Renewed Hope for Unity and Progress, by Hassan Gimba

This Was a speech delivered by Dr Hassan Gimba, publisher of Neptune Prime online newspaper and a syndicated columnist, at the Ebony Herald Hall of Fame and Dignity, held at the Stonehedge Hotel and Suites, Abuja, on 09/11/2023.

Ladies and gentlemen, I say good evening to you all. This is not a topic of my choosing, but one given to me by the organisers. Nonetheless, I will try to do justice to it.

When we say “renew”, we are talking about restoration, revival, regeneration, rebuilding, repeating, resuming, etc., while “hope” is to anticipate expectations of fulfilment. On the other hand, “unity” denotes oneness, unification, and harmonious relationship between various parts. “Progress” can be said to connote a journey, expedition, forward movement, advancement, gradual betterment, etc.

Putting them together in a simple form, we may be talking of “the resumption of fulfilment of desires necessary for oneness and advancement that was abandoned.”

And we need to know that it is hope, hope that tomorrow shall be better, that keeps us alive. Some who have lost it commit suicide.

Now, why “renewed hope”? These two words betray the fact that there was a time when there was hope, but the expectations were truncated midway or even before the journey took off.

In my article entitled “The PDP will not return to power, the APC has lost it …and Nigeria is the loser!” published on the 3rd of December, 2017, I observed that President Muhammadu Buhari has had opportunities to redefine Nigerian politics and position himself in the class of the Nelson Mandelas, the Mahatma Gandhis, the Lee Kuan Yews, etc. of this world, but that he flunked it each time.

He had two very great opportunities to change Nigeria’s politics forever and also write his name in gold in the country’s history as “the founder of modern Nigeria”, along with many lesser ones, which I will highlight presently.

The first opportunity he missed (probably to tell Nigerians he had no money) was when he said that he took a bank loan to buy his nomination form. It was a sad day. In the first place, he knew, just as everybody knew, that many party stalwarts could have bought the form for him, assuming he did not have the money. After all, they were sponsoring him with their money; however they had made it, so what was the difference?

Nigeria and the APC in particular, were ripe to be owned by the people. If he had communicated that he could not pay for the form, contributions from the masses alone would have bought it many times over. From then, he should have made it known that members should contribute periodically, no matter how little, towards the upkeep of the party and we would have by now achieved a real people’s party, the likes of which were last seen in the days of Aminu Kano’s Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU). An opportunity missed.

But as it is, APC, the party of “Change”, is being financed the way the PDP was – from government coffers, in the states at least. No difference!

The second opportunity missed was the day he was sworn in as president. He famously said he “was for everybody but belonged to nobody”. Laudable. And that was what everybody expected because, in the political history of Nigeria, no campaign was ever as intense and nationally engaging as his was. The election that saw him emerge as president was unlike any other before it. It was not like Obasanjo’s, certainly not like Yar’Adua’s, and not like Jonathan’s.

Majority of Nigerians, irrespective of their political persuasions, religious leanings and tribal roots, elected Buhari across the board, if you may.

Therefore, the election was an opportunity to unify Nigerians for Nigeria, irrespective of political leanings, tribal roots or religious beliefs. Buhari could have been the ‘father of the nation’ if he had picked the best from among the various tendencies that abound in the country. There are patriots in all political parties, tribes and religions, just as there are also crooks.

On July 6, 2020, I wrote that real leaders did not look at their people in the face condescendingly and patronisingly, point a finger at them, and sing “change” while they indulged in the vices of yore. In Nigeria, we were promised “change” and we fought to bring in its spearheads. Some lost their capital, others their health, while some paid the supreme price, but we all heaved a sigh of relief and proclaimed, “It has come!” We wanted change, and we thought fairness and justice would take the place of selfishness and impunity; that transparency and accountability would replace corruption and, above all, that our lives and property would be secure.

We have seen how our leaders of old discarded our homemade cars, food, clothes, hospitals and schools and embraced those of foreigners for themselves and their families – at public expense. We were witnesses to our leaders collecting stupendous salaries and allowances, while our most vulnerable slept on empty stomachs. We thought the change would bring leaders who would put everything in order so that the wealth of the land would cascade down to the least of us. That was the hope.

For a long time I have worried about many things, among which is: if the American system, from which we copied our presidential system of governance, does not provide for the government feeding its president (American presidents feed their families from their salaries), why should we? We also asked why we spend hundreds of billions keeping other countries’ economies afloat by buying cars from them instead of patronising our homemade ones. Can you just imagine the ripple effects of such monies going into enhancing our local car production efforts? The glass manufacturing industries, car upholstery, tyre production, etc., which would sprout up, as a result, will surely help in cutting down our unemployment rate and arresting galloping inflation by strengthening and stabilising our battered currency.

Well, what caused the last hope to be unrealised that warranted a renewal? Buhari too promised that the difficulties experienced then, as are being experienced now, would be transient. We are now the wiser.

Even though we are seeing some positive signs, especially with the current appreciation of the naira against the dollar, there are certain things wrong with Nigeria that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu needs to address to set us on the journey of hope, unity, progress and development.

Therefore, our hopes can only be renewed when, first of all, we feel secure and can sleep at night with both eyes closed, while travelling around the country will no longer be a journey of life or death.

Then the people must have access to justice when hurt. The president needs to urgently undertake judicial reforms so that the courts will be actual sanctuaries for justice seekers. No crime should go unpunished, whoever the perpetrator. Sheikh Usman Dan Fodiyo said in his book, Bayan Wujub al-Hijrah alal ibad: “A kingdom (nation) can endure with unbelief, but it cannot endure with injustice.”

Election petitions should be done with before inauguration otherwise the process will be unfair to three sets of people: the petitioner who is fighting an incumbent with a lot of resources at his disposal, the judge who will adjudicate in a matter concerning he who appoints him and the incumbent who, based on human instinct for self-preservation will use whatever in his reach to triumph.

Then he should look at the Independent National Electoral Commission: the way its management team is appointed and how to unbundle it. We must go further than that to strengthen our institutions, for a nation with strong institutions gives hope to its people. And voter registration must be on-going so as not to deprive one who reaches the age of voting a day to election from exercising his civil rights.

Mr President will do well to make his government look inward and avoid capital flight. Buying foreign cars instead of locally assembled ones should no longer be acceptable. If we prefer foreign brands, why don’t they come here and set up assembly plants?

And Tinubu’s government must cut down on wastes and the cost of governance. To do that he must be ready to look political office holders and civil servants eye-ball to eye-ball and tell them that the era of contract fraud – the most deadly forms of financial malfeasance in Nigeria – is over.

We must become a nation that produces what it eats, wears, and drives; we must produce what we use and use what we produce. Rather than go abroad for healthcare or education, we should become a centre that attracts the world because of its first-class hospitals and schools.

Finally, in the values that can renew the hopes of Nigerians, the president must lead by good examples. Mouthing platitudes will not work.

Are we on course?

Hassan Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime.