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‘Our country sick’ Okogie, Ohanaeze, Afenifere, PANDEF said

As Nigeria clocks 60 today, stakeholders remained divided on how far it has gone in the march to development. While some are convinced that some progress had been made in the quest for development, others argue that the nation was actually drifting towards disintegration, owing to its faulty structure.

Among those who have ventilated their opinions on the state of the nation were Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos, Anthony Cardinal Okogie; former President Goodluck Jonathan, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and National leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.

Others include the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, the Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, and its counterpart in the South East, Ohanaeze Ndigbo as well as the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF.

Nigeria@60 sick unto death — Cardinal Okogie

On his take, Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, acknowledged that every nation has its peculiar challenges, but said Nigeria’s problems could not be addressed by the kind of leadership it has at this point in time.

In his 60th independence message to Nigerians, titled “A change of heart for Nigeria’s 60th independence anniversary”, Okogie maintained that Nigeria was sick unto death, arguing that “you cannot fix a country by using propaganda, neither can you facilitate development by criminalizing expression of dissenting opinions.”

According to him, “close to four decades ago, during the struggle to rescue democracy from the hands of Nigerian soldiers, Nigerian Bishops composed a prayer; ‘Prayer for Nigeria in Distress’’.

He said the immediate response to that prayer was the end of military rule on May 29, 1999, lamenting that 21 years after, Nigeria was still in distress.

Okogie said Nigerians await the long-term response to their prayer, stressing that 60 years after the nation got its independence from Britain, Nigerians and those who loved the country know that it was in dire need of redemption.

He said: “It would be utterly dishonest and cruel to say Nigeria is in good condition! Nigeria is sick unto death. Yes, Nigeria has always been in difficulty. But that is no excuse for allowing the current state of affairs to remain. Things ought to be getting better, but getting worse.

“Every country has its problems. But Nigeria’s problems cannot be addressed by the kind of leadership we have at this point in time. You cannot fix a country by using propaganda. Neither can you facilitate development by criminalizing expression of dissenting opinions. We all thought we had said farewell to intolerance of opposition on May 29, 1999. But recent experiences show us that we were wrong. What went wrong?

“First, we need to be rescued from selfishness. The Lord God has been immensely generous to our land. He has made this land very rich. Why then do we have poverty in the land? We have poverty because of selfishness. We have poverty because the Nigerian has been impoverished by an oligarchy that has cornered the riches of our land.

“How else does one explain the fact that a few of us can afford to own property in foreign lands when some of us cannot afford to pay their transportation to the market or office?

“Secondly, we need to be rescued from falsehood. Nigeria needs to be redeemed from the falsehood that says it is well with Nigeria when in fact symptoms of Nigeria’s ailment are glaring and too many to count. Which of these can we not see? Is it insecurity of life and property? Is it abject poverty?

“Is it suppression of legitimate dissent by government and its agencies? Is it the apprehension that comes with every election? Is it ethnic and religious disharmony? Or official denial of these points to the fact that Nigeria is in need of redemption from falsehood.

The 1999 Constitution

“Thirdly, Nigeria needs to be rescued from the 1999 Constitution. That Constitution sets up government in a way that is unfair to the people of Nigeria. It is an irony that a foundational document such as a country’s constitution, a document that ought to facilitate and protect our land and our well-being, sets up Nigeria in a way that facilitates insecurity, poverty and insurgency.

‘’Nigeria needs to be rescued from the big, expensive and overbearing but uncaring government that has emerged as a result of this Constitution, from the kind of leadership that has emerged from the 1999 Constitution.

‘’Only the political elite can benefit from this Constitution. The poor masses of Nigeria cannot. That is why the first line of resistance to restructuring is constituted by those who benefit from the Constitution.

“But it would be dangerous, if not already dangerous as we can see today, to leave this Constitution as it is. It can lead to violence. The injustice inherent in the Constitution cannot be redressed piecemeal. We need to be rescued from a Constitution that has set up the most expensive government on the African continent. With a big and expensive government, little is left for the welfare of the Nigerian.

“The desire to be part of this big and expensive government has led us into the firm grips of an electoral process whose integrity is regularly violated. The end of politics is seen as the attainment of power for the sake of power. Whoever is perceived as standing in the way is either maligned or mauled.

“Vote rigging, vote-buying and vote-stealing have done immeasurable damage to the electoral process. Our political actors cross from one party to another without any regard for philosophy. The desire to control the parties has led to the absence of intra-party democracy. Each party exists to provide a platform for power-sharing.

“Fourthly, we need to be rescued from those who would manipulate our ethnic, religious and regional differences to attain and remain in power. The enemy of the Nigerian is not the Nigerian of another ethnic, religious or regional affiliation. Nigerians have a common enemy in a political class that would set Nigerians of one community against Nigerians of another community.

