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Nigeria: Past, Present, Future - The way forward*

* Invited Guest Speech at the Joshua Generation Summit organised by the Town Hall Meetings Project (THMP) and
Timeless Magazine held on Saturday 26th June 2010, Lagos, Nigeria.

† Global Coordinator, Champions For Nigeria

‡‡ I owe a very large part of this section to Dr Femi Ajayi’s paper titled “Nigerian Politics-Past, Present, and Future” Presented at the 46th Independence Anniversary of Nigeria
organised by Nigerian Association of Southern California, Colton, California
and published in, 30th Oct. 2006. (I feel I do not
have to reinvent the wheel)bold"">


  1. Introduction normal"">

On Wednesday 16th June 2010, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu declared in Ibadan that the nation’s misfortunes stemmed from placing the leadership of the country in the hands of
“mediocrities, felons of unimaginable crimes and erstwhile beggars who now live
in benumbing opulence”. He said the fortunes of the country have been, and is
being frittered away by “profligate impostors”, and that the activities of the
leadership continued to threaten the very existence of the country.

Mr Akeredolu has captured my thinking and the thinking of many right-thinking, patriotic Nigerians – we do not have leadership; they are not worthy; they are criminals; they are extremely greedy
thieves; they are charlatans and impostors; they are mediocre pretending to be
geniuses; they are wolves in sheep clothing.

While thanking Timeless Magazine, George Ashiru and Town Hall Meetings Project for the opportunity to dialogue on "Nigeria
- Past, Present, and Future", I would urge that we should not waste much
time in debating the past, but should focus on the future, using the present
day events as indicator to measure the future.normal"">

  1. What shaped the past? What characterized our past? ‡‡ normal"">

Nigeria is, according to the controversial 2005 Census, a country of about 150 million people comprising of over 250 ethnic groupings,
with more than 4, 000 dialects, either by accident or design, came under the
British rule. Obtaining Independence over 49 years ago, October 1, 1960, and a
Republic in 1963, with a federal structure and three regional governments based
on the compass points of north, east, and west, Nigeria is still very split
along ethnic and religious lines. Thanks to Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida for this
leaky pact.

‡‡ Historically, the then colonial master, Great Britain’s mixing of different groups and calling them Nigeria, could have been a blunder. However, when life made lemon, you make lemonade out of it. This
mixture obtains almost everywhere in the world, and most countries make the
most of it, hence the phrase, Unity in Diversity. The attainment of
independence through the combined activities of Dr. Nnamidi Azikiwe, Eastern
Region Premier, the First Nigerian President, a journalist, was best remembered
for his commitment to the Nigerian nation; Alhaji Sir Tafawa Balewa, First
Nigerian Prime Minister, a teacher, was widely admired for his simplicity and
humility. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Western Premier, a lawyer, an unyielding
advocate of federalism and socio-economic programs; Alhaji Ahmadu Bello,
Northern Premier, known for his efforts to bring the North along side the
Western Education, are appreciated by Nigerians.

Ahmadu Bello once said, at least for the likes of religious and ethnic zealots to take note:

"Here in the Northern Nigeria we have people of many different races, tribes and
religions who are knit together to common history, common interest and common
ideas, the things that unite us are stronger than the things that divide us. I
always remind people of our firmly rooted policy of religious tolerance.
mine} We have no intention of favouring one religion at the expense of another.
Subject to the overriding need to preserve law and order, it is our
determination that everyone should have absolute liberty to practice his belief
according to the dictates of his conscience…"

Religious tolerance should be a binding 'string' for Nigerians.

The efforts of Nigerian founding fathers to keep Nigeria united were thwarted by the Military in 1966 with the conviction that the regional
Premiers deviated from the unity efforts. Military interference lasted till
1999, with divine intervention.

Aguiyi Ironsi struggled for Nigerian Unity, but unfortunately, had no time. His colleagues showed him the way out of power and then this world in a swift reaction to his policy of Unitary Government.

A very young Yakubu Gowon picked up the pieces from late Ironsi, and saw Nigeria through a 30-month civil war, with made-to-believe of no winners, no losers, and declared the three Rs to unite
Nigeria: Reconstruction, Reconciliation, and Rehabilitation. Gowon moved Nigeria from
the regional partition to Statehood, with the creation of 12 States.

