Redesigning a Nation

Being text of the lecture delivered by Prof Wole Soyinka at the Nigerian Law School, Lagos on Friday October 16, 1998 on his initial visit to Nigeria after he was forced into exile by the then government of Sanni Abacha.
After the 4 years of campaigning against the atrocities of the junta, Wole Soyinka came home to encourage the redesigning of our nation.

Let me begin by paying tribute to those who are not with us today in body, but whose spirits, I know, continue to hover over this nation space, watchful over the fate of the nation, restless on account of that uncompleted task for which they lost their lives: Pa Alfred Rewane, Admiral Omotehinwa, Chief Michael Ajasin, General Shehu YarAdua, Ken Saro Wiwa and his eight Ogoni companions, the four murdered Ogoni Chiefs, and numerous Ogoni citizens, victims of the so-called Security Task Forces, Alhaja Suliyat Adedeji, Bagauda Kaltho… and a host of unknown victims, some of whom have perished miserably in numberless dungeons and interrogation centres, or died soon after as a result of their experiences in captivity. But lastly, perhaps the most bitter of all our losses, that of Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, and of his wife Alhaja Kudirat, whose brutal assasination in the streets of Lagos still ranks as one of the most dastardly atrocities of power ever recorded anywhere on this continent. May I request you to be kind enough to join me in acknowledging their presence among us by rising and observing a minute's silence.

I shall not be brief. I have carried a lot on my mind these past years, and not merely the past four years of exile. I intend to be discursive and thus take up - maybe - a hour and a quarter of your time - I hope that is not asking too much after such a prolonged absence. My mission today is to attempt to break through the carapace of mind that insists that we do not need to gather, through our representatives, and lay bare certain issues that have plagued this nation even before Independence. There is a raging fire in the minds of many of our citizens, and we had better put it out before it leaps forth and consumes the nation. There are millions of people living in this nation space, some of them nation idealists once upon a time, radicals and fanatics of unity who virtually spit on the name Nigeria. During the yet ongoing democratic struggle, we encountered many volunteers who said to us, we are ready to lay down our lives for the struggle, but not if that struggle is called the Nigerian nation, because Nigeria, they declared, is a lie, and we will not die for a lie.

We all know how this nation was cobbled together; we need not rehash the facts here. We know in whose interest this was done, and few would argue that the last would-be beneficiary on the mind of the British, that is, those whose lives the British intended should be enhanced from this arrangement, was the population of that nation space called Nigeria. We have to bear this constantly in mind whenever there are conflicts or crises of such a nature that the very viability of that externally inspired national design, the edifice labelled Nigeria is called into question. To name one instance among others, we do know that the British falsified the pre-independence census figures of the Nigerian population this has been attested by British civil servants who carried out the infamous orders, but are now released from silence thanks to the time expiration of the Official Secrets Act. This is tantamount to a quantity surveyor falsifying the material quantities that go into the foundations and the structure of an edifice. Do we express astonishment when the building crumbles gradually or implodes suddenly on itself?

I shall deploy that edifice as one of my commencing metaphors; it is an easily grasped, domestic image and, today, I wish to leave no one any reason to complain that this speaker has been speaking in his usual incomprehensible abstractions. So, first the edifice: If the house we occupy develops cracks, we have a number of choices. Call in a local bricklayer to place a swab of mortar over the cracks, then paint over the unseemly sight, a process that can be repeated as long as the foundations appear to hold. We could of course simply tear down the offending wall and replace it altogether, making the overall structure stronger and more durable. If the roof begins to contribute to the problems of a safe and sane habitation, similar remedies might work for as long as other parts of the house continue to sustain the totality. Our choices are governed by the level of deterioration, the economics of constant repair, and sometimes even the human toll that is extracted from the occupants that are traceable to the insanitary conditions, or the tensions and violence that are generated between occupants vying for inadequate, or unfairly distributed facilities within a restricted space. I believe however that if the problem persists, if a yawning gap in the roof today is followed by a crack in the wall tomorrow, and the collapse of a doorway the following week, then a spreading seepage of moisture through the walls and dry rot in the floorboards, if an underground sewer collapses and its contents threaten to inundate the home, then we are obliged to take a closer look at the foundations. At the very least, our minds must turn from time to time in the direction of questionable foundations. The story of a nation is no different.

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At that stage of course, we are entitled to summon back the architects, the structural engineers and quantity surveyors of the ailing habitation. That becomes a rather difficult option if we were the ones who told them to get out in the first place, we who signed the release form indicating that the period of overseeing was over, that the caretakers were now free to go home or move on to other jobs. In any case, the foundation may prove to be not necessarily the real problem, and wouldn't we be mightily embarrassed if the architect did respond, only to demonstrate that the basic truth, the explanation lay, not in the foundations, but in the conduct of the occupants? Lack of proper maintenance, sloppy habits, overcrowding, clogging up of drainages, overloading the electricity supply with luxury gadgets, playing outdoor games indoors whenever it happens to rain. Maybe eroding the very foundations of the home as the more unscrupulous members proceed to dig underground vaults for stashing away cash and jewellery looted from a common purse. It could be then that the foundations have become so weakened that nothing would serve except to relocate altogether, or to change the living arrangements of occupancy in such a way that the indolence, dishonesty and wastefulness of one part simply do not affect or infect the rest. We could build fully or semi-detached annexes to ease the strain on the commencing structure, turn the apartments into self-contained units and design a common living-room or roof-garden which would be accessible to all .....and so on and on. The options are many, and not all of them need involve tearing down the house altogether. Indeed, given any of the causes, or a combination of the causes of deterioration already outlined, we may find that it is far more appropriate to concentrate on transforming the living habits of the occupants, rather than lay the blame on the architects and builders. The opposite of course, as already indicated, may prove to be the case. And if the landlord had indeed inflated the head-count in one wing of the house, while reducing, for his own purpose, the population of another, then of course, a chain of events may have been set in motion, one that may even lead to the decertification of the house for human occupation.

"If it ain't broke", goes an American commonplace wisdom, don't fix it. Another version of that saying is "Leave well alone." While there is no question that human curiosity and inventiveness will always lead us to tinker with what already appears to be working perfectly, with a view to enchancing either its aesthetic properties or its functionalities, I believe that very few, if any of us, would actually tamper with the structural integrity of a functioning edifice. So, if anyone believes that this nation is "well", or that "it ain't broke", then that individual would be better occupied elsewhere. I believe that this nation is "broke", that it is not "well", and that it is about time that we decided, in a forthright manner, whether it is the structure itself that is at fault, or it is the conduct and protocols of its internal relationship that govern its occupancy. Again, we should recognise the real possibility that it may prove to be an interactive combination of both. Environment is affected by the conduct of a people just as much as the environment often conditions the humanity of that environment. An unfair and dishonest apportionment of the resources of a shared living space can easily lead to conduct that undermines the guiding principles of a harmonious cohabitation, leading to a fractious inter-relationship that severely damage the shared environment.