“After the ethnic cleansing we witnessed in Nigeria from January 15, 1966 till the end of the war on January 15, 1970, we ought to have learnt our lessons. But it seems we and our leaders have learnt little or no lesson. Our different affiliations are not our problem. Our problem is our failure to manage our differences, a failure which makes it impossible for us to join hands in building a more habitable Nigeria.”

Nation in need of healing — Atiku

On his part, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, said in a statement yesterday that the country was in dire need of healing.

He also said force alone was not enough to defeat separatist agitations in Nigeria, adding that government should do everything to address issues that gave rise to such agitations.

Appealing to separatist groups to lay down their arms in the interest of the nation, Atiku said taking up arms against the Nigerian state would do more harm than good.

He said: “I call on those who have taken up arms against Nigeria to have a rethink. Whatever differences they may have with the rest of Nigeria, whether religious, ethnic or political terror, violence and separatism are not the way. Let us learn from history.

“In Ireland, Israel, and the Balkans, such groups have seen the wisdom in giving up armed struggle for participation in the political process. There is much wisdom in the saying that to jaw-jaw is better than to war-war. We must accept the reality that we are all brothers and sisters sired by our fatherland.

“We cannot defeat separatist groups by force of arms alone; we can only defeat separatism by making all Nigerians feel they belong. This is only possible when we live up to the words of our national motto: Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress.

“As a nation, we asserted our independence in our infancy by lending to other nations. We must be careful not to lose the hard-won independence of our heroes’ past. By learning to live within our means, we can put a stop to the needless borrowings that threaten our economic independence.

“Our nation is in dire need of healing. We must foster unity and douse the tense atmosphere which is breeding feelings of alienation. We must promote freedom of speech and freedom after the speech.

“As such, in the spirit of our 60th Independence Anniversary, I call on the federal and state governments, to release all political prisoners and detainees, and discontinue the prosecution of such individuals. If Nelson Mandela could reconcile with those who imprisoned him for twenty seven years, we can reconcile with those who have disagreed with us.”

Continuing, the former VP also called for the immediate adoption of a development plan to harness the creative energy of the youths across the country.

He said: “For Nigeria to work for the millions of its people, and to be reckoned with as a global competitive force in the nearest future, we must come up with a development plan that will have our youths at the centre of the plan. The times of idle, lame promises are over! We urgently need to build a new Nigeria where every dream would be embraced and the potentialities of our youth could be unleashed without the usual fears that have dragged us.

“The youths of Nigeria represent the future wealth of the fatherland and the only way we can tap into them is through quality investments in education and skills acquisition.

“Through the creativity that they inject in their passion, the excellence of the Nigerian youth is a global signature in diverse fields notably in sports, as they can be found in medicine, in education, in business and finance, agriculture, and in our entertainment industry. Indeed they ‘berekete’ in every facet of our life from the rain forest of the south to the sudan and sahel Savannah of the north and the guinea Savannah of the midlands of the territories we call home.”

Singling out for praise Israel Adesanya, the Nigerian currently doing the nation proud in the UFC, Atiku tasked the leadership of the country to fish out youthful talents across the country and invest in them for the future.

“On Saturday, 26 September, 2020 in far away United States, Israel Adesanya, an illustrious Nigerian, who embodies the indefatigable Nigerian spirit made the nation proud by successfully defending his UFC middleweight title. That victory lifted our spirit, and gave us hope in a season of hopelessness when every index of life and human development in our country is trending abysmally negative.

“Nigerians of all hues are united in the celebration of the victory of Adesanya. It is our victory. No one cares if he is from Abia or Zamfara, Rivers or Osun state. Indeed some are wont to adopt Ibrahim or Omesonma as his name. But what is important is that he is a Nigerian, and his victory our collective victory.”

Don’t lose hope in Nigeria — Jonathan

Similarly, former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan urged Nigerians not to lose hope in their nation, even as he charged them to be purposeful in playing their own role towards making the country great.

Jonathan, who stated this in his goodwill message to Nigerians as the nation marks 60th Independence today, noted that the journey of Nigeria had been that of mixed fortunes, adding that it required the commitment of all citizens to build a strong and prosperous nation.

He said: “Like many other great nations, our journey has been that of mixed fortunes. Our nation has been through periods of progress and times of setbacks. We have experienced eras of strength, unity and faith as well as seasons of weakness, trials and despair. Despite these challenges, we have remained as one, and nurtured our democracy to 21 unbroken years.

“I therefore urge us to make investments that will shore up the democratic gains and work towards building strong and virile institutions. We need to harness the greatness that lies within our diversity and the strength of our population, to recreate and build the Nigeria we desire. We must de-emphasize our fault lines and concentrate on the silver lining within our lands.”