While Gowon pled with Nigerians to allow his ruling Team to have their breakfast after nine years of Military rule, Murtala Mohammed, told him, in the Military language, to go and have the breakfast
someone else. Some hardcore Military officers did not like being stopped from
taking their breakfast; they took Mohammed out of this world, like they did
with Aguiyi Ironsi.

Mohammed and Obasanjo, ruling together, further divided Nigeria into 19 smaller states, further polarising Nigerians. Mohammed’s short reign
had a major impact on subsequent developments in the Nigerian nation. On
assumption of office, he reformed the civil service and other major
institutions. His government outlined a political program that included the
creation of seven more states, the drafting of a new constitution, and the
organization of state and national elections as a prelude to a return to
civilian rule on 1 October 1979. he it was who also changed the Federal capital
from Lagos to Abuja. His government also ran a dynamic
foreign policy.

A reluctant (so they told us) Olusegun Obasanjo continued Mohammed's reforms. Nigeria changed from the British Parliamentary system to American Presidential system in 1979 - a system that is so encumbered with corruption,
if there were no 'shock absorbers' to control its operations and fraught with
dangers. Obasanjo handed over the baton to a controversially elected Shehu
Shagari, denying Obafemi Awolowo the chance to transmute the magic he performed
in the Western Region to the national level. What we could attribute to
Obasanjo's military administration was the handling over to the civilian since
the Military took over in Nigeria,
in 1966. That was a legacy.

Shehu Shagari, a morally upright person, however could not control his ministers and allowed them to wallow in the mire of corruption. The Military came back in 1983, as he was about to settle down for
his second term, as a civilian President.

Muhammed Buhari, with Tunde Idiagbon as the second in command, struggled to instil some discipline in the Nigerian society, especially against the drug dealers. Its popular slogan was "War Against
Indiscipline". Unfortunately the discipline journey in Nigeria was cut
short by another Military intervention, this time with the coup architect,
Ibrahim Babangida.

Ibrahim Babangida administration, with seemingly good support and enthusiasm from the Nigerian public after the heavy-handedness and discipline of Buhari/Idiagbon, and with apparently great ideas for statehood,
progress and development was however destined to falsehood and deprivation: the
devastating Structural Adjustment Program, SAP; the obvious destruction of our
education and the middle class; the total collapse of Nigeria infrastructure;
the “institutionalisation” of
corruption; the promotion of another brand of economic sabotage, the popular
"419"; and finally the annulment of the most credible election in
Nigerian History, June 12, 1993.

Sometime ago, when Babangida allowed himself (or perhaps was duped by his many sycophants and followers), to join the fray to become a civilian President, he said he cancelled the 1993 election, but he did
not annul it. Some of you who understood English better than me could tell
Babangida the difference between "Cancellation" and

Babangida is once again, as he did in 2006 on the trail of coming back. The most sickening part of his Presidential ambition is for some Nigerians supporting him to come back to continue his ethnic and
religious divide of Nigerians after his eight years of failed administration.
He stepped aside in 1993, was forced to abandon 2007, and now wants to step in,
once again, come 2011. What we need now are leaders not rulers.

Earnest Shonekan was positioned to readjust the Military next step through an Interim National Government which eventually ushered in Sanni Abacha, the most notorious public looter of the Century,
according to former EFCC Chairman, Nuhu Ribadu's findings.

I will not talk about the dead. Of what use is talking about the dead man that is defenceless. All we know about Abacha is what you all know about Abacha. Right? You
be the judge on Abacha's case.

