Urhobo Historical Society
URHOBO NATIONAL FORUM
Fourth Annual Mukoro Mowoe Memorial Lecture
August 25, 2001, in New York City

NIGERIA: THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA

 By Professor Saliba Daddy Mukoro, Ph.D.

 

Introduction

Ladies and gentlemen of the high table, honorable Executive Director and Management Committee of the Urhobo National forum, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.  I am truly humbled and honored to have been, by accident of history, assigned this responsibility of serving as your guest speaker for the 2001 Annual Mukoro Mowoe Memorial Lecture. Needless to say that this event is special because of the uniqueness of the man we come to memorialize. Chief Mukoro Mowoe was, without doubt, one of the greatest Urhobo, and, indeed, Nigerian leaders that ever walked the surface of this earth.  He was a selfless and principled leader. He cared for the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, and where you come from, did not matter to him.  He was a great man of vision.  He will ever be remembered for his love for education, and respect for mankind. Though he has been gone since 1948, so much of him is still a part of us.  We are proud to stand in his shadow, and we trust that he is delighted that we do this lecture in remembrance of him. May his soul continue to rest in perfect peace.  I thank the Almighty God for this memorial lecture, and my wife and I thank the Urhobo National Forum for inviting us.

Ladies and gentlemen, at the beginning of presentations, such as this, most presenters would customarily start off by cracking jokes to amuse the audience.

I, however, do not intend to crack jokes, as I believe we have joked and laughed enough, and that the times for laughter and jokes are over, and the time for serious and frank talk is now. Please excuse me for deviating from this norm.  Let us now move on to the topic of this memorial lecture- Nigeria: The Dawn of A New Era.  If there is now what appears to be of a new era, then, there must have been an old era, and if we must understand and appreciate the new era, we must first understand the old era.  My presentation will, therefore, start with the old era and end with what we see as the beginning or the Dawn of a New Era. Let us now start with the old era.

The Old Era

It will be safe to say that the Nigeria Old Era covered the period between her independence in 1960 and the end of General Abubakar’s administration in May of 1999 (a span of approximately 38 years).  The greatest problem of this era was the indirect rule of a powerful few who cared only about their selfish interests. The interests of the Nigerian masses were never on their agenda, neither were the interests of their people whom they pretend to be representing ever on their agenda.   This powerful few constituted themselves into a feudal clique whose membership was rarely openly known, and at times referred to as the “Kaduna Mafia”.  With the old era now collapsing, their struggles to save the old era has fortuitously forced a few of them into the open- running from pillar to post- to save the dying old era. From their various schemes, actions, and utterances, Nigerians are beginning to know them for who they are. For the whole of the approximate 38 years of the old era, the clique was on the driver’s seat, and the workings of the Nigerian polity, be it under civilian or military governments, were manipulated by the feudal clique to serve their purposes. National interests were sacrificed in the Altar of the clique’s interests, and we wondered why the system was not working, despite the abundant material resources and human resources The Almighty God has blessed us with. What we did not know then was that monkey (The Nation) was working, and Baboon (the feudal clique) was chopping. We all know this now.

The clique was ruthless and extremely powerful to the point that they dictated the types of governments we must have, and who should or should not be in them, and what the government can do and not do.  The clique cultivated loyalists in all spheres of Nigerian life (public and private sectors), including the Nigerian Armed Forces.  They indirectly controlled all the resources of the nation, irrespective of their source or location.  They were master hands in the use of divide and rule tactics.  They played the north against the south; they played one religion against the others, and consistently held the Nigerian state hostage.  Instead of marching forward, the Nigerian state was either marching time on one spot or marching backwards.  In their scheme of things, tribal politics was elevated sky high, corruption was everywhere, love for country was extinguished, national unity was a matter of lip service only, hard work had no value, productivity was dismal, and high crime rate was a constant.  Merit was sacrificed in the alter of loyalty.  Loyalty to the clique was the passport for upward mobility.  Loyal persons to the clique’s interest, which are often unnationalistic, were made to hold high offices all across the land, even if their intelligent quotient was lower than that of a goat.  For them, anything goes.  Their scheme thrived best in an environment free of educated minds.  They therefore directly and indirectly blocked avenues to education.  They starved the educational institutions of funds to the point of helplessness and made them incapable of playing roles expected of them in a developing and focused society.  Those who by chance have been educated, were starved of jobs, forcing them to resort to beggarly existence, enough to deter anyone who may have the desire to venture into the business of schooling.  On the other hand, the clique encouraged the mass production of illiterates who collectively can be trusted to remain loyal to the clique’s causes and forever do their   biddings, including sacrificing their lives for deceptive and falsely packaged so called “worthy causes” from time to time.  These brothers and sisters of ours of northern extraction have been colonized by the feudal clique since birth and kept in suffocating bondage, subjected to beggarly existence, kept out of schools, and led on the wrong path of life. This is slavery of modern times, they have been kept in this position for so long and are no longer able to dream the dreams of freedom.  They have cried in silence and now no longer have tears to shed.  The time has come for this bondage to be broken.  Education must be opened up to these brothers and sisters of ours.  God knows that uncountable engineers, professors, doctors etc that will contribute to the greatness of our beloved country will come out of the ranks of these brothers and sisters under the bondage of the feudal clique.  Educated youths from the north are speaking out, progressive leaders of the north are now speaking out and distancing themselves from the feudal clique, and all progressive Nigerians from all parts of the country are now doing same- we must break the bondage.  It belongs to the past and not the new era.  The feudal clique is finished.

