Addresses to the Wilberforce Conference
on Nigerian Federalism
Good morning and welcome to Central State University.
I am extremely pleased that so many important Nigerian scholars have traveled from far away places in order to make a contribution to a political debate that may have a constructive potential for the future of our great country. I am also particularly grateful to the Embassy of Nigeria in Washington which, upon short notice, has been able to send a high-level delegation to represent the Ambassador of Nigeria to the United States.
Given the concern which we all -- academics and government officials alike -- share for the future of politics in Nigeria, I will not be at all surprised if our conversations today and tomorrow, are marked by characteristic Nigerian passion. In fact, it should not be any other way. For this is the difference between those scholars in America who have only intellectual interest in African affairs and those of us who have both cerebral and passionate concern for our national and continental issues.
Unlike the former group, we cannot afford to remain disengaged, to hide behind the comfort of ivory tower analysis that is most of the time uninformed by the reality on the ground. This conference is deliberately restricted to Nigerian intellectuals because they know and love Nigeria.
I have attended so many conferences on what is patronizingly called the 'African condition'. Frequently, so many people who have become famous experts on Africa through what others have called "scholarship by insult" were impressing each other with high sounding concepts borrowed from foreign histories -- "prebendal", "patrimonial", and other forms of collapse-theories of African states. I have never been able to see the utility of this kind of "doomsday intellectualism." And yet, more and more Africanists, including the most prolific among us, appear more and more to be getting a kick out of such scholarly venalities.
Listening to them, it is as if Africa has done nothing good since independence. It is as if, Africans are worse off today, than in the colonial period. There is now even a fresh theory of "new colonialism" which states that Africans should be re-colonized in order to save Africans. Behind this scornful commiseration is deep-rooted and almost religious conviction in the inability of Africans for self-rule.
I do not believe in such rubbish. Of course, Africa has its problems. But, the fact that some African countries are not practicing liberal democracy the American way is a developmental problem, not evidence of genetic inability for self-rule. As Claude Ake reminds us in his last book published by the Brookings Institution last year, democracy is an integral part of development. So, we are not today gathered here on another putative project on "democracy in Africa" or in Nigeria. We are here about something more fundamental: stability. Specifically, our object concerns how best to achieve stable national politics through constitutional federalism, one that takes into account, the history of its practice since independence, and the great diversity of ethnic and religious groups. Dr. Peter Ekeh, the intellectual leader of this project on Nigerian federalism, will soon justify the need for dialogue in his keynote.
For now, let me just say that the best way for Nigerian academics at home and abroad to translate theory into productive action is to participate in national dialogue about the health of our country, whether or not we agree with the government in power. It is in this spirit that this conference was conceived and organized. No more, no less. We conceived it as an intellectual project designed to generate practical suggestions for the improvement of Nigerian federalism. I believe that this approach is ultimately a more constructive addition to the political debate in Nigeria.
Whether or not the Nigerian leaders will use the final report of this conference is another matter. I believe we should simply do our duty as scholars. That is, provide objective analysis of the different aspects of Nigerian federalism, one that will be innocent of any particular manifesto outside of pure scholarly considerations.
To the audience, and the members of the media who are here today, please note that this conference fulfills yet another condition of our funding by U.S. Department of Education. As a national resource center for the study of Africa world area, we are charged with an outreach responsibility by which our conferences must be open to the public for the purpose of public education. For your benefit, therefore, let me say that the question we are asked to address is a very important one. But it is one which your country has tackled successfully when you were also developing and in search of political stability. The record shows that America is still working on its federalism, as the courts continue to redefine American federalism even as we speak.
So please, this should not be headlined another African problem, in the morbid tradition of Afro-pessimism that is ever current in the American media. We are, I repeat, simply gathered here to see how we can theoretically redesign Nigerian federalism in a way that will increase stability in the country's national politics. To do this, we have to identify the errors that have interfered with the successful practice of that system of government in the past through a review of Nigerian history. When some panelist engages in this, please do not write headlines that say, for example, "Nigeria professors say their country is rotten to the core."
We cannot correct past mistakes without interrogating the paths which as a people we followed to our continuing political instability. The root causes of political instability in Nigeria are many: our level of development, inter- ethnic difficulties and other problems of identity, corruption, nepotism, and so on. But which country in the world does not have any of this? None!
