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Osita Chidoka

Towards a Guiding Political Philosophy for a Democratic Nigeria By Osita Chidoka


Osita Chidoka

Dateline 2008: Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, then Secretary to Government of the Federation called me and inquired about a meeting I had in London with then EFCC Chairman Nuhu Ribadu and Mallam Nasir El-Rufai to launch an international media campaign to discredit President Umaru Yar’Adua as part of plans by the Obasanjo boys to remove President Yar’Adua from office. I was alarmed. Shortly after that discussion another senior friend of mine Chief Mike Nwakalor frantically called me and said I should thank Amb. Kingibe for standing up for me and insisting that the Osita he knows would not be part of a plan to discredit a government he is serving as a Chief Executive. Chief Nwakalor had also told some of those peddling the story that unless Ojo Maduekwe was part of the plot he does not see how Osita would plan such.

The truth was that I had come out of Paris from a road safety conference with my wife and checked into the Hilton Metropole where incidentally Nuhu Ribadu, who arrived from a Thisday Event in New York was also staying. We met in the lobby and he told me he was waiting for Nasir to go and see Gani Fawehinmi who was very sick at the time in London. I quickly offered to go and see Chief with them as I hadn’t seen him since he was hospitalised. After the visit I left with Nasir and Jimi Lawal to join the Awujale of Ijebu for Iftar dinner as it was Ramadan. The following day I left for Nigeria.

The story of the plan to discredit President Yar’Adua was only symptomatic of a more fundamental problem of ideological differences between the so called “Obasanjo boys” and the emerging “Yar’Adua group”. This difference arose largely because the PDP at that time was not constructed along any guiding political philosophy hence the immediate effort to dismantle what some termed the Obasanjo hegemony. Subsequently Nuhu Ribadu was removed as EFCC Chairman, Nasir El-Rufai went on exile and in my case a Presidential Panel was set up to investigate allegations that my appointment did not follow due process and other sundry allegations, same petition was also sent to ICPC and EFCC. Luckily for me Ambassador Kingibe and then Permanent Secretary General Services Office Hakeem Baba-Ahmed stood their ground and saved my nascent career from the forces I worked day and night with President Obasanjo to bring to power.

President Obasanjo in his last year made effort to construct a new paradigm for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by bringing to life a new manifesto with what he termed Irreducible Minimums on all the key areas to enable PDP elected officials across all levels of government to deliver on an agreed set of deliverables that will distinguish PDP from other parties. He also worked on a document titled “PDP Candidates: Desirable Qualities and Code of Conduct.” I will hand over to the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library a version of that document with the handwritten corrections of President Obasanjo. Today is not about history but sooner than later I will write my own book to respond to the historicity of  El-Rufai’s and Obasanjo’s facts and conclusions in their controversial books Accidental Public Servant and My Watch about my role in their various accounts.

President Obasanjo, is exceptional in his ability to spot talents and utilise them effectively. Age and tribe is no barrier to his unquenchable thirst for talents. I speak as a witness. Now l invite you to join me in spirit as we span over centuries and continents in the quest to locate the role of guiding philosophy in nation building and development of political culture.

Is Nigeria a mere geographical expression? Answers in this room will be varied but this sentence has continued to haunt our country and may continue to haunt us if we do not do the needful. That needful is the reason why we are here. First we are sitting in the presidential library of a former President. The first library so built, standing as a monument not to Olusegun Obasanjo the man but to the ideas, history and record of Obasanjo in the public space. The construction of this library though of material nature made of stone, sand and concrete, is one of the pointers that as a nation we are marching towards transmutation of matter to the ethereal. The library is a symbol of Obasanjo’s pioneering role in the effort to transform Nigeria from a mere geographical expression to a geographical expression of ideas.

A library is a repository of knowledge. Its significance is not in the physical structure housing it but in the ideas it stores and the mind it transforms beyond the imagination of the authors of the ideas. Hence my job today is to give expression to ideas that will enable a new generation to rethink, remap and reimagine Nigeria as an expression of ideas providing a home to all who seek to dwell in a geographic space housing those values that unite disparate groups, breathe life into a constructed entity and create a sense of union.

