How will such an entity, if it survives, generate the competition among its constituent elements to create better schools, more efficient industries and fairer social justice that will unleash the creative potentials of its citizens?

If we break it down, we may ask, how will electricity generation be tripled in the next ten years? How many local governments will be self-sufficient in power generation as a result of distributed power production that will therefore attract the best and brightest to itself? How will infrastructure development companies be developed locally to challenge the tertiary institutions to supply more able products? How do we begin to measure the cost and quantity of contracts awarded in Nigeria to similar ones overseas and keep costs down to the level of our labour costs, so as to gain an advantage and build more things? How can we produce more doctors to the extent that they not only keep us healthy but also create a health tourism system attracting inhabitants of our region here? How do we make it more attractive to develop local environments, instead of always reaching for the sharing bazaars in Abuja?

More than all this, what do we need to do today so that inhabitants of this space, 100 years from now, will consider us as worthy forbears that took them into consideration when planning at the crossroads?

Omotayo Fakinlede is with the University of Lagos, Nigeria.

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