At the end of May 2000, our fourth attempt at democratic governance shall be one year old. After years of military dictatorship, the worst form of which was manifested in the Abacha dispensation, Nigerians had hoped for a period of peaceful transition to a just, equitable, democratic and prosperous society. We had hoped for a new Nigerian society where we shall once again have the opportunity to channel our enormous natural endowments to positive use for the advancement of our teeming population. We had hoped for a new Nigerian society where we can celebrate the richness of our diverse languages, cultures and religions. We had hoped for a new Nigerian society where we can take our rightful place in the comity of nations.
It is with such hopes that we made May 29, 1999 a day of national celebration, with Abuja and every state and local government headquarter alive with festivities. Our new head of state, our governors and our local government chairmen took their oath of office, promising to serve the people with all honesty dedication and patriotism. One year has gone by and look at where we are. Rather than make progress towards the realisation of our dreams, see how far we have regressed. One year after the best of hopes were kindled in us, the Nigerian nation appears to be more fragmented than ever before, and as a people we seem to be more divided now than we ever were since our national independence.
The divisions and the resultant tensions are everyday played out on the streets, in market places and in neigbourhoods, as Nigerians hound their fellow citizens to death and set their properties on fire at the slightest provocation. They are often reflected on the floor of the state and national assemblies, where the honourable men and women sometimes need the anti-riot police to keep the peace. They are implied in the frosty relationship between the executive and the legislature that is making the Nigerian brand of democracy look like an exercise in mutual acrimony. The multiple crises that have plagued post-military Nigeria, sufficiently demonstrate that we have been sitting on a pile of explosives that are now exploding in every direction, and there is no end to the crises.
We have been witnessing an orgy of violence: From the onslaughts of the angry Egbesu youths of the Niger Delta, to the atrocities of aggrieved OPC youths of the South West, and from the senseless killings among the Ife and the Modakeke, to the crazy Sharia campaign in the North that has shaken the very foundation of the nation, it has been a season of blood and tears. Precious human lives have been destroyed in their thousands, and property worth hundreds of millions of naira have been set ablaze. We now have thousands of refugees and other displaced persons squatting in police and army barracks all over the place. As a result of these sad developments, investors have been scared away, and the economy remains comatose. With the circumstance of widespread violence and great insecurity in the land, potential investors seem to have decided to watch and see. Unemployment remains high and the mass of the people are plagued by acrimonious poverty, with the lot of many worsening by the day. Thus one year after we said goodbye to military dictatorship, we are witnessing what appears to be another round of aborted dreams, broken promises and dashed hopes.
The sad events of the last one year surely bring to the fore the imperative of genuine national reconciliation. Perhaps the people of Nigeria along with their leaders had underestimated the extent of the problems that had built up in the land over the years of debauchery, when social injustice, economic isolation and political banditry reigned, breeding widespread anger and resentment that were kept in check all the while only by military might. With sporadic skirmishes that erupt from North to South and from East to West, over unresolved ethnic, religious, political and economic differences, Nigerians must now realise that there is a lot of structural defect in the land that we must deal with courageously.
With so many un-addressed wounds and hurts over past injustices and inequities, our task of nation-building must begin with an elaborate programme of, and an honest commitment to national reconciliation, or else our new preoccupation with democratic governance will lack the much needed foundation, and end once again in disaster. The conduct of many of these leaders in the last one year does not inspire sufficient confidence in the population on their ability to champion the much needed reconciliation and national rebirth. For many it is business as usual, scheming for power and privilege, and sometimes manipulating the existing ethnic and religious divisions for their selfish gains. Yet these are unusual times for our country, times that call for immense sacrifices on the part of the leadership.
Elected representatives of the people who occupy both executive and legislative positions in the present political dispensation must consider themselves as part of a transitional government of national reconciliation. They must learn to feel the pulse of the nation, to hear the cry of the people, and to react with utmost sense of responsibility to the desires and aspirations of the constituent units of the country for a unity that is based on mutual understanding, and a peace that is built on justice. We can no longer run away from the idea of a national conference or whatever the experts call it. We surely need to have a forum at which we can attempt a re-negotiation of the conditions of our corporate existence as a nation. The marginalised majorities and the suppressed minorities of this country need to have a forum at which they can lay their cards open and discuss like civilised people issues relating to their self-determination.
Rather than resort to armed banditry which will do no one any good, the angry youths of the oil producing regions of the Niger Delta should be given the opportunity to come around the negotiating table along with their shopping list of demands, rather than transform their homeland into a war zone. The vengeful children of Oduduwa in the South West should be encouraged to sheath their swords and come on board with their enlightened self-interest, instead of taking the law into their hands. The aggrieved Ndigbo zealots of the South East should be given the chance to express their frustration with the rest of Nigeria in a legitimate manner and be helped to heal the wounds of the past, rather than be left to raise a new Biafran army to fight a second civil war that may be more brutal than the first. In the same way, the embittered champions of the Middle Belt agenda, along with the wounded Sharia Jihadists of the core North should be encouraged to come together with the rest of Nigeria for a true dialogue, in place of the multiple monologues that are now holding sway.
The challenge before the Nigerian leadership today is that of reconciliation or otherwise disintegration. The threat of disintegration in the land is real. There is sufficient anger in many individuals and groups over real or perceived injustices for which they seem ready to take up arms to tear the country to pieces. Our political elite must wake up to the fact that this time around it is not business as usual. They will to be held responsible for whatever happens to Nigeria in the next few years. For God's sake, who has endowed this land with such enormous resources and opportunities which we have squandered for the umpteenth time, and for the sake of the one hundred and ten million people, the overwhelming majority of whom are poor, powerless and helpless, our elected representatives must abandon their preoccupation with frivolities and take seriously the agenda for true national reconciliation.
Our honourable men and women in the executive and legislative arms of government must for once put selfishness and greed aside and work conscientiously towards the realisation of the Nigeria of our dream. Perhaps we have too many mercenaries parading as leaders. Such are the ones who make reconciliation impossible, since they gain by the continued tension in the land. Such are the ones who fan the flame of ethnic and religious tension. Such are the one who would resist the idea of a national forum for reconciliation with all the resources at their disposal. The rest of Nigeria must become more discerning. We must constantly strive to identify genuine leaders and distinguish them from mercenaries who are out only to steal, to cheat and to destroy. Nigeria will only know peace and prosperity after must we have dealt with these mercenaries and put in place the proper structures that will make for justice, equity, mutual recognition, mutual respect and ongoing dialogue. We must act now or we shall soon answer the call to disintegration.