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Saturday, October 31, 2020

Unfinished greatness: Towards a more perfect union in Nigeria by Fayemi - ITREALMS

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Text of the address by His Excellency, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Governor of Ekiti State, Nigeria and Chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum on the 50th Anniversary of the Centre for Historical Documentation and Research (Arewa House), Kaduna, Nigeria | Saturday, October 31, 2020.

1.  Introduction:
I will like to start by thanking the leadership of Arewa House for the great honour of inviting me to speak at the golden jubilee of this great institution. I also want to congratulate you, both for this historic moment, and for the wonderful work you have done in the last fifty years; mobilising and interpreting our history to explain the present and illuminate the path to our future.
Through a faithful and relentless engagement with history, Arewa House has indeed built a great history for itself. Congratulations. 

2. This institution was founded with clear and deliberate intentions. 

One to immortalise the legacies of the great political leader and premier of the defunct Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello. 

Two, to serve as a bastion of the collective memory of the people of Northern Nigeria in particular, and Nigeria at large. 

3. As a student of history, it is not lost on me the importance of the preservation of history in the evolution of any society, and I must commend you all for the great work that started in 1970 when Nigeria came out of the ashes of an unfortunate civil war and the Interim Common Services Agency (I.C.S.A), managing the common assets and liabilities of the then six Northern states established a “History of Northern Nigeria Committee” to, among other things document the history of the “North”.

The committee recommended the establishment of a “Centre for Historical Documentation and Research” and Professor Abdullahi Smith, one of the foremost historians at the Ahmadu Bello University took up the pioneering role of establishing the centre. Since then, the Centre, popularly known as Arewa House has grown in leaps and bounds, moving its base in 1972 to the residential quarters and office complex of the late Premier of Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto as the location where the centre will be domiciled. 

4. The pioneers such as Professor Abdullahi Smith, Professor Abdullahi Mahdi and Dr. George Kwanashie, Dr Hammid Bobboyi, right up to the current leadership of Dr Shuaibu Shehu Aliyu all ensured that the centre was developed to a status that it attracted scholars from all over the world. When ICSA was abolished, Arewa House was transferred to Ahmadu Bello University as a research centre. 

It houses an Archive, a Library, a rich collection of books in a bookstore and a Museum complex. I have gone down memory lane to document the history of Arewa House in order the bring out the noble objectives and the commitment of the pioneers in establishing such an important centre of learning and knowledge sharing, clearly because they believed that successful societies are often built around knowledge and its value in human development. 

5. I salute the memory of the great Sir Ahmadu Bello, whose central political philosophy was that every Nigerian, and indeed all human beings, are created equal and that they are endowed by God with rights among which are life, liberty, equal opportunity, blessings and the legitimate pursuit of happiness. 

Throughout his life and career, the late Sarduana of Sokoto espoused high morality and intellectual virtues in the public sphere – virtues that we would all do well to revisit and pay more attention to these days. His choice of a motto for the North is “Work and Worship” and to underscore that, in his Christmas message to citizens in 1959, he stated that “here in Northern Nigeria we have people of many different races, tribes and religions who are knit together by common history, common interests and common ideas, the things that unite us are stronger than the things that divide us.” 

6. In speaking in this great citadel of research and learning, I must acknowledge that I’m following in the footsteps of giants who had been guest speakers at the Annual Arewa House Lecture. Elder Statesmen like General Yakubu Gowon, late President Shehu Shagari and my boss and leader, President Muhammadu Buhari. Respected scholars like Professor Ishaya Audu and Professor Abdullahi Smith, technocrats like Alhaji Liman Ciroma and Ambassador Jolly Tanko Yusuf, royalties like the late Sultan Abubakar III and Oba Erediuwa of Benin and religious leaders such as the late Abubakar Mahmud Gummi and Most Revd Matthew Hassan Kukah.

I really do hope I am able to live up to the standards set by these previous distinguished speakers. I must thank the Planning Committee of the 50th anniversary for giving me the liberty and latitude to choose the topic of my lecture. 

I have chosen to speak today on a topic that encapsulates the challenges of the last fifty years in addition to embodying our unflagging quest for unity and national integration. Events of the past few weeks have brought to stark focus our beleaguered nation-building journey which reached a significant landmark of sixty years on October 1, 2020. 

7. The topic of my reflection is ‘’Unfinished Greatness - Towards a More Perfect Union in Nigeria”. This topic rests on a core assumption that there was a ‘greatness’ or at least a journey towards ‘greatness’, which has remained unfinished. It also asserts that it is only by building a more perfect union, that we can accomplish the task of greatness for which we have demonstrated so much potentials for the better part of our history.

