The Ignored Voice of Awo (2) – Latest Nigeria News, Nigerian Newspapers, Politics
In his dozens of lectures, speeches and books, Chief Obafemi Awolowo has identified the root cause of protracted crises of political instability, nation fragility and fractured nation-building as well as social anomie as being essentially economical. He did not share the then-prevalent conventional wisdom of the “ modernization theorists ” of the day who sought to blame the country’s post-independence crises on its ethnocultural pluralism or overarching divisive variables like faith or regionalism. Nor did he at any time locate the source of the country’s postcolonial crises in flaws in existing constitutional documents. Although he paid much attention to the issue of an appropriate, viable and effective constitution for Nigeria, Awolowo placed as much importance on the quality and character of leadership as on socio-economic and political transformation. country fast.
That is why he was convinced that under the 1979 presidential constitution of the Second Republic he could still behave as exemplarily as he did as the Prime Minister of Western Nigeria under the parliamentary constitution of the first republic, and surrender his party, the Unity Party. Nigeria’s four cardinal welfarist programs benefiting the teeming masses of Nigeria. The vices of the stupendous corruption of civil servants, ostentatious life, electoral rigging, religious extremism, ethnoregional conflicts and political violence for which many people ridicule the existing presidential constitution were not less prevalent under the parliamentary constitution of the first republic and actually led to its collapse in 1966.
No new constitutional device, however refined, can instantly eliminate the flaws of a personal or national character which have hampered the positive development of the country since independence. In a lecture he gave at the then University of Ife on April 9, 1970, in the aftermath of the civil war, Awo said emphatically: “I have said it before, and I want to repeat it that the causes of our national diseases are essentially economic. It is therefore important that we keep in mind that if we do not manage to find the right solutions to our economic problems, we will not succeed in solving our political and social problems ”.
There is no doubt that those words remain as true today as they were when they were spoken decades ago. At the root of the current endemic ills of Boko Haram insurgency, terrorism, herder-farmer clashes, kidnappings, secessionist unrest and activism lie mass poverty resulting from mass economic deprivation and poverty. blatant inequality between a microscopic minority of extremely wealthy Nigerians and the vast majority. of our long-suffering citizens.
As Awo put it again forcefully: “My argument therefore is that, in order to keep Nigeria harmoniously united, and at the same time, to accomplish the natural, ultimate, supreme and inalienable purpose of this unity, the leaders present and future of this country, must place the most crucial emphasis on promoting the economic prosperity and social well-being of all the Nigerian people and attach the greatest importance to it, without exception or discrimination ”. If the successive military regimes, holders of inexplicable power, were more concerned with personal enrichment than with the socio-economic rise of the country, what an excuse those who have held public office since 1999 in this supposedly democratic regime, have to deepen rather than relieve the economic misery of the vast majority of citizens?
In the last phase of his political thought evolution, Awo placed considerable emphasis on the socio-economic liberation of Nigeria. He has developed, with the help of his knowledgeable lieutenants, far-reaching and meticulously detailed programs and policies to transform all sectors of the country’s economy, including agriculture, transport, industrialization , education, health as well as the provision of quality shelter and full employment for the populace. Unfortunately, during his arduous electoral tours across the country before the 1979 and 1983 presidential elections, he presented his plans to the Nigerian people, there was an elaborate conspiracy of the elite that prevented him from achieving his goal. .
For example, on agriculture, Awolowo envisioned, in a lecture he delivered in Kano in February 1970, as Federal Commissioner of Finance, that in 1985, if properly planned and managed, the sector “Should be able to contribute up to £ 1.784 million to our GDP; that is to say 179.4 million pounds more than our total GDP in 1966 ”. But to achieve this goal, he said, “Nigeria’s agriculture must be modernized and mechanized in bold and massive ways. We will need to invest heavily in tractors, power plows and logs, fertilizer, pest control, irrigation, high-yielding grains and seeds research, cattle pastures and ranches, fishing trawlers. , etc. It is only in the pursuit and achievement of these objectives that our often repeated desire to increase the productivity, and thus to raise the standard of living, of our peasantry, throughout the Federation can be achieved ”.