The following morality tale - and here comes my other metaphor - must be familiar to many, but let us quickly re-tell it, since my purpose is to turn that morality tale over on its head. It speaks directly to the dilemma that confronts the nation space of Nigeria. The tale goes thus: the various parts of a Body once rebelled against the Stomach, complaining that it was an idle, bloated guzzler of the good things of life while others slaved and laboured to keep the body functioning. I do all the thinking, said the Head, my eyes seek out nurture and warn of danger, directing the limbs in their productive labour. The Arms of course pointed to its muscular wear and tear in the service of the Body while the legs reminded the others that, but for their joint function as the Ministry of Transport, Body would simply stay and rot in one spot. Shoulders, Buttocks, Spinal column etc. all joined in iterating their indispensability to the general well-being of body, except Stomach, who could hardly deny that the food always made its way to his storage tanks. Beyond that, Stomach maintained a dignified silence. Finally, the parts decided to go on strike and starve Stomach to death.

The rest of the tale is easily imagined. Stomach warned that it was merely the Ministry of Supplies and Distribution, that what it received through Mouth and Throat went back to the various body components but, no was prepared to listen. The strike began and, of course, all the body parts began to atrophy, Stomach outlasting all of them. As with all good morality tales with a happy ending, they all came to their senses before too much damage was done and Stomach resumed its revered place in the structure of things.

I regret to say that whoever thought up that morality tale had never stepped foot in Nigeria, and was incapable of imagining a travesty of functional relationships as it exists in this national body. Within our space, it surely is a clear case of "Monkey dey work, baboon dey chop", and baboon, in this case is very definitely the Stomach, placed at the centre of things, guzzling away at the products of Head, Arms, Legs, Shoulders and Spine , and redistributing - Nothing. Or else a mere pittance. The arrangements require that the various parts rely on the goodwill of Stomach, which demands that all parts pay homage to it, turn sycophants in order to obtain a fraction of what is functionally theirs by right, by the very nature of the interdependency of cohabitation. The labour and productivity of constituent parts have been routinely expropriated by an insatiate Centre whose sole function appears to be simply to gorge on the supply system from the rest, with little or no reciprocation. No wonder then, there is such a life-and-death struggle to be the Stomach!

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To link backwards then, to our commencing analogy, it should become clear by now that it is the conduct of the Stomach that has thrown the viability of the entire edifice, or the structure of the body, in serious jeopardy. We could of course replace the stomach - modern surgery easily takes care of that - and hope that the new Stomach will have learnt to act less than a flatulent, unreciprocating receptable and borrow some of the characteristics of a thinking, responsible and organising head. Alternatively, we could change the entire functional relationship of all the parts in such a way as to make the individual propensities of the Stomach totally irrelevant, thus ensuring that the various parts are protected and can ensure their own unique developments at their own pace - muscular, cerebral, tactile, neural etc. - in short, deciding their own priorities. This however, can only succeed on one condition: prior agreement on the redistribution of those resources which, after all, do originate from the component parts. Since they do the supplying, they must have a voice in that decision. Next, a guarantee of the automatic distribution of the agreed allocation from the storage tank of the Stomach, released unconditionally and independent of flattery and sycophancy.

Let us recall this also, that not all the resources that are gathered by the arms and shoulders, invented by the head for the well-being of Body need to pass through the distribution mills of Stomach. Shelter for instance. However insatiable the stomach is, certain fodder simply cannot pass through its alimentary canal - timber, gravel, marble, asbestos or whatever else are required for construction. Even in the health department, not all medicaments need pass through the stomach. Water is essential to Stomach but huge quantities of that commodity go to ensuring the well-being of Body without the Stomach's intermediary function, and while I once knew a night watchman who drank a cupful of neat petroleum every night - good for the digestive glands, he always insisted I think we would all agree that the Stomach, functionally speaking, does not require such nourishment to survive. Certainly other bodies - and Stomachs - have been known to survive and endure without certain forms of diet, so the relation of petroleum to the survival of Stomach is neither more nor less crucial than the essentiality of that commodity to the survival of other parts of the body. It follows from this that the entitlement of a share in certain products of arms, legs and shoulders etc. must be subject to negotiation: routing them automatically to the Centre, which then decides what proportion goes to the parts of the Body that actually produce it, has no foundation in either logic or justice.

Far too much, a most unhealthy proportion of the wealth of the body has been monopolised by the stomach, either in civilian garb or in military uniform, and with no visible gains in the well-being of the constituent parts of the body, with, on the contrary, traceable deleterious effects on the many projects of the integral parts.. If the arm decides that it prefers to go into muscle-building or invest in state-of-the-art artificial limbs, then let it. Stomach is equally free to engage in such experimentation or to invest in existing projects. But we can no longer have a situation where the Stomach says, I also am going into prosthesis technology, which, incidentally, I shall situate on the neck - therefore I cannot release the statutory juices to lubricate the projects of the limbs. Indeed, it is upon the territory of the arms and legs that any rational research by Stomach into the science of artifical limbs must be based. That is common sense. You do not mine petroleum in Okrikaland, then build your major petroleum refineries in Maiduguri.

When the NPN government, under Shehu Shagari, immersed itself in housing projects, the various state governments protested. It was pointed out, quite rightly, that the Centre had no business involving itself in such mass housing construction since it is never in a position to identify, at close quarters, what are the authentic housing needs in far-flung corners of the nation . Of course that wastrel government never seriously intended to build habitable dwellings anyway, the housing scheme was simply another ploy for channelling food to the Stomach, food that properly belonged to other parts of the body. I ran into several of these buildings in my forays in the forests, homes to snakes and rodents and antelopes curious to experience what it felt like to sleep on solid concrete. But let us forget that it was a scheme for siphoning money into the pockets of party stalwarts and favourites; let us obliterate that part of our memory that is haunted still by the flotilla of ships bringing cement, stretching outwards from Lagos harbour into the Atlantic ocean and costing the nations billions in demurrage; let us forget that we made such a spectacle of ourselves, such a freak show that airline pilots would deliberately take their planes over the harbour, bank sharply left, then right, and invite passengers to take a look at the lagoon all lit up at night as if for a maritime festival; let us forget that it was during this period that high seas piracy entered the vocabulary of crimes in Nigeria, that kidnapping for ransom became commonplace, and businessmen and women were found at the bottom of the sea, weighted down with cement bags for failure to pay ransom- all these consequences remain trite beside the causative malfeasance - that the Federal government had no business in the first place assuming the responsibility for building houses on such a scale for the states, and no justification whatever for appropriating funds that properly belonged to the states for the execution of such projects.

