does not seem quite right about the Zamfara vision,
as embodied in the State’s recent adoption of Shari’a law. I use the term vision
advisedly, based on my understanding that it is an imaginative future outlook
which grasps the truths of a people’s existence.
then, must be seen as persons with progressive ideas and dreams. I take it that
these ideas and dreams shall have the quality of not only looking ahead but,
more importantly, being able to grasp the truth that underlies the fact of our
existence as a people, as a one nation. I don’t know quite how to express this,
but in my search for a credible explanation, my mind keeps going back to the
same worries I had about (late Gen.) Abacha’s Vision 2010.
problem confronting Nigeria today – the problem that most threatens our
existence as one nation – is political. Abacha’s attempt at visioning ought to
have been expressed as a sort of Magna
Carta – a political document. Thereafter, this political document can be
translated into economic platforms by various actors who come into or seek to
come into government. Having rejected the option of a sovereign national
conference, the Abacha regime compounded the problem by setting up a teleguided
constitutional conference whose recommendations were further bastardised by a
ruling cabal of military officers. It came as no surprise that the subsequent
Vision 2010 document turned out to be an economic document that was anchored on
the prior resolution of our national question. The Vision 2010 report
mentioned, quite correctly, that we ought to settle our political differences
before we can successfully implement it.
My worry is
this: Can the Zamfara experiment, expressed as a vision of our future, help us
settle our political differences?
vision of its future need not be several tomes of bound report, a la Abacha’s Vision 2010. It can be
captured in one imaginative phrase that fires the waning spirit of a people. We
have charismatic leaders and creative writers with the necessary skills to
develop and encapsulate the Nigerian condition into a vision. If we say, as the
Abacha report proclaims, that A Great
Country is Ours to Build, we at once thrust an unwanted burden on the
individual Nigerian. We must face the truth. No one wants to build a great
country called Nigeria. At the same time, we all secretly love Nigeria because,
compared to other civilized nations of the world, the possibilities here are
quite astounding, seemingly limitless. The goal of the individual Nigerian
tends to be to sacrifice something to build a great family, to sacrifice
something to amass a personal fortune, to sacrifice something to build a formidable
spirit of service to the Almighty.
If what is
sacrificed were spiritual, honest and progressive, we would have long ago
constructed the great country of our dream. Unfortunately, rather than
sacrifice “sweat, blood and tears” to achieve our goals, most of those who
knock at Nigeria’s many doors of opportunity come armed with guns, poison
tongues and pens, and axes to grind with the nation.
Let me reach
back into history. In 1835, the French liberal statesman and political writer,
Alexis de Tocqueville, visited the fledgling democracy in the Unites States of
America and came away with insightful observations about what made that country
work, and would make it great in the future. What he saw was a society where
every citizen began life on an equal footing. What he saw, as one American
president later put it, was “a nation of people with fresh memories of old
(oppressive) traditions who dared to explore new frontiers, people eager to
build lives for themselves in a spacious society that did not restrict their
freedom of choice and action.”
old (oppressive) traditions are worth emphasizing because they were inspired by
religion. The first set of immigrants to the US consisted of people escaping
religious persecution in the Continent, Catholics and Protestants alike. In
other words, they were escaping societies that insisted on running nation
states the way that rulers perceived the Almighty had instructed. As is the
case with Zamfara State today, church and state were fused, and the state thereafter
became a willing, coercive tool in the hands of religious fundamentalists. The
New World provided a safe haven to begin a new life that the escapees swore to
be governed by the same rights and freedoms that we appear to be using today to
return us to the Zamfara vision.
And this is
the point. We hear some people proclaim that our constitution guarantees each
individual a right to freedom of religion. The operative world is individual; our constitution does not
guarantee the state the right to freedom of religion. What I thought our
founding fathers were saying is that no individual should be punished for
choosing to subscribe to any one faith or religious ideology. Our constitution,
in my view, is not trying to provide a platform for individuals to band
together in order to use the powers of the state to enforce a religious tenet,
because this action will directly challenge the rights of other individuals
with different religious ideologies in the same state. There should be no state
law to enforce a religious tenet, in a multi-religious state, and in a secular nation-state,
for the sake of democracy, order and good government.
To return to
Tocqueville and America. When the Frenchman wrote his famous “Democracy in
America,” the Negro and the American-Indian questions had not been resolved.
But among the immigrants who took over the land, this was the American idea,
described imaginatively by Tocqueville himself as the Spirit of Equality. This spirit is captured in two ideals.
One: It should be possible for all men and women who start life at the bottom
to rise to the highest heights where their talents and energy can propel them.
Two: in this journey to the top, “neither race, nor creed, nor place of birth
(nor indeed place of domicile) should affect their chances.”
explanation, since it is not possible for the condition of everyone in society
to be equal; the Almighty creates people with different capacities, skills,
attributes. Equality is, must be measured with the standards by which society
organizes itself for the purpose of enjoying its freedoms and its
opportunities. If society does not accord special privileges to some of its
members on account of tribe, religion, station, sex, or birth, society members
will have equal opportunity to succeed. But because of differences in individual
condition, skills, and capacity, some members of society are bound to do better
than others. But those who are not so well-performing will keep alive the hope
that tomorrow will be better, the certainty that there will be no legal,
institutional, or conventional barriers against their hope for a brighter
tomorrow. This certainty is assured by the state, which remains to maintain the
level playing field that protects the disadvantaged even as it encourages the
assemble ten forthright Nigerians from as many ethnic groups, they would easily
agree on what to do about the Nigerian problem, and on what would constitute
our vision of the future.
Zamfara state governor and legislators, I would say this: Our vision should
have been about two things; how to set the standard for conduct that would
release the energies of the people to hope and to dare; and how to ensure that
any individual or group does not, in future, appropriate the instruments of
power and use it to unleash a reign of arbitrariness on the system. The first
victim of arbitrary rule is usually the laws that ensure our spirit of equality,
the rules that govern civilized conduct. The military usurps power simply
because civilian politicians have so far been guilty of such arbitrariness
which, together with corruption, throws Nigeria repeatedly into the Hobbesian
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NB This article was first published in The Daily Times of Monday, November 8, 1999 at Page 9. Alas, many of the column pieces were done before the Times decided to hoist a short-lived website and before government eventually sold the paper and let it die from the process.
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