The important thing is that Nigerians, including those of us gathered here today from home, Europe, Canada, and the United States, are doing something about these development problems. That is what we all will like to read about this conference, tomorrow.
Again, thank you for coming.
I am happy to welcome you to Central State University.
It is particularly fitting that Nigerian scholars are taking the initiative in contributing to the solution of Nigeria's political crisis. Central State University is proud to offer its facilities for the meeting of Nigerian intellectuals on the subject of the role of federalism in Nigeria's governance. We are also pleased that you have flown from far away places to our small Wilberforce community for this important deliberation.
As a non-political scientist or Africanist, I do not know much about the relevance of federalism to Nigeria's political stability. But, I am not totally unfamiliar with Africa, right from my university student days which is not too long ago. Therefore, I personally believe in the relevance of scholarly input to any political discourse that can constructively help in the resolution of Nigeria's problems of governance.
I know that the scholars gathered here today are uniquely qualified to come up with a conference report that will become useful in the debate for political stabilization of Nigeria. In this sense then, what you will do here on this day and the next may become part of history. This Conference is a joint effort of the Department of African American Studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo and our own Center for African Studies. It is a brilliant example of the cooperation between small and large institutions. And I must thank Professor Peter Ekeh, the chair of Africana American Studies at Buffalo, for working very closely with Professor Ebere Onwudiwe, the Director of our National Resource Center for African Studies on this important work for a conference of major significance for us all.
We are just now completing the process for acquiring the first $70,000 phase of our close to $250,000 worth of distant learning facilities to support our new Miami Valley Consortium on African Studies which includes five area institutions of higher education including our closest neighbors, Wright State and Wilberforce universities. Indeed, Central State University has recently included the study of African heritage as part of the universities mission statement. Is there a better demonstration of commitment, of relevance? This is one campus where African studies is a priority. And it will stay that way because Africa is a very important region of the world.
We have also recently revived an old Central State University Journal of Human Relations which was begun in 1952. Today, the journal has been reconstituted as The International Journal of African Studies. We hope you support this journal. Contribute to it. Tell friends and your libraries to subscribe to it. More than that, we hope you adopt it as your own, and use it as another voice for countering some of the negative intellectualism that, according to our own Dr. Ebere Onwudiwe, need rapid response by Africans in the United States. I personally think that the rapid response idea is right on target, and that your meeting here in Wilberforce on these two days is a step in the right direction.
In your deliberations on Nigeria, I know that you will not, and should not, be agreed on every point. But, that is why we have a conference such as this where students watch and learn as we argue our respective positions even as we listen to opposing opinions. This, in other words, is both a learning and a teaching process, two tasks right up the alley of intellectuals such as you.
I wish you a great success in your deliberations, and a happy stay in Wilberforce.
Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen:
We are happy to have you here at Central State University. This university has a long tradition of quality scholarship. If you look through the glass walls of this beautiful Museum, you will see Sutter Hall that housed the faculty office of Professor W.E.B. DuBois, himself a premier Africanist of world-wide repute.
We are a small but old university, and we have had our share of budgetary constraints, as you must have been reading recently in the media -- including the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The Wilberforce community is not a stranger to African affairs. We believe in rigorous but productive analysis of the African condition. In other words, a certain trend runs through our Africa project at Central State University. The first is utility. We are not interested in high-sounding theories manufactured for the amusement of a few inhabitants of the ivory tower.
It is in this tradition of useful scholarship that we welcome this innovative conference on Nigerian federalism.
Enjoy your stay.
The Organizing Committee,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am particularly delighted to address this august gathering of Nigerian scholars from every corner of the United States of America. My sincere gratitude goes to the organizing body for its thoughtfulness and determined efforts in figuring out the need to hold a rare Conference of this nature at this point of our national history. I also wish to take this opportunity to thank those who, either through material or spiritual support, have made the conference possible. There is no doubt that most of you had to travel long distances in order to attend this Conference. Undoubtedly, this is a measure and expression of your interest in Nigerian affairs.
Since my arrival in the United States in July 1996, I have longed for an occasion such as this to exchange views and ideas with Nigerians of varied solid academic backgrounds. Judging from the various issues reflected in the program which was forwarded to me, I have nursed the impression that I would be meeting with those who are deeply concerned with the development of Nigeria. The tenor of the debates and various interventions by the participants have not belied my initial assumption. Rather, it has reinforced my belief and convictions that Nigerians in the United States, particularly those in the group of the erudite, owe it a duty to contribute to the national debates on issues which face our country as we move toward the 21st century.