Countries founded along homogenous ethnic or racial identities are widespread and yet at some point in their evolution they rise above blood, family, caste and tribe to find a philosophical reason for existence. The British wrote the magna carta, arguably the most important foundation of contemporary law making and such legal principles like habeas corpus. The Magna Carta underpinned the evolution of the British democracy and the rights we take for granted today. We can state that the magna carta transformed Britain from a patrimonial geographical expression to an expression of idea that propelled the rise of the British empire.

The French revolution institutionalised, if it did not invent, the philosophical underpinning of French society under the slogan Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. These thought triad continue to define and symbolise the ideals that French men and women live and die for.

The United States of America is a classical example of a nation founded on ideas. Ideas that speak of truths self-evident, of equality of men, of rights inalienable, of endowment by their Creator and listed some of the rights to include Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

70 years later Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg spoke of a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. What is the philosophical idea that our nation was conceived in and to what proposition are we dedicated? Lincoln was at Gettysburg to dedicate a burial ground for soldiers who gave their lives at the battlefield during the US civil war between the Northern and Southern parts of the country. He defined the war, drawing from the declaration of independence, as testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived or so dedicated can long endure.

In the three examples we have cited above none spoke about unity, about progress, about faith, about peace rather they spoke of natural and legal rights. They spoke about the expectations of a human being from the union or state. When we today speak about supremacy of the constitution, habeas corpus, mandamus and other legal protection that individuals enjoy, we must remember that its origin is in the fundamental philosophy of states. These philosophies did not arise out of philosophers but are a product of the struggle between contending forces be they economic, social or racial.

At independence, our leaders failed to define the qualities of an exceptional country so diverse yet so similar that other African countries can discern a Nigerian no matter the ethnic origin.  The emphasis was on replacing the colonial masters and enjoying the benefits of a distributional and extractive governance philosophy primarily designed to enrich the home government of the colonialist. In adopting that philosophy without the administrative competence of the colonial administration it was only a matter of time before the vacuous organising principle of the new state led to Africa’s worst pogrom and civil war.

The end of the civil war offered an opportunity for the winning coalition to redefine the organising principle of the Nigerian state and propose new ideals upon which, a state exceptional in its combination of three strong and many other small ethnic groups that had overcome a civil war, can be founded. Yet again we missed it.

The scars of the war and the psychological damage on both sides were covered with the wall paper of oil boom denying the country an opportunity for introspection and catharsis. On the Nigerian side, the psychological damage arising from a bloody three – year war to keep the country one did not find a healing outlet. We talk today of the Unknown Soldier and perform some perfunctory ceremony ostensibly to honour that soldier whose purpose and reason for dying remains unknown to the post-civil war generation or even to those who fought alongside the soldier.

On the Eastern side of the country the three Rs of Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation provided the convenient ointment to soothe the pains of the bitter pogroms and war. Together with the oil boom and the quest to survive, the necessary soul searching and existential interrogation that ought to accompany the reconciliation never occurred.

Taking an example from the United States of America, a country founded on the idea of freedom and inalienable rights, we look at the way those who lost their lives during the American Civil war and the Second World War are treated. Every June 6, the world celebrates the D-Day, the landing at Normandy. On the 50th anniversary of that landing, veterans, Presidents, Prime Ministers gathered at Normandy to celebrate the most audacious military campaign by the Allies to fight back Nazism. At the National D-day Memorial located in Bedford, Virginia, the community suffering the highest per capita D-Day losses in America, the memorial is described “…as a permanent tribute to the valour, fidelity and sacrifice of D-Day participants. The memorial is encompassed by the names of the 4,413 Allied soldiers who died in the invasion”

Where is the memorial to the valour and the sacrifice of the soldiers who fought to keep Nigeria one or the memorial for those who lost their lives in the pogroms and the Biafra side? What is the reminder for ‘‘Never again”? What will make a post war generation conscious of the triggers of that war and the human and material cost of the war? We must confront our past to help in ensuring that a new generation does not repeat the mistakes of the past as the prevailing situation across the country suggests.