Let’s love our nation — Tinubu

In his reaction, former Lagos State governor and national leader of All Progressives Congress, APC, said: “Three score years ago, our people determined to amend their political relationship with the world as well as the relationship among themselves.

“From the unfairness and limitations inherent in the colonial situation, we claimed our independence to establish our own way that we might be servile to none. We asserted our independence that we may be the most populous, most powerful and most prosperous nation in Africa and in the process lead our continent and our race into a more just and equable condition.

“Thus we do not commemorate Independence Day as some empty ritual. It is not some excuse to begin the 10th month of the year with a holiday. Instead, it is an annual reminder and affirmation of the noble and excellent trek upon which we have embarked as a people.

“During these 60 years, we have passed important milestones and progressed in many ways. We have endured long nights that skeptics said would end us. In my own state of Lagos, we have transformed what many had written off as a dying city into a dynamic hub of commerce, openness and infrastructural development.

“Under the current APC administration, the nation is now building the institutional framework and infrastructural networks that will bring forth an era of beneficial growth and development for all Nigeria and all Nigerians, no matter your current station in life and without regard to your incidence or place of birth.

“We press onward, despite the unique difficulties and challenges posed this year by the global pandemic and its attendant economic difficulties. In fact, Nigeria should be proud of how it decisively managed this challenge.

“For, among the world’s most populous nations, we rank among the least affected by the scourge. This we owe primarily to the merciful hand of God and also to the sage actions of government and the civic responsibility of the people.

“Yet I would be less than honest if I did not state we have often stumbled and lost our way at times since we gained independence. Brother has fought against brother. We spilled blood that ought not have been spilled. We have squandered opportunities. We have let our immense potentials lay idle and stagnant.

“But not any more. Those things are remnants of the past for which we now draw important lessons to guide us to a more optimistic and fecund tomorrow. The sixty years Nigeria has stood as an independent land may seem long in the life of a man, but in the life of a nation, it has been but a single breath.

“Wisdom instructs us to love our nation for it is truly an unfortunate son who hates his own home and family. However, wise and enlightened it may be to love Nigeria as a nation that is still insufficient, it only gets us halfway to where we need to go.

“I would be selling you falsehood if I were to promise that our daily path would be lined with rose petals and sweet fragrance. I would be selling you false hope if I were to say nothing but gentle days and tranquil nights await us.

“However. I tender this sound and fundamental truth. This beloved nation now faces the right direction. We move closer to the reality of a greater nation based on a more just and compassionate society.”

Implement 2014 confab outcomes — CAN

Reacting, the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, used opportunity of the 60th independence anniversary to ask President Muhammadu Buhari to implement the recommendations of the 2014 national conference to move the country forward.

In a statement issued yesterday to commemorate the 60th independence anniversary of the country, Samson Ayokunle, National President of CAN, said: “Our economy is in shambles and the naira has been devalued beyond recognition while the masses are at the receiving end. The cost of living has gone beyond the reach of many Nigerians, our youths are becoming increasingly vulnerable to criminality in the absence of gainful employments or job opportunities.

“We urge President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately sign the Electoral Bill reform which has been gathering dust on his table since last year. Our elections should be free, fair and credible if we want the governed and other nations to respect our political leaders. Trust is earned, not imposed or enforced.

“Our governments should be sensitive to the yearnings and the groaning of the governed. The era of asking the people to tighten their belts while those in power are loosening theirs should stop.

“Both the Federal and State governments must give a sense of belonging to all citizens irrespective of their religious, tribal, and political persuasions. Lopsided appointments in favour of one part of the country at the expense of the other, or in favour of one religion at the expense of the other will only deepen the crises in the polity. This will put pay to those calling for the balkanisation of the country.

“We call on the government to revisit the 2014 National Conference Report with a view to using it to address some problems militating against the peace and unity of the country. We don’t need another conference if there is a political will to implement the report.”

Nigeria now more backward — Ohanaeze

The apex Igbo body, in a statement by its acting Secretary General/Publicity secretary, Prince Uche Achi-Okpaga, said Nigeria has gone more years backward than forward.

The statement read: “There is virtually nothing to celebrate at the 60th anniversary of Nigeria. A civil servant retires at the age of 60years. This means that at that age he/she has offered the best of his/her services and initiatives.

“However, at 60, Nigeria is counting losses instead of gains. On security, Nigeria was a non permanent member of the UNO Security Council. We contributed troops as part of United Nations Peace Keeping Force to many Nations and they clearly distinguished themselves.

“Today, Boko Haram, bandits and/or killer Fulani herdsmen are killing military officers, trained with tax payers money, ravaging homes, villages and towns, all because professionalism and military precision have been relegated on the iota of ethnic chauvinism.