Even under the so-called civilian regime of the NPN, state governments found themselves compelled to stay "on the good side" of the centre, in order to receive allocation that would enable them to function. This of course, is a gross travesty of the principles that govern democratic rule. Needless to say, the military always takes this culture several levels higher - or lower if you like - so that even university vice-chancellors were compelled to kow-tow to First Military Ladies for funds to run their institutions, bribe them with honorary degrees or re-name libraries and student hostels after these arrogant spouses. In the creation of states- and here we come to the really fundamental structures of nation designing - in those perennial exercises for the creation of states, we have more than ample evidence that some states were created for no other reason than to satisfy the cravings of a First Lady and her political family. On the local government level, we are all witnesses, within the past few years, to the deliberate fomenting of ferocious battles between communities, results of the re-drawing of local government boundaries, and the citing of their headquarters - on arbitrary directives from Abuja. West, North, South-east, Middle Belt - anywhere at all that ancient animosities and rivalries could be re-ignited to create conditions for chaos and the militarisation of scattered zones all over the country.

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Centralisation, in short, has been the bane of the nation - on any level you choose - and nothing will answer the necessity of a harmonious relationship and development of its parts other than a severe curtailment of the control of the centre over the functioning of its parts. How, I ask you, can an individual sitting in Abuja arbitrate the boundary differences in Kontangora, in Okitipupa, Port Harcourt or even Markurdi close by. These are simply no areas of competence for the centre, and any re-designing of the nation?s internal portrait must depend absolutely on strategies that emanate from the people themselves. We can no longer escape the creation of permanent - and functioning, that part is crucial - functioning Commissions for Local government boundaries, at state levels. I envisage - and this is not, let me emphasize, the only possible formula - I envisage such a commission being made up of former judges, magistrates and land surveyors, a commission that will ensure that none of its members sits during any arbitration of which such a member has a vested interest. Many of the existing local government boundaries, created by the military or indeed some civilian governments are creations of spite, of illogic, or whimsy, or as deliberate traps for conflagration, a diabolical game that reached its perfection under the reign of Sanni Abacha. They fly in the face of the traditions of the locality, of ancient usages, and continue to plague communities, diverting energy and resources into fire brigade activities - usually after the loss of entire settlements, lives and livelihood. And sometimes, the obverse is the case - the mangy, obsolete claims of an anachronistic order are used to buttress claims that are patently absurd within the realities of contemporary transformations. It is time that such flashpoints are doused by the rational processes of arbitration.

Permit me to underline the insidious control of such anomalies by moving to the peripheries of the nation, and citing the instance of the island of Bakassi, contested by Nigeria and the Cameroons. It is very easy to get swallowed up by nationalist jingoism, overlooking the fact that some ramifications of such a dubious contest simply accuse us of the erstwhile colonial frame of mind against which we proudly fought the battle for independence. The dispute is before the International Court of Hague, thank goodness, which promises at least, that we may not lose any more lives over those moth-eaten ideals such as national pride, the fear of losing face, or simply the craving of beleaguered leaders for distractions away from the horrors - economic, political, social etc. - that such leaders inflict on their own peoples. As a matter of interest, just to educate our countrymen and women who listen to arguments for and against our rights to ownership - let me reveal here that I have actually seen an atlas of Nigeria that was prepared by our own Survey Department in the Ministry of Works. It is quite a tome of an atlas, containing several meticulous maps - water-basin, topography, demography, mineral resources, wildlife etc. etc. There is only one constant between these various descriptions of Nigeria and that is - its boundaries. In every single instance, the Nigerian nation is allotted the same geographical space.

I looked for Bakassi, and there it was in the South eastern sector. Did the demarcation line place that island on the Nigerian side? On the Cameroonian side? Or did it run down the middle or through it somewhere? I regret to inform you that this map gave the island to the Cameroons. Indisputably. Now, some of you may have followed the argument behind Nigeria's claims - that it was General Gowon who signed the island away to the Cameroon in return for favours during the Biafran Civil war, but that this agreement was never ratified by the actual authority of the day, which was the then Supreme Military Council. I find that argument very meritorious. It establishes once and for all that the nation does not belong to any one individual Stomach, however powerful, that land is vested in the entirety of the Body. We do know however that this authority, this ownership may be legitimately invested in the representative part at any given time. It is a principle to which we must return, since it informs so much else that should serve as guidance in determining the fortunes of nations and the fundamental rights of the people that boundaries enclose.

There is a twist to this meritorious argument however. The map to which I have just referred, this tome of several lushly, meticulously detailed plates that inform us not only of what lies above ground but beneath the Nigerian nation space, this map was later ratified by a government that succeeded that of General Yakubu Gowon, and later, General Murtala Mohammed, namely, that of General Olusegun Obsasanjo. My memory may serve me wrong on details - I saw the map last nearly eight years ago - but my recollection is that on nearly every page, this atlas was certified as the true and accurate map of the nation of Nigeria, signed in the mandatory green ink of the Head of State.

Between the regime of Yakubu Gowon and that of Olusegun Obasanjo was that of Murtala Mohammed, although it is sometimes fashionable to place the latter two in tandem and refer to them jointly as the Murtala-Obasanjo regime. What I wish to point out simply is that we have a situation here where three heads of state have - either tacitly or overtly - approved the excision of the Bakassi islands and its attachment to a neighbouring country. Despite that triple validation of a reshaping of our national boundaries, a succeeding government then - with possible justification - re-opened the issue, and is once again staking Nigeria's claim to the oil-rich islands.

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Now, I am not a lawyer, and I do not pretend any expertise in international laws and the principles that govern treaties between governments. I am however a student of history, and I do recall that there was a conference in Berlin about a hundred years ago, and one thing that that conference had in common with the conduct of the Nigerian and Cameroonian governments is that its participants partitioned a land mass without so much as a pretence of consultation with the people who occupied the land mass, without the slightest concern for their language, culture, their relationship to neighbouring peoples or the long history of interraction with one another. The European nations simply looked at the resources, and, basing their claims on the mere authority of intrusion, presence, of trading outposts or questionable control, they shared the continent among themselves, exchanging parcels of land as you and I might exchange pieces of ram at Ileya or presents at Christmas. The Nigerian and the Cameroonian governments also had their own Summit, after which they proceeded to redesignate a piece of real estate above the heads of its historic occupants. Even though compelled to operate within nation boundaries as givens - thanks to the slave mentality that makes sacrosanct whatever has been bequeathed to us by European authority - we must accept, objectively, that the quilt work that represents today's continental design has as much legitimacy as the designation of that little corner of the Bight of Biafra called Bakassi to Nigeria, or to the Cameroons.

