With the recent rise in the clamour for restructuring and regional self determination, Minister of Transportation, Rt Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi has said that these concerns are legitimate, but believe that the country’s current difficulties are transient and can be resolved through active engagement of all stakeholders.
He also stated that these concerns can only be tackled successfully if Nigerians stand United as one nation in spite of all challenges.
Amaechi stated this while delivering the 34th Convocation Lecture of the University of Calabar, titled ‘Beyond our Imperfect Union: The National Question and Nigeria’s Future.’
“In recent days, we have begun to hear loud voices of disunity from various sections of the country. In response to current economic difficulties and the problem of insecurity, some have insisted on the now familiar argument for restructuring of the federation.
Others have advocated increased regional autonomy. Some extremists are calling for secession of parts of the country from the federation. None of these divisive options would serve the urgent needs of this nation or the long term aspiration of all our people for a better life in a happier nation.
“Let me say without any fear that the concerns being raised by Nigerians about the future of our country are legitimate. They are indications of great patriotism and love. We all treasure this country and are anxious that it transforms into a better place for all of us. This overwhelming wish for a better Nigeria far outweighs the doomsday predictions of a few pessimists.”
He added that ethnicity and class, poverty and inequality are a major part of the problem, describing poverty as one of the greatest threats to the country’s national unity and survival.
“For the avoidance of doubt, let me state that the desperate poverty that we have today has its roots in dispensations that came before the Buhari administration. Specifically, our epidemic of mass poverty dates back to the return of civil rule in our country. It is unfair to heap the responsibility for the prevalence of poverty and inequality on this or any one administration in the history of the country.
“I have a personal conviction that of all the challenges facing our nation’s actualization, none is more urgent than the scourge of increasing poverty and the threat of massive inequality. We must attack and conquer inequality and extreme poverty or the poor will overrun Nigeria.
“Let us take the threat of mass poverty seriously and elevate inequality to the status of a perennial national emergency in the years ahead. Nearly all the troubles that confront us as a nation can be traced to either direct poverty or the fear that the ogre of poverty could rise one day to devour the fortunes of the rich and prosperous.
“I believe that the destiny of Nigeria can only be best actualized in the context of one indivisible and united nation. What is required is for us to continue to work towards a nation in which the doors of opportunity are open to all our citizens irrespective of ethnicity, creed, class or circumstance.
Amaechi noted that tackling insecurity and criminality must also be on the front burner to avoid an escalation leading to un-governability. He also cautioned the political elite on actions that contribute to insecurity in the nation.
“I agree with those patriotic voices who have cautioned that we need to do everything to arrest the general drift towards un-governability and state failure.
“Nigeria should not queue up behind nations that have allowed these nascent forces to threaten their very existence or overwhelm them. We should instead face up to the challenges with maximum will. It is in this context that we need to appreciate the valiant efforts being made by the Buhari administration to ensure our national survival through the restoration of security, rehabilitation and expansion of national infrastructure and the alleviation of desperate poverty.
“Challenges like Boko Haram, sporadic terrorism, banditry and other insurgent flare-ups are active national defence challenges of a grave strategic and military nature that have continued to engage the energies of the military. I believe that with time, these challenges will be overcome by the undisputed and tested professionalism of our military.
“On the other hand, we now have a plethora of criminal infractions ranging from transactional kidnapping and mass school abductions, armed robbery, cultism, rape and urban gang warfare. I believe that the correct cure to criminality is stout law enforcement and crime fighting predicated on accurate intelligence and interdiction.
“We must not fail to recognize the responsibility of our elite in creating the problem of insecurity that we are facing today. In many parts of the country, the political elite failed in their responsibility to educate the majority of children of the lower classes. These children who were denied the right to education and a better life have grown up to find themselves with no other choice than to enroll in criminal undertakings such as banditry and terrorism.
“Politics has become weaponised in the sense that desperate political actors now patronize armed gangs of criminal thugs for political purposes. Hate as an instrument of political mobilization has been enhanced by the emergence of the social media as a force of public opnion and information deployment. Taken together, these pressures and developments have tasked the security of the state almost to breaking point.
“In times of desperate social and economic challenges, identity politics resurfaces in ferocious ways. This is why we now have these calls for restructuring backed by increasingly militant regional and ethnic nationalism. The rhetoric of anger usually drips of hate and divisiveness.
The politics of desperation plays up ethnic, regional, religious and other primordial instincts to advance its cause. This, in my view, is the background to the current wave of insecurity, hate rhetoric and divisive politicking in the nation.
Amaechi also stated that in answering or resolving the national question, politics, leadership and governance in the real sense of it must also be prioritised.
“Our quest for the final resolution of the National Question in Nigeria must lead through political leadership predicated on the best traditions of democracy. Our democracy may not have attained perfection yet. Our union as a nation may not have become perfect as yet.
But some progress has been made. Since 1999, we have maintained democratic elections and transited from one set of democratic dispensations to successor ones. We have managed to observe the rituals of periodic electioneering and gone through the motions of judicial arbitration in matters of inconclusive elections.
“But our politics has remained mired in impressions and personality cults rather than issues. The purchase of the popular mandate at huge price tags has rendered our political contests into transactions and some of the most expensive in the world. “Our political contests have often assumed the mode of limited warfare. The result has been to increase the heat in the polity and worsen the crisis of the National Question in the country. Even after the resolution of specific electoral outcomes, we have often ended up more divided along ethnic, religious and partisan lines.
