I was stung by the news of Mr. John Shagaya’s death in a fatal road accident. Shagaya belongs in a generation of colourful military men who defined my generation in the 1980s in ways in which we – and Nigeria – have never really recovered from. The manner of Mr. Shagaya’s death is an occasion for yet another examination of the Nigerian condition.
Sadiq Daba, the actor, ran into some serious health issues recently. He cried out for financial help to undergo foreign treatment. Pronto, Nigerians reacted overwhelmingly. But wait. I did not hear anybody talk about Daba’s religion or ethnic group. The people who tweeted and retweeted his appeal for help, and those who contributed money, were certainly not from his village. I was so so so so so happy. It confirmed, yet again, my pet theory about Nigeria — that we do not hate each other. We are just victims of the unending political manipulation of ethnic and religious identities for selfish gain. Evidently, ordinary Nigerians have the “Nigerian spirit” in their DNA.
Indeed. I have met extremists and chauvinists from across religions and races. I am yet to hear anyone declare that we were not created by the same God. One of the most astonishing things about life, to me, is the fact that although we can choose to be Muslims or Christians, and so on, nobody can choose to be Hausa, Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba or whatever. We just woke up one day to find ourselves as members of one ethnic group or the other. It was not our making. So why should you discriminate against me, and hate me, on the basis of an ethnic identity that is beyond my control? Is it my fault that I was born into a family that was clearly not my choice?
Today, I am going a little bit practical on how we can renew our minds. There is a saying that Rome was not built in a day, a proverb originated by the 19th century English playwright, John Heywood, who also gave us immortal expressions such as “out of sight out of mind”, “better late than never”, and “the more the merrier”. He said Rome wasn’t built in a day “but they were laying bricks every hour”. This, in some sense, tells us the value of consistent hard work, perseverance and conscious efforts at construction. If Nigeria is going to change, therefore, we must alienate those who see themselves, first and foremost, as ethno-religious champions. It all starts in the mind.
But, pardon me, Rome was not destroyed in a day either. It took ages to build the city but took a much shorter time to destroy it. Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 AD. In three days, they looted, burnt and wrecked the beautiful city. That hastened the collapse of the Roman Empire. Same thing applies here: the destruction of Nigeria by ethnic champions and religious bigots will not happen in one day — it is a gradual, steady process. That is why we the people must guard our hearts jealously before we are recruited into the hate brigade under different guises. Those already recruited can decide to desert straightaway. We need to build, not destroy.
My suggestions. To start with, do not participate in the sharing of messages and materials that are clearly intended to preach hate and prejudice. Saying “shared as received” is pure hypocrisy. You can be critical of leadership without attacking or disparaging their religions and ethnic origins. As a matter of principle, I do not share messages that are clearly meant to spread hate. It is a duty I owe my conscience. We all have terrible things to say about other people. If we do not allow love to guard our hearts, we will keep adding fuel to fire. Therefore, before you press the “send” or “forward” button, ask yourself: what is my motive? Unto thyself, be honest.
Also, do not feed your children with hate and prejudice. Fill their hearts with edifying things. A senior colleague of mine, a Muslim, married a Christian, who then converted to Islam. He told me he once engaged the services of a cleric to teach his children the Qur’an every Sunday. One day, he overheard the cleric telling the children not to drink from the same cup or eat from the same plate with their aunts, who were living with them, because they were “infidels”. My colleague fired the “alfa” on the spot. He remains a devout Muslim, sure, but he saw danger and immediately quenched it. This kind of hate messaging certainly fuelled the mindset that birthed Boko Haram.
This is how hate works: it focuses on what divides us rather than what unites us. If there are Qur’anic verses that say Muslims should love and care for Christians, the hate merchants will focus on where Christians are called “infidels”. If there are verses in the Bible that say “love your neighbour as yourself”, the messengers of hate will focus on “what fellowship does light have with darkness?” There is nothing you want to justify with the scriptures that you won’t find. If you truly have love in your heart, you will focus on the verses of love. The God that forbade eating four-footed creatures is the same God that ordered Apostle Peter, in a trance, to kill and eat! To the pure all things are pure.
And this is how prejudice works: because Chief Obafami Awolowo did not declare Oduduwa Republic in solidarity with Biafra in 1967, every Yoruba is a traitor — including the one that was born early this morning. Because an Igbo chap was arrested for 419, every Igbo person — dead, living or unborn — is a fraudster. Because Barkin Zuwo struggled with speaking English, every northerner is an illiterate; in fact, no northerner has a brain. Because of the insane activities of ISIS and Boko Haram, every Muslim is a terrorist, including your friend. Tragically, there are people that the only thing they can see in you is your language or religion, not the content of your character.
Let me quickly say this before I shut down my laptop and take a stroll: it is very difficult to resist the message of hate and prejudice in a society already polluted by manipulative politicians, their overpaid sidekicks and our inept leaders. I know. When everybody is saying there is casting down, it is very difficult to go against the grain and say there is lifting up. You just go with the flow. But maybe the “casting down” gang is not as big as the “lifting up” brigade — just that the latter has been intimidated into silence. They must begin to speak out. Rome was not destroyed in a day. Those working to destroy Nigeria neither sleep nor slumber.
As for me and my house, we resolved long ago that we would never feed our children with hate, prejudices and biases. These things are usually passed on from generation to generation. I resolved to follow the example of my grandmother by celebrating the best in others rather than focusing on their worst. I would rather talk about the dignity in labour you find among the Hausa, the creativity among the Igbo and the industry among the Yoruba. Accuse me of living in denial and I will accuse you of living in bitterness. Accuse me of being politically correct and I will accuse you of being self-righteous. Accuse me of being naïve and I will accuse you of being jaundiced. It’s all in the mind.