Again, I emphasise my shortcomings in the field of law but, the fact that we are obliged to deal with is that Nigeria's case in the International Court is based on the illegitimacy of the arbitrary, unratified decision of one individual and, by extension, seeing that that decision was ratified by successive governments, that case also clings to the non-viability of any consent accorded that decision by succeeding governments. And so we arrive at the question, wherein lies the determining authority of decisions that, in effect, inform a people who they are, what portion of a land-mass they belong to, what passports they hold, where they pay their taxes etc.? When we speak of states or regions - as long as they are inhabited - we are, after all, thinking also - I presume - of the people that inhabit them. At the very least, the humanity is every bit as relevant as a bit of diamond or a gallon of petroleum.

We can seek the answer to that last question in our own history, in the very process of self-definition that has involved the re-designing, in one instance at least, of the Nigerian and the Cameroonian nations. It happened just before Independence, when the south-eastern part of the BritainÕs notion of Nigeria was given a choice to be with Nigeria or to find its fortunes with the Cameroon. A plebiscite was held, and the people themselves determined to go with the Cameroon. Some claim that the plebiscite was rigged, while others claim that that English-speaking part of the Cameroon now regrets its decision. Either or both claims may be true; even the motivations for the gift of choice may be suspect; it is simply the principle that we wish to extract for our current edification, whatever reasons lay behind it. A decision was not taken over the heads of the people who constitute that south-eastern province. In other words, the imperial or colonial mentality was jettisoned, and, to the credit of all concerned, primacy of place was given to the humanity that the physical space enclosed. It is a lesson that not only Nigeria, but the entire globe had better take to heart, this often contemned recognition that the foundation for nation-building can only be its humanity, not its mere physical envelope or material prospects. It is the humanity that defines a nation, not its megalomaniac rulers who permit themselves to forget, all too often, that they themselves are a mere minuscule part of that humanity.

When we look at the internal map of Nigeria therefore, and comment that it requires a fundamental re-designing, it is simply because we recognise that it is deeply flawed from impulses of its earlier designers, whose motivations bore no relation whatever to the true desires of the people or indeed, to their cultures or self-cognising. The creation of states, beginning with the excision of the Mid-west from the then West, was in recognition of an incomplete task at the drawing-board, an exercise that continued with the increase of the number of states to twelve, then thirty, until we all began to lose count as each dictator, going through hypocritical motions of ascertaining the true wishes of the people, simply added on states according to his whims. But designing a nation does not lie in simply re-drawing boundaries - the relationship of those new entities to one another, and to the centre, constitutes the real heart of the design, otherwise these states become mere satellites of the imperial will that operates from the centre, one that, in the blink of an eye, also excises a portion of the overall nation and attaches it to another, then turns round and travels all the way to The Hague to complain that it did not know what it was doing at the time.

The exercise remains incomplete, indeed, remains a mockery as long as the people themselves are not the ultimate arbiters of their own fate, as long as the shape of the nation and its parts are not a reflection of their own self-definition. From regions to states all the way down to local governments, all issues of belonging must be settled by the peoples themselves. Arbitrary re-allocations from the distanced top are guaranteed to lead to the kind of the materially destructive, and humanly wasteful face-offs that have become a constant part of our existence since independence, but have been felt most acutely during the past five years of misrule.

The space of traditional authority belongs to the same project of national design - such authority must commence and remain with the people. The Oba of Benin - just to let our imagination roam wide - would hardly dream of imposing an obi on the people of nearby Onitsha, any more than the Oni of Ife would dream of sending an Olu to the people of Warri, simply because the history of its people is closely linked to that of the Yoruba people, or because the history of that linkage suggests some form of dependency lost in the mists on antiquity. Then why does the nation tolerate, again and again, the nature of mayhem that is routinely experienced by the Zogon-Kataf people who continue to repudiate the imposition of a feudal, alien authority in a modern nation state? The history of Zogon-Kataf is known to every Nigerian - it has been splashed over the media as often as the blood of its largely innocent inhabitants has been spattered over the landscape of Southern Kaduna. Of course there are versions of the same history that differ, depending on who provides them. One fact is undisputed however, and this is that a sizable, non-negligible proportion of Kaduna state, united under the banner of the Southern Kaduna People?s Union, have declared their wish to be separated from the Zauzau Emirate. Such demands are not unique in the nation, it is only some have been inscribed in blood and destruction while others merely fester, erupting from time to time like neglected boils on the hidden parts of the body. Is it, or is it not time for a concerted project that re-designs both the geographical and internal relationships of such contested spaces?

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Kwara is not much different, though much more vast and seemingly stabilised. Let me state by the way that, thanks to two years research at the very beginning of the sixties, a research project that took me to virtually all the corners of the nation in my Land Rover, I am very well acquainted with the geography and demography of this nation. I recall my puzzlement on sojourning in those regions now known as Kwara and Kogi, and asking myself how they ever came to be designated parts of the Northern region of the nation. Now, I do not wish to be misunderstood - after all, at the time, this puzzlement never interfered with my life or indeed with my politics in the embattled West. It never featured in any part of my writing. It was just something I noted - that is, I was surprised that the indigenes of these spaces were so evidently Yoruba - I had expected them to be Hausa, Nupe, even Tiv - they werenÕt, and I was left to marvel yet again at the arbitrariness , or sinister designs of the British colonial powers in divorcing families of peoples and subverting their cultures, including their traditional authorities, to the dictates of alien interests. However, as already admitted, it was not an issue that I desired to take any further. If the people of Kwara were content to be tied culturally, politically and administratively to the North, then, leave well alone. If it ainÕt broke, donÕt fix it. But suppose we now find ourselves in a situation where the people of Kwara, and indeed of Kogi, have for decades protested that this is an abnormal hold-over from colonial times that must now be rectified, that the colonial divide of North and South was nothing more than a mischievous creation for the perpetuation of the colonial project of indirect rule over the largest possible swathe of the Nigerian landmass and its peoples, is it not time that we took ourselves back to the design room and took out the drawing board?