Abdul Salaam took over after Abacha's death to complete the Divine Intervention when he organized an election that ushered in another Military man in a civilian dress, as the new Nigerian President,
President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Olusegun Obasanjo became Nigeria’s 12th Head of State in 1999 amidst a lot of hope and goodwill for the country. In fact a lot of Nigerians were convinced
that what with what Obasanjo went through in the hands of Abacha, who was about
to execute him, and the fact that he had been a Military head of state, he came
with a lot of experience and knowledge in governance, he was the Messiah we
were waiting for. He started very warily and slowly, perhaps trying to get
re-accustomed to democracy. His Vice President was almost the one ruling the

He was brought in to pacify the South for the annulment of the 1993 elections. Obasanjo spent the whole of his First Term studying the situation and then 'forced' himself on Nigeria in 2003 through massive
riggings. That gave him the opportunity to do whatever he did, taming his
fellow rogues. If Nigerians had allowed him the Third Term, he would have put
all corrupt officials in jail, not killing them like Rawlings did in Ghana. ‡‡

I will confess that initially, I was a great fan and supporter of Obasanjo. I really believed he could move Nigeria forward and save us. Later, especially with his surreptitious Third Term attempt and
possible personal greed and corruption, I quickly lost any respect or love for
him. However, for his bold step against corruption, the man deserves some
kudos. His was not an ethnic or religious fight; Corruption has no ethnic or religious
inclination. The fight against corruption is a current challenge to Nigerians
at home and abroad. The end result determines the future of Nigeria and

‡‡ One good thing that I love about Obasanjo's fight against corruption is with individuals in the highest position of authority. Some schools of thought might take his corruption crusade to be selective, this
is debatable. I have not seen any of our past leaders that have attempted to do
that, even among the Military circle, which claimed to restore Nigeria image.
The message from Obasanjo to Nigerians is that “fellow rogues; we are not going
to steal people's money any more, enough is enough”. normal"">‡‡

However, Obasanjo, despite his many achievements as a civilian President of Nigeria (and truth be told, they are many and he laid many foundations) succumbed to the dizzying whiff of power and
got himself derailed. His Ministers, his Aides and Special Advisers went on a
looting spree, which he himself seemed unable to control and joined in, (so they
say). The fact that he rigged himself in for his Second Term also testified to
his failure.

Then on selecting, and virtually forcing the now late Umar Yar ‘Adua (who was really unwilling and too ill to be the President) to take over from him in 2007, Obasanjo lost any remaining claim to
Statesmanship that he had. It was a shameless rigged election in 2007, and even
the emerged President, Umar Yar ‘Adua admitted that his own election was

But the shameless Obasanjo, who had egg all over his face, would never agree. He and his Chief Rigger, Prof. Maurice Iwu (Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission) presided over arguably
the worst elections ever held in any part of the modern world. To the end, they
never admitted they were flawed.

In came the reluctant and obviously sickly Yar ‘Adua in 2007. Touted as Nigeria’s first graduate President and Commander in Chief, a lot of Nigerian hopes rested
on him, probably out of pity and the fact that he was really a good man.
But the fact remains that it is
impossible for a sick man to effectively rule a country of 150 million people.
Lacklustre, uncharismatic and manipulated easily, he was always a puppet to
some greedy and evil cabal, including his inordinately ambitious wife. His
sickness and his absence created a dangerous power
in Nigeria.
On 24 February 2010, Yar'Adua returned to
Abuja. His state of health was
unclear, but there was speculation that he was still on a life support machine.
Various political and religious figures in Nigeria had visited him during his
illness saying he would make a recovery.

I do not need to recount what Nigeria and Nigerians experienced from November 24, 2009 to the time he died on 5th May 2010.

Now enter Mr Goodluck Jonathan, Yar ‘Adua’s former Vice-President and former co-Governor. Again I do not need to recount how, after some farcical intrigues and opportunism from so many interested
parties, he eventually assumed the mantle of the President of the Federal
Republic of Nigeria on 16 May 2010.

  1. The factors responsible in our past for our present dilemma.

If we look and examine it long and hard, the intervention of the military in the governing affairs of Nigeria has been largely and mainly responsible for the predicament we find ourselves
today. Since the abolition of the regions by General Yakubu Gowon, in 1967, our
history has never been the same again. Our past has been characterized by
nepotism, corruption, rigging of election, and lack of strong and independent
working institutions. The most sufficient factor being the rigging of election
which has been ongoing since 1960, seconded, if I may use that word, by the
glaring lack of independent working institutions. The solution to those
patterned rigging of election was found in the ingenious introduction and use
of option A4 electoral system in the June 12, 1993 election; an election that
was adjudged the freest and fairest in the annals of Nigeria’s history, but was
sabotaged by it creator, IBB.


