AGAINST the backdrop of grinding poverty and allied economic hardship caused by under-employment, job loss and unemployment across the country, former President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday warned that popular revolt as recently witnessed in the Arab World might occur in Nigeria if the precarious socio-economic conditions of the citizenry were not urgently addressed.
Obasanjo, who spoke at a workshop on “Economic diversification and revenue generation,” in Abeokuta, Ogun State, stressed that there was discontentment in the land.
He added: “There is the possibility of having the Arab Spring in Nigeria if similar conditions, hardships and un-employment which gave birth to it are not addressed.”
In a related development, President Goodluck Jonathan, former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, erstwhile Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and other prominent elders in the north have joined forces with the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) in the search for permanent peace and security in the country, especially in curbing the violent attacks now readily attributed to members of the banned Boko Haram sect.
They all condemned the insecurity engendered in the north and some parts of the country and expressed the hope that the ACF peace conference would find a way out of the problems.
Declaring the conference open yesterday, President Jonathan, who was represented by his Deputy, Namadi Sambo, stated that “occasions such as this always define the wisdom of leaders that moved to establish organisations such as the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF).
“In the 10 years since this non-governmental body had existed, it has done a tremendous job of unifying the North and has provided the platform for the area’s residents to constructively engage one another in meaningful dialogue for the progress of the region.”
Citing Libya and Egypt as countries that witnessed the “Arab Spring”, Obasanjo said though there was appreciable economic growth in both countries, their people revolted because there was “a disconnect” between the “economic growth” in those Arab nations and “employment generation” for their people, which created “discontentment”.
He advised the three tiers of governments in Nigeria to pay special attention to “agriculture and agro-business” as tools for employment generation for the “burgeoning army of unemployed Nigerians so that the Arab Spring does not rear its head in the country”.
Obasanjo said: “It doesn’t matter which way you look at it today. People are now talking of Arab Spring. And some people will say, is Egypt not developing? On economic scale, after South Africa, it is Egypt in Africa. Has Libya not got resources?
“At one time with a population of about five million, Libya was producing as much oil as Nigeria. But there was still discontentment because, yes, in terms of Gross Domestic Products (GDP), it was growing well but in terms of employment generation, there was a disconnect.”
According to Obasanjo, “that is one of the elements that led to the Arab Spring. There are others but let me take this one that is relevant to our discussion today. Agricultural business is important to creating jobs for our teeming youths.”
He also urged financial institutions, large-scale farmers, small and medium scale farmers, researchers, retailers and distributors and governments to get involved in using agriculture and agro-business to create jobs and food in order to enhance “national security and stability.”
Obasanjo lamented that for far too long, the nation has been “mobilising and sharing revenue” from only one source – oil, and stressed that the time had come for the governments to devise ingenious ways of expanding their revenue base by venturing into agriculture, tourism and manufacturing.
The workshop was organised by the Ogun State government and the Office of the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission.
In his opening speech, Governor Ibikunle Amosun called for a review of the revenue sharing formula in a manner that would make more funds available to the states for developmental projects.
But Amosun said his administration had already devised some ingenious avenues of generating additional revenue through agriculture and industrialisation with the aim of creating jobs and generate income for the state and its people.
He expressed the optimism that a time would come when Ogun State “will care less about what comes from the Federal Government,” pledging that his administration would create structures to accomplish that dream.
At the ACF conference were the 19 northern state governors, Senate President David Mark; Speaker, House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal; the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Abubakar Sa’ad; Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Dr. Matthew Hassan Kukah; Emir of Zauzau, Dr. Shehu Idris; Senator Ibrahim Mantu; Joseph Waku; Ahmed Yayale; Bamanga Tukur; Lawan Kaita; Senator Danjuma Goje; Alhaji Umaru AbdulMutallab and host of others.
Portraits and posters of Abubakar were prominently displayed by youths in Kaduna metropolis welcoming him to the conference. One of the posters read: “Atiku, icon of Nigeria democracy...the Leader of the North.”
President Jonathan said at the event: “Although organised and co-ordinated by the ACF, there is strong evidence that the current elders of the North are as keen and as dedicated to maintaining the bonds of brotherhood and unity in the same way as our founding fathers did in the past.
“Suffice it to state that the huge number of men, women and the young who have turned up for this conference, the multitudes that are outside this hall, the millions watching this conference on television or listening through the radio, are clear indications that the North is more than ever before determined to reverse the negative trends of the pervasive insecurity in the region.”
