“The Elusive Search for Nation Nigeria”, that is the title of Aare Afe Babalola’s recently published book, one of a set presented to the public at the last convocation ceremony of his prestigious institution, the Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD).One comes to the end of reading the 343-page book, however, wondering why the author would choose a title that sounds skeptical if not pessimistic in tone for a book whose rich content is a veritable roadmap to the achievement of the desirable quest. The reader could sense this seeming paradox or conflict in theme exploration right from the symbolisms on the book cover illustration.
This shows a bright sun rising in the horizon to which leads a vast plain, albeit marked by undulating hills on the sides. The first stretch of the approach to the golden orb that beckons and glows with great promise in the distance is, however, ominously dark and shadowy, with silhouettes of dangerous spikes lining it! Atop is a map of Nigeria symmetrically divided in the green-white-green colours of the national flag, with the midriff of the publication boldly proclaiming the book title in contrasting prints of black and white with a dash of red, against a preponderantly green background! The effect is a visually appealing and yet enigmatic façade that compels attention and invites a taste of its offering!But, if the author, a statesman who has through the past six decades of engagement and monumental contributions demonstrated his passion at seeing the country fulfil its full potentials, seems doubtful about the realization of that prospect particularly in the immediate run, the redoubtable intellectual fervour, patriotic and enthusiastic overtone with which he argues what he sees as an urgent imperative, and how this could easily be achieved believe it. The new book is a distillation of Babalola’s thoughts and ideas shared via the media, lectures, and other public fora spanning 60 years. It provides an authoritative, multi-sectoral, multi-dimensional and historical examination of the causes and potential solutions to the constitutional and existential challenges facing Nigeria. In the main, it comprehensively explains how deviation from the foundational ideals, principles and tenets primed to assure the country’s rapid evolution into a strong major political and economic world power has kept it down from realizing this potential!The book also highlights the weaknesses and defects of the structure and mechanics of the Nigerian polity, drawing comparisons and suggesting remedies with experiences of other countries in both developing and developed world, even as it exposes contemporary threats to true nation-building and sustainable development.
Babalola divides the book into 10 broad chapters in which he attempts a diagnosis and surgical operation on the nation’s afflictions. These are: 1. –Nationalism and Nationhood; 2. – Reconstructing Nigeria’s Nationhood in Post Military Era; 3. – History of Agriculture; 4. – Education; 5. – Economy; 6. Security and Human Rights; 7. – Electoral Process; 8. – The Judiciary; 9. – Pathways to Effective Restructuring and Sustainable Development in Nigeria; and 10. – Towards Renewed Federalism in Nigeria.In these chapters, the author offers a historical survey and theoretical and practical framework for holistic examination of Nigeria’s ills. In this effort, Babalola’s characteristic fastidiousness for thoroughness, clarity and credibility are all too evident, as he spares virtually no facts, statistics, and logic in the articulation and elucidation of his views and arguments.
The well- researched discourse is a testament to the scholarship and versatility of the iconoclastic lawyer, educationist, economist, farmer and consummate administrator.While he displays mastery of the general issues under discussion, his talent, expertise and incredible accomplishments in three key areas of national life – law, education and agriculture are all too evident in his forensic analyses and prescrptions on how to strategically revamp the sectors for sustainable national development.For instance, he advocates diversification of the largely oil revenue -dependent economy with aggressive promotion of agriculture predicated on large-scale mechanized farming and value addition enterprise geared towards global competitiveness. He declares as sad and unacceptable a situation in which agricultural contributions to Nigeria’s economy declined from 60 percent at independence to 25 percent between 1975 and 1979, with annual growth rate stagnating at 1 percent between 1970 and 1982 and food import bill rising from a mere N112.88 million to N964. 8 million between 1974 and 1991; when population growth rate was between 2.5 percent and 3 percent per annum and has progressively degenerated in the country with 91 percent of its 92.4 million hectare-landmass adjudged suitable for cultivation of diverse food and cash crops! The author proposes reform of land ownership system, institutional collaboration, agric-financing, education and cooperative systems he says will help revitalize the sector and provide jobs.He also laments the declined state of Nigeria’s education, which, he says reflects in its apparent non-functionality and inability of any of its universities to make the first top 1,600 in the QS World University Ranking and global ranking systems for universities. He recommends a concert of measures to correct anomalies such as poor funding, infrastructural deficit, personnel, industrial crisis, policy somersault, institutional weaknesses and ineffectiveness, among others bedevilling the sector.Babalola’s exceptional feats in his foray into educational administration, starting with his two-term stewardship as Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council of University of Lagos (Unilag), as well as as a chain of educational institutions including an international school, an advance level study centre and wave-making ABUAD that has within barely 10years of existence won both national and international recognition, prizes and awards for academic excellence, as well as the success of his other private initiatives in agriculture and agribusiness,no doubt, qualify him to postulate on these matters with the authority he did and make his counsel worth its weight in gold. Although adjudged one of the biggest economies in Africa, the author who has a first degree in Economics from the University of London, asserts that Nigeria is in reality poor, given that 84.5 percent of its 170 million people live on less than two dollars a day. He submits that being a big economy might be meaningless “if there are no marked improvements in per capita and living standards of the citizens.” After a survey of Nigeria’s economic history, x-raying several national development and economic plans and schemes with laudable objectives including NAPEP, SURE-P, Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, Financial System Strategy, NEEDS, Seven-point Agenda, experimented by successive governments, he declares that although unassailable on technical ground, they invariably failed because a framework for sustained policy implementation was not developed. He lists poor governance, insecurity, ever increasing disconnect and economic gap between the few rich and the poor masses, institutional corruption, high cost of governance, brazen impunity resulting in enthronement of mediocrity and partial loss of confidence in the ruling class among the citizenry, as well as unstable economic and financial policies, infrastructural collapse and lack of economic diversification among factors slowing down the national economic growth.His panacea – economic diversification in downstream oil sector, solid minerals and mining, tourism and fixing of challenges in the power, infrastructure, communication as well as security sectors.The nucleus of the book’s message, however, is Babalola’s proposal for the restructuring of the polity, which he says, in its present state, is faulty, weak, ineffective and unlikely to make the country work or move forward. The author devotes chapters 7 to 10 to providing robust constitutional, legal and institutional basis for ineluctable reforms after appraising the structures and processes of governance. He advocates a return to the practice of true federalism or regionalism, which alone, he convincingly argues, is ideal and able to guarantee unity, peace, stability, growth and progress of a multi-ethnic country as Nigeria. He canvasses the abrogation of the 1999 constitution currently in force, describing it as a fraud and like its military -foisted precursors in the Second and Third republics, a bastardization of the 1960 federal constitution of the First Republic under which, he notes with exhilarating nostalgia, the country made tremendous progress.According to Babalola, dismantling the current system will save the country unnecessary prohibitive cost of governance, promote efficiency, reduce corruption and intense struggle for power both as well as inter- ethnic rivalry.