The generation that fought the civil war did not and have not defined the reason it fought to keep Nigeria one. We do not have the equivalent of our own Gettysburg speech that raised the reason for the war above the mundane. We have not honoured those who laid down their lives so that the Nigerian State will survive and exist. Since the colonial government amalgamated Nigeria, have we defined the concept of Nigeria along values and ideas? We talk about unity and faith, unity for what? Faith in what? For what purpose?

Our ethnic, tribal and religious diversity ought to provide the inspiration and aspiration to build a nation out of our different tribes and tongues. Our founding fathers missed the opportunity to inspire and construct a nation of ideas and not a mere inheritor of a British convenience store. It is in trying to sustain and build on the British foundation and scaffolds that we have missed our way and continue to do so.

As a Freedom child born on a Nigerian soil watered by the blood of young men and women on both sides of the war, I have decided that we have come of age to set new scaffolds and construct new pillars that will give new meaning to the idea of Nigeria. Those born after the war are gradually ascending to the commanding heights of the bureaucracy, economy, politics and academia and will sooner than later assume responsibility for managing Nigeria.

Our national motto speaks of unity and faith, peace and progress. Unity for what purpose? Faith in what? Our national anthem asks us to arise and obey Nigeria’s call to serve our fatherland, service to achieve what? That the labours of our heroes past shall not be in vain. Good enough we are at President Obasanjo’s Library and he is here with us, it will be good to know what informed the change of our national anthem in 1978.

Our first national anthem composed by a British expatriate Lilian Jean Williams, who won the contest to compose an anthem for independent Nigeria gave an indication of the Nigeria we should build as it talks of standing in brotherhood though tribes and tongues may differ, of sovereign native land and proclaimed that our flag shall be a symbol that truth and justice reign whether in peace or battle we shall honour truth and justice. At the end of the first stanza it demanded us to hand on to our children a banner without stain. Lets look at the lyrics of the two national anthems again

The concept of truth and justice, of standing in brother though we differ and the promise to handover  a banner without stain resonates and have the aspirational qualities of an ideal.

The first stanza of the Obasanjo (yes he gave it to us) anthem calls us to arise and obey Nigeria’s call. It demands us to serve our fatherland with love, strength and faith hoping that the labours of our heroes past shall not be in vain. It ends with a declaration of a nation bound in freedom, peace and unity. The current anthem is a product of our post-civil war experience which has as its defining ethos peace and unity. The issue is, to what purpose?

Looking at the second stanza of the two anthems I have no difficulty aligning with the old anthem which asks the Creator to grant our one request, to help us build a nation where no man is oppressed. The idea of a black nation where no man is oppressed appears to me as a foundation upon which we can construct a nation so diverse and yet similar; where though tribes and tongues differ we can stand in brotherhood. A country where minority rights are protected and individual rights guaranteed.


My sympathy for the first national anthem notwithstanding, its weakness was the fact that it did not emanante from Nigerians. Its foreign origin elicited strong protest at that time and made the words to lose its deeper meanings to its audience.

Sadly our first republic started without a coherent national aspirational philosophy and more seriously it took off as a divided country. This fact was well captured in an article by Ezekiel Mphahlele writing in African Today, a few months to independence, in an article titled Nigeria On the Eve of Independence.

Describing the three regions on the eve of independence Mphahlele wrote  “So here we have three regions  marching  confidently to independence: practically three nations,  the  smallest having not less than five and one-half million in population. The British Colonial Secretary believes Nigeria could not have  chosen  better  than  to opt for a federal structure. But there is a body of enlightened opinion that holds that the worst legacy Britain could have left Nigerians was to have regionalized the country. Indeed, each regional government has  over  the years been “developing along  its  own  lines””. Three strong regions sharing no unifying philosophy and dedicated to no ideal.

More disturbing is Mphahlele’s thoughts on the Political Parties of the day at that time. He posited that each regional ruling party  generally  reflects  the traits of the national group it  governs. He described the N.C.N.C thus  “N.C.N.C. has a looseness of structure that  has something  to do with what one may call the republican spirit of the Easterners – the individualism and  independence  of mind of the Ibo.”

