Why Nigeria isn’t making progress –Yusuf Turaki

•Nigeria doesn’t have transformational leaders

If North didn’t criticise Buhari for nepotism, why criticise Tinubu?


One of the conveners of Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self-determination (NANIS), Prof Yusuf Turaki, has said that God endowed Nigeria with abundant human and material resources, but it lacked the acumen and the national ability to create economy and wealth for itself.

In an interview with VINCNET KALU, the Middle Belt leader noted that the country at the moment has been turned from future progression and development to the period of a primitive life.

What’s your view on the state of the nation?

At 63 years of independence, Nigeria is still underdeveloped. Nigeria is a country in search of her soul. Nigeria is not yet a nation. Nigeria is currently struggling with many socio-political issues, which she has not addressed and resolved. Nigeria is yet to have transformational political leaders devoted to nation-building and national integration. I will mention some points for further explanation.

Firstly, the baggage of our basic primordial social factors, which we all brought into the making of the Nigerian state, are yet to be addressed. We are yet to address and solve the social and political problems generated by our ethnography (ethnicity, history and identity); land disputes and territorial claims; religious diversity, intolerance, bigotry and conflicting cultural interpretations, militancy and jihadism and of who we are and what Nigeria ought to be.

Currently Nigerians are in the war of value and institutional conflicts; conflict between national (state) values and tribal or group or sub-national values. Conflict between competing values, such as Western, Arab, modern and African traditional values; competing and contending cultural, ethnic, religious or class values and identities; and conflict of moral and ethical values and patterns of ethnic or regional political and religious relations emerging from our social formations, institutions and social dynamics.

Thirdly, what Nigeria needs is to go beyond our besetting problems and challenges and raise men and women with a vision and hope for a New Nigeria. Nigeria needs to create a national ethical structure, which should be formulated from our acceptable national values, standards, ideals, laws and a code of conduct that moderates the attitudes, behaviours and social practices of all Nigerians. We need a national ethic to replace the current state of powerful and divisive negative sub-national values and interests as generated by Nigeria’s primal social factors, such as, ethnic nationalities, religious, cultural and regional groupings in Nigeria. Each of these groups generates its own values and interests that are at variance and are also not harmonised to create new national common-ground values and interests to guide and moderate the attitudes, behaviours and social practices of all Nigerians, regardless.

At 63, Nigeria is still crawling. Have we not failed the vision of the founding fathers? At what point did we get it wrong? How then do we move forward?

At independence, our nationalists and parliamentarians did not ask the question or answer it: “What type of a country do we want to build that consists of over 500 ethnic groups and languages, three major religions and three major regions?” Their focus was more on occupying the “white man’s shoe”, making their region, ethnic and religious group dominant in Nigerian political, economic and religious life. Rather, our nationalists were driven by latent hostility, suspicion and fears of each other. They played the game of “cat and mouse” or “seek and hide”. No nation can develop and be transformed under the strong negative values of latent hostility, suspicion and fears. This historic psychological baggage has been our national burden and bane, which must be addressed should Nigeria choose to remain one.

Our heroes and founding fathers focused primarily at getting political independence from Colonial Great Britian. We must credit them for their resolve to fight against colonialism and imperialism, which gained political independence. Did our founding fathers have a political vision of Nigeria or for their ethnicity, religion and region?

The parliamentary system at independence (1960) was a continuation of the colonial system. The parliamentarians and politicians, in other words, “tribal politicians”, or “tribal nationalists”, or “regional politicians” were groomed to take-over or stepped into the shoes of the colonial masters and not necessarily to restructure the colonial system in terms of human values, principles of justice, peace, equality and freedom.

The insecurity situation in the country is still very worrisome, in spite of the change of government and the appointment of new security chiefs. What should the government do?

The state of insecurity has reached endemic proportions. Why? Change of political leadership may not be the immediate solution. Social indiscipline, chaos and conflicts do not emerge in a day, but result from the progressive development of negative social values, social formations and social dynamics, which the Nigerian state and people are unable to control or curtail. When state institutions which hold the national ethical structure are weak and corrupt, this gives room for the emergence of divisive and destructive non-state actors and fringe menacing groups, which are a nagging plague in Nigeria.

The change of political regime or political leaders may not be a solution to a chronic and pervasive state of enduring insecurity. Our national ethical structure is in the hands of the security agents. But institutional weakness, corruption and decay often lead to the proliferation of non-state divisive and destructive fringe and menacing groups.

To minimise insecurity in Nigeria, the Nigerian State, needs to overhaul the competency, skills and morale of the state security agents and the structures and instruments for carrying out and keeping and maintaining national security safe-guards.

