Nigeria: Destined to be great
A keynote address presented at the launching ceremony of Esan Progressive Association of Atlanta, Georgia (USA),
October 31, 1999
Saliba Daddy Mukoro Ph.D.
It is an honor and privilege to be in your midst this evening as your keynote speaker. I thank you for the invitation, and I thank God for the opportunity, because I know it is divine. It was meant to be. I cherish my Ishan roots, and being with you this evening makes me feel very much at home. The title of my address to you is- Nigeria: Destined to be great. My presentation will be two pronged. The first part will focus on our Dear Country, and the second and final part will focus on your organization. Let us now start by discussing our country-Nigeria.
Ladies and gentlemen, you are no strangers to the tragic recent past of our Dear Country; neither are you strangers to the present positive developments taking place back home. Let us remember that only very few countries would survive what Nigeria went through between 1985 and June 1998-the period I wish to refer to as the "Dark Age" of Nigeria. However, as nation of special destiny, Nigeria is bouncing back – what a miracle! Ladies and gentlemen, as much as you may already know about our country’s affairs, I believe, in my heart, that you will like to hear and know more about the activities that brought the "Dark Age" upon us a people. It becomes even more refreshing when you hear them, first hand, from someone who was directly involved in vehemently resisting the evil forces of the "Dark Age", and thus succeeded in positively influencing the course of Nigerian history. I am, therefore, glad to share these first hand accounts with you this evening. Furthermore, while it may seem expedient to dwell on just the present state of the country and forget or jettison the past, I am quickly reminded of the virtues of thoroughly discussing and understanding the past, so as to be able to appreciate the present, guide our steps into the future and, more importantly, guide us against a repeat of the ugly past. It is therefore, in good judgement that my presentation must touch on the Nigerian past and present. Ladies and gentlemen, let me now begin with the Nigerian past.
The First Republic
The Nigerian first republic was characterized by bitter ethnic politics. Political violence was rampant. Corruption was not absent, but was not consuming. Since this was the first trial run of foreign concepts of enlightened governance, the attendant teething problems were understandable, and perhaps, ought to have been expected within certain limitations. While some will prefer that the limitations were not exceeded and that the Republic ought to have been left to gradually learn from its mistakes and grow, others maintain that the limitations were grossly exceeded and hence the demise of the republic. Whatever the true position was, we may never know, and when we know, we may never collectively agree, as a nation. Let history be the judge.
The Ironsi Administration
The Ironsi administration was consumed by the bitterness generated from the termination of the first republic. The administration’s activities were interpreted in the light of that prevailing bitterness. The administration was not given any chance to make a difference in the life of the nation. It was abruptly terminated.
The Gowon Administration was the child of plenty. The oil sector produced foreign cash like never before. Extravagant spending and corruption went hand in hand. Though Gowon was good-natured and well intentioned, his failure to check corruption in his administration and his refusal to hand over, as promised, caused the demise of his administration. He, however, succeeded in wedging the country together after a bitter civil war, albeit our eastern brothers are yet to be properly welded back into the Nigerian polity.
The Muritala/Obasanjo Administration
The Muritala/Obasanjo Administration may be considered the most dynamic and result oriented administration in the history of Nigeria. It shot Nigeria to prominence in world/African politics. The administration tackled corruption at all levels and, for the first time, openly dealt blows to its military and civilian collaborators. It, however, left no lasting structures in place to continue the corruption cleansing campaign after the end of the administration. As a result, corruption quickly reared its ugly head in subsequent administrations. However, the Muritala/Obasanjo administration religiously kept to their hand over date, left so much money in the nations coffers, and maintained a professional level of discipline in the armed forces.
The Second Republic (Shagari Administration)
The Shagari administration enjoyed a breath of fresh air in that the military was gone and the politicians were in. While president Shagari had no vices, he was, however, unable to control officials of his government who, in some instances, were corrupt to the core, and were busy siphoning the nation’s resources at an alarming rate. The government soon fell.
The Buhari/Idiaghon Administration
This administration was equally dynamic with a strong resolve to do all that is good for Nigeria. With this good intention, they disregarded the need to treat civilian polity with soft and persuasive hands; instead they used the military strong hand. This caused a lot of furor which, however, would have settled down with time, if not for the unfortunate intervention of the Babangida Junta. Worse still, Babangida subsequently paved the way for Abacha to come on stage. This duo were directly responsible for what I call the Nigerian "Dark Age", and were both confirmations of the bible’s injunction that "the thief cometh not, but for to steal and to kill, and to destroy" (John Chapter 10, verse 10). The duos were, indeed, thieves. Let us now discuss the administrations of the duo.
The Babangida administration from the very beginning to the end was an unbelievable fraud. He came to the center stage in August of 1985 as the smiling general destined to take the nation to the mountaintop. This was not to be. Instead, he ushered in the "Dark Age" of Nigeria. The interesting thing is that we all observed the onerous signs of the impending doom but we ignored them, and did nothing, and hence, we paid a bitter and painful price both as a nation, and as Nigerians. The question, therefore becomes- what were some of the onerous signs that we ignored as a people?