For the Action Group he thought the “A.G. reflects the profound sense of authority of the Yoruba: almost as if, without someone to pay obeisance to, a  man would not survive one day”

The Northern People’s Congress was in his words “Equally authoritarian is the N.P.C. Muslim sanctions give it  a  feudal look and character and  indeed it is often feudal in its attitudes and in its dealings with those it rules”

For the intellectuals who have also consistently failed Nigeria in their inability to locate the organizing ethos for a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country like Nigeria Mpahahlele has very harsh words for them even then. “Intellectual opinion is not organized at all in  Nigeria. Intellectuals are too busy  consolidating  economic gains that have  accrued  from  positions  they have taken from retiring or retired whites.  And any­ how, the civil service, which has the largest concentration of intellectuals, does not  promote,  still  less breed, intellectual freedom.”

Presciently, Mphahlele observed that the absence of a philosophical foundation or an existential challenge will leave Nigeria as a nation with unrealized potentials. In his words “If the challenge of independence can act on the Nigerian in anything like the same degree as the challenge of oppression does in South Africa, Nigeria can be a truly great country”

He also warned almost prophetically about the possibility of violence post-independence and the impact of colonialism “… only a fool is prepared to stake everything on the peace-loving qualities of Nigerians. Colonialism has an uncanny way of creating a host of ugly paradoxes by which it thrives. And when it recedes, these paradoxes appear to the unperceptive onlooker to be self-imposed.”

We have found a rather insightful witness in Ezekiel Mphahlele, a South African who was teaching at University College Ibadan at independence, to support our basic thesis that our founding fathers did not construct a strong philosophical foundation for our nascent nation. Our own Baba also agreed that “The only point on which Nigerian political leaders spoke with one voice was the granting by the British of political  independence – and even then they did not agree on the timing.”. In the euphoria of independence we left undone those things which we ought to have done.

Our national aspirations should inspire the next generation and provide them with the existential meaning of Nigeria. A meaning that transcends geography, natural resources and ethnicity. To grow Nigeria we must build a society that harness human resources, provides equal opportunities and develops capacity for innovation.

It is on this foundation that I want to interrogate the presence or absence of a guiding philosophy for Nigeria and the consequential impact on our political culture. Many have argued that the trouble with Nigeria is leadership and others have asked When is a Nation? Some insist that the absence of ideology is at the root of our political crisis. In all the views the constant is the agreement that there is trouble with Nigeria. The leadership question is key.

During the civil war General Gowon could not define why the task to keep Nigeria one must be done. Unlike Lincoln he could not locate the sacrifices, injuries and deaths arising from that war in a larger philosophical construct. Another opportunity missed.

The regime of General Murtala Muhammed rallied Nigeria with a muscular Pan-African agenda and acclaimed effort to stamp out corruption. This was followed by a more radical Pan-African agenda under General Olusegun Obasanjo when he succeeded Gen. Muhammed. The first Constituent Assembly, after the war, again saw politicians focusing on form and not content. Mid-wifed by the Military the Assembly could not craft a national charter that can lay the philosophical foundation for the country.

President Shagari’s ruling Party, National Party of Nigeria (NPN) spoke of One Nation, One Destiny. I am not sure much thought was given to either the nation or its destiny.

The war against corruption turned out to be the basis of legitimacy of the General Buhari administration. The regime had no time or temperament to consider existential issues like national philosophy.

The Babangida administration attempted to redefine the economic structure of the country through a World Bank inspired Structural Adjustment Programme that Obasanjo accused of “lacking milk of human kindness and a human face”. Despite that scathing criticism it was one of the boldest effort to adjust the country structurally, at least economically. Aligned to the economic programme was a political experiment that led to government-created parties with the curious ideological differentiation of “a little to the left and a little to the right”.

The Abacha regime had no time nor patience for intellectual discourse. Its Constitutional Conference, however, was exceptional in the composition and the intensity of the debates against the backdrop of June 12 and its aftermath.

General Abubakar implemented a single agenda of handover and together with his ruling council edited and promulgated the 1999 constitution.

