Posted by AHMED ABDULRAHMAN on
THE recent national dialogue was indeed an eye-opener. Many are wont to describe it as the finest moment of the people of South South based on the fact that their agitation - the idea of fiscal federalism (commonly called ‘resource control’) - turned out the biggest issue of the dialogue.
The price of greatness is responsibility––Winston Churchill
THE recent national dialogue was indeed an eye-opener. Many are wont to describe it as the finest moment of the people of South South based on the fact that their agitation - the idea of fiscal federalism (commonly called ‘resource control’) - turned out the biggest issue of the dialogue. It was quite interesting seeing the South South delegates staging a walk-out at the conference to affirm their insistence on 25 per cent derivation at a time the rest of the country was willing to offer 17 percent. Though a consensus was not achieved at the end of the day between the South South and other geo-political zones, the episode, I think, also has a parallel with what seems to be renewed agitation of the South South to gain power come 2007.
Indeed, in less than twenty months from now, the Nigerian people shall, hopefully, have the opportunity to elect a new leader. Predictably, the political arena is already getting choked with all manners of political characters parading themselves as presidential aspirants. Just like the resource control advocacy, the South South leaders are also saying now that it is either power comes to the zone after President Olusegun Obasanjo would have served out his term or nothing. Some are even threatening terrorism in the event that the zone is denied power come 2007. Suddenly, that agitation is beginning to assume militancy.
Given what happened at the confab, some elements in the South South are, in fact, now saying that the North is an enemy of the South South; and, for that reason, they are saying they would sever political relations with their traditional allies in Arewaland. But nothing could be more erroneous. As a democrat myself, let me begin by saying that I share the belief that the South South people deserve to have power in 2007 since it remains the only zone since independence that has not tasted power. But it is necessary for the South South agitators to realize that negotiation and consensus-building are the secret of the game rather than resorting to cheap weapons of threats. I laugh when I hear the "tough-talk" by the so-called Niger Delta militants as if that is all it takes to wrestle power. It needs to be realized that other geo-political zones in the Nigerian project will be willing to concede power come 2007 only on the assurance that the guy who takes over is a quality candidate, a level-headed individual, not another rascal masquerading as "freedom-fighter". The country belongs to all of us and no one has the monopoly of violence.
What these elements should realize is that in a multi-ethnic nation like ours, no single unit can hold the rest of the country to ransom. On the contrary, what the wise ones should do is to build bridges across the divide, win hearts from the other side. It is only through such measures that a broad national coalition could be secured behind the South South’s push for the presidency. But beyond that, I still think it is a mis-normer for any zone to keep saying it wants power for the sake of having it. What the nation needs is the best material who will treat the entire nation as his/her constituency.
From the South South zone, of all the names touted so far, it is only Dr. Peter Odili, the governor of Rivers State, that seems to offer some hope in terms of demonstrable competence in office and being able to command respect of stakeholders in the remaining five geo-political zones in the country. To be sure, I have never met Odili before. I am not a politician, but a businessman who minds his business in the oil and gas sector. But I think the public good is served if we tell each other the truth. It is only through that way that we can hope to raise the quality of governance in Nigeria. Of course, the nature of my business makes it inevitable that I constantly touch base with all the key centres in the Niger Delta. So, when some political leaders outside South South make sweeping allegations of profligacy against their counterparts in the Niger Delta, I think they are not being fair to the few who are God-fearing, sincere and hardworking.
While it is true that the activities of some of the political leaders in the Niger Delta border on criminality, it is only fair all the same to acknowledge the unique environmental realities of the area which ultimately put a lot of strain on the resources at the disposal of the states. Take the issue of road construction, for instance. Because of the marshy terrain, it costs much more to construct a road in the area compared to other parts of the country. In this connection, I can testify to the genuine efforts in Rivers State. One needs to experience the relief now while driving on the federal highway from Port Harcourt metropolis to the international airport to begin to appreciate the level of transformation that has taken place since the governor assumed office in 1999.
I think an objective assessment any day will vindicate Odili as one of the few governors who have applied the resources put in their care judiciously since 1999. I think there are a few other points that go for an Odili candidacy. Let us look at it again this way. At a time it is politically fashionable to sloganeer on the rooftop in the name of championing sectional interest, the governor has been quite mature in handling issues that affect inter-ethnic sensibilities in Nigeria in the last six years. He would rather pursue "quiet diplomacy" of trying to broker peace without appearing to be hustling for cheap publicity. Again, Odili’s wife, Justice Mary, is of Igbo stock from the South East. In the North, the man has also built a lot of bridges. He maintains rapport with the traditional institution in the North as well as the key political players in Arewaland. For this reason, I must confess that he is now seen as a level-headed man who will carry everyone along if trusted with power.
Odili has also cultivated the Yoruba in the South West. The fact that he is the holder of a high chieftaincy in Ife (the acclaimed ancestral home of the Yoruba race) today easily places him as some-one the people of that zone can relate with intimately. Like Jean Rogstand famously said, "A man is not old as long as he is seeking something". In the final analysis, I would say that the South South stands a chance come 2007 if it brings forward some-one with the wealth of experience, the stature, the gravitas of Peter Odili; not a lightweight or another nonentity.
Abdulrahman lives in Kaduna
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