A leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Lagos State Governor, Senator Bola Tinubu, Wednesday said the nation was at the threshold of greatness and failure, observing that how the leadership managed the fragile situation would determine where Nigeria would end up.
Delivering the 70th anniversary business lecture of the Island Club, Lagos, Tinubu, who was represented by the Oyo State Governor, Senator Abiola Isiaka Ajimobi, however advised on the need to chart a new path for the nation with focus on agriculture as the future for a progressive economy.
“This nation stands at the threshold between greatness and failure, between progress and collapse and hope and despair. As if blindfolded, we cannot decide which way is best,” he said.
Taking a cue from the club, Tinubu said: “The Island Club has marched and advanced during the years. If only this nation had followed the trajectory this club set, we would be a nation in reverie. Instead, we are one quaked by regret.
“Unfortunately, the glow of Nigeria has turned to dross; the nation is a gem obscured by the grime of venal and menial leadership. Today, I state the name 'Island Club' not only has geographic significance, it also has poetic or figurative bearing.
“Yes we are located on an island but the club is also an island of good management, unity and vision in a sea of national muddle and confusion.
“Though having to adjust at times to the dizzying political thermometer of the country and in response to the sometimes conflicting demands of its members, Island Club has pulled through. It stands stronger today because it has figured out the recipe of cooperation and compromise for the common good.
“The picture of Nigeria as it now stands; if you ask me to describe the state of the nation, I would say it is an ambivalent one. Nigeria is a nation standing half in the light of progress and promise and half in the darkness of injustice. We live in a period of grave uncertainty. As things now stand, we have no idea where the nation is headed.”
Tinubu, who made a detour to reinforce his position on the proposed national conference, reiterated that “for years, the idea of a national dialogue has been bruited. Government has always slapped the notion away. Now, devoid of ideas and with its back to the wall of poor performance, the current government grabs at the notion much like a drowning man does a life vest.”
“Yes, we need to talk. I remain an ardent supporter of the call for a national conference that is sovereign and truly open to all. That is the only route out of the woods. We must bring Nigeria back on the path of true federalism. A staged-managed affair scripted and monitored to achieve the narrow political aims of narrow political minds in Abuja will do nothing but whet confusion's appetite. Anything short of a Sovereign National Conference will be like trying to apply a bandage to a tornado.
“So soon after calling forth this event, we have seen the deceptive, unsure steps of the government. Many of those that attacked my position in questioning the sincerity of the government are now retreating from the Jonathan conference.
“All I ask is that you watch not with blind hope but with a watchful eye. I believe you will come to see this as the dark alley that I see,” he said.
He maintained that Nigeria must start to chart a new path in the critical areas of its politics, economy, education and infrastructure development, else it faced the risk of rising levels of poverty and political discontent.
“We live in a fast-paced world but Nigeria is only crawling. In front of us, progressive development moves quicker than us. With each day, the distance between development and us increases.
“Behind us, calamity moves fast, gaining grounds on us. With each day, it comes nearer and nearer to us,” he said, adding that Nigeria’s over-dependence on oil revenue and near total neglect of agriculture have placed it on a precarious growth path and development.
“I shudder to think of the state of the nation in years to come if we continue in this limp fashion. Those now in government take false solace in the belief that Nigeria is a land of happy, carefree people who will somehow manage to eke a living no matter how badly governed we might be.
“Those in governance better look again. Whatever happiness we had was born of fantasy or of faith and patience that a better day was to come,” he said.
Meanwhile, reactions yesterday trailed Tuesday’s declaration by the All Progressives Congress (APC) that it would boycott the national conference proposed by President Goodluck Jonathan, as the majority of those who spoke to THISDAY, all of them renowned lawyers, thought the position was unpatriotic.
The party, rising from a meeting of its interim national executive held in Abuja had said it was “averse to any form of national conference that would have its outcome subjected to the approval of the National Assembly.”
The interim National Publicity Secretary of the party, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who made the declaration on behalf of the party, attributed the resolve of the party to the fact that “the present administration has lost credibility and control of the economy,” with security and corruption rising on a daily basis.
Professor Itse Sagay, a distinguished legal scholar, said though he was a sympathiser of the APC, he would rather plead with the party to review its position on the proposed national dialogue.
He was of the view that rather than being party-based, the conference should be nationality-based with representation by the citizenry, thereby limiting the influence of the parties on the conference.
Even at that, he suggested that the APC had better use the opportunity to the advantage of its people.
“As far as I know, the conference will not be based on political parties. I expect that it would be based on nationalities. The political parties will not have influence on it.
“I'm a great sympathiser of the APC because it is the party that gives us hope of good governance, so I’ll advise them to participate; take it over and turn it around to what they want. They should take over the driving seat and bring about the desired change.
“The APC should know that it is an offshoot of the ACN that is of the Yoruba, who are the greatest advocates of true federalism. Even from Awolowo to Tinubu himself and the only way we can get true federalism is through a conference.
“So they should take advantage of the conference rather than abandon it,” he said.
Former President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Chief Olisa Agbakoba, took a similar position, stating: “I don't know the answer to the question.”
He said even with the plethora of suspicion coming from the public about the conference, it was still an opportunity to move Nigeria forward.
“I do know that there are several concerns about the credibility of the conference, but for me, having being a proponent of the conference, no matter what the obstacles are, I would engage the problems.
“The Nigerian problem is that we don't have a model that will make the nation work. If the APC says it would not attend, I cannot talk for them but I would see the conference as a way to discuss.
“Boycotting is not the best. It is better to dialogue. Though the concern of many is that the conference would be a distraction but in spite of the distraction, I would say Nigeria is not occupying where it should be because we have no model. Even if THISDAY does not have a model, you cannot be one of the best newspapers in Nigeria today,” he said.
Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Fred Agbaje, also felt the decision by APC was not in the best interest of the people. According to him, the decision to boycott the proposed national dialogue would not affect the credibility of the conference.
He therefore maintained that rather than boycott, Nigerians should come together to make the best of the opportunity offered by the conference.
“We should all join hands together to move the country forward from the era of decadence and backwardness. By boycotting, poverty, unemployment, insecurity, ASUU strikes, and all such, will continue,” he added.
He said if they boycotted the conference and decisions are taken, such decisions would be binding on their people.
“In fact, in modern day politics, a boycott is not an option; it is old-fashioned. And it would amount to self-inflicted political doom. Though we may not like the procedure being adopted, the truth is that Nigerians want to talk,” he said.
In contrast, another Lagos-based lawyer and rights activist, Mr. Festus Keyamo, said he believed that without the APC, the conference would be a failure because of the states the party controls.
Keyamo, who is also a member of the APC, was also of the view that the conference was not being designed to succeed.
“If the APC opts out of the conference, it has dented the credibility of the conference, because they have the government in those states that will not be participating.
“Nothing will come out of the conference in the first place. It is just an unnecessary waste of time and that is why they (the APC) are excusing their people from it,” he stated.