Gen. Gowon, in his address, explained that “the trust of the conference and the theme, ‘peace and Unity for development’ is very necessary in view of the recent challenges of insecurity, inter- communal, inter-religious and inter-ethnic conflicts, religious crisis, political upheaval and acts bordering on criminality and inexplicable man’s inhumanity to man and other forms of social unrest nationwide”.
He stated: “All these are threatening to redefine the character of the once peaceful, united and promising nation and of particular concern to us is the development in the northern states”, while pointing out that “this conference is concerned about the challenges and the need to salvage the legacies of our founding fathers, which are showing signs of imminent collapse.
“What is happening today is not the Nigeria and the North we inherited and for us, it cannot be the North we desire to bequeath to our children. The present North was neither bequeathed to us nor are our children responsible for it. We have, over the years through our action or action, directly or indirectly allowed the gradual decent to present disagreeable and unacceptable behaviours in our communities and the entire North. We now must show seriousness, courage and responsibility in addressing these challenges squarely without fear, favour or mudslinging.
“I call on all Nigerians to look at the existence of groups such as ACF, Ohanaeze, South-South Peoples Assembly, Afenifere, Middle Belt and not have reasons to pull apart or break away as a nation, but based on strengthening our ties and entrenching our unity in diversity. These groups constantly remind us that we must continue to appeal to God to re-engineer our corporate existence and cooperation as a nation by showing sensitivity and maintaining focus on our goal for a one united Nigeria.”
The former Head of State argued that “it is the hope of all Nigerians everywhere that this conference succeeds in its primary objective of providing a platform for a very frank, robust and honest dialogue among members of the same family”, pointing out that “after today’s discussions, we may well realise that this drift away from being your brother’s keeper and the new wave of strife did not happen overnight.
“It is a result of the gradual collapse of the First Republic. Before then, our country had always been guided by compromises and agreements usually arrived at during meetings of elders and community leaders. Ours was a nation of talk-shops, and not gunshots, until the recent springing up of clandestine groups who spread deliberately, mischievous information, some even attack innocent citizens, maiming and killing wantonly.
“But for those that breach peace, which create insecurity to our good people, the old accepted methods of expressing grievances or seeking restitution for injuries through authorized channels had always sufficed.”
He added: “It is not out of place to say that the physical and psychological wounds inflicted on the North as a result of the recurring religious, ethnic and political conflicts that ravaged it; including the socio-economic depressions in recent years, that run deep and inflicted untold hardship on many, have not only traumatised its inhabitants but have slowed its progress considerably”.
Gowon argued further: “I have been an ardent supporter and advocate of the views and differences within the North notwithstanding and the nation as a whole. We are stronger as a whole than as smaller entities. This is very true of our nation, Nigeria. We are better as one united Nigeria than smaller entities. But at the same time, I am of the opinion that the whole, the big unit must give its various parts some sense of belonging and look out for the interest of the smaller parts as a guarantee for its own security.”
The former Head of State added: “I am assured by the organisers of this conference that it will not be one for mere speeches, but concrete actions. I welcome this and the expectations of our people in all states of the North yearning for a peaceful and better life. I am assured that this conference is structured to effectively address the well known challenges of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, ethno-religious bigotry, impunity in governance and corruption.
“It also intends to address the new phenomenon of violent crimes evident by murder, assassination and bomb blasts, which has caused serious economic breakdown in certain states in parts of the North and the country as a whole. This will go a long way to prove that there is no conspiracy of silence by the leadership in the northern states on the issue of peace and security in Nigeria. The fact that all the states of the North are supporting this noble effort is a testimony of our collective concern and we must translate our concerns to concrete actions in our various communities and at our various levels of leadership in the northern states for the good of the North and Nigeria as a whole”.
Gowon further stressed: “There are many questions that need to be raised and answered and there is no better time than now for the sake of our country. The nation expects the North to make certain sacrifices for their mutual wellbeing.
“We have a responsibility to restore confidence in our diverse people and ensure the prosperity of the North within the context of a united Nigeria.
“Given the passion for the current leadership of the ACF, I have no doubt in my mind that this conference marked the revival of the northern states and the restoration of its founding legacies in socio-cultural development, economic development, religious harmony, security, political growth within the context of one united Nigeria.
“The North has always kept Nigeria together. The creation of states was one of the sacrifices of the North to keep Nigeria together. We must not fail in our duty of oneness to keep Nigeria together.”