In 1999, Peoples Democratic Party came to power with a promise of “power to the people” and Olusegun Obasanjo, fresh from Prison, as President.   After successfully handing over power,  Obasanjo had retired peacefully into commercial farming, but remained active in organizing programmes aimed at promoting peace, understanding and diplomacy not only within Nigeria and African region, but the world at large.

That activism has led him to many intellectually exciting books on nation building and politics such as This Animal Called Man; Call to Duty; Speeches, Not My Will,  A New Dawn; No Compromise With Apartheid; Towards Civil Rule and Africa in Perspectives. Others were A March of Progress; Nigeria and International Trade; Nzeogwu; Constitution For National Integration and Development; Africa Embattled; My Command: An Account of the Nigerian Civil War 1969-70 and I See Hope, among others.

African Leadership Forum is also another platform he founded in 1988 to help improve the current quality of leadership in Africa while at the same time helping to train the next generation of leaders for the continent in demonstration of his commitment to nation building efforts.

In 1999, Obasanjo’s party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) not only won the presidential election in the general elections, the party formed the majority in both the Senate and House of Representatives. The PDP turned out to be an ideologically fluid amalgam of strange bed fellows without an organising principle except to take-over from the military. No sooner had PDP assumed office that the first sign of stress surfaced. The issue of the choice of leadership in the two Chambers of the National Assembly dominated by elected representatives on the banner of the PDP proved divisive.

The handling of that crisis contributed in large part to the nature and subsequent trajectory of the PDP. The co-option of the Alliance for Democracy in the effort to stop Senator Chuba Okadigbo effectively indicated the end of any ideological posturing of the political parties. I am sure there were many complexities to the story but President Obasanjo’s first term provided some indication on his position on the Nigerian question.

First, on the issue of corruption Obasanjo and the PDP took a position that the federal government can create institutions to fight corruption against the prevailing orthodoxy that crimes are state matters. In a legal sanctification of President Obasanjo’s position, in the case of Attorney-General of Ondo State V. Attorney-General of the Federation & 35 ors the Supreme Court relied on Section 15 (5) of Chapter 2 of the constitution to justify the enactment of the ICPC Act. The court held that “therefore it is incidental or supplementary for the National Assembly to enact the law that will enable the ICPC to enforce the observance of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy. This radical judgement suggest that we can indeed make provisions of  Chapter two of our constitution justiciable.

The creation of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission erected the scaffold for the construction of an anti-corruption infrastructure at the federal level. Today it appears that there is national consensus on the issue of anti-corruption agencies.

Confronted by the question of derivation and onshore/offshore dichotomy decided by the Supreme Court President Obasanjo went for “political solution” leading to the enactment of the law abolishing the dichotomy in the application of the principle of derivation in 2004. On the issue of derivation Obasanjo and PDP saved the country from a brewing crisis but more importantly laid another historic foundation of giving legal teeth to the 13% derivation in the constitution through abolition of the dichotomy.

On sharia, the strategy of adopting a political solution was largely successful in calming frayed nerves and quelling a potentially catastrophic crisis. At the root of the strategy is the question of the role of the state in religion and extent of the use of the power of the federal government in resolving local issues.

In his second term, President Obasanjo, broke ranks with the ruling class and sought to define the philosophical underpinning of Nigeria, his government and his party. An avalanche of policies designed to reduce government included privatisatisation, concessioning, public private partnership, monetisation and sale of government houses.

Strong measures to improve service delivery and transparency led to coming into being of SERVICOM, a service delivery compact and the Bureau of Public Procurement, popularly called the Due Process Office.

An environment of free market-reforms led to strong economic regulation and clear support for a vibrant private sector saw policies like banking consolidation, insurance consolidation, downstream deregulations and pensions reforms.

Promoting fiscal responsibility led to the creation of the Debt Management Office, passage of Fiscal Responsibility bill, creation of Excess Crude Account and tight management of foreign reserves.