Now of course it is quite possible that such voices are not representative, that the voices belong to the familiar agents of confusion, of political opportunism and heaven knows what other diabolical hidden agenda. All of that possibility must be conceded, and the question remains: how do we ascertain the authenticity of this, and a dozen other voices in different parts of the nation? One evident answer is - certainly not from the top! Not from the centre. It is not any current dictator, malevolent or benevolent, who will again insert a caveat or a fiat to circumvent what should so easily be a democratic process. When we propose, indeed, insist upon a Sovereign National Conference as the next logical stage towards the long retarded destiny of this nation, it is precisely in order to listen to, and to respond to these voices, to set the stage for a new nation concept that is based on the true self-determination of all the constituent parts of the nation, and their relationship to one another and to the centre. Such a conference would be able to identify and verify the various clamouring of the often ignored limbs of the body, re-establish the law of plebiscite - wherever required - as the tested, civilised way of resolving any disputed internal aspects of nation design, and thus reduce the phenomena of agitations which, because of prolonged frustrations, their history of arbitrary interventions from a remote, uninformed Centre, have guaranteed the nation a dismal litany of human wastage.

Why, this late stage in the twentieth century, have the British found it advisable to grant the once nationally integrated Scots their own parliament? Why is the entire nation of Ireland being re-designed in ways that many had sworn would only take place over their dead bodies - the identical language of our late local Revd. Ian Paisley, albeit of a rival religion, who also declared that a shift of power from the incumbent area would only take place over his dead body. Let us once again revert to our commencing cautionary instance of the re-drawing of borders, which, we must surely admit, is the most traumatic aspect of the entire project of nation designing - an amputation being, after all, a kind of deformation whose twinges never completely disappear. If it is possible for a non-representative head of a nation, a product of British tutelage and her surrogate designs, to re-design a nation's boundaries so drastically, and other equally unrepresentative heads to embark on the process of restoring its shape to original status, what could be more logical, rational, and enduring than for the people themselves to gather, through their representatives, and tackle together all the fundamental issues that go into the Grand Design of their nation being?

My position on Bakassi itself - perhaps I should state this so as to rein force that declaration of belief in the primacy of peoples over resources - my position, which indeed I hope that some amicus curiae might adopt and interject into the proceedings at the International Court of the Hague, and thus transform the very concept and practice of international law wherever the fate of peoples is in any way involved - that position is this: it matters not to me in the slightest if the vastest, highest-grade oil fields of the world and in all history are lying beneath the earth and the seas of Bakassi - the people of Bakassi alone should decide where they wish to belong - to Nigeria, or to the Cameroon. The International Court should jettison its musty law books based on a philosophy of greed, possession - that exploitation credo of so-called civilised nations - and revert to the common denominator that defines community and creates civilisation, order a plebiscite and tell the two nations to stop acting like avaricious bullies. If they cannot sit at a negotiating table and decide how to jointly exploit the resources of that island for the benefit of their two populations, with the people of Bakassi as the primary beneficiaries, then maybe it is indeed time - as some political cynics have proposed - it is time that the even more avaricious ex-colonial powers are invited back in to reconstitute the Berlin conference, and decide which among them will undertake the recolonisation of Bakassi.

What would we do with the wealth of Bakassi, in any case, that we have not had an over-abundant opportunity of achieving with the wealth that we have piped out of the wells of the Delta regions over these past three decades. What new opportunities will be open for this nation that have not been generously opened again and again, like the accommodative thighs of a nymphomaniac? However, it is we who have reacted in our turn, like prostitutes, who have prostituted our heritage, prostituted our potential , prostituted power, authority and responsibility, prostituted our youths, prostituted the finest of our minds and now threaten to prostitute our future. But we do have a wise saying, do we not, one that is present in all cultures? In Yoruba it goes thus: "bi a o tile mo ibi a nre, a mo ibi a ti nbo" - if we do not know where we're headed, at least we do know from where we started. And let me say this quite clearly, this nation has not known where it has been headed for at least three decades, certainly not beyond the halycon flush of independence. And, since we do know at least from where we set off, it is surely time to return to that starting point and then begin to retrace the steps we have taken onwards, stopping to tabulate the missteps, reinforcing the valid turnings, the viable choices, and thus, set down, at the least, a credible direction for other generations to follow.

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II The Difference: those who knew

I must make a small correction to my earlier statement : when I declared that the nation has not the slightest notion where it was headed, I must admit there to some form of exaggeration. Some elements among us have remained pretty certain where they were headed. In sum, they have said to themselves: that direction, for us, is simply - to rule the nation. They are a select group, a minority even among their own peoples, a pampered, privileged elite in the midst of abject poverty, marginalisation and social alienation. Unambiguously, they have always known where they were headed - in the direction of Power. To seize power, no matter how, to retain power, to exclude all others from ever attaining power. But power - what is that? Is that a direction? No, it is merely an ambition. Any fool, any moron, any psychopath - and of course the more psychopathic, the more efficient - Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Sergeant Doe and the latest in the line of the unconscionably driven, our own lately departed General Sanni Abacha - they have all proved that Power, as long as you are sufficiently ruthless, amoral and manipulative, Power is within grasp of even the mentally deficient. So, power is really neither direction nor vision - it is simply an ambition. Of course Power may be impelled by vision but Power in itself is not, simply is not - Vision. On the contrary, true Vision may eschew power, may totally repudiate Power, yet seek to fulfil itself by that hardy, self-sacrificial route that does not lean on the crutch of power. There are individuals in every field of human endeavour who have not only pursued their vision - to the benefit of millions and hundreds of millions of the world - without that promiscuous facilitator - Power. And Power, let us recollect, need not be an individual ambition, it can be collective, a variant that is the intriguing and executive arm of hegemonic obsession. When I claim that we do have those among us who are absolutely certain of this goal of their collective existence, you need not take my word for it, fortunately. You have only to listen to their voices.

At the beginning, they were not so open, not so eager to reveal themselves. They operated secretively, and gloried in the unsuspecting naivete, and/or idealism of others. Once the game was uncovered however, once the hidden designs were exposed irrefutably after decades of lies, of subterfuges, after decades of manipulation of facts, of statistics and even falsification of realities, their inhibitions, hesitations and ambiguities were jettisoned. So these are no longer anonymous voices among us, but increasingly bold, arrogant, and unrepentant voices. Here are some random samples - you have heard them often enough, they have been splashed all over the pages of the media, but let us hear them again within the present context of nation designs.

One: God, in his Almighty wisdom, has allotted different talents to the various peoples of our nation. To the Igbo of the East, he awarded the gift of entrepreneurship, so they make excellent businessmen and women. To the Yoruba of the West, he imparted the gift of administration, so they make good civil servants, bureaucrats, and educationists. To the Northerners however, he bestowed the gift of leadership, so let us all be content an stay within our allotted stations.