The Beginning of the Demise of the Clique

 As the saying goes- anything that has a beginning must have an end-, and anything that is not of God must surely crumble.  In 1985, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida became the modern- day touch bearer for the clique.  He set up an illegitimate administration that was not elected by the Nigerian people.  He played the north against the south, he played Muslims against Christians, he destroyed anything that was good in the Nigerian Armed Forces, he transformed corruption into a societal norm and introduced the act of “settlement” (the act of sealing peoples lips with money), he sapped life out of the Nigerian economy, and completely destroyed it, and caused the Naira to loose its value. He cancelled the five political parties formed by the Nigerian people, and formed his two parties; he crafted their manifestos, spent billions of Naira on fake transition programs to no where. He was already in his final phase of digging himself in office as life president like Mobutu when we were obliged to knock senses into his head on April 22, 1990 and caused him to slip into a state of political comatose.  This action exposed his agenda, awakened and emboldened Nigerians, who subsequently hounded him out of office and thus signaled the beginning of the demise of the feudal clique.

 As Babangida was being hounded out of office, he was still mischievous enough to annul the freest and fairest presidential election Nigeria ever held. He then positioned General Abacha to seize power, so as to hold forth for him until he is able to come back to power.  As God would have it, General Abacha blocked General Babangida from coming back, and, instead, was set to make himself a president for life before he gave up.  Needless to say that Abacha, during his short reign, took Nigerians through hell- thanks to Babangida.  He butchered and maimed Nigerians, he turned Nigeria into a pariah nation, he stole Nigeria dry, running into billions of dollars.  He proved to be the worst leader that ever walked the surface of this earth.  The only good thing he may be remembered for is that he accelerated the demise of the feudal clique. Instead of carrying the torch of the clique, he destroyed the torch, (so to say), and turned against the clique in his actions and deeds.  He struck at the very heart of the clique.  The clique has since found it very difficult to recover.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is important to note that the feudal clique is gradually loosing grounds partly because anything that has a beginning must have an end, and secondly, because their activities and existence is now an open secret to the Nigerian people, and thirdly, because there is now an inside challenge by many of their own who they pretend to be representing, but have now found out that the clique was only representing their selfish individual selves, and lastly, because there appears now to be an administration who has refused to carry forth their agenda. Ladies and gentlemen, let us now discuss what appears to be the beginning of a new Nigerian era.

The New Era

 For the sake of this discussion let us put the new era as the period starting from the end of the General Abubakar’s administration to date, which corresponds with the tenure of the present democratic administration.  While the present administration is still bedeviled with most of the ills of the old era (due to no fault of theirs), as old habits are difficult to extinguish, there are, however, clear signs of the beginning of a new Nigerian era.  Let us now discuss these signs.