Some of the Onerous Signs
On coming to office via military coup, Babangida called himself a president instead of head of state. This was unusual and pregnant with meanings. We laughed and ignored it.
He enthroned corruption in all works of life in the country. He introduced the politics of "settlement", where everyone had a price. We laughed and did nothing.
He unilaterally made Nigeria a member of the organization of Islamic Conference without the consent of Nigerians or even the knowledge of his chief of general staff (the number 2 man in the government). When the number 2 man openly told the truth about his lack of knowledge of the OIC deal, Babangida treated him like trash, disgraced him, and swept him out of office with ignominy. We all were shocked but did nothing.
He promised transition to a democratic government, he spent our national hard earned resources on bogus transitional programs and continuously moved the transition dates without cause. We watched and did nothing.
As a result of an expensive and time-consuming process, the Nigerian people formed their political parties; Babangida canceled them, formed his own two political parties, and midwifed their manifestos. We gaped, grumbled and did nothing.
General Domkat Bali, one of the most respected and upright generals of the Nigerian Army, publicly declared that Babangida was running a one man government and that decision purported to have been made by the ruling council were, indeed, Babangida’s personal decisions. We believed, wondered and did nothing.
In order to give his life presidency some teeth, Babangida started cultivating friendship of the six core Northern states, not because he loved them, but because he felt they wielded political power that he considered will be a plus for his hidden sit tight agenda. For the first time in Nigeria, job positions were being advertised, even in Lagos and elsewhere around the nation, as openly only to people from these six core states, and to the chagrin of other Nigerians. For example, NAFCON in Port Harcourt had positions only open to individuals from these six core states. The Delta steel complex in Aladja bused in many of these "special Nigerians", placed them in hotels, terminated their southern counterparts and forcefully ejected them from their quarters using the police, and then got the "special Nigerians" to take their jobs and their quarters. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) key positions were virtually overtaken by these "special Nigerians", so also were other works of life and key government appointments. While Babangida sought to make a special class of the indigenes of these six core states, though it may have been against their wishes, he was inadvertently making them look like enemies of the rest of the Nation. We observed all these nonsense with shocking disbelief, but did nothing.
As he was emptily vowing to hand over to a civilian government, he was at the same time busy introducing a national guard outfit designed to be stronger than the military and to be under his administrative operational control. Nigerians knew this was the outfit designed to entrench him in office for life. We wondered, grumbled but did nothing.
In order to prevent any challenge from the military relative to his digging-in process for life, he began a process of totally incapacitating the Armed Forces. For example, he caused the Army Headquarters to request all military units to return their ammunitions to the Army Ordinance Depot under the falsehood that they were all expired. In the same vein, pistols that were the official weapons of military officers were all to be returned, and officers were no longer to have access to them, as they were no longer to be regarded as officers’ official weapons. All armored vehicles in the Army were all to be railed to Bauchi at exorbitant cost purportedly for servicing and repairs, and were really not expected to be returned.
The Air Force Helicopter squadron based in Lagos was stocked with missiles and ordered to be moved to Minna. The C130 Hercules planes originally based in Lagos were ordered to relocate to the north. The hitherto busy Benin Air Force base was reduced to an empty base without planes, as the planes were removed. The bottom line of all these moves while designed to cripple the military, it had an additional objective of deliberately rendering the south bare of any military hardware and thus completely defenseless.
While we expected our senior military officers to speak out and checkmate the Babangida’s sit tight hidden agenda, none spoke out. Most of them were busy, with cap in hand, begging for contracts; some were satisfied with grumbling silently; some did not care if the country was going to hell, provided they got their salaries; and some who cared, chose not to rock the boat. After a sober and through reflection of Babangida’s activities, I concluded that something needed to be done. After extensive consultation with bright minded military officers and civilians, we agreed, beyond reasonable doubts, that Babangida was fastly digging in and if allowed to complete the digging in scheme, even the strongest Army in the world would not be able to dig him out, and thus we would have a Mobutu on our hands. Conscious of our sworn military oath to protect our country (not an individual) against external and internal aggressions, we concluded then, that Babangida has crossed the line of sanity and that, indeed, the totality of his activities now constitute an internal aggression against the Nigerian state and must, therefore, be checked by all means necessary. And as such, on April 22, 1990 we launched a counter offensive on Babangida and his junta, crippled his sit-tight agenda, and saved Nigerians from having a Mobutu. He has and will never recover from that bang. He was mentally and physically crushed, and to date remains a ghost of himself. His sit tight agenda became a mere wishful dream. Importantly, our successful attack and systematic penetration of his elaborate security fortifications, and his subsequent cowardly escape from the battle zone into hiding at the National Theatre, showed that he was not the tough general he had always pretended to be-always dressed in battle dress. When the time of reckoning came, he ran and hid like a cockroach. He, indeed, proved to be a chicken and a mere mortal and not a god, afterall. After this action, Nigerians were emboldened and the floodgate of criticism against him opened up and succeeded, eventually, in hounding him out of office. To him, it was temporary (stepping aside), to God, it was permanent, as no evil force can permanently tie Nigeria-down: a National destined to be great. However, before stepping aside, Babangida was still mischievous enough to annul the free and fair election won by Chief MKO Abiola and thus negated the people’s mandate. He then cunningly paved the way for Abacha to come on stage. Ladies and Gentlemen, at this point, may we please observe one minute silence in memory of those fine and selfless Nigerian military officers, soldiers, retirees, and civilians who sacrificed their lives for the National Awakening of April 22, 1990, so that you and I and those yet unborn may have a better, truly united, transparent and loving country to live in (One minute silence please). Ladies and Gentlemen, let me also recognize one of the April 22 officers in your midst- 2/Lt. Alphonso Akhere Okhaifo (please stand). I also recognize my other colleagues who are not here and wish them the very best of luck for putting their lives on the line for their beloved country. Let me now discuss the Abacha administration.