The question of our “Unfinished Greatness” was posed by the late former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in his presidential address commemorating Nigeria’s 49th independence anniversary on October 1, 2009: “Today should be a forceful reminder of our unfinished greatness, of the promise yet to be fulfilled, of the dream deferred for too long, and of the work that is still outstanding.” 

8. Indeed, not many would disagree with the premise that there is a significant gap between our potentials for greatness as a country, and where we are now, and it is the duty of all well-meaning Nigerians to leverage progressive avenues and platforms such as this, to interrogate the issues to determine where we are on our journey to greatness, our historical missteps, our achievements, and most importantly, the imperatives towards a “more perfect union”. 

9. These issues have become particularly germane against the backdrop of the significant events of the recent past. First, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic which negatively impacted the economies of all countries, especially those in the global south. Nigeria was no exception, and we continue to contend with the pressures at the federal and sub-national levels, towards ensuring the right policies and interventions that would help us steady the ship of state to calmer waters. Second, the youth-led demonstrations against police brutality #EndSARS which metamorphosed into agitations beyond the main subject, to encompass demands for more holistic reforms that would ensure our country becomes more just, fair, and inclusive to our youth demography which forms the majority of our population. Nation-Building is a Continuous Work in Progress.

10. I once read the story of a people who had been trying to build a wall for generations. Each time they came close to completing the wall, it would come crashing down and they would have to start all over; much like the curse of Sisyphus. Yet, every generation understood that it was its destiny to try and complete this wall. History has taught them that the wall would never be completed, but they never gave up, with each generation hoping that it would be the generation that got the job done. In relating this story to our country, Nigeria, rather than a collapsing wall, I would think in terms of an infinite wall, whose height and greatness has no limits. It is the destiny of every generation to take it to a higher level, but the job will never be done. Reflecting on our recent history, it is easy to point at our many false starts, or even outright betrayal of our destiny. Despite the great efforts of the past sixty years, how come this wall has barely left the foundation stage, even with our enormous wealth of bricks and mortars and expert builders?

11. Sixty years may be a long time in the life of an individual. But a sixty-year-old nation, is a nation yet in its infancy. Therefore, rather than despair over the failures of the past, I would rather we look ahead with great hopes at the infinite future that lies ahead of us, armed with that immortal admonition from the French West Indian psychiatrist and political philosopher, Frantz Fanon that “every generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, betray it or fulfil it.”

12. Over the years, Nigerians have agonised over the lamentably slow pace of our development. Successive governments and policy makers have responded with various approaches and strategies for achieving the much desired national development. Yet, even the most charitable analyst of our political economy would be forced to agree that we have not performed to our optimum capacity. In trying to explain our development conundrum, several factors have been put forward. 

However, it appears to me that the fundamental challenge is that we have all along positioned the cart before the horse. Before we can think of development, the first task that we have is that of nation-building. You cannot develop what you do not have. When the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka asked “When is a Nation,” he was attempting to draw our attention to those questions of nation-building that have remained unanswered till this day. The development of a nation necessarily derives from “elite consensus”. 

However, this consensus can only be forged after some fundamental questions, what we call the national questions, have been settled. Where the very existence of the nation itself is easily brought to question at the slightest provocation, then it becomes clear that our primary task is to build a nation first, as a fundamental basis for achieving development. In other words, the very notion of national greatness is directly consequential to nation-building. 

13. Over the years, I have heard even presumably informed analysts referred to our country as the mistake of 1914. But was it really a mistake? The American social philosopher, Eric Hoffer argued that divide and rule is most effective when it “fosters a multiplicity of compact bodies – racial, religious or economic – vying with and suspicious of each other.” 

Therefore, it is possible to argue that the toxic legacy of the colonial ‘divide and rule’ strategy may be the reason that we have remained divided even 60 years after their rule has ended. 

However, to describe this amalgamation itself as a mistake would be wrong, both historically and conceptually.

Pix: L-R: Representative of President Muhammadu Buhari/Minister for Water Resources, Engr Suleiman Adamu; Ekiti State Governor/Guest Speaker, Dr. Kayode Fayemi; Chairman of event/former Vice President, Arc Namadi Sambo; Sultan of Sokoto, Mohammadu Sa’ad Abubakar; others at the Arewa House 50th anniversary lecture in Kaduna…. on Saturday.

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