For leadership of course, read power, for I have yet to see any evidence of leadership from that sectional roster of power-wielders with the sole exception of Murtala Mohammed, and he was cut down in his prime by elements from within that same area of the nation. Perhaps they recognised leadership for the first time and were scared by its looming impact on their lives, the changes it might wreak on the lives of the neglected, indeed contemned masses, within their own region. We don't know how far, how deeply that conspiracy went, but certainly there must be those who suddenly recognised that there was a yawning gap between Power and leadership, between Power and Authority, between Power and Responsibility, and they were scared of this re-definition of Power that insisted that there had to be some visionary stuffing within the empty carapace of ambition.

Just one more sample of those voices, and here we move from those who claim to be initiates into the workings of the mind of the Supreme Deity and descend to realms of intelligence abuse. "The South holds economic power," they declare, therefore it is only just that the North retain political power. It has always amazed me that supposedly intelligent politicians and ideologues, especially those who actually aspire to, or claim the right to leadership, should attempt to foist such a betisse on a politically astute populace. As several rebuttals have more than ably analysed, the control of political power is also the surest means to gaining economic power - at least for those who do not see government, in itself, as the sole economic cow whose mere milking spurts forth economic power. In short, it is not enough to capture the structure of government, you must work, and work hard and efficiently, to direct government, as a means, towards the productive yield that becomes economic power. Not for nothing did Kwame Nkrumah play his variation on the old biblical tune, exhorting, "Seek ye first the political kingdom, and all other things shall be added unto it."

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You will observe that I do not even attempt to deal with the claim that it is the South that holds economic power - that is because I simply do not know or care whether such a surmise is true or false, only that it is a gratuitous distraction whose reasoning is unworthy of kindergarten intelligence. Suffice it that we recognise that this is merely another smokescreen, like the theological theory, for the activities of a power-besotted minority whose minds have never grasped the awful responsibility of Power as a means of transforming the material condition of their people, enhancing the quality of their lives and making manifest the productive potential of a nation.

The problem however - having called attention to the existence and persistence of this minority - and we must continue to stress that fact, the numerical scantiness of the cabal among a teeming population of the deprived - the problem is that their tentacles are everywhere, that they have been industriously inserted into all the strategic areas of nation design. This industry has been encouraged also by the all-too-tentative, embarrassed and understated response of the rest of the nation - that is, until recent times. It was not that the rest were not aware of a project that amounted, in effect, to internal enslavement or colonisation of the rest, the reduction of others to second-class citizenship, but that the thinking among the rest hoped that it was a passing phase. If we study the compromises that were made during the various constitutional conferences, if we pored over the records of the deliberations over independence at Lancaster House, London - and there are still also some living witnesses to the spirit that dominated those encounters - we shall find that this remains the only plausible explanation of the seeming naivette of groupings which, both before and after independence, appeared to yield control of the nation to a single-minded agenda of domination by one section of the nation over the rest.

I readily admit that I was myself not immune from this sense of inhibition in both language and attitude. In my prison notes, The Man Died, notes on my interrogation and imprisonment under Gowon, I wrote of a young Northerner, of my own generation, who was one of my interrogators:

"He was young, lacked self-confidence and tried to make up for it by bursts of establishment and authoritarian passion. Incapable of any deep analysis he stuck to a double-winched in-dogma of power within the Secret Police and the dogma of power within the government.I never could make up my mind which was the stronger, the cosa nostra dogmatism of the Secret Service, or that lingering power aura, identified withs the fact of successive North-led governments which clung unfortunately still to many young Northerners of his age."

I then went on to add:

"Aminu was perhaps the only Northerner of my generation I knew who was totally free of the reflection of this in-thing of divine power."

Aminu - his full name, Aminu Abdullahi - was a friend and colleague who would later perish in one of the ubiquitous fires that sprang up all over the country under the regime of Shehu Shagari's NPN, fires that usually began in the accounting departments. He died in a still mysterious manner in the conflagration at the Telecommunications Building on the Marina. Regarding that passage however,. you can easily detect in that passage a sub-text of hedging, of inhibition and reluctance when you compare it with related sections in my more recent collection of essays, The Open Sore of a Continent. Clearly, in the latter, three decades later, the patience of that young man has finally evaporated. The earlier instance was the voice of caution, one that did not wish, as we say, to speak with the full mouth. Something troubled him, something lacerated his feelings, exposing as it did, an unequal relationship within a context that he had accepted as a collective enterprise. Double standards. A creeping division of the nation into have-power and have-none. There was of course no holding back in my denunciation of the genocidal crime that was committed by one section of the nation against another, but when it came to tackling the underlying issue of power and the conduct of its claimants, their sense of its divine attribution to themselves, there was, as we see, a marked inhibition, resulting in an understatement, indeed - fudging, to give it its real name. In effect however, a caution was inserted: "Look," it said, "I know you. I read this tendency clearly enough but, for now, I merely sound a note of alarm but I retain a strand of hope, one that believes our recent experience - the coup of January 66, the counter-coup and waves of genocide - may yet induce serious reflection, and lead to self-transformation."

Has that hope been justified? After all that the Nigerian nation has undergone, after a Civil war and its attendant human wastage, after the vandalisation of a nation by elected governments and the even more relentless, and brutal expropriation of the nation by successive military governments, culminating in a five year regression into rulership primitivism and brigandage at its most inclusive, leaving in its wake an undiscriminating catalogue of victims - North-East to South-West, South-East to North-West, obaship, obiship, emirate and petty chieftainship levels, Christian, Moslem, animist and non-conformist, military and civilian, men and women, aged and infants, student, academic, civil servant, factory worker, petty trader, banker or tycoon - nothing sacred and no one immune - after such a period of the once unthinkable immersion of a proud nation into the very slough of pre-history where time did not merely stand still but visibly regressed, after the ultimate ascendancy of brute Power and the final negation of Leadership and Responsibility, it is surely astonishing that any section of such a community would continue to chant the blasphemy of the pre-determination of Power.

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During those years, we were all victims and were rendered largely impotent. Power had fled to brutish beasts and men had lost their reason. So, with the Beast from the Inferno out of the way, has Power once again returned to divine attribution whose beam is directed at only one entity? Just where was that entity when Power was a random sabre swirling in the hands of a madman? Even the language of its seeming abandonment by this hegemony - "we are willing to concede power, but....." or, "there can be a shift of power, but only on such and such conditions" etc. etc. - such language merely reaffirms a reprobate mentality that must be excised without further delay. It manifests itself today even more egregiously, as we watch that conditionality - "but" - being impudently attached to a specific personality."We are willing to see power shift to the south? they say, "but the only individual acceptable to us from that south is" and they proceed to supply a name. Permit me to remind you: democracy presumes an egalitarian right of choice, otherwise it is only dictatorship by another name. This level of condescension is far more insolent and provocative than even the project of retaining power at all costs! It is a sad but clear indication that the lessons of nearly forty years have yet to be absorbed, and that the transformation that an idealistic young man hoped for at thirty-four still remains unfulfilled at sixty-four. Now, that is a very long time to wait.