Since the removal of fuel subsidy, the country has not been the same, as hardship has increased. Was the removal necessary? How could the government have removed it without causing so much pain on the people?

Prior to the removal, Nigerians have talked about the evils of subsidy and generally have advocated for its removal. After the removal, Nigerians are talking about the evils of sudden removal of the subsidy. Some Nigerians have advocated for gradual removal, while some talked about the timing of the removal. This gives us the view that Nigerians are divided about the necessity, effect and season of the removal. Institutionalists and utilitarians would want to weigh the pros and the cons of the removal and argue for the necessity of the removal: that is, by the government, while the pragmatists weigh its effects and impact upon people: that is, the people. There are some social critics that support the government action, on grounds of its value and expediency, while some criticise its removal, on grounds of its devastating effect and impact upon people. Nigerians have given the answers of both “Yes” and “No”.

In response to general criticisms, the government has responded with ‘palliatives’. And this act has created another issue of a critique. Sometimes I wonder at the futility of criticisms after an act or an event, as within the purview of an ‘aftermath’. Just voice your opinion about it and not allow it to go uncriticised. I also wonder at raising dust after an event had passed.

The economic indices that have led to this event is what should worry us. We suffer, whether justly or wrongly, it is as a result of our cumulative inability to create a viable economy and wealth. God endowed Nigeria with abundant human and material resources, but we lack the acumen and the national ability to create both economy and wealth for ourselves.

We should be thinking hard about what we need to do to create economy and wealth for Nigeria. Lamenting about our woes and misfortune is one of those human unproductive exercises. We can pull ourselves up by our economic boot-traps. We need to formulate a viable National Economic Plan that creates economy and wealth for Nigeria. 

As the president is calling on Nigerians to make sacrifices for a better day, but the House of Representatives has just spent billions of naira on cars for its 360 members. This is coming when most Nigerians are finding it hard to feed. What is your reaction to this development?

We borrowed the American Presidential System by rejecting the British Parliament. At that time, Nigeria had one of the strongest currencies in the world. Our economy was strong and buoyant. But time and seasons have passed over our heads; our economy has a systemic degeneration and has created for us a state of underdevelopment. During the sickness and absence of President Musa Yar’Adua, the National Assembly (NASS) took the advantage of creating their own salaries and allowances, and Nigerians did not protest at that time and the system has become normative. The law of precedence is at work here and it will be difficult to change it under this dispensation. For the sake of self-interest, no one should formulate his own salary and allowances. Prior to and after independence, the salary of a professor was at par with that of a Federal Minister. The military regime changed that.

The National Assembly is a third tier of government and stands as independent of both the Executive and the Judiciary. The question here is about morality and ethics. Right now, Nigerians operate under different and divergent foundations of morality and ethics: African Traditional values, British Common Law, Islamic values, Christian values and modernist and positivistic values. Critiques assume that Nigeria has a common-ground morality and ethics, which does not exist. They often appeal to universal values, such as, justice, equality, equity, freedom and human rights, which have not been appropriated, internalised, and become personal and collective moral and ethical values. Nigerians still operate under local and parochial sub-national values, morality and ethics.         

The National Assembly is not the only institution that can be subjected to such criticism, but many others. Looting of our collective national and state treasuries by the operators of the state machineries defies our moral and ethical norms.

Nigerian Senators, 109 of them, are also to get their vehicles. How do you juxtapose this against the Renewed Hope agenda that Nigerians were promised?

Political slogans are not the reality of things. They are not, “my word is my bond”. Which national ethic can we use to judge the moral and ethical practices of the classes of institutional Nigerians? I have stated that Nigeria does not have a National ethic to judge all of these moral and ethical issues. We can only judge them by using the ineffective universal values that are not justiciable.

Some have argued that if these elected lawmakers were patriotic and the government is serious that they should have patronised the local automobile manufacturers like Innoson and others? What is your take on this?

Why would a Nigerian institution or people so congregated not patronise Innoson Motors? Patriotism is one of the universal values that has not been Nigerianised. You do not give out what you do not have. When you look at the state of affairs of Nigeria today, where is patriotism and who are patriotic? Water does not rise above its source. The handlers of government institutions cannot rise above the boundaries of their bounded parochial and primordial morality and ethics. This requires that Nigerians have to internalise and appropriate the universal values of justice, equality, equity, freedom and rights, if not they remain abstract, imaginative, postulations and mere ideas that are not reality in our context. 

Every week, it is reported that Tinubu has made fresh appointments. Now, there are about 48 ministers from the 42 that Buhari had. How does that work when we are talking about cutting down of ministries and MDAs? What does this portend for the economy?