11.0pt;mso-font-kerning:14.0pt;mso-ansi-language:EN-US"">Nigerian politics was shaped by the British colonial presence. Before independence in 1960, we had
the Action Group, the NCNC and NPC and other minor political parties.
Regionally, the Action Group was in control of the Western region; the NPC, the
North and, the NCNC, the East. At that level of political formation, I think
the regional government had fared better. I believed that if the NPC/ NCNC
coalition, which formed the National government, had stayed as a coalition
without trying to interfere and manipulate the political processes in the
Western region, the parliamentary system would have stood the test of time to
this day.


11.0pt;mso-font-kerning:14.0pt;mso-ansi-language:EN-US"">Tribalism, religious intolerance, nepotism, selfishness, greed, corruption, incompetence, also
represents major factors responsible for our problems today. We have discarded
our traditional African community spirit and abandoned the Biblical “Love thy
neighbour”. It is now everyman for himself. Vagabonds rig themselves into
political positions, even with the connivance of some of the people whose lives
we trying to make better.


  1. Nigeria font-family:Arial""> today- Responsible factors

Since the creation of modern public
administration in the country,
there have been cases of official misuse of resources for personal enrichment.
The rise of public administration and the discovery of oil and natural gas are two major events seen to have led
to a litany of ignoble corrupt practices in the country. Over the years, the
country has seen its wealth withered with little to show in living conditions
of the common man. The late Chief Obafemi
Awolowo raised a salient issue
when he said, since independence, our governments have been a matter of few
holding the cow for the strongest and most cunning to milk, under those
circumstances everybody runs over everybody to make good at the expense of

Some writers have posited about the different potential causes of flagrant and
pecunious graft that exists in the country: many blame greed and ostentatious
lifestyle as a potential root
cause of corruption. To some,
societies in love with ostentatious lifestyle may delve into corrupt practices
to feed the lifestyle and also embrace a style of public sleaze and lack of decorum. The customs and attitudes of the society may also
be a contributing factor. Gift giving as expressions of loyalty or tributes to traditional rulers may be fabrics
of the society. Also, a political environment that excludes favours towards
elites or wealthy citizens may also be influenced by corruption. Wealthy elites
may resort to sleaze in order to gain power and protect their interest.
However, the bottom line surmised from the views of most Nigerians is that
corruption is a problem that has to be rooted out. Other causes of corruption
are ethnicity and pressures on officials by friends
and kinsmen. Friends and kinsmen seeking favour from officials may
impose difficult strains on the ethical disposition of the official. Many
kinsmen may see a government official as holding necessary avenues for their
personal survival or gain


11.0pt;mso-font-kerning:14.0pt;mso-ansi-language:EN-US"">The solution to fighting corruption was also partly founded and built around the EFCC. Above
all, the government needs to allow institutions to strongly evolve. The Police,
the judiciary and other law enforcing agents should be made independent. There
is too much interference from a few who feel that these instruments of the
STATE are meant for their selfish use. Here again comes before us glaringly,
the issue of class and class consciousness. Is it better to analyze Nigeria from
the social class perspective? Again, it all depends on individuals and their
ideological disposition. I am easily disposed to using the class angle if I do
not want to fall into tribal, regional, and religious traps. The manipulation
of religion in Nigeria
has since reached its Olympian height likewise are tribe and region.

Allow me to borrow from Gbenga Olumekun’s article Truth: The Greatest Casualty Of Our Time” written at the height of the chicanery that
was played on Nigerians when late President Yar ‘Adua was sick.