Perhaps I have met some of you in one forum or the other. Perhaps also for others, this is the first time I will have the opportunity of sharing views with you. It is therefore necessary for me to state that my principal responsibility as Ambassador is to represent, defend, and promote the interests of Nigeria and of Nigerians in the United States of America.
In the best of times in our relations with the United States, this responsibility would still be a daunting task. Right now, I cannot pretend that our bilateral relations are enjoying their best days. The current situation makes the task confronting me doubly challenging. Nonetheless, I remain convinced that with the support and understanding of you, my compatriots, the challenges will be easier to tackle and success will be our common reward.
The views expressed since the beginning of the conference have been enlightening. I am indeed inspired by the richness of your ideas as well as the courage and candour with which you have expressed them.
Undoubtedly, Nigeria is at the moment passing through a very difficult period. Since Nigeria became independent some thirty-six years ago, we have had our own share of social upheavals, political instability, religious intolerance and economic hardship. I believe that whilst it may be inappropriate for us to forget the lessons of the sad chapter of our history, we should not allow ourselves to be discouraged or overwhelmed by its unfortunate experiences. Rather, we should draw inspiration from the brighter chapters of our history and, in an unyielding spirit, enlarge the reservoir of our resourcefulness, creativity, sense of sacrifice and national commitment which we have accumulated over the years as a people.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Permit me to take this opportunity to highlight some major political and economic developments in Nigeria. You are no doubt aware of the background leading to the crisis of 1993 and the subsequent advent of the current administration in Nigeria. The Administration of General Sani Abacha has continued, despite all odds, to make steady progress in the implementation of its programme of transition to democratic rule.
The difficulties which faced our nation in its previous efforts at building a viable and enduring democracy are being progressively addressed, taking into account the objective realities of our national situation so as to ensure an orderly transition, and the establishment of durable and sustainable structure of governance at all levels in the country.
It is gratifying to note that the first stage of elections of Chairmen and Council members was successfully held on March 15, 1997. Those elected have since been sworn into their respective offices. The next stage is the election of State Governors and Members of the Houses of Assembly. The democratization process is irreversible. General Sani Abacha has repeatedly affirmed the determination of his Government to hand over power on October 1, 1998.
In its resolve to ensure that evolving democratic institutions take root in a fertile economic environment, the Nigerian Government has undertaken reforms aimed at promoting rapid growth and sustainable development. To this end, the Federal Government is implementing an economic recovery package involving guided deregulation of the foreign exchange and interest rates regimes, greater role for the private sector, increasing industrial production, and revitalizing agriculture and mining of solid minerals.
The government has adopted an open door policy for foreign investment in any enterprise. It provides generous tax incentives and opportunities for repatriation of capital, profits, and dividends, ensures protection of investment, and allows the opening of domiciliary accounts. The opportunities for local and foreign investors are tremendous. These are in the area of Agriculture, Water Resources, Solid Minerals, Petroleum, Gas, Manufacturing, Packaging, Transportation, Education, Medicine, etc. You are enjoined to take measures to ensure that you participate to the limit of your capability in the development of Nigeria.
General Sani Abacha is aware that efforts to restore confidence in the Nigerian economy will only yield the desired results if the principle of accountability is genuinely restored in both the private and public sectors of the economy. This is why the Federal Government decided to combat the twin evils of fraud and corruption. The main objective is to restore accountability and transparency in the system. The Banking Sector, our land and sea ports, the Federal Revenue collections and management apparatus, and ,the oil sector are being overhauled in order to create a conducive environment for both domestic and foreign investments. The various macro-economic policies and institutional measures initiated by the Government are now yielding concrete dividends. The Budget deficit has been drastically reduced following the introduction of strict fiscal discipline. The rate of inflation has now declined from 72.8% in December 1995 to 23% in February 1997.
