| By Ayo Okulaja
September 30, 2010
As Nigeria celebrates its 50th independence anniversary tomorrow, former President Olusegun Obasanjo has blamed the nation’s underdevelopment on the regional politics played by such leaders of the first republic as Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello. He said if they had made proper efforts at nation building, the country would not have been where it is today.
Mr Obasanjo who was the guest lecturer at the second convocation lecture of the Redeemer’s University, titled, “Nigeria@50 What celebrations?”, blamed the three key leaders of the nation’s regions in the first republic for our inability to get it right so far. “For a newly independent country, our weak political fabric, diverse and highly differentiated socio-cultural milieu, required a leadership with effective national mobilising capacity, ability to weave together the different ethnic groups, inspire them and provide a broad-minded leadership.
“Unfortunately, Nigeria did not enjoy such leadership at independence and that leadership deficit and weakness of structure militated against Nigeria on independence.”
He painted the picture of how a more nationalistic group would have improved the nation’s fortunes as he compared Nigeria with nations such as South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia which all had their independence at about the same time with Nigeria but have so far done quite well in comparison.
Mr Obasanjo did not leave out the military in his retrospective, stating that the “most retrogressive era for Nigeria was from 1983 to 1999” when different military leaders steered the nation’s ship recklessly. He alleged that the military leaders did not, during this period, invest a penny in the critical power sector.
He however said that the nation, with all its woes, has every reason to celebrate and he does not share in the rampant pessimism, “The nation has survived a number of challenges and can only move ahead for the better” he said. He also noted that what we are celebrating now is the 50th independence anniversary of the nation and not its existence. The former president traced the origin of the country to 1914 when the name Nigeria was coined during the amalgamation of the North and South protectorate.
Zoning vs federal character
Reacting to a question from a member of the audience who asked whether regional politics has not caused today’s clamour for zoning, the former president said, “zoning is unconstitutional, it is not part of our constitution. What is in the constitution is the federal character which preaches that if there are 30 spaces in an office 10 must go to Yoruba, 10 must go to the Hausa, 10 to the Igbo’s and so on. This is what all the political parties must have in their constitution as well.”
He adds that zoning will compromise competence and merit which are crucial in evaluating the right people for political office. Further ridiculing the zoning concept, the former president said that, “if I as a Yoruba man, died during my tenure, will they have said the next president must be from the Southwest or Ogun state” he asked? “In the heart of hearts of those who are talking about zoning, I know they don’t mean it because they know it is not in the interest of our country” Mr Obasanjo said.
Urging the students to ignore the old style of politics, he said that “Zoning is a vestige of the past and it will still go away, you young generations must do away with the vestiges of your fathers and grandfathers that have done Nigeria no good.” He also called on the young ones to speak out against bad governance as it is the only way to fight the menace. On the issue of high cost of governance in the country, Mr Obasanjo said that “the cost of government is high because those that are in government are incompetent,” blaming the people rather than the system.
He said the late former head of state, Muritala Muhammed was killed because he refused to stay in Dodan barracks because “the house was over-furnished.” Speaking on the excessive salaries paid to members of the National Assembly, the former president alleged that “the cost of maintaining the national assembly has increased more than 10 times today from what it was in 2000” whilst “nothing has changed” he noted.
“It is just the greed, corruption and insensitivity of these people who call themselves legislators.”
He called for vociferous protest against such expenditure saying that it the only way we (Nigerians) can fight it as “we can’t do away with them. They amend the constitution and will not do away with themselves. That is why I am raising my voice and your generation must take it up” he told the students. Painting himself as some sort of radical, Mr Obasnajo urged the audience to recall “when the late President (Umaru Yar’Adua) travelled out of the country and leaving the nation to drift astray, I spoke out when the entire nation kept quiet.” Mr Obasanjo challenged the students not to blame his generation anymore as “my generation has fought for the stability of this country and the entrenchment of democracy. You have to raise your voice now. If you are not prepared to be a patriot in your teens and 20’s, then you will be a disappointment to this country in your 40’s” he concluded to rousing ovation from the youthful audience.
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