“To alleviate this crisis, we need to quickly replace the politics of impressions and personalities with the politics of issues and ideas. We must seek common ground on broad national issues on a bipartisan basis, not on the basis of personalities or geo political zones, tribes or factions.
The common ground must be based on a dispassionate grasp of national problems: how do we educate our children, heal the sick, give hope to those in despair, provide succor to the needy and find work for the unemployed? How do we build infrastructure that will quickly transform and modernize our economy for the good of all Nigerians?
“Above all else, we must give justice to all our citizens who seek justice and feel left out in a land they call home. We must give meaning to democracy so that every Nigerian can find a place and a voice in a land of free men and women.
We must deploy our diversity to increase our strength. We must make our streets and highways, and now forests and farmlands, safe again for all Nigerians to fulfill their individual dreams of a good life so that, together, we can actualize the manifest destiny of this blessed land.
He admonished Nigerians and aspiring leaders on the need for government to function in a continuum, especially toeing the developmental path of the President Buhari administration, that has set the motion for growth in the right direction for effective handling of the nation’s challenges, citing advanced nations still on the path of nation building, faced with similar challenges and still trying to address the national question.
“The passage of time does not make nations outgrow the complications of the National Question in their origins and development. The contradictions of the origin of nations return ever so frequently to haunt them in the present as the identities of its component nationalities come to the fore. More importantly, even the best nations are constantly re-examining and fine tuning their sense of nationhood if only to avoid having to deal with the National Question as a perennial headache.
“Even today in 2021, the United States is battling with the forces of racism and injustice against blacks, Hispanics, native Americans, Asian Americans and other minorities. These groups may not exactly be tribes and ethnic nationalities the way we know them here. But each constitutes an identity block that makes up the diversity of the American nation.
“Even a nation as relatively homogenous as China is still wracked by charges of discrimination against the ethnic Uighurs and Tibetans. It still has to deal with the interests and conflicting politics, economics and social tension of managing to integrate both Hong Kong and Taiwan as sub sovereign parts of the larger Chinese national reality.
“Similarly, the United Kingdom, even in the post-Brexit era, has had to deal with the pressure of Scottish and Irish nationalism both of which continue to exert great pressure on the nationhood of the United Kingdom. Each of them is demanding and securing considerable autonomy and sub sovereignty from the authority of Westminster.
As late as 2019 and 2020, Spain had to deal with the separatist forces of Catalonia, actively seeking independence from Spain. Continental Europe has a list of over a dozen separatist and nationalist movements of different strengths pressuring the known nations of Europe for either outright self determination or increased sub national autonomy and petty sovereignty.
“Russia is today still troubled by the aspirations of the former Soviet republics who regained sovereign status after the demise of the former Soviet Union. The recent travails of Ukraine and Georgia in the hands of Russia has occupied global attention in recent times as both have come under military assault from Russia over conflicting claims of national space and issues of identity.
“We must acknowledge that no single administration solves all the problems of any nation. National development is an incremental and cumulative process. It would be unfair for our elite and aspiring leaders to expect President Buhari to eliminate all the accumulated burdens and contradictions of the National Question in Nigeria. I believe that our current difficulties are transient and can be resolved through an active engagement of all our stake holders,” Amaechi said.
The Minister further played up infrastructural development as one of the ways the Buhari administration is using to tackle the deficiencies in nation building as well as social welfare schemes targeted at poverty reduction, including increased efforts in curbing insecurity. He added that no one administration can completely achieve all of this and hoped that successive governments would put even more efforts in nation building, as government is a continuum.
He said, “The Buhari administration has correctly identified increasing poverty and inequality as one of the major impediments to national development. The President has committed himself and the administration to migrating at least 10 million Nigerians from abject poverty in the shortest possible time.
I believe that the various ongoing social welfare schemes of the administration will ensure the achievement of this objective and that successor administrations will take on the mantle of poverty reduction as a cardinal objective of state policy.
“In the railway sector where I am currently engaged, we have embarked on what is easily the most ambitious and expansive railway rehabilitation and expansion programme in the history of Nigeria. From Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, from Ibadan to Kano, we are renewing Lugard era standard gauge railway lines that have been out of effective service for decades. We are putting new coaches on these renewed tracks and rebuilding the stations that have been abandoned for so long.
“On heavy transit and economically active routes like Abuja to Kaduna, Lagos to Ibadan and Itakpe to Ajaokuta, we have completed new standard gauge tracks and placed modern air-conditioned coaches on them to take Nigerians to the places of their hearts’ desires. New railway projects to link Kano with Maradi in Niger Repubic will enhance inter-African economic integration and sub regional trade. Similarly, the planned rail link between Lagos and Calabar will open up hitherto untraveled coastal terrains along Nigeria’s Atlantic Seaboard to unleash the resources and energies that have been lying virgin for centuries.
“President Buhari’s objective and vision in the new wave of railway development is to enhance the quick movement of our citizens from one part of the country to the other in order to increase the pace of national integration and social mobility. The free movement of persons, services and other factors of economic production across the national space will accelerate the settling of extant National Question issues of unity and integration of cultures and resources.