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Of benevolent dictatorship and Vision 20-20!

Vanguard Newspaper Nigeria

By Tony Uranta
“The nation sleepwalks, mesmerized by yet another receding chimera: Vision 2020. The question posed by the Delta region however, in tune with the rest of the nation is: whatever happened to Vision 1960?” — Wole Soyinka

Dear Mullah Osama Bin  Laden,
One must apologise for daring to intrude upon your jihadist meditations on how to end the world from within your self-made gulag of Pakistani/Afghanistan caves, just to discuss what must appear to you to be mere irritations concerning Nigeria, where your brethren not only have made little (if any) headway in islamiscizing the majority of the people, but have even celebrated an Ogoni young man masquerading as you in the name of embracing a putative amnesty.

By the way, if President Yar’Adua’s Amnesty does not take off until August 6th was the Nigerian Inspector-General of Police not committing a crime hobnobbing with self-confessed enemies of the state before that date? Should the Nigerian Bin Laden and others coming out of the cracks be allowed to move around freely?

Osama, don’t get this writer wrong. We hail these brothers, these questions notwithstanding, and merely wish to show how policies and actions of government are often not well-thought-through. For example, declaring this amnesty without first reining in the JTF is akin to suggesting that the amnesty will be available those “left standing” after the military ravages the communities on their still very questionable “search and devastate” operations.

Anyway, Osama, a more than cursory study of you leads us to conclude that you are, to paraphrase an Asian brother of yours, Lee Kuan Yew, “a product of the times”; just as are the armed groups (some call them “militants”) reacting to decades of deprivation, despoliation and gross injustice in the Niger Delta of Nigeria.

If truth be told, and it must, so is the current President of Nigeria, Alhaji Shehu Umoru Yar’Adua a product of the times (and OBJ). President Yar’Adua is, with each passing day, more obviously donning the garb of “benevolent dictator”, a title which the aforementioned Lee Kuan Yew never flinched from on his journey to strategically positioning Singapore as a “1st World country”) a product of the times; and which OBJ must have disappointed not to be listed as one his many achievements (apart from the “Butcher of Odi” and so on).

“One of the asymmetries of history,” wrote Henry Kissinger of Singapore’s patriarch Lee Kuan Yew “is the lack of correspondence between the abilities of some leaders and the power of their countries.” Kissinger’s one time boss, Richard Nixon, was even more flattering.

He speculated that, had Lee lived in another time and another place, he might have “attained the world stature of a Churchill, a Disraeli, or a Gladstone.” This tag line of a big man on a small stage has been attached to Lee since the 1970s.

Today, however, his stage does not look quite so small. Singapore’s per capita GNP is now higher than that of its erstwhile colonizer, Great Britain.

It has the world’s busiest port, is the third-largest oil refiner and a major center of global manufacturing and service industries. And this move from poverty to plenty has taken place within one generation. In 1965 Singapore ranked economically with Chile and behind Nigeria; today its per capita GNP is four to ten times theirs.

Which brings us to Vision 20-20, Nigeria’s dream of going from being one of the world’s poorest nations (going by World Bank indices) to becoming one of the world’s top twenty economies in the next twenty years.

The reckoning is that if a Lee could do it, so can an OBJ or an Umoru. Nothing could be farther from the truth than this fantasy!

Apart from the oft-cited differences in geographical size, population quantum and diversity that may make a replication of Singapore’s miraculous economic growth difficult in Nigeria, Nigeria lacks one of the fundamentals that Singapore had, namely “a unity of purpose”.

The Founding Fathers of Nigeria knew that we needed unity in our diversity for their dream of a prosperous nation to be realised. They, with Britain’s help, fashioned a Constitution that took into consideration the diversity of our tribes, our tongues, and our resources-spread.

They were hard-headed realists who knew that whilst we all aspired (or, more to the truth, were compelled by Britain) to belong to one country, we had cultural and historical differences that necessitated us not have common developmental goals.

In fact, none more than the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, championed this necessity, and Nigeria ended up resolving to operate a Federal system that allowed its constituent parts pay a tax of 50% on revenues accruing from their diverse resources.

Primary of these resources, the North had its cotton and groundnuts, the West its cocoa, the East its coal, and the South its rubber, timber and oil-palm.

And so everybody lived in a national marriage, which like all marriages had its hiccups, but there still appeared to be more than just a semblance of satisfaction in the unions.

Then came the military and the civil war to dislocate the system and breed a new greedy dependence on the South-South’s crude oil that destroyed the will to further cultivate the groundnut, the cotton, the coal, the timber, the rubber, the oil palm…and the new dictators of Nigeria passed a myriad of martial laws that calculatedly destroyed the vision of our Founding Fathers…Vision 1960. Laws that forced some parts of Nigeria to “perpetually” be lackeys to a part!

Neo-colonial laws of slavery!

The ongoing Niger Delta crisis is merely one expression of reactions to the stifling of Vision 1960.

Until all Nigerians willingly come together to re-birth that vision of freedom in a genuine National Conference not unlike that convened by PRONACO in 2005 (or, at least, revert to the 1960 Constitution) Nigeria cannot have true unity.
Until all Nigerians choose not to be merely rent-collectors at the environmental and humanitarian cost of the sources of crude oil and gas Nigeria cannot have sustainable development.

Until all Nigerians rise up against the slaughter of thousands of Nigerians in the name of feudalistic military might, there will not be peace.

Until proper national amends are made for the carnage in Gbaramatu Kingdom, in Odi, in Odioma, in Emuechem, in Ogoni, in Apoi, in Egbema…in short, in the many despoliated and ravaged lands of the Niger Delta, there cannot be peace.

Not even a putative Amnesty that does not provide (as does the Recommendations of the Report of the President’s Technical Committee on the Niger Delta…which Yar’Adua is sitting on with impunity!) for a cessation of destruction of Niger Delta communities and the cold-blooded extrajudicial killings of women, children, the aged, the infirm…an armistice…will bring about the peace President Yar’Adua desires to build his Vision 20_20 on.

Dear Osama, Nigeria seems ripe for the plucking…for without our return to Vision 1960, Vision 20-20, as the Great Haile Selassie said, “will remain nothing but a fleeting illusion” like the mirages of oases in the Sahara desert.

Nigeria’s been going round in circles…maybe, it needs some extraneous input to right itself. The Americans have not acted. Nor have the British. If not for the Mao’s countrymen flooding in, maybe you…