Neither in the North nor in the South, this warning was heeded. So even as public office holders across the country have accumulated immense personal wealth since 1999, peasant agriculture in the South remains as underdeveloped and impoverished as the cattle trade in the North. Lamenting the state of agriculture in the country at a conference in Akure in 1980, Awo said: “From all that has been said, it is clear that no matter how you look at it , the current agricultural system condemns the average Nigerian farmer to crushing poverty, degradation and abjectivity. This is a situation that must be ended with the greatest sense of energy and relentless vigor. Its existence is already leading to visible catastrophes ”.
He continued: “In the span of three years – 1976-1978 – Nigerian farmers abandoned the cultivation of over 8 million hectares of farmland. There is a rush among young dwellers from rural areas to towns and cities … The social and economic consequences of these trends are already manifesting and will continue to manifest themselves in an increase in lawlessness of all kinds and a secular decline in local production of food for domestic consumption and of certain categories of agricultural products for foreign markets ”.
Could anyone have been more prescient considering what is going on in the country today? But Awo wasn’t content to just point out problems, he was always adept at preferring thoughtful solutions. Thus, his warning that “if it is our determination, as we often profess to lift farmers out of the dominant quagmire of social degradation and economic miseries, at the same time contributes to raising and improving their standard of living, the introduction immediate of some programs is absolutely imperative. First, state governments should take immediate action to mobilize and organize our farmers into cooperative societies across the country. A cooperative unit of 100 to 200 practicing farmers, all depending on the type of crops to be grown, might be the optimum. In this regard, it should never be forgotten that the individual farmer, except for a wealthy landowner, is not a viable proposition ”. Of course, he goes on to outline several ways in which these national co-operatives could be financed and run as successful businesses.
While it is true that governors in the South have generally been more committed to the development demands of their states compared to those in the North, both categories of governors must dramatically increase their performance to meet the rigorous governance standards set by Awolowo. Sadly, when some northern governors mistakenly argue that shepherds have a divine right to migrate anywhere across the country in search of pasture and water for their livestock, even at the expense of host farming communities, they give feel like they are too mentally indolent to get up. up to the challenges of governance of the land under their jurisdiction.
No governor, ordinarily, should be proud of the fact that his inability to provide conditions and facilities for modernized cattle ranching on his territory compels his people to travel the length and breadth of the country in the herding process. of his cattle and thus become a danger. to the lives and property of people in distant places.
Then again, Awo’s insight is quite helpful and to the point. In a lecture he gave at the University of Lagos in 1968, he said: “First, it has been assumed that every underdeveloped country has sufficient natural and human resources for its needs. It is true that some countries are richer than others. But it is also true that by guaranteeing the rational exploitation, mobilization and deployment of these resources, each country has enough to enable it to lead a happy and economically free existence ”.
He continued: “There is no shortage of instances. Israel has shown that any type of land or natural resources can be made productive, provided that the other productive agents are sufficiently qualitative and optimally quantitative. What the Israeli experience has proven beyond dispute is that the only difference between a country rich and a country poor in natural resources is that the same dose of other productive agents will produce better results, when applied. to one only when applied to the other ‘
Admittedly, the accusation of bankruptcy of the leaders undoubtedly applies as much to the South as to the North, even if the latter is confronted with a more serious challenge of poverty and inequality. Ultimately, the solution to the problems plaguing the North lies in the determination of the region’s leaders, especially its elected governors, to grab the bull by the horns and creatively harness the region’s resources for its development. . people. With determination and daring, even the Sambisa Forest can be transformed into Nigeria’s Dubai.
The immense tourist and agricultural resources as well as minerals of the North await a productive exploitation for a regional transformation. I think that’s the point to take from Awo’s reference to Israel. The North has just as much to gain as the South from restructuring, perhaps even much more.