Nontribal Leadership at the Center

It has been known for years that for Nigeria to move forward it must first be blessed with a non-tribal leader.  That the present Nigeria leader, President Obasanjo, has been distanced by his tribe may be upsetting to some, but a blessing for Nigeria that have long waited for such a detribalized messiah.  This has freed him up to be a true Nigerian leader positioned to be fair to all.  This development, though subtle, is certainly a plus for the Nigerian polity and the present democratic dispensation; it clearly differentiates the present administration from other Nigerian civilian and military governments of the old era that never had a truly detribalized leader.  For a detribalized leader, he or she is able to be tribal free in appointing persons to government offices, in the implementing of national development projects, in sharing national resources, and in all other activities involved in running the government.  A detribalized government on the long run solidifies national unity, enhances the feeling of belonging on the part of all Nigerians, and, very importantly, meets the “federal character” mandate of the nation.  For example, this present administration has opened up all military and security top positions to all, instead of being the preserve of a few, as was the case under the old era. Contrast the present administration’s deployments to those of the Babangida days, when at one time, all the Service Chiefs of the Armed Forces, the Minister of Defense, the Inspector General of the Police, all the General Officers Commanding the Army, were all from one section of the country, even though the “federal character” proviso was supposed to be in force, then.

Furthermore, a look at the present administration’s appointments to boards and committees show a clear pattern of even tribal representation.  This kind of fairness and equity is basic to the survival of democracy and ensures good governance.  This equity was lacking in the old era, but ubiquitous in the present government, and of course, represents a new dawn in Nigerian politics, and thus a sign of a new era.
 
Working Solidarity between North and South

There also appears to be a strong working solidarity between the north and south officials in this administration.  In the old era it would have been impossible to attempt to remove a highly placed politician such as the speaker of the house from office, not to talk of getting our brothers and sisters of northern extraction to willingly partake in the removal process of one of their own.  The cross tribal and north/ south divide solidarity was also evident when the president of the senate was voted out of office with the willing participation of his southern brothers and sisters.  These were rare in the old era when officials/politicians were more likely to vote by tribal lines or by the north/south divide lines.  This north/ south working solidarity is new and equally signals a new era in Nigeria polity.

Accountability of High Office Holders

There also now appears to be a paradigm shift in how this new era handles the need for accountability by high office holders as compared to the old era.  For example, during the old era, no high office holders were ever held accountable for their actions.  Some from special sections of the nation were never questioned, and others were covered up by government.  This is evidently not the case in this new era.  As earlier mentioned, the first speaker of the house, in the present dispensation, was booted out of office for fake credentials.  This would never have happened under the old era.  He would have been too high to touch.  A senate president was also forced out of office for alleged corrupt practices.  This also would not have happened under the old era.  Furthermore, with the revelations coming out from the “Oputa Panel”, past Nigerian presidents are now being invited to account for alleged past actions.  All these would not have happened under the old era- where accountability only affected the lows of society.  All these developments as they relate to the present administration are new, positive, and are all evidence of a new era that should be nurtured to maturity.

Independence of Government

 It is important that a government be able to act independently based on its best judgment.  From all indications, the present administration appears to be independent and takes no order from any individual, group, or clique. Ordinarily, the ex presidents would have been a formidable force in making the administration move in whatever direction they desire.  From the bickering of the ex-presidents, it is clear that they are not getting their ways.  If ex presidents cannot get their ways, who else can.  This, therefore, has freed the government to do things based on their best judgment and available data.  This independent status of government is also a sign of a new era.  Governments in the old era were never independent.  They had to take instructions or answer to an unelected feudal clique behind the scene. It did not matter whether they were civilian governments or military governments.

Fighting Corruption
 

 All governments of the old era, except for General Muritala government, paid lip service to fighting corruption.  The present administration is attaining new heights in fighting corruption.  For the very first time, a host of top former and present government officials are being asked to refund huge sums of money to government, some have had their properties auctioned, some have been asked to forfeit their exclusive plots of land to the government for acquiring the plots illegally, at times without payment, or paid with government funds.  Billions of dollars siphoned abroad by General Abacha and his cronies are being recovered, it is predictable that the likes of Babangida will not escape the probe and recovery; it is just a question of time.  Past military administrators in some states are also being made to refund illegally acquired funds and properties.  Abandoned government projects/ contracts for several decades are being examined to identify culprits. The enabling laws to fight corruption have been passed and are already being implemented.  All government officials are now required to declare their assets on assumption of office, and repeat same every four years and when they leave their positions.  Nigeria’s rating under the world corruption index is dropping.  It appears we have not seen the end yet, and there might really be no sacred cows in this fight. This is a major positive development also signifying a new era.  Ladies and gentlemen, it is clear that all these positive development of the present democratic dispensation are new and certainly signifies a new era.  It is also clear that this new era will be threatened by the agents of the old era who do not want any change from the old era.  They can no longer dip their hands into our national coffers at will and, therefore, now resort to singing the marginalization song like babies; they also fear that the fearless stand of the present dispensation is not safe for them, as they may have too many skeletons in their closets that may soon become public knowledge.  As they now engage in all kinds of subterfuge to derail this new era, progress minded Nigerians must fight them each step of the way, to make sure that this new direction and new era survives.  The major obstacle, therefore, to the new era are the agents of the old era.  Let us now examine this major obstacle.
Agents of the old era

