Being contribution of Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, OON, to the Summit of Nigerian Elders and Leaders on the 2019 Elections and the challenges of National Rebirth, Abuja, 3rd of February, 2019
I want to thank the leadership of this unique Forum for the privilege to contribute to a very critical endeavor, which only elders and leaders can undertake at this stage in the life of our nation.
I am humbled by the decision of this Forum to allow me share my views on the state of our nation, and express views and opinions, which every Nigerian is entitled to express. I would like to believe that this honour is informed by my record of service in our nation, as well as the privileged access I have acquired into the intricacies and challenges of governance at very intimate and involved capacities in the last 35 years of my life. I believe I am qualified to identify the essentials of our journey way before the historic transition of 1999.
I have been involved in public service at very senior levels with five of the nation’s administration, and I was an active participant in the fortunes and misfortunes, which leadership brought upon our nation, as well as the struggles to find our ways out of many seemingly impossible positions. I can even lay a modest claim to contributing to the electoral success of this administration as well as supporting it in a number of ways.
In my entire life, I have been motivated only by the injunctions of Allah to serve Him and the community, to do right, including challenging wrong, and to keep leadership on its toes. I pray that I will find God’s favour in this aspect of my life on the day I stand before Him, as we will all do, to account for the blessings and privileges, which He bestowed upon me.
I cannot imagine a Forum with greater relevance and potential impact than this to engage Nigerians in on-going, intense and monumental decisions, which we are being called upon to make on the 16th of February and 2nd of March, in sha Allah. There will be those, who will say this Forum does not represent them or their views. They are entitled to their opinions, and they may be right, to the degree that they hold contrary views to those of elders and leaders, who have earned respect by standing up for their communities and groups.
The uniqueness of this Forum in bringing together socio-cultural and ethnic groups to reinforce commonness as well as contribute to managing our diversities is a vital national asset. It would have been strange, indeed, if the leadership of Afenifere, Northern Elders Forum, Ohaneze-Ndigbo, PANDEF and the Middle Belt Forum do not make their voices heard at a time when every group, and our collective as a nation, stands at the threshold of major decisions that will make the difference between a nation that will continue the dangerous drift in the face of very serious
challenges, and one that should commence a major shift from living with its worsening problems to finding solutions for them.
For me, the 2019 elections are the most important elections that Nigerians will be involved in. They will be about basic choice between endorsing our past, and its continuation, or voting, for a future and challenging leadership to chart a different trajectory for the nation.
The 2015 elections represented a turning point that raised great hopes. The elections largely expressed a popular will for a new leader, who defeated an incumbent President from a party that had been in power since 1999. We went through a peaceful transition with a new administration that promised to fight insecurity, fix the economy and create jobs and eliminate corruption.
Today, we meet on the eve of a national verdict on that administration’s performance, and an opportunity for us to vote in its favour or against it. The best friends of this administration will be circumspect in praising it beyond the narrow margins of total devotion, devoid of willingness to let in the realities that its record is a major failure in the context of the hopes it raised.
The nation is more insecure today than it was four years ago. The economy has suffered massive setbacks, owing to poor management and weak political will to turn adversities into opportunities. Unemployment, poverty and insecurity have grown from a shrinking economy that has been fed with apologies and ineptitude.
The fight against corruption has been turned into a political farce, where alleged thieves are accommodated and cleansed with political waters, and they immediately join in the shout against thieves. Our people have dangerously apart and are building barricades against each other, as the administration failed to protect them and allowed everyone to define their own friends and enemy.
The foundation of a nation that should be strong enough to address every grievance or challenge are becoming weak, providing succor to opportunists and adventurers, who turn manageable injuries into fatal wounds.
Today, we have an election that basically pitches one Northern Muslin against another, yet the gulf between Muslims and Christians, and between Sects in faiths is as wide as it has ever been, particularly in areas where co-existence and harmony is a vital element of survival and peace. We lost the gains of 2015 when Muslims and Christians in many parts of the country voted for the same candidates together.
On the two days when we vote in February and March, many Nigerians will be afraid to venture out to vote, or will vote as “I.D.Ps” because their lives have been severely disrupted by preventable violence. Many Nigerians will vote only on the basis of faith and relationship with how they perceive themselves in a nation God created to have many faiths. Families, who are living with hunger, as new experiences, or living in fear of bandits and kidnappers, may or may not vote, depending on their personal security and their perception of the utility of voting in their lives in future.
Against all these, Nigerians are being persuaded by others to vote for a different set of leaders, particularly a new President. What is offered is a promise to radically improve on the performance of the current administration. Nigerians need to interrogate this promise. It must demonstrably represent an improvement in vision; of clarity in thinking, of higher quality of commitment to national renewal and a more transparent commitment to integrity.
If the options to the administration represent hope that we will see a more decisive assault on insecurity and poverty; on damaging divisions and drift where we need to see unity and an informed, confident and inspiring leadership, then by all means Nigerians should be encouraged to make a choice in that direction.
Elders see further, even while seated, than young people on trees do. It is not enough to say things are wrong. We must have the courage to say how we can right those wrongs. There are millions of Nigerians, who will listen to the voices of the elders and leaders in this room – those, whose minds are open and amendable to advise with benefit from the wisdom and advise that this Forum will provide. Those, whose minds are already made up, will ignore it and even denounce it. This should be expected and tolerated by elders, who should be aware that in these days, even age, experience, service and wisdom are routinely disparaged by politicians.
I have faith in God, who commanded that we should pray to Him for guidance. I have faith in Nigerians to make the right choices, and in all Nigerians to respect and live with the choices that majority of us make. I have faith that Nigerians in INEC, who have reputations and integrity to protect, and families, who should feel proud of them and who have enough patriotism not to set the nation on fire, will conduct free and fair elections.
I have faith that losers will accept defeat, and winners will be compassionate and responsible. I have faith that Nigerians will conduct ourselves in a manner that does justice to our claim as decent, civilized people. I have faith that the international community will continue to support our need for a credible and peaceful transition. I have faith that the forthcoming elections will improve the chances that younger Nigerians will live in a nation full of potentials and promise, and will provide them opportunities to exploit them to the limits of their abilities. I have faith in this Forum, in its inherent integrity and record of service to our nation; and in its courage to offer advice and guidance.
I thank you; and may God bless our nation.