“Faith by itself, if it does not have (good) works, is dead”
– Holy Bible
Somebody once wrote about the Nigeria wartime head of state General Yakubu Gowon, saying: ‘I will never pray with General Yakubu Gowon’. It is not that a praying general is an anathema to this writer, but within the biblical context, as James 2:17; New King James Version bluntly puts it; “… faith by itself, if it does not have (good) works, is dead”.
The prayer circus of General Gowon viewed in this light, one finds it rather curious and difficult understanding why he would hide behind such façade while the nation gravely suffers from the mistakes of his regime as military head of state when he could do something about it. Gowon has to do more than pray for prayer without work is dead in itself. He has to get his military brass to undo what they did and set the nation free from the debilitating shackles their variegated regimes brought upon the polity.
What are these mistakes? Let us go through memory lane. It began with the January 1966 coup led by Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, which inaugurated the long military incursions in the nation’s politics and the making of Nigeria into a unitary system. It also began with the introduction of the unification decree no 34, by the first military head of state, General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi. The countercoup, which brought General Yakubu Gowon to power in July, 1966, cemented it and till date, the federal government has refused to yield fiscal federalism to the federating units and it is the most fundamental element of true federalism and therefore the nation’s main albatross.
The next heavy blow the Gowon regime dealt the Nigeria federalism was state creation. With the benefit of hindsight, and with as many as 32 out of 36 states being insolvent today, there is little doubt that state creation by Gowon and subsequent military regimes was a grave misadventure, as proliferation of states, along with other unitary policies, has crippled the powers of the federating units and left them as mere appendages.
Though seemingly expeditious in the face of the Eastern Region’s commitment to secession, implementation of the Aburi Accord was a far nobler route to travel than balkanizing the regions to impose a unitary system in an attempt to hold the country together by force. What is more, the jaded and shaded portions of that Nigeria’s dark history have it that Gowon was prevailed upon to back down on the Aburi Accord, which was brokered by the then Ghanaian head of state, Lieutenant-General Joseph Ankrah. Gowon proved not man enough there and Nigeria has been the worse for it.
Yes, in anticipation of Eastern Nigeria secession, Gowon moved quickly to weaken its base by decreeing the creation of twelve new states to replace the four regions. Gowon has to do more than pray. He has to be more visible and pushy with efforts in returning Nigeria to the federal system agreed upon by the founding fathers and departing colonial Britain, as part of the core measures that must be in place to make Nigeria again salvageable.
The first signs that Gowon was regaining perspective came December 1, 2015, when newspapers reported the wartime General, ranked the 14th world’s most brutal dictator in history for the manner the Nigeria-Biafra war was inhumanly executed under his watch (millions of Biafran defenseless women and children died in his ‘Starvation as weapon of war policy’); he was quoted as saying: “A Nigerian President of Igbo extraction is desirable after President Muhammadu Buhari. An Igbo presidency will boost the unity of Nigeria”.
Another military President of Nigeria, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida had equally said in an interview about the same time that he would back an Igbo for the presidential seat if he finds a credible personality and has been calling for true federalism as well.
The Igbos are 40 million-strong within Nigeria and in diaspora and only few countries can match such virile, resourceful population. They have paraded a catalogue of firsts in Nigeria and in diaspora, and made the nation proud in several aspects of human endeavour. In governance, Igbos have produced some of the few leaders who have made the difference in Nigeria. The point is that the issue of finding credible Igbo candidates does not arise as they abound in legions. The Nigerian President of Igbo extraction is therefore rewardingly achievable if the rest of Nigerians dare look in their direction
One is aware of the fact that power is not given but taken or negotiated. Making the case is certainly part of negotiation. The Igbo people are also aware of the emotional blackmail, which claims that Igbos are not united and that this is the reason the attainment of Nigerian President of Igbo extraction appears to be a mirage. This emotional blackmail (yes that’s what it’s), true as it may be, is not reflecting what happens in Nigeria’s leadership recruitment process. Which of the nation’s reluctant Presidents was produced by a consensus among his ethnic group? This is not to say the Igbos are united enough, but to point out the fact that there is no part of Nigeria that has attained such hegemony as to claim complete absence of splinter groups or disunity.
More importantly, recently, there have been a lot of clamors for restructuring. This call is not really new; what is new are the sources of the present calls. The calls are now coming from the most unexpected quarters. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar fired one of the first salvos, and many more of his ilk followed from the northern divide where the most opposition against the notion has always come from.
In the avalanche of these noble calls, the most important of them is that of General Yakubu Gowon. Though conditional, for he said the restructuring must be within the context of one Nigeria, it is so significant because, as said earlier, Ironsi and Gowon were the ones who changed Nigeria federalism to a unitary system. Though Ironsi was killed for it after being accused of trying to impose Igbo hegemony, Gowon who inherited power, still refused to restore the nation’s federal system. What Gowon restored as federalism were peripheral such as returning the title ‘ federal’; while holding on to fiscal federalism, the one and only real feature that distinguishes federalism from the other forms.
It is now clear to all and sundry that Nigeria cannot survive, let alone progress from a unitary standpoint. But do we really have any choice? Should we continue to let things sort themselves out as water would find its levels? Those who angle for this dangerous and disingenuous option, which still appears to be the preponderance today should take another look at the maps that were once Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, USSR, even Sudan of yesterday and many other nations that failed for treating the issue unity and equity with levy and calling the bluff of separatist agitations.
President Muhammadu Buhari had recently said Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable, advising pro-Biafra agitators to perish the idea. No President of the disintegrated nations ever hoped for it but it happened all the same. What the President needs do is study history to see the limits of force as a means of maintaining unity of any country. He would see that if force were foolproof, USSR, the unchallengeable mega power in its time, would be standing today.
The nation needs to stop playing the ostrich, which hides its head in the sand while its entire body and underbelly lay bare to its assailants. Only the truth shall set Nigeria free; free from neocolonialism, free from internal colonialism and free from economic dependence and want.
Those who are opposed to restructuring do so out of ignorance or mischief, for as Gowon, Atiku and many others have rightly observed, restructuring does not mean disintegration. It is being creative and truthful to Nigerians and the nation. It is amply time to make a square facing to true federalism. It is time to face true nation building.
Proudly, Igbos may now pray with General Yakubu Gowon for backing his faith with raw truths about the lies the nation has lived for rather too long – lies he mostly led the nation into. It is indeed the true way to go on with one Nigeria (GOWON). Such is the good work expected of a man of God, not hiding behind the façade of prayers while Nigeria melts down.
Let it also be said: restructuring Nigeria is the main prayer point that should occupy all the other prayer warriors in Nigeria who are busy blackmailing God to do for us even the most basic things we can do for ourselves. God or laws of nature changeth not and will not on account of Nigeria and Nigerians.
Sometimes one wonders what Nigeria would have been if these mega pastors that bewitch Nigerians had channeled their oratorical skills to attitude change and unity campaigns to make Nigeria better. Instead, they chose to be part of the problem by pauperizing the people mentally, spiritually and materially.
To be more direct, the Igbos can now pray with General Yakubu Gowon on the condition that he walks his talk. He has to deploy part of his time for Nigeria Prays to return country to the federalism agreed upon by the founding fathers and departing colonial Britain. That’s the meaning of restructuring and that is how to get Nigeria working again, for the nation will not develop unless the nationhood question is fully resolved.
• Dr. Law Mefor is an Abuja-based Forensic and Social Psychologist, Author and Journalist; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter: @LawMefor1.