Dr. Olusegun Mimiko presented this speech in Enugu on Thursday, January 11, 2017 at the Handshake Across the Niger event organised by Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Afenifere.
Every genocide in history emanated from evil perception of racial/ethnic superiority/insecurity, whereas the greatest nation of modern times was built on an idea of equality and inclusiveness that it is ‘self-evident that all men are created equal…..’
We now live in a world where machines are being built to think, a world in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) threatens our fundamental assumptions of employment. We can therefore not afford to be cocooned in the prejudices of the past, some of which are based on the perceptive errors and indiscretions of some of our leaders living or dead.
For sure, we must learn and cherish our history and allow it to enlighten our choices of today and tomorrow but we must resist the temptation of perceiving history as an invitation to live in the past.
I hate poverty. I believe in God’s word that He created us in His own image. That to me means that He wants us to live decent lives, not the obviously subhuman living most of our country men and women have been consigned.
When God decreed at creation that we should ‘…Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth..’, it couldn’t have been His intention that our women should continue to die in efforts to be fruitful.
I hate it that one out of five of our children die of essentially preventable diseases before they get to the age of five.
I hate the devaluation of life (which is worse than currency devaluation) that has translated to rampart and unchecked killing in every part of our country.
I hate to be considered an inferior human being because my country, my race has refused to excel in virtually all areas of human endeavour. We, that were once forced into slavery have now become voluntary slaves and are ready to take any risk to so be. Yes, even the risk of traversing deserts and oceans in the most hazardous manner is game. Our young ones, the strength of our today and the wisdom of our future have become objects of derision, victims of hard drugs and all manners of occultism and cultism.
We thirst for a turnaround. We pray and shall continue to pray for it. But we must also be ready to WORK for it… peacefully through shared perceptions and agreed concrete democratic actions.
We all agree that the structure of our nation is not serving us well, and that in many ways, it hinders development. Indeed, many of the challenges listed heretofore, and the list is certainly not exhaustive, are but a manifestation of the defective structure this nation has been forced to operate, especially since military incursion into governance in 1966. No one needs to be a development expert to know that we are not doing well on the development front. The good news, however, is that we are capable of doing better. We are capable of posting great results on the platform of composite development and national unity. What we simply need to do, and I dare say urgently, is to redesign this structure, with a view to making it more functional.
I am glad that in spite of everything, some semblance of consensus is emerging around the more critical of the issues, not just across the Niger, but indeed all over the country. It has become clear, as I have often averred, that restructuring is not a South versus North thing. Rather, it is about unleashing the potential of all parts of our nation for rapid development. My conviction in this regard is what has made me align with the mainstream Yoruba political tendency, personified by Afenifere, which has perhaps more than any group in this country, put the restructuring argument on the front burner. It is the reason why as Governor of Ondo State, I supported the convocation of the 2014 National Conference, and the southwest delegation in every way possible. I am persuaded that what that Conference came up with is good enough a starting point in rescuing our nation from this suffocating structure that has hamstrung development for decades, and promises to keep doing so for as long as it is in place.
As we proceed to develop this concept of handshake further, let us please note three critical issues. The first is that seeking to build a stronger bond between the East and West, or better still across the Niger, is NOT inconsistent with our desire for national unity. Indeed, it is the case that when two significant units of a system work in harmony, it portends greater prospects of the entire system doing the same, and being more functional. The closer the East and West work, therefore, the surer the path of peace and development for Nigeria.
Secondly, a comb through the history of our existence as East and West reveals profound pieces of evidence that should ordinarily serve as the basis of greater bonding between our two peoples. This is what the two objects of celebration today, Aguiyi-Ironsi and Adekunle Fajuyi, personify. Let us therefore let go of our disagreement, misconceptions and pains of the past. Our narrative must change otherwise, the evident generational transfer of animosity will continue if unchecked.
Thirdly, a handshake across the Niger, on its own and by itself, may not mean much if it does not provide the unimpeachable basis for deployment of governance structures for the betterment of the lives of our peoples.
I hasten to conclude that if you are affronted by rampaging poverty and despondency in our land; if you are ashamed of our race being the object of global derision; and if you believe that we must restructure, in line with a functional federal system for the turnaround that we desire, then we are kindred spirit, East or West, North or South. For me, this is the handshake across the Niger!
Olusegun Mimiko is the immediate past governor of Ondo State (2009 to 2017). He is a medical doctor and globally recognised universal healthcare champion. He tweets from @SegunMimiko.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.