“The devious contraptions that are daily shoved down our throats by those residing in the corridors, sitting room, or bedroom of
power are doing incalculable damage to our national psyche. The citizenry needs
to be mobilised in the drive to spur them unto nation-building but the
responses are determined by how believable the stories they are fed with. That
is why the modern Nigerian society is a failed one. Never mind those who will
refuse to see the reality of the situation. Never mind those who will rise up
in arms when a concerned statesman tells us of our failings as a nation. There
is now no sense of belonging nor is there any semblance of nationalistic
fervour left in anyone except those who derive pecuniary benefits from
concocting all kinds of lies in defence of falsehood. That is why all the
prodding for petroleum subsidy withdrawal and belt-tightening fall on deaf
ears. We know they are liars! Who wants to die when these pathogenic human
beings are getting fatter and fatter by the day at the expense of the rest of
us? These pathological liars have turned all Nigerians into veritable cynics,
no better than St. Thomas
who must see, touch and appropriate before he or she can believe. How then are
we going to mobilize the citizenry, how then are we going to ask for national
commitment and sacrifice when we see and read on the very faces of our leaders
and hear in their voices lies, lies and lies, all the time?

In the unfolding events in contemporary Nigeria the real victim is truth. Falsehood is now pervasive in the police, in the
military, in the National Assembly, in the seat of power and most regrettably
on the pulpits. Unfortunately truth is the greatest ingredient for nation
building. It is the mortar by which the building blocks are joined together. If
this is absent, what manner of contraption are we building? Are we not doomed
as a country?”

Please do not get me wrong. There is no absolute clean country, clean individual, or a saint anywhere in
the world, including the religious leaders. Na lie be dat. However, the
openness of corruption in Nigeria
is very disturbing. It has to be reduced into its barest and manageable level.
Part of the medication to cure Nigeria
will come from Nigerian youths.

  1. The way forward – exploring various sectors.

The way forward is multidimensional. There is no one way approach to these problems. But I believe that the starting line is for us to convoke a genuine sovereign national
conference (not a manipulated one), where all the ethnic groupings would sit
down and say what and how a true Nigerian nation can evolve.


11.0pt;mso-font-kerning:14.0pt;mso-ansi-language:EN-US"">It is quite clear that even if we want to fall back on regional government, it is no longer going to
be three. Over the years, the contradictions inherent in the Nigerian system
have succeeded in throwing up six regional arrangements and not the former
three. I have listed this over and over in my write up and some other Nigerian
writers have done same too. These six regional typologies are: the West or
Oodua region, the East or MASSOP region, the Niger-Delta region or Opobo
region, the Middle belt region, the North East or Adamawa region and the Far
North or Dan Fodio/ Sardauna region. The Federation should stay but the regions
should take charge of their destinies.


11.0pt;mso-font-kerning:14.0pt;mso-ansi-language:EN-US"">Going hand in hand with the above is to reduce the present needless and money guzzling 36 states
arrangement into six states or region. State creation has not helped to reduce
poverty, election rigging, unemployment, nerving corruption, crime and other
social vices; rather it has helped to aggravate them. There is therefore the
need to go beyond state creation and look at other social variables.


11.0pt;mso-font-kerning:14.0pt;mso-ansi-language:EN-US"">Is the creation of more states the solution? No. From 3 to 4 regions, to 12 states to 19, and now 36,
tell me, how many of these states are viable or productive or contribute
anything to the economy of the nation? Many states today are in financial crisis
because of the flagrant corruption of their Governors and other politicians.
Most cannot even pay teachers’’ or civil servants’ salaries as and at when due,
relying on the Federal allocation every month. And yet it is not because these
states cannot sustain themselves, it is because their Governors are not only
clueless as to what governance is, but most importantly because they went there
to steal all they can in the first place.


11.0pt;mso-font-kerning:14.0pt;mso-ansi-language:EN-US"">So why are we then agitating for the creation of more states? To create wealth for some selected
people! To create political kingdoms for some people! The more states, the more
alienated we are; the more bureaucracy; the more problems we will have; the
more drain on our already eroded resources; the more corruption we will have and
the higher the level of poverty. Look at the history; the more states we have
been having in the past 50 years, the higher has been the corruption, and hence
the poverty.