Specifically, he suggests devolution of power to the states or regions which should in turn be allowed to control the bulk of their resources to develop themselves and for the benefit of their people, while the central government oversees mandates of common interest such as defence, foreign affairs, currency and so on. The book criticizes concentration of functions, powers and resources in the Federal Government as harmful in many ways. These include killing initiative, resourcefulness and healthy competition among the various federating units that could have promoted their growth individually and ultimately resulting in general development of the country. He also wants the nation’s security agencies, especially the police overhauled and decentralized in order to be more effective. In this connection, he advises a reorientation of the personnel who grew on a tradition of being instruments of coercion, oppression, intimidation and even violation of the rights of the people they are meant to protect, in line with the letters of the statutes establishing the organizations to which they belong. He also calls for th upgrade and facilitation of their operations through adequate investment in technology and automation.Instead of the two-term maximum tenure allowed for them, the book recommends a six-year single tenure for President and governors, higher academic qualifications for such public office seekers, a unicameral legislature with members elected to serve on part-time basis and entitled only to sitting allowances, besides satisfying other parameters being an accomplished professional or having verifiable means of livelihood. These measures, the author is convinced, will help reduce the prohibitive cost of governance, check mediocrity, corruption and prevailing desperation and tendency among political jobbers to see government merely as an industry where enrich themselves, rather than to serve. He also canvasses that the funding and appointment of judicial officers and members of electoral bodies be made independent of the executive to guarantee their independence and impartiality. In the case of electoral umpire, Babalola suggests that the head be jointly nominated by all registered political parties to break the cycle of troubled elections, as part of a rainbow of recommended solutions that a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) the author stresses has become inevitable and must urgently be convoked will find as an excellent working paper the members will certainly only need to pass for the birth of a new Nigeria!Babalola warns that Nigerians risk the breakup of the country if they ignore the warning signs “already here” and failed to do the needful. He, however, describes separatist agitation as “misplaced and the romanticizing of secessionism as a fix-all panacea to historical and governance failure.” Citing the experience of Sudan and Southern Sudan, Babalola observes that jumping into secession or allowing situation to degenerate and lead to dissolution of the country will not necessarily address the root causes of conflict, historical injustices, exclusion, marginalization, exploitation and poor governance, rather heading in that route would only exacerbate the problems for the various sections involved.There is no doubt that the transformational principles espoused in this seminal book, if faithfully implemented can lead to a balanced federal system, exorcise the incubus of ethno-religious divisions, instability, economic decline that have stagnated the country for much of its history.The book is not just a tool of enlightenment that will be useful to scholars of political science, political economy, nation-building, sociology and other social sciences, given its wealth of information, rigour of research, clarity of exposition and persuasiveness; it is in fact, a manifesto, a manual that should rouse and rally all patriots to demand and work towards forging a ‘true’ nation that works and that they can be proud of! With “The Elusive Search for Nation Nigeria” Aare Babalola has gifted the nation, perhaps, the most sterling of the legacies that mark him among the greatest and accomplished Nigerian patriots, but also one of the finest minds of this era. Although he has twice been decorated with the national honours of Commander of the Order of the Niger (OFR, CON) in recognition of his eminent and impactful contributions, it will seem the iconic statesman, who has actively engaged the nation for more than 60 of his 90 years, will feel more honoured to see his lifelong dream of a strong and prosperous Nigeria fulfilled in his lifetime! A pertinent misgiving that punctuates the cheerfulness with which Babalola professes his hope and bright ideas for the country though is, whether the present crop of political elite or even their immediate successors possess the political will to undertake the comprehensive changes needed to rejuvenate Nigeria?That will justify a poor critic’s caution or restraint in inviting a veteran of intellectual and courtroom duels to a contest over the justness and propriety of his choice of a title for this book.
Fabowale is the Editor of Newspeak Magazine