On Wednesday June 14, 2017, my friend and big brother, General Abdulsalami Abubakar celebrates his 75th birthday and I felicitate with him. There are many elder statesmen who like to pride themselves as being the father of Nigeria’s democracy, but that title actually belongs to General Abubakar, a man so modest and humble that he has never sought that honor which by right belongs to him.
Those who are old enough to remember, will recollect how starkly divided Nigeria was on June 9, 1998 when then Lt. General Abubakar emerged the head of state to succeed General Sani Abacha.
The Southwest was on the verge of secession and the rest of the country was on edge because of Abacha’s determination to succeed himself thus continuing his usurpation of Chief MKO Abiola’s mandate. Our prisons and detention centers were full of real and imagined enemies of the Abacha regime and the Nigerian soil had soaked up the blood of martyrs like Kudirat Abiola, Chief Alfred Rewane, Dr. Omatsola to mention a few. Great patriots like Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka were declared enemies of the state and the nation became a pariah.
I will never forget the sense of relief that greeted Nigeria when General Abubakar assumed power and the reason why was because Nigerians could at once see that here was a man who was driven by the power of love rather than by the love of power.
In rapid succession, General Abubakar took a series of actions that ushered in freedom and the more he gave Nigerians freedom the more Nigerians began to unite and the threat of a break up dissipated.
General Abdulsalami set all political prisoners free, including General Obasanjo, repealed all obnoxious laws including the decrees that limited political associations and rather than waiting at the top of the mountain for those who had an axe to grind with government, he went down the mountain to meet them.
He went to Lagos from Abuja and met and consulted with the leading lights of NADECO. He charmed his critics and won them over and saved Nigeria from disintegration.
I have taken the pains to go down memory lane today because, today, just like in 1998, Nigeria is on the verge of break up and there is a dearth of the type of national leadership that General Abubakar demonstrated and without that type of leadership, Nigeria will continue to totter.
With the Southeast singing a song of recession and the Southwest echoing the same song, albeit in lower tones, Nigeria is heading towards a destination which none of us know.
It is trite logic that no nation can survive two civil wars. If it happens again the world powers through the United Nations will intervene to help us disagree without being disagreeable.
What Nigeria needs in 2017 is what we needed and got in 1998, a leader who has the self discipline and largeness of heart to refuse to be led by ego and allow himself be led by conscience.
I was reading the statements credited to the acting President and even though I admire Professor Yemi Osinbajo, I still must say that if he thinks threats can bring about an end to these agitations then he has thoroughly misjudged human nature.
Like General Abdulsalami, he must climb down from the mountain and go to meet his critics and win them over.
Threats will not solve this problem. It will only make it worse. Threats will lead to counter threats and soon we will be having a dialogue of the deaf.
Either President Muhammadu Buhari or acting President Yemi Osinbajo must talk to the Igbos. Find out why they are agitating. To jaw jaw is always better to war war.
Are they bitter because every other region has at least 6 states while they have just five? Are they bitter that whereas their people are some of the most prolific travelers in Nigeria, they have to travel long distances before they can get to an airport while they see that states with very little air traffic have federal government built airports that are lying fallow? Are they bitter because the standards to qualify for entry into public schools and the civil service are raised high for them and made Lowe for others as if to punish them for embracing education?
These are things that can be looked into. General Abdulsalami Abubakar did the for the Southwest in 1999. He bent over backwards. He ensured that the process he midwifed threw up two Southwesterners as the candidates for Presidency in 1999. Did he have to do that? No. But he did that and today the Southwest remained in the union and power has returned to the North.
No price is to high to pay for peace. If the federal government keeps making excuses and carries on issuing threats, we should all remember that a house of failure is built with the nails of excuses and a city of backwardness is built on the foundation of threats.
If force of arms and threats could preserve a nation, the Berlin Wall would still be standing and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics would still be a country. Instead, it is the land of freedom that continues to exist after 240 years!
And the thing that we should understand is that Nigerians intrinsically are not tribalistic. Tribalism is a bad habit that we learned and what can be learned can be unlearned.
And look at Lagos. Lagos state is already unlearning the bad habit of tribalism.
Let me take this opportunity to thank the people of Lagos state who have shown the way by electing resident non natives as House of Representatives Members and Chairmen of local councils including:
OGHENE Egho, from Delta State who was elected to the House of Representatives to represent Amuwo Odofin Federal Constituency, Lagos State in the House of Representatives, Mrs. Rita Orji who was elected to the House of Representatives to represent Ajeromi-Ifelodun Federal Constituency, Lagos State in the House of Representatives, and, Tony Chinedu Nwulu from Imo state who was elected to the House of Representatives to represent Oshodi-Isolo II Federal Constituency, Lagos State.
Just like Lagos, the whole of Nigeria must be open to all, regardless of tribe, region, religion and political persuasion.
This was the case in pre Independent Nigeria when a Fulani man named Umaru Altine emerged as the first elected mayor of Enugu city in 1956 and also in 1957 when Felix Okonkwo, alias Okonkwo Kano, was appointed a member of the Northern Nigeria House of Chiefs.
The most prominent South-easterners have actually been Northerners by birth. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ojukwu were both born in Zungeru, Niger state.
How can we in 2017 be moving backwards from these very noble acts of pre Independent Nigeria?
We must resist this retrogression and Go on With One Nigeria!
How can we be celebrating the feat of seven Nigerians being elected into the British Parliament and back home we are asking each other to go back to our region of origin? What if the British had told Chi Onwurah, Chuka Umunna, Kate Osamor, Kemi Badenoch, Bim Afolami, Fiona Onasanya and Helen Grant to go back to their country to contest?
Can you imagine how South Africans must be laughing at us today. We called them xenophobic yet we cannot live with each other. At least they love themselves! Do we love ourselves? This must change.
Nothing in the last eighteen years has affected our unity as much as the infamous 5% versus 97% Washington speech of President Muhammadu Buhari and I advise him to consider apologizing to the nation for that Freudian slip. It may look to him like a little thing, but life has taught me not to underestimate the big difference little things can make.
That unfortunate statement, rightly or wrongly, made many Nigerians feel unwanted by this administration. They felt left out in the cold. They felt like unwanted children in a polygamous home whose mother was unloved and forced on the head of the home. It was worse than unfortunate. It was tragic. It broke the spirits of many people who had expected an embrace and instead got a very hot slap!
Will Nigeria still be a going concern of General Abdulsalami Abubakar had had such a mentality in 1999? Doubtful. Very doubtful. You see, everything rises and falls on leadership.
You are not a leader just because you have the title of leader. Even if you have an officer that makes you a titular leader, yet your thoughts, words and actions do not inspire people to want to belong to what you belong, then you are NOT a leader irrespective of whatever title you have. At best, you are in office and in power but not in authority because the strongest form of authority is moral authority. The office of president must be an office of moral authority.
It is that type of authority that made Mandela so influential in South Africa, Africa and the world.
We claim to be the Giant of Africa and we can be that, but only if we can show the rest of Africa that we can lead ourselves. If we cannot lead ourselves, how can we lead our continent?
This is the million dollar question that must now be answered by the current administration and if they need help answering it I suggest they go to Minna to pay a birthday visit to a man who knows how to answer the question.
• Murray-Bruce is the Founder of the Silverbird Entertainment Group and the Senator representing Bayelsa East in the National Assembly