It is encouraging to note that under the Government of Sani Abacha, drug traffickers, fraudsters and other criminally-minded fellows whose activities tarnish our national image, are being brought to book. For those who break the law there is no respect for status or personalities. The Government has resolved to give them HELL. Today, Nigeria has become such a hostile environment for criminals, that the undesirable elements are now fleeing the country in large numbers.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I do not intend to end this remark without expressing some sentiments about the current trends in our relations with the United States. I dare say that historically and since 1960, Nigeria has been a good ally of the United States. The friendly bonds are reinforced by the fact dictated by our common history of British colonial influence, our people's love of liberty and individual freedom, and spirit of free enterprise with minimal government's intervention. More importantly, Nigeria and the United States have cooperated actively in the conduct of international peace-keeping operations in Congo, Lebanon, Bosnia, Cambodia, and Somalia, to mention a few.
Another manifestation of Nigeria's attitudes toward its friends, such as the United States, was evidenced by its voluntary decision not to join in the oil embargo against the United States during the Middle East crisis, since we believe then and now that a "friend in need is a friend indeed." Throughout the Cold War when some countries found it convenient and beneficial to switch ideologies, Nigeria remained committed to the same ideals as the United States because we believed the other alternatives were not viable. History has since vindicated our position.
Despite the perceived lull in the Nigerian/US bilateral relations since 1993, Nigeria remains a dominant market in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 1996 for instance, American exports to Nigeria recorded an increase of about 19% and it is expected with the current trends that the figure will increase substantially in 1997. Nigeria is the fifth oil supplier to the United States. We are aware that the current trend in our trade relations could be further enhanced once the two nations commence the much-desired dialogue at official level to remove traces of misperceptions of each other's goals.
Nigeria and the United States have collaborated on other issues. These range from drugs and anti-terrorism to the protection of the environment. Our two countries consider drugs as a major challenge to international community and well-being. Since 1993, the United States decertified Nigeria. This action has been surprising and regrettable and for all intent and purposes seem to have been against Nigeria for political rather than for the reasons of drugs. It is common knowledge that Nigeria is neither a drug producing nation nor a drug consuming nation. Since 1993, Nigeria has had no direct air-links with the United States.
In the same token, on the issue of the Advance Fee Fraud 419, the Nigerian Government is concerned about the criminal activities of a few unscrupulous Nigerians and their so called victims who, so gullibly enough, are itching to reap where they have not sown. Firm measures, including uncompromising Decrees, have been put in place to prosecute the "tango" dancers in this respect. Copies of the Embassy's Advisory on this matter will be made available for your information and diffusion in your respective communities.
Let me digress a bit to task your forum on the current debates in Nigeria. Contrary to the unfounded misrepresentation of the concept of VISION 2010, I wish to affirm that it was conceived from the experience of the early Economic Summits held in Abuja. VISION 2010 is designed to provide a road-map. In the words of General Abacha, "it is a sort of strategic insight into the direction in which the nation needs to move as well as a proper focus on the formation of programmes and policies which should lead us to the realization of the future of the dreams of a prosperous and stable nation."
As you may be aware, the Committee on VISION 2010 has been set up
under the Chairmanship of Chief Ernest Shonekan. Its membership was
drawn from every stratum of our society and economy. In inaugurating
the Committee, the Head of State, General Sani Abacha, urged all
"the fashioning out of the VISION should be a conscious attempt to
actualize the full potentials of the Nigerian state and prepare it for
the challenges of the 21st Century. We should envision for ourselves
and for future generations, a country which is not only fully
developed economically but is equally concerned with the social,
political, and other aspects of human development."
As you will contemplate, the challenge of VISION 2010 is to strengthen economic momentum while focusing Nigeria on its equally important political and social agenda. I wish therefore to call on you, either individually or severally, to help our country actualize the goals of 2010. Furthermore, as we are witnessing proof of Jean Jacques Rousseau's dictum that "nothing is to powerful as an idea whose time has come," I challenge you as intellectuals in your own right with international exposures to help in shaping the VISION. It is therefore my sincere hope that your deliberations on Nigeria's FEDERALISM in this Conference will positively contribute to the on-going dialogue process in providing answers to such questions as: "Where are we now?", "Where do we want to be in 2010?", and "How do we close the gap and reach our 2010 targets?"
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I should end this address by reminding you that the search for lasting solutions to our problems calls for our joint efforts. The success of any plans in our development will depend, to a large extent, on inputs from different groups such as yours. I therefore urge you to transmit this message to your Nigerian colleagues and friends who could not attend this conference.
I thank you for your patience and attention.
God Bless.Return to Table of Contents