Perhaps I should state my own position unambiguously. I do not care, frankly, if the reins of government, throughout my lifetime comes only from one obscure corner of the land - be that corner Middle Belt, Delta, North-north East, South-South West or from the Eastern heartlands. But the rules that throw up such a micro patch of leadership prodigies must be agreed by all, adhered to by all and guaranteed by a structure that is not in the monopolised controls of any one part at the expense of the others - be such structures the judiciary, the military, or the security agencies. In such a case, the issue of "conceding" power does not arise, and indeed, if the nation-design is not fundamentally flawed, it is unlikely that we would ever remember from which part of the nation the leader has emerged. If we did at all, it would be, or should be to speak in terms of admiration, tinged with legitimate envy - how do they do it? would then be the question, a largely rhetorical question, since others would not feel that we have been deprived of anything that is legitimately theirs.

Deprived of nothing that is legitimately theirs. Or meritoriously theirs. Therein lies the crux of our nation's dilemma. The recent tabulation - that is, the most recent, for there have been many before now, and undoubtedly there will be many more - a recent tabulation of the realities of inequity that have resulted from the negative industry of the more incorrigible enforcers of a sectarian mandate is that contained in that same article in TEMPO. Not that one needed the updated instruction. I can - if that individual dares me - I shall produce a dispiriting tabulation of how two ministries under that one individual - at different times of course - proceeded in terms of the methodical - I repeat - methodical displacement, reassignment, retirement and/or marginalisation of qualified individuals whose only crime was failure to belong to his own power entrusted territory. It was a massacre, no less, and no one should have been surprised, for in an earlier Ministry, that same individual had formulated a policy, presented in a paper, advocating the deliberate underdevelopment of the south in the field of his ministry until his own troubled constituency, the North, could be seen to have caught up.It was this same Minister - do excuse me, I must provide at least one example - it was this Minister who drew a Maginot line across the nation, beyond which the "infidels" and "barbarians" were forbidden to venture. In one massive purge, non-indegenes - principals, headmasters and head mistresses of federal, repeat, federal institutions located north of that line - were repatriated, at short notice, to their places of origin - in an exercise that we must presume was motivated by a need to re-design the nation in his own image. Those who may be tempted to consider this travesty of the intellectual or professional enterprise a simple individual aberration have obviously forgotten that it can boast venerable antecedence. Commencing with regional independence, administrative policies were put in place to drastically reduce, if not altogether curtail the influx of trained personnel - administrators etc. - from the south. As a stop-gap solution, that is, until the North had trained a sufficient number of medical hands for its requirements, a recruitment drive was launched, largely in the direction of the former colonial centre, Britain, but also from Pakistan. This resulted in a laissez-faire approach towards the verification of qualifications, and not a few lives were lost as a result of clinical work by totally unqualified individuals inflicted on the North by its politicians as medical practitioners and, more horrifyingly, surgery patients who never woke up from under anaesthetic, because the individual who wielded a scalpel over the prostrate victim had nothing but the qualification to serve as a hospital orderly. These are ugly memories, but they must be exhumed, at least, in place of those corpses that deserve their repose.

Let us recall however that, those divisive policies that our sample Minister pursued in his ministries, others have duplicated, sometimes with even more devastating effect, in the Police, and in the nation's judiciary, and with obvious tacit approval from the apex of power, since there was never any rebuke nor the slightest token of a gesture towards their reversal or redress.

And so, it becomes clear that Power at the top, though it may lack vision, certainly does not lack for prejudice. That structured prejudice then becomes a poison duct that filters down into the tiniest capillaries of the blood-stream of Power, stultifying initiative, commitment and motivation, and thus atrophying development right from the hair-roots of society. We begin to understand then that we dare not ignore, as the unfortunate product of dementia, that intercepted plea from a notorious fugitive in London, just before the 1993 elections. While the entire world imagined that he was busy preoccupied with giving thanks to his Maker for his narrow escape from a wooden crate, destination Unknown, he screamed a message to fellow members of his cabal, warning them to ensure that under no condition should a southerner be permitted so much as to glimpse the presidential seat. "The North will never allow any southerner to rule Nigeria" he would later elaborate. "The north will never allow the future of their children to be determined by the Southerners."

We must continue to hope that such voices are totally overwhelmed, not merely by opposing words, but by matching conduct from a new generation. If that is not the case, then the nation quilt, and by this we speak of the interior quilt both of living spaces and the underpinning structures - that quilt must be re-designed to ensure that it does not matter in the least who finally aspires to power at the top. Such a leader, and his lieutenants, must not be permitted to exercise a policy of power that subverts the relative value of the parts and the principles of natural justice, the deserves of expertise, excellence, ability, and the hierarchy of experience. Let me make it clear that even if such a leader emerges from my corner of the world, he must be fought to a standstill if he thinks to preserve the present structure of inequity, but imagines that he will gain sectarian support by merely transferring the focus of privilege to his own region.

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Finally, we must not neglect the symbolic route through which social designs also sometimes manifest themselves. Symbols are part of our lives, they constitute an emotional quotient but they go further - symbols carry a message that departs from mere abstraction and can be used or abused to impinge positively or deleteriously upon society. In a way, I suppose that we all carry a mental coat-of-arms with us, probably more than one. The individual coat-of-arms, the family coat-of-arms, a club coat-of-arms, a professional coat-of-arms etc. etc. I do not need to remind anyone here of the continuing potency of symbols such as the Nazi swastika even decades after the baleful empire that sported it had been crushed. If you doubt it, ask any Jew why his or her guts are wrenched when a synagogue, or a Jewish cemetery, is daubed with that symbol of evil. Even religious icons occupy a symbol of great emotionalism in our lives - people go on the rampage, kill senselessly but, with a sense of a divine mandate when a religious symbol is desecrated. Even so do others chafe, mutter darkly or respnd with violence when a symbol of domination is constantly flaunted before them - ask the Palestinians what happens to their psyche whenever they pass before an Israeli flag in the occupied territories, or the Armenian, even today, at the very sight of a Turkish flag.