The Abacha Administration
It is sad that Abacha never treated Nigerians as human beings. I, therefore, in all honesty, do not wish to regard him as a human being. I choose not to condescend to even discuss him, but only to say the following: He too came, ruled, maimed, killed, destroyed, stole, and died in the hands of prostitutes. I beg to say no more about the Abacha junta. Let us now discuss the Abubakar administration.
The Abubakar Administration
This administration was staffed by the same elements that held Nigeria hostage for Abacha to plunder and destroy. They either through actions or omissions supported Abacha’s brigandage over the Nigerian people and the world. It will be an arduous task for any of them to successfully dissociate themselves, in the minds of Nigerians, from the atrocities of the Abacha administration. All these notwithstanding, the Abubakar administration deserves unquantifiable credit for conducting a smooth and hitch free transition to democracy in the shortest possible time ever, in the history of Nigeria. They deserve the commendation of all Nigerians in this regard. Ladies and Gentlemen, let us now discuss the present Nigerian democratic government.
Present Democratic Government
First, let us thank God for giving us the present democratic government. If anything, the workings of this new government has shown, very clearly, that North and South can work together, and that we are, indeed, brothers and sisters with one destiny. And if, indeed, it is true that the fuel scarcity which was posited as insolvable by the previous administration, has now been solved by this present administration in a matter of days, if it is true that electricity in Nigeria is no longer erratic, if it is true that Nigerian illegal "money bags" are now volunteering their loots in millions of pounds and dollars, and billions of Naira to Government, if it is true that the human rights abuses of the previous governments are now being investigated, if it is true that criminal violations of previous untouchable security agents are now being investigated, if it is true that plots of land bought with government funds are now being taken from their illegal owners (previously untouchable lords), if it true that the ongoing corruption crusade knows not a sacred cow, if it is true that to get a travel passport now takes a couple of weeks, if it is true that the outside support for the present democratic government is extremely high, including support to repatriate Nigerian stolen monies in their countries back to Nigeria, and if it is true that Nigerians at home now feel safe and happy in going about their respective callings without harassment from security agents, then, we do not need anymore evidence to show that this present Nigerian democratic government is God’s own Government destined to move Nigeria to greatness. Ladies and Gentlemen, let us not waste this opportunity, as history will not forgive us, if we do. Let us all, therefore, support the present genuine democratic administration with all our strength, wisdom, and prayers- so that the great destiny of our dear country will manifest.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me now focus on your great organization.
Your Great Organization
The turnout at this gathering speaks a volume of your organization. It is, indeed, impressive. I schooled here in the United States, and I know how difficult it is to arrange for Nigerians to come together. I, therefore, mightily congratulate you for your success in this regard. I am most certain that you have covered all grounds leaving little or no room for anymore advice. But let me attempt to make some suggestions, and if not already covered, may be useful to your great organization.
Suggestion # 1: In selecting the projects you may wish to complete here and at home, ensure that you select modest projects. It is better to pick a small project and complete it, than picking an elaborate project that cannot be completed with you meager resources, and therefore become an abandoned project.
Suggestion # 2: Act as a catalyst when necessary. Your organization can make things happen in Esan communities back home by share word of mouth, research and technological advise to those in position to deliver.
Suggestion # 3: Emphasis should be on schools. With very little resources a whole elementary school can be renovated and painted, and soon all Esan schools will be top of the line, and will all be glowing testimonies of your good works.
Suggestion # 4: Reach out to other Nigerian associations. Invite them to your meetings so that they may also invite you to their meetings, as we are all one with the same destiny. When you hold functions, it will be great to see other Nigerians i.e. the Yorubas, Ibos, Fulanis, Ijaws, Benues, Isokos, and others on your high tables or playing other important roles at your functions. Then we and the world will know that Nigeria has truly arrived.
Suggestion # 5: Reach out to our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, particularly the African Americans. Lets continuously remember that they are our brothers and sisters. Arrange trips whereby your organization can facilitate their going back and forth to see their motherland.
Suggestion # 6: Reach out to other Africans, white Americans, and all other peoples of the world. Let us be useful to them, and they will also be useful to us.
Conclusion: Ladies and Gentlemen, there is so much that your organization can contribute in making Esan, Nigeria, and the world a better place. Keep up the good work. I congratulate you all so very much, and wish you success in the activities lined up for the rest of this fine evening. God bless you all
Nigeria: Destined to be great