The strong policy and thought leadership of the Obasanjo administration produced great results. Prof. Soludo recounted it succinctly recently, the PDP handed over a $550 billion economy (largest in Africa and 26th in the world), with 7.5% unemployment rate (better than European Union, France, Sweden, Belgium, etc although the underemployment figure is much higher); a stock of reserves of $30 billion; GDP growth rate averaging 6% over last 12 years; a relatively more diversified economy, with ICT penetration from 0.2% to over 60%.

President Obasanjo left a new contributory pension scheme now with trillions of Naira in pension fund. Our external debt is down although total debt stock is escalating. Our Gini coefficient (degree of inequality) is not different from China’s. Nigeria has consolidated and stronger banking system that currently finances both government debt and the private sector, with a relatively vibrant capital market. The capitalization of the Nigerian Stock Exchange grew from less than N1 trillion to N12 trillion as at handover. For the first time, Nigerian economy is now rated by credit rating agencies (Fitch, and Standard and Poor’s).

The success story notwithstanding President Umaru Yar’Adua on succeeding Obasanjo showed little or no interest in the ideological adjustment of the Nigerian state around the Washington consensus and the reform of the PDP from a successful election vehicle to an agenda shaping institution that Obasanjo had initiated. The lack of interest was symptomatic of deep ideological divide that our leaders have not paid attention to. The reversal of some of the Obasanjo policies brings us  back to the fundamental issue of absence of ideology in our political system.

To chart a way forward I believe we need to first define the reason for our existence as a nation. Amalgamated for British administrative convenience and bound by geography we need to move beyond unity, progress, peace and freedom to more philosophical precepts that reflect our national hopes, speak to our fears and project a sense of collective destiny and a shared future.

The chapter two of the 1999 constitution aptly named Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy in 24 sections made effort to capture the objectives and directive principles to reflect our areas of agreement and what the drafters considered as the organising principle of the Nigerian state but regrettably made it non-justiciable.

I however, propose that all our former Heads of State, their Deputies, former Senate Presidents and their Deputies, former Speakers of House of Reps and their Deputies, Former Heads of service and Secretaries to Government of the federation, heads of all ethnic associations, heads of professional bodies, retired Service chiefs and Inspectors General should meet and draft a new charter for Nigeria. The Charter shall contain the reason for our union, the purpose of the union and the guarantee of the basic rights, privileges and obligations of citizens. This charter shall be presented to the National Assembly as bill to amend the constitution and if passed would replace chapter 2 of 1999 constitution and would be justiciable.

The choice of the older generation in drafting this charter is to ensure that our collective experience as a nation is not lost. The National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly would provide opportunity for inter-generational dialogue and create the legitimacy required for the document. President Obasanjo I beseech you let this generation not pass before this shall come to pass.

The defining quality of our country in the past 45 years has been the distributional politics fuelled by oil revenue. This revenue stream, that may be impaired by developments in alternative energy, should be the seed capital to develop the manpower and infrastructure for a post oil economy. This thinking can be the basis of a new covenant that places the Nigerian at the center of governance and guarantees him irreducible minimums that aids him in the struggle for daily bread.

Our political parties can then build their ideologies around the strategies for achieving our national goals.

As I end this lecture today, the question every Nigerian should pose to our office seekers and elected officials should be:

  • On critical national questions, where do you stand?
  • On the role of government in the economy, where do you stand?
  • On Federal Government devolving more powers to the States, where do you stand?
  • On fiscal federalism, where do you stand?
  • On transparency and compliance to due process, where do you stand?
  • On increased derivation in revenue sharing, where do you stand?
  • On reducing the size of government, where do you stand?
  • On Local Government autonomy, where do you stand?

Do not let any political party or aspirant deceive you with promises of bridges where there is no river, insist that the existential questions confronting our nation must be answered by those who seek to lead us.

On this note I rest my case and hope that I have earned the lunch that I will eat from Baba who despite his reputation for stinginess, has given me so much. He gave me the benefit of his experiences, which he shares freely with me and also of his resources, whether you believe it or not. Some of my colleagues always wondered what I did to him to unlock his Araldite hands.

Baba, thank you for this opportunity and may the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library continue to serve as a fulcrum for ideas that promote a Nigeria founded on timeless values.


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