Time To Stop Moving In Circles

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BY DAN AGBESE

Funny how what sounded so ordinary long, long ago tends to be words of wisdom today. As I reminisced about our country, I remember the words of our Cameroonian teacher in college. He repeatedly said to us, “The solution is the problem.” He also told us that every solution devised by man to solve a problem creates more problems for him, and that is why man finds himself permanently confronted with problems and buries himself in the endless search for solutions.

In the past one month or, I have found myself looking back on where we came from, where we are and where we aspire to get to as a nation. I found it as exhilarating as it is dispiriting. To begin with, one thing we seem to be unanimous about is that our country has problems. Just like other countries, obviously. We also seem to agree that it is possible for us to build an ideal nation through an ideal form of government. No one, not even the rabid hater of our country, if there be such, would fail to give us credit for our whole-hearted commitment to finding solutions to our identified problems considered to be the obstacles to our forward movement as a nation and as a people.

Three years after independence, we changed our form of government to the republican system. The most important feature of that was the dethroning the queen as head of state. Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who represented her as governor-general became the president in whom the executive powers of the federation resided. The change addressed the anomaly of an independent country still tied to the apron strings of its former colonial overlords.

Five majors staged their bloody coup on January 15, 1966. And they changed for ever the architecture of our national government. They introduced the gun as an instrument for forcing the change of batons. More importantly, they felt that given the level of alleged corruption by the politicians, Nigeria was rapidly descending into the abyss and needed to be pulled back from the precipice. Their solution was to replace the ballot box with the barrel of the gun. For nearly thirty years, the gun ruled us. Under the gun, our country under went fundamental physical and administrative restructuring to make our nation great.

Did their action solve the corruption problem? A possible answer to the question might be found in this: At the time they struck, corruption happened under the table. Today, it happens on the table.

The generals applied three fundamental solutions to our political problems. Major-General Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi, convinced that the majority of Nigerians wanted “one government, not a multiplicity of governments,” abolished the federal system and replaced it with a unitary system of government. His action did not reflect the national preference. And the solution became a bigger and more intractable problem.

Then General Yakubu identified the lopsided structure of the federation as the number one problem bedevilling the country. A federation in which one region towered over all the other constituent units was considered detrimental to the union. The solution was the balkanisation of the four regions into 12, 19, 21, 30 and the current 36 states. The various ethnic groups needed to hold on to a piece of the nation’s real estate to give them a sense of belonging. Problem solved? Well, now we are not quite sure that these “glorified local governments,” to quote the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, have the capacity to lift the nation into the global political stratosphere.

In 1979, the generals fingered the parliamentary system we inherited at independence for the tendency of the politicians to constantly reach for one another’s throat. To contain the divisive forces, they believed we needed a father figure at the helm of affairs. They brought in the executive presidential system from the Yankees.

Problem solved? We are not so sure. Some are calling for a re-think on the executive presidential system. We actually have the highest number of centres of executive authority in the world. Some 811. The sound you hear is that of stomachs churning over the excesses of executive authorities in the country.

We are still chasing the solutions and turning those we latch on to into new problems. In 2006, President Obasanjo felt that we needed some fundamental reforms in our national politics. He convoked a national conference to that effect. We all missed the privilege of knowing the weighty views of the weighty men and women who did much better, I hope, than heat the conference hall with discordant views and voices.

In 2013, President Jonathan convened another political conference to find solutions to our myriads of national problems. The conference did just that and asked the government to rejig the constitution by giving local governments back to the states; to give primary schools back to local governments while the states fund secondary schools; to rotate the presidency on the basis of the six-geo-political zones; to ban state sponsorship of pilgrimages; to devolve powers among the three tiers of government and to establish a religious equity commission.

Here we have the unusual case of solutions waiting to attach themselves to problems. We have come a long way. Even the blind can see that and the deaf can hear it. We have a litany of problems matched by a litany of solutions. You may think it is ironical that all our problems – social, economic, political and religious – are still with us. Not because have not tried hard; but rather because every solution creates more problems. Think of Sisyphus. We roll the stone up the hill, and it rolls right back.

The generals, determined to find that one solution that fits all our problems, turned our country into a laboratory for testing their myriads of political, economic, and social solutions generated in their petri-dish. At each stage, they left the nation more confused than before. The huge irony here is our traditional aversion to applying solutions arrived at by commissions and panels expressly set up to search for them. Think of the reports/recommendations of the many commissions for ever gathering dust on government shelves; and then think of the difference they would have made in moving the nation forward.

I published an earlier column in which I urged President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to do something differently in his search for solutions to more and more of our problems by visiting the reports/recommendations of the Uwais committee on electoral reforms, the 2016 of the national political conference and the 2013 committee set up by President Goodluck Jonathan. There are useful recommendations the implementation of which will make a difference in how we are ruled and how we ought to be ruled. We do injuries to our nation when we refuse to apply recommended solutions to its problems. What is the use of taxing a group of men and women with deliberating on and finding solutions to particular problems that bother us if we have no intentions of solving the particular problems.

This country needs to break out of its moving in circles. Moving in circles has never moved a nation forward. The current federal administration needs to marry its thinking with the ancient wisdom contained in those reports/recommendations. They were Nigerian problems tackled by Nigerians for Nigeria. They are also historical facts about our nation; about its failures and its determination to succeed. We have a new president and his new administration, but we still have the same old country and its many problems and challenges. We make real progress only when a solution ends a set of problems for the simple reason that it is the process of human development.

(This column was first published on May 4, 2018, with the headline: A problem + solution = problems. This is an expanded version of that column)

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