Someone else and, I am sure, a great many discerning minds in this country, are clearly of a like mind in relation to symbols. The journal TEMPO of 8th October was actually sent to me in the United States this last week by someone who felt that I ought to read the article MASTERS AND SLAVES, by a Wilson Uwujaren, as a recent window of Nigerian through which my correspondent felt I should peep before I set off on my journey home. It is a brutally frank, and for me, patriotic essay, the study of which I heartily recommend, even for the prospect and certainty of violent disagreement. The part of that article that held my attention most however - for a reason that will shortly be apparent - was that part which actually dealt with this very issue of symbols. Permit me to provide the direct quote:

"Although heavily disguised, the following scenario leaves no one in doubt as to the paternity of the Nigerian military. There are (sic) historical evidence that could help illuminate the state of the Nigerian military today. It is called the Nigerian Army but very few Nigerians know that the motto of the country's army, "Victory is from God alone" is an adaptation from the flag of Shehu Uthman dan Fodio, the first Sultan of Sokoto."

Insignificant? A purely accidental choice that carries no symbolism, no overtones from history, and no indices of future intent? Or was this choice deliberate? Certainly the fact that the inscription is in Arabic is not an accident of choice - English, to the best of my knowledge, is the official language of the nation and must therefore be the official language on so potent a symbol as the motto of a national army. We are speaking, after all, of the military, a political constituency that has dominated the affairs of this nation for nearly three decades since independence. I am, indeed, one of the Nigerians who did not know of the composition of this motto, but, as I started earlier, it was not for nothing that, amidst the welter of details of the lop-sided structure of a nation that claims to be one, this was the one that struck me most forcibly. The reason of course is that my occupation is one that deals with symbols, and images. The question is: does the character, the command composition of what claims to be a national army reflect today the symbolic statement on that military ensign. The sectarian purge of the military under Sanni Abacha was only a crude, ham-fisted acceleration of a process that has been stridently decried in the media of this nation. This is a moment for honest answers, and a truthful response indicates quite clearly that a symbol can also be a declaration of intent, the fulfilment of which may be ruthlessly pursued at the expense of justice and equity.

One such symbol I spotted many years ago, indeed, from the moment I first lay my eyes on a newly issued Naira note. Now of course I could be a victim of a conspiracy obsession; perhaps I have become paranoid in these matters, nevertheless, the fact remains that I did read a meaning into the images of a seemingly innocuous piece of monetary device. And I have since ascertained that quite a few others have shared the same revelation. If it is a case of misreading, then obviously it is an overall context that creates a field of misinterpretation, in short, it is other signals - concrete, attitudinal, historic, provocative, insensitive, divisive, manipulative, the political givens, the discriminatory practices and structural imbalances - that have created such a false signification. But I do not think that this signification is false. A subliminal message has been inserted into this note and it is only one more addition to a host of indices sustaining the project of "us" and "the rest" that is pursued by this cunning, determined minority, a cabal which has single-mindedly inserted itself, and its well-schooled proteges into the most significant spaces of the national canvas.

Yes, take a Fifty-Naira note, and look closely at the design. Examine for a moment the relationship of the parts in this portraiture of the Nigerian types. One part represents the North, another the West, the third the East, while the fourth represents the indeterminate "Minorities". Look closely at the spatial relationship. Accidental? On its own, could be, but certainly not when taken in conjunction with yet another currency note, the Twenty-Naira. A symbol that has been cunningly split in two tells a not so innocent story when the note is folded over in a way that makes the two edges meet. Then we see that two halves of symbol merge into one. That symbol is the coat-of-arms of Arewa House, the bastion of Northern identity!

Should we deride these as the mere childish tricks of a partisan designer? Or are these minor notes in the diabolical orchestration of sub-liminal indoctrination? Is it incidental that the other language on our national currency is Arabic? If any part of the nation feels that our official language must be Arabic, then let us debate the issue at a National Conference, rather than sneaking it onto the various currency denominations of our nation. And if, at the national conference, a part of the country feels that these monetary exchange pledges that are part and parcel of our commercial existence must be articulated in Kiswahilli, Esperanto or Amharic, then let us debate the issue - but it is intolerable that one section, with its cultural leaning, should impose these designs on the rest. Such a conspiracy succeeds only as long as it remains uncovered. Once exposed, the next question is - what do we do about it. And if we do nothing, what are the consequences?

These are uncomfortable issues, but mine is not the only voice that raises them. We have principled voices from that same environment of the Stomach which warn again and again that the arrogance of a minority among them can only lead to a collapse of the body. They warn of the serious malfunctioning that has turned a once robust body into a pathetic walking corpse in the last stages of AIDS. In one form or the other, these voices have also called for a re-designing of the nation in a way that reflects and responds to the contribution of the parts, and the necessary equality of their membership. I have promised myself that I shall not mention any names today in a negative vein, only in the positive. So, just as I made a point of duty, in The Man Died, of identifying someone whom I found a mental exception to this reactionary trend, let me quickly point out others today of that same progressive frame of mind: Dangiwa Umar, Abubakar Balewa, Shehu Sanni, Uba Sani, Yusuf Mamman, Yohanna Madaki, Solomon Senok,Yusuf Tanko, Dan Suleiman, Tajudeen Abdulrahman, Olivette Jagusah, ...these are individuals who could have chosen to ally with Stomach and received the choicest tidbits from the national platter. Instead, they prefer to propagate the imperatives of equity in a joint undertaking. They remind their decadent elders that the future belongs, not to their antiquated notions and explosive agenda, but to future generations indifferent to, uncontrolled by, colonial or feudal design. They ask themselves only one question: if these designs were considered perfect by the past, why is it that they do not work in the present? Why have they caused so much hardship, so much distrust, established a culture of poverty, of dependency, of uncertainties and inertia, all in the name of group elitism? And they answer, such policies are a deception, a cheat, a powder-keg with a fuse lit in the past to explode in the present. It is with this generation of mind, not the generation of age and privilege, with whom the progressives in the south must dialogue.

The era of subterfuges is over. An elected president of this nation was denied the right to re-design our national space through a vision that he had long nursed, one that he shared with millions of his people, South, North, East and West. He was incarcerated for over three brutal years and then, he was murdered. By a subtle but overt act, or through studied negligence and the cumulative effects of questionable medication, Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola was murdered as surely as this is the year 1998, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights which preaches that :"everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country," without setting any limits to what form that participation shall take, or entitlement by height, girth, sex, tribe, religion, marital status or personal tastes. We call upon everyone, including even this minority but ubiquitous, seemingly irredeemable cabal to join hands with us, but penitently, remorsefully, in pursuing his interrupted dream, and re-designing this nation. If they do not yield, then let no one be astonished when the component parts of the Body pursue, directly and unambiguously, the truthful lessons of our morality tale. The Body is ravaged and the edifice is crumbling. Its relations are inequitable. Even the quantity surveyor lied to us. It is time to redesign the interior relations of the household.

Wole Soyinka
Friday October 16, 1998


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