When the generality of Nigerians raises concerns about the economy, what they eventually mean is the sharing of the cumulative proceeds of the economy and not its creation. The bulk of ministers will consume the little money we have. Let us conserve them so that we can have a bigger pie to share. Economic frugality should be the norm, but political calculus seems to outweigh the frugal norm. What the government has done is political expediency, while its critics call for economic frugality. When you have too many mouths to feed and you do not have a viable source and farm, you resort to begging. The argument that it is legitimate to borrow only leads to economic slavery, where no investment is made of what is borrowed, but consumption. Should Nigerians not grow and create their own economy and wealth, the overhead costs of servicing a huge work force would only further our lack of enough money for sharing.

The government told Nigerians that it was saving over one trillion naira from fuel subsidy removal every month, but it and it is again going to borrow $1.5 billion dollars. What is your position on this?

Which is a better economic action? Borrow to consume, or borrow to invest? What makes Nigerians poor? It is a lack of a viable economic development plan. Could we not look at the necessity of developing the poor to acquire basic skills for economic development than giving a loaf of bread for a short season? An adage says, “do not give a fish, but teach how to fish.” The borrower is always indebted to the lender, and sometimes it passes for slavery where there is no investment.

A section of the north is accusing Tinubu of nepotism, cronyism; that he has put his Yoruba people in juicy and strategic places. What is your view on this?

The historical irony is: When Buhari, a northerner, was the president, did we hear the same criticisms of him by the same section of northerners who are now criticising Tinubu? My saying is not to condone nepotism as it is not a good moral and ethical norm for a diverse Nigeria.   

Buhari was accused of nepotism and now Tinubu is also being accused of toeing the path of his predecessor. At what point would a Nigerian president see every part of the country as his constituency?

Nepotism, tribalism, religious and ethnic bigotry are not a good moral and ethical norms for a diverse Nigeria that a Nigerian president or any national leader should pursue.

What is your position on the lifting of the ban on forex for 43 items including rice?

For 63 years after independence, Nigeria has been plagued by firstly, lack of production. We need to address seriously the issue of poverty; unproductivity and unhealthy environment.

Secondly, we need to address seriously the issue of the lack of basic necessities of life: sufficient food production for a better economic life; shelter and housing for a better political life and clothing and goods for a better social life.

Thirdly is our inability to create wealth and economy; a healthy environment and a happy and fulfilled Nigerians. Government economic policy should include the above social and economic principles.

Why do you think the 2023 election has generated so much tension and acrimony at the tribunals?

Most Nigerians are not aware of the existence of kinds of justices. One, there is the justice of God. Two, there is the justice of man. The justice of God is rooted in his attributes and moral character, such as, justice, holiness, goodness, truth, faithfulness, forgiveness, mercy and kindness, etc. Human justice is positivistic. It means that human beings are capable of creating their own positive laws, that is, legal positivism. Most court cases are tried under human positivistic laws under the dominating science of legal laws (jurisprudence).

Most Nigerians think that cases tried in the courts of law are of God’s justice. They are not aware that they are tried under human legal positivistic laws, which human beings have created for themselves. Popular thinking is that there is an assumption that court judgments are co-terminus with God’s justice. At best court judgments are a caricature of or an approximation of God’s justice, but not the justice of God. Usually, when a litigant wins a case in court, they often say that “justice has been served”. But this type of justice is not of God, but of human positive laws. Sometimes, in human courts, a culprit may win a case or be absolved of an accusation, while the innocent may not. There are good judges that fear God and pass judgments that are equivalent to God’s justice. There are also bad judges that receive bribes or favours and may pervert even human laws. Thus, winning a case in a human court may not agree with God’s justice. What may be right with men can be injustice with God.

What are your fears for Nigeria?

Rather, I have concerns and hope for Nigeria. My answers to your questions have raised both my concerns and hope for Nigeria. We can still go back and seriously do it right, by learning the arts of nation-state building and national integration. At the moment, we have turned from future progression and development to the Jahiliyya period and primitive life of militancy, terrorism, jihadism, banditry, kidnapping and cruel and evil social crimes, which are unprecedented in our history.

I believe that one day God is going to raise transformational political leaders that will move Nigeria from being a backward Third World country to the First World modern country, if Nigerians will sincerely repent and turn from their wicked and evil ways and renew and reform their attitudes, behaviours and social practices. As Nigerians, we need to put aside ethnic and religious militancy, terrorism, jihadism, kidnapping, banditry and all forms of criminality, corruption, indiscipline, social and institutional decay.


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