The president-elect will need to reprise his noted expansiveness — and even much more now. Nigeria is a complex entity, and as such temperance and balance is fundamental. He will need to be seen as just, fair, and even-handed. His sacrifices may even go unsung and unrequited, but he will need to stay on his vision. In fact, he could be saying the right words, and taking the right steps; yet some may still criticise him for whatever reason.
At a time of topsy-turvy comes change. And from chaos comes order. President-elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu is a man destiny has prepared for Nigeria at this time. But his task will not be easy. Governing Nigeria is an invitation to toil. The road will be fraught with thistles and thorns; gallops and bumps, but he must keep going.
Nigeria has always been divided along provincial contours. Citizens huddle together in sectional silos, protecting and defending the enclave, against the collective. Nationhood has remained a will-o-the-wisp. Claims of marginalisation, and sectional appropriation and expropriation by different groups have been a permanent deafening wail of the banshee. There seems to be no national concord on any matter or sense of unity.
What could be the problem?
I believe the absence of a leadership with a rallying quality, and with sufficient purpose and deliberateness for national unity is partly responsible for this declension. No leadership has been seminally purposive about rallying Nigerians together as a bunch under a common grail.
There is also the place of followership in this quandary. Nigerians are themselves antipathetic on the community level, but on an individual plank, they are loving, kind, tolerant, and giving. Most Nigerians have friends from across groups and religions, and most are maritally knotted from across groups and religions as well.
The average Nigerian will render help to a stranger demobilised by a flat tyre on an eerie road; pay hospital bills and school fees of total strangers without the reckoning of their religion or ethnicity. The president-elect himself exemplifies this virtue.
On the individual level, there is humanity. Our humanity shines forth. So, there is optimism. The optimism that Nigerians are capable of uniting and working together as a whole — but with the strength of purposive leadership.
The experience over successive leaderships is that as soon as power comes to the holder, the seven cardinal weaknesses of power — complacency, obstinacy, indolence, impunity, illusion of invincibility, brute arrogance, nepotism, and ruthlessness — take them prisoner.
And with sycophants in the court, the king’s ears become poisoned with sweet and vainglorious nothings.
No Nigerian leader has successfully and efficiently managed Nigeria’s diversity and engender cohesion. But President-elect Tinubu could be the first if he exhaustively applies himself to this goal. He has to be the first for the sake of Nigeria.
Nigeria needs to heal from the pestilence of scorched-earth politics; it needs to heal from the vagaries of internal contradictions; it needs to heal from mistrust, distrust, recriminations, hate and prejudice.
I have a few suggestions on the possibilities of achieving national unity. It will not be easy. It will take patience, courage, strong will, and unflinching commitment.
1. Sensitivity to diversity
The president-elect will need to reprise his noted expansiveness — and even much more now. Nigeria is a complex entity, and as such temperance and balance is fundamental. He will need to be seen as just, fair, and even-handed. His sacrifices may even go unsung and unrequited, but he will need to stay on his vision. In fact, he could be saying the right words, and taking the right steps; yet some may still criticise him for whatever reason. It is the burden of leadership. He will need not relent.
So far, the president-elect is choosing his words carefully. He keeps emphasising national unity, and that he will be president for all Nigerians. This is the path to iconisation. It shows he is attuned to the intricate elements of Nigeria’s varied complexion. But he will need to sustain this disposition in actions and policies.
2. Deliberate policies targeted at inclusion
The president-elect’s manifesto is clearly inclined towards inclusion of women and the youth in leadership. Most importantly, the manifesto addresses the specific industrial needs of each geo-political zone. The document says, for instance, in the south-east and the south-south, a new hub and dry port will focus investment on labour intensive manufacturing; in the north-west and the north-east, new industrial hubs will focus on textiles; in the south-west, fine quality sand will be turned into high-quality glass items, and in the north-central, emphasis will be placed on solid mineral exploration and exploitation.
This brilliant idea will need studied execution, perhaps, within the next eight years, so that no group will feel left out.
Also, it is imperative that policies are humanised. Nothing sets off a chain of mass hysteria like policies perceived to be targeted at any group. So, it is important that diligent impact/risk assessment is done before the implementation of any policy. Policies should also cognise Nigeria’s delicate ethno-religious emulsion, including demographic and cultural character. The doomed new naira policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the associated disaster and popular outrage is something to ponder on.
3. Empower the National Orientation Agency
The National Orientation Agency (NOA) was set up in 1993 by Decree 100 — now the Act of Parliament No. 24 of 2004. The core responsibility of the agency is communicating government policies, promoting patriotism, and developing society. But the agency has been tad effective lately, even in the heat of national discordance and tension, perhaps, owing to the challenges of funding. NOA can be the resident town-crier and national opinion moulder with the requisite funding, repositioning, and supervision. It is important to stretch the potential of the agency to full capacity, but with commensurate support.
4. Create space for dialogue
When there are no avenues for jaw-jawing, war-warring is imminent. There should be spaces for difficult conversations at any given time. Townhalls, not only for communicating government policies, but also for receiving feedback from citizens. Fora where government officials do not come to lecture, but just to listen to citizens discuss their challenges, pains, and fears. Also, inter-ethnic dialogue, like “handshake across the Niger”, should be encouraged and promoted. At the state level, there should be dialogue and feedback mechanism between host communities and residents. Citizens should be encouraged to talk out their differences and settle disputes without recourse to violence or protests.
5. Prioritise diligent communication
Sometimes, how a message is passed dictates the reaction. Nigeria is so delicate a place that oftentimes good intentions are misconstrued, and fine points lost in miscommunication. There have been cases where messages meant to quench a fire only ended up kindling the furnace. Diligent communication which takes into cognisance Nigeria’s ethno-religious, cultural, and demographic sensitivity should be a priority.
I admit that the path to building national cohesion and strengthening unity is a tortuous one that a few prescriptions may not smooth out. But it is more important that we get started, than not starting at all.
Fredrick Nwabufo aka Mr OneNigeria is a media executive.
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