11.0pt;mso-font-kerning:14.0pt;mso-ansi-language:EN-US"">The third option is for the people to rise and take their destiny into their own hands. But how do we
coordinate that? Who would lead? Though, people like Prof. Pat Utomi, Prof.
Wole Soyinka, Femi Falana, Bamidele Aturu, Festus Keyamo and your likes, can
really take the bull by the horn but how do we coordinate with the North? How
do we reach out to make the majority of the oppressed North believe in our
intention? Those whom we want to liberate and free, do they really want to be
liberated? They are so entrenched, emboldened, and overwhelmed by their
oppressed that it is difficult to divorce that unjust social marriage (the
support demonstration in Zamfara state by female Moslems against the public
outcry on the marriage of Yerima to an Egyptian teenage girl is a typical

Our youths and other well-meaning, sincere Nigerians should be actively involved in the process of democracy, politics, governance and policy making. Get involved - sponsor credible candidates to
replace "Fools" and "Vagabonds in Power". Sponsor some
legislation; otherwise Nigeria will continue to run the affairs of Nigeria by
"Execu-thieves", “Excellent-thieves”, “ Legis-looters”,
“Sena-thieves”, “Dis-Honourables”, “Damaging Directors”, etc. What do we expect from a fool, more than
thoughtless decisions? As long as Nigerians allow them to keep on occupying the
positions of authority, nothing would ever change for good in Nigeria. We do
not have to be looking for an immediate reward with this exercise. It is going
to be expensive, draining, and rewarding if done right.

11.0pt;mso-font-kerning:14.0pt;mso-ansi-language:EN-US"">The last and maybe, unsavory option, is to hope that one day a Rawlings may come to redeem us and
enforce that which we all cherish. Today, all of us are proud of what is going
on in Ghana.
now has very strong institutions, thanks to Rawlings and, to the good works of
Koffi Annan, as a former UN Secretary General. Annan used that position to
garner and promote the good will of his country; invited and saw to the influx
of foreign capital and investments into his country and helped to promote
internal democracy through the use of ballot boxes. However, I cannot see
Rawlings approach happening any longer because of global trend of events.
Military actions are no longer appealing. The International Community frowns
against such actions.

  1. Conclusions font-family:Arial"">.

In all, I think our destiny lies in our hands. The international community can come to help build our country to the standard we want it to be or, they would come in to help us
disintegrate or destroy it, both of which depends on the taste bud of Nigeria’s
internal collaborators.


Allow me to close by borrowing from late Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, and the First Premier of Northern Region on Independence Day, 1960, he said:

"The eyes of the world are on Nigeria now and there are many friends who hope that we shall be the leading nation in Africa. Let me say with all the emphasis at my command that we shall never attain this
goal if there is suspicion and mistrust among the peoples of Nigeria. Such
an attitude cannot benefit anyone and can too easily lead to strife as has been
the painful experience of other independent nations in Africa
and elsewhere. Let us not forget our dreams of national unity in Nigeria cannot
be realized without honest hard work and the respect for one another's views
and peculiar ways - be they customs or traditions. The different tribal groups
in this country must learn to accommodate members of other tribal groups."

Ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate this opportunity to share my thoughts with you on "Nigeria - Past, Present, and Future". I have to say that although things have been looking bleak for
the past 50 years since our independence , nevertheless, in my opinion, the
future of Nigeria is bright, but, and a very BIG BUT, if we only take our
destiny and future in our own hands. But it will be a big fight. Things are
worse than we think and the MAIN problem, as you would have assumed from my
presentation is CORRUPTION. And when you fight corruption, it will always fight
back even more ferociously, more savagely and more lethally than you. So think
about it, for the love and sake of this country and our future generation.

If we cannot see a better and progressive Nigeria in our time, because it may be too late for us, at least let’s do it for our children and our children’s children.

Congratulations and appreciations to the Timeless Magazine, Mr George Ashiru of the THMP for hosting this summit, and the patriotic and committed ladies and gentlemen who helped organise this

And to all of you, thanks for listening.

God bless you


Dr Femi Ajayi, 2006 “Nigerian Politics-Past, Present, and Future”. Presented at the 46th Independence Anniversary of Nigeria organised by Nigerian Association of
Southern California, Colton,
California. 30th Oct 2006.normal"">

Gbenga Olumekun, 2010. “Truth: The Greatest Casualty of Our Time”. 1st May 2010.

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