“The Police are bastardized on allied sentiments. No Igboman is a commissioner of police in the South-East if not in the entire southern states and may never rise to the position of IGP as they, like in the military, are retired at the peak of their service in order to appoint a junior officer from the core North as dramatized in the present case.

“On health, I thank God that COVID-19 came and exposed the medical under-belly of Nigeria. It caught us unawares and killed many prominent people who could afford any medical bill but had not the opportunity to fly overseas for medical attention due to the embargo on international flights that lasted long.

“In the whole of the South-East for instance, it was only Ebonyi State that had a readily available COVID-19 testing laboratory.

“On the economy, the Naira has continued to nosedive because at 60 years we are still importing fuel in spite of all the oil refineries and billions of naira spent on “turn around maintenance” and instead of copying or developing the modular refineries in the Niger Delta, which is not a rocket science, we are closing and destroying them.

“A greater percentage of Nigerians do not access dependable drinking water, electricity supply and good roads. We have continued to import virtually everything including toothpick.

“The palm oil, cocoa, groundnut and all other agricultural products that sustained the economy prior to the discovery of oil have become history and in gasping for breath in the wake of the COVID-19 onslaught we decided to punish Nigerians the more by increasing electricity tariffs and the fuel pump price.

“In law, the President, without mincing words, informed Nigerians that national interest preponderates over the rule of law and today the DSS can bamboozle Supreme Court judges and a chief of army staff, meant to be seen and not heard in a democracy, could threaten a state of emergency in a region without any repercussion.

“The lists are legion but that is the long story. The short one is that Nigeria has gone more years backward so that there is virtually nothing to celebrate. We should be bowing our heads in shame in the Comity of Nations.’

Nigeria must restructure immediately — Afenifere

On its part, the Pan-Yoruba socio-political organization, Afenifere, said amid divisions, tensions and underdevelopment,it was worried that the country is yet to find its bearing at 60.

In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, Afenifere said: “Only a few weeks ago, former President Olusegun Obasanjo observed that the country was drifting towards state failure which was fully backed by Prof Wole Soyinka.

“Even the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, on the eve of the anniversary, declared that the cracks on the wall of Nigeria could lead to its break-up. Unfortunately, the country lacks a leadership that could mend the cracks.

“On a daily basis, all the steps being taken by our governments are mostly the ones that could deepen the cracks. Today, there is no happiness in the land as the country cannot guarantee good living for the citizens who are locked under extreme insecurity.

“All the things that make for good living are beyond the reach of those who don’t have access to state resources. The country is deeply divided along ethnic and religious lines which the leadership seems to be thriving on. It is not surprising that the country is filled with separatist feelings at 60.

Nigeria not where it should be — PANDEF

Reacting in a similar manner, the apex socio-cultural organization of the South South geo-political zone, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, said Nigeria was still crawling at 60, despite its human and natural resources.

National Chairman of PANDEF, and former military administrator of Akwa Ibom State, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, retd, said: “To be very honest, it has been a disappointment that at 60years, Nigeria is still crawling. Somebody that is 60 years old should not be crawling. There is no way a 60-year-old person can be graded with toddler.

“We are not where we should be at this age. And we should take this seriously because whatever Nigeria does is a reflection on what the black man is. We are the largest population of blacks in the world and so if we bring ourselves down like toddlers, that is the way the world will look at every black person.

“There are many nations where there are black people but because of our population, they will be looking up to us. In the whole black race, Nigeria has the largest concentration of blacks, so if Nigeria fails, it is the black race that has failed. We should not be satisfied with being champions of Africa though now there are many African countries that are doing better than we are doing.”

Nigeria @ 60 is at the verge of total collapse, says Catholic Bishops

THE Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) yesterday took a look at the different sectors and wondered how Nigerians can conveniently celebrate the 60th independence anniversary amidst huge borrowings with colossal interest to be paid back, and that presently we are servicing our debt with a significant revenue of the country.

In an address by Most Rev. Augustine O. Akubeze, Archbishop of Benin City and President of the CBCN, on the occasion of the 60th Independence Day of Nigeria, the Catholic Bishops said the rate of unemployment is growing, and there seems to be no clear plan to fix the economy as well as help the private sector to grow so that many of our youths can be employed.

“Nigerians from almost all geographical regions seem to agree that we need to start working on restructuring. The present political party leading Nigeria (APC) campaigned to attend to the issue of restructuring, sharing of resources, and a constitutional amendment if Nigerians voted them into power.

“It is somewhat regrettable that the Federal Government of Nigeria has not kept to its electoral promises. State Governors, Senators, Federal House of Representative Members must all work towards ensuring restructuring of Nigeria. Nigeria is almost at the verge of total collapse.”

‘Our country sick’ Okogie, Ohanaeze, Afenifere, PANDEF said