For the record, Chief Obasanjo is a patriot, and he has proven this time and time again. We appreciate what he said concerning the Administration’s performance in two out of the three key issues that formed the plank of its campaign: Fighting corruption and tackling insurgency. Specifically, the former President said President Buhari must be given credit for his achievement so far in these two areas. We thank him for this. Apparently, the former President believes that the Administration does not deserve a pass mark in the area of the economy, which is the third of our three-pronged campaign promises. We have no doubt that in the face of massive challenges in this area, this Administration has availed itself creditably. We believe that Chief Obasanjo, because of his very busy schedule, may not have been fully availed of developments in the government’s efforts to revamp the economy, which was battered by the consequences of over-dependence on a commodity as well as unprecedented pillaging of the treasury. Today, most of the indices by which an economy is measured are looking up. Permit me to say, however, that Nigeria would not have exited recession through a mere order or if the Administration had not made use of ”good Nigerians” who could help. This Administration is making steady progress in its determined effort to revamp the economy, and the results are showing: * Foreign Reserves have peaked at $40b, the highest level in about four years, and up from $24 billion just a year ago, even though when we came in, the price of oil had crashed woefully. * According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBC), headline inflation has fallen for 11 consecutive months, standing at 15.37% as at Dec. 2017. This is the lowest inflation rate since Jan 2017, and it has met and surpassed the target set for inflation in the Administration’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). * Our determined implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) has stopped the hemorrhaging of the treasury. Some 108 billion Naira has been saved from removal of maintenance fees payable to banks, pre-TSA. The nation is being saved 24.7 billion Naira monthly with the full implementation of the TSA. * The elimination of ghost workers has saved the nation 120 billion Naira * At about 1.8 billion dollars, the capital inflows in the second quarter of 2017 were almost double the $908 million in the first quarter. * In the wake of a stable Naira and increased investment inflows, Nigeria’s stock market emerged one of the best-performing in the world, delivering returns in excess of 40 percent. * Nigeria rose 24 places on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking, and earned a place on the List of Top 10 Reformers in the world. * According to Q3 2017 figures, agriculture export is up year-on-year by 25%, solid minerals exports are up year-on-year by 78%, raw materials exports are up 70% year-on-year and manufactured goods exports are up 22% year-on-year. * Government agencies such as the Nigeria Customs Service are reporting highest-ever revenue collection, while JAMB, under the new management appointed by President Buhari in 2016, remitted N7.8 billion to the coffers of the federal government. The total amount remitted by JAMB between 2010 and 2016 was a paltry N51 million! These positive indices may not have immediately impacted positively on Nigerians, but Nigerians will definitely get a new lease of life a short while from now. This is because the good news from the agricultural sector, which is recording a bumper harvest, will bring down the cost of foodstuffs, especially such staple as rice, and our massive Social Investment Programme will ease the pain of the most vulnerable in the society. When we assumed office in 2015, some 6 million farmers were involved in rice production. Thanks to the Anchor Borrowers’ programme of this Administration, we have grown that number to over 12 million farmers. The result is that our rice import from Thailand alone has dropped from 644 metric tonnes to 22,000 MT in just two years. This is phenomenal. Apart from rice, Nigeria is also doing well in other grains, especially Millet, Sorghum and Maize. We are now the second largest producer of sorghum after the US, the third in millet after India and our breweries are now enjoying local sourcing of those commodities. For maize, we are producing 10 million tons while we need about 13 million tons for both human and animal nutrition. Nigeria leads the world in the yam and cassava production. We account for 70% of the world’s yam production. In two years, we hope to be the world’s largest exporter of yam! Overall, our ambition is that agriculture should rise from 25% to 40% of GDP, so that we can banish poverty and overcome our economic anxiety. Our Social Investment Programme is Nigeria’s most ambitious social welfare programme ever. Currently, 5.2 million primary school children in 28,249 schools in 19 states are being fed daily; 200,000 unemployed graduates have enlisted into the N-power Job Scheme, and a quarter of a million loans already distributed to artisans, traders, and farmers. Finally, our investment in infrastructure is simply unprecedented. This is because infrastructure is key to faster economic growth and development. Here is a synopsis of what we have done in this area: * Power Generation at an all-time high of 7,000mw and all can be transmitted * RAIL: Lagos-Kano Standard Gauge is on. Lagos-Ibadan sector ready 2019, Kano-Kaduna ready 2019; The entire stretch ready 2021; Negotiations on for Coastal Rail covering 15 cities from Lagos to Calabar. * ROAD: 25 major highways being funded with the N100b Sukuk Bond, and all geo-political zones are benefitting equally This Administration is not unaware of the enormity of the challenges facing the nation, but we are up to the task. We have taken the bull by the horns, and long-suffering Nigerians will begin to experience a new lease of life as our efforts yield fruits. We will not go into a state of funk for whatever reason. On the Herders/Farmers’ clashes, this Administration is determined to end the crisis resulting from this once and for all, not minding that fact that the clashes predate us. I will urge Nigerians to have faith in the Administration’s ability to resolve the crisis, and to watch out for concrete measures in this regard. “On whether or not President Muhammadu Buhari should run for another term, it is true that many Nigerians have been calling on the President to run again, while others are opposed to his return. “However, we believe this issue is a distraction for the President at this time. This is because Mr. President spends every waking hours tackling the enormous challenges facing the nation, most of which were bequeathed to his Administration by successive past Administrations. He is committed to fulfilling the mandate given to him by Nigerians in 2015. And that’s where we are right now! Finally, we have no reason to believe that former President Obasanjo has any motive beyond the well-being of the nation in issuing his Special Press Statement. We have also taken his admonition in good faith, and we thank him most sincerely for taking time off his busy schedule to pen such a long statement.
Minister of Information