It is clear that the agents of the old era representing the feudal clique and spear headed by General Babangida desires to take us back to the old era and the old selfish way of running Nigeria where the welfare of the masses do not matter, where the lining of the pockets of the rich will, once more, be the order of the day, where the north will once again be pitched against the south, and religions pitched against themselves, where the nation will once more become a pariah nation, where Nigerians will be ashamed to call themselves Nigerians, where the decimation of the middle class  will once again commence, and where the lower class will remain lower class for life, and where corruption, once again, will become the norm.  Babangida is already being repackaged by the clique to take Nigeria for a second ride in service to the clique and not the nation.   This is the time all Nigerians must show the might of their votes and relegate Babangida and his sponsors and agents to their atavistic past. It is only in Nigeria that the likes of Babangida, after all the destruction they have caused the nation, would still be dreaming of coming back to rule the country, even when they know they can not safely work Nigerian streets, even in their villages.  It is only hoped that Nigerians, this time around, will work to prevent a return to the evil old era, and instead, nurture the new era to maturity.

 It is, however, interesting that General Babangida’s signal of his desire to take the country back to the old era started with his meeting with the elements of his previous illegitimate Military administration to dust up his evil credentials. Most Nigerians saw that meeting as nothing but a meeting of the “Nigerian Alibaba and his forty thieves”.  It showed very clearly that some Nigerians still have no shame in associating with the devil, provided there is enough stolen Nigerian money to be cornered.  Nigerians truly need to know them for who they are, and vehemently deprive them of their votes.  Babangida and his agents, including a few unprincipled and mercenary professors are already out on a disinformation and outright misleading campaign to tarnish the New Era and pave the way back to the old era, and some of these agents are the same hands used by Abacha for his evil propaganda work.  Nigerians should be on the lookout for them and ostracized them whenever they show up.  They are enemies of the people and of progress.  They surely belong to the thrash of history. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear. Ladies and gentlemen, let me now conclude this lecture.

Conclusion

 Ladies and gentlemen we have prayed and prayed for Nigeria, many patriotic Nigerians have sacrificed their lives for Nigeria, and almost all Nigerians have shouldered the burden of pains and failed expectations of a country destined to be great by God but made little by man.  At last, God has heard our cries and has, for the first time in Nigerian history, bequeathed to us a government that is God fearing, a government that means well for all Nigerians and the world, and a government that is now saddled with the inalienable responsibility of moving Nigeria from the old era into the new era.  The signs are clear for all to see.  Let us not be deceived by the agents of the feudal clique that seek to take us back to the old era.  They must be told, in no uncertain terms, that their times are over, and that they represent the relics of the past, and that those they have always pretended to represent now know that they do not represent them and are crying out loud and clear for help.  All Nigerian political problems have now been traced to the doorsteps of the feudal clique. They have been responsible for producing the likes of Babangidas and Abachas, and have also been responsible for causing bad blood between the North and the South, and between the different religions, and that the feudal clique now represents the “Nigerian Berlin Wall”.  The wall is falling, but elements of the clique are struggling round the clock to keep it from falling. They only have either of two choices: 1. To allow the wall to fall and crumble, and then join the new era, or 2. Allow the wall to fall on them and be crushed.  The choice is theirs.   The “Nigerian Berlin Wall” must fall –and fall- it must.  Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

 Ladies and gentlemen, let me seek your indulgence to finally end this lecture by quoting a verse from the Bible that is very dear to my heart and, today, represents a message to all Nigerians, and I quote,  “If my people which are called by my name shall be humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face,  and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear  from heaven, and will forgive their sins, and will heal their land” (Second chronicles, Chapter 7, verse 14).

God bless us all, thank you.


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