The Challenge Of Nation Building
I met with the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Sa'ad Abubakar III, at the four-day World Justice Forum (WJF) that ended here in Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday 23rdJune, and we got talking – as often happens when Nigerians meet abroad – about the many challenges facing our dear country Nigeria.
"Is it only by being a Minister that one can serve one's country?" The Sultan wondered. "Why is it that everybody wants to be appointed a minister? It is clear that the motive is not service," he added feeling sorry for Nigeria.
Corruption remains rife and abuse of the rule of law and absence of the culture of good governance mean that becoming a minister is seen as a sure and easy way to stupendous wealth.
Not the least of the challenges is that posed by extremists, and of late the Boko Haram who have claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Police Force Headquarters, Sir Louis Edet House, Abuja that resulted in deaths and injuries to many and large-scale destruction of properties. I already heard the Sultan the week before, as I'm sure a good number of Nigerians must have done, on CNN "African Voices" programme dumping the blame entirely on evil politicians breeding and manipulating vulnerable and gullible youth for the politicians' selfish and diabolical ends.
"Sir, are you not merely Pontius-Pilating, washing hands off social decadence within your domain, contrary to the widespread notion that you wield strong influence, if not power, over at least the Muslim north? And aren't this terrorist group invoking Islam to perpetrate their evil?" I queried.
He barely let me land when he interjected with a chuckle: "You are talking of the Sultanate of old, Tunde. Times have changed. Now the traditional stools have been reduced to mere figureheads, to be consulted, or heard, only when it suits the government who can install or remove an Emir, Oba or Obi as they please. In the past, we (the traditional rulers) were in charge of our own local police, in our part of the country under the Native Authority. Then, it was not possible for a stranger to come into town without the Emir or Sultan knowing within an hour of his or her arrival – even of those merely passing through we are informed. But many of our local people would still rather take their cases to us for judgement than go to court. They believe in the tradition and the reverence bestowed on it."
"Sounds to me like a case in support of the state police being advocated," I added.
Someone else added that the Boko Haram thing is giving Islam a bad name when in actual fact the miscreants are not properly schooled in Islam. Those behind all this take advantage of the ignorance and illiteracy of the miscreants, hoodwink them, arm them and send them out to create havoc. There is also a strong indication that their masters are receiving foreign support in funds and training.
At which point Kenyan Dr Mustafa Ali, Secretary General of African Council of Religious Leaders (ACRL) and Moderator of the session on "Reconciling the Rule of Law with Traditional Justice Systems" lent his voice in support, buttressing it with what he calls the terrorism still ongoing in Kenya largely backed and funded by terrorist groups in neighbouring Somalia and Sudan. Kenya also has ethnic and religious divisions and, as Joshua Hammer wrote, Kenyan politicians use Islamic identity with the discovery that the West-vs-Islamism stance attracts money in a way that developmental issues couldn't. "Aggressive recruitment of impressionable young people is embarked upon, sponsoring them at Islamic schools, or madrassas that preach a radical message along the lines of the madrassas in Pakistan."
Islamization of politics remains a great threat to nation building in Nigeria. It was widespread during the recent presidential election with radical Imams preaching openly in mosques that voting for Goodluck Jonathan was voting against Islam.
"It was troubling," says the Sultan, "and we needed to counter it by asking people not to vote along ethnic or religious lines."
But the seed of discontent had been sowed in the minds of many people who are hungry and uneducated and who found most palatable any preaching against the government and a system that has impoverished them for so long. The result is that in the post election violence, those in government and those preaching for voting along non-ethnic and non-religious lines were seen as one and the same and "enemies of the people".
The WJF is run under the aegis of the World Justice Project, a non-governmental global organisation with a mission "to lead a global, multidisciplinary effort to strengthen the rule of law for the development of communities of opportunity and equity".
The central theme of this Third WJF Conference is The Rule of Law with sub-themes on aspects such as Arts & Culture, Education, Environment, Faith, Government & Politics, Human Rights, Labour, Law & Judiciary, Media, Medicine & Public Health, Military & Public Safety, Science & Technology, etc.
It was interesting listening to Bill Gates, Sr., honorary Co-Chair of WJP and Co-Chair of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Mr Gates was one of the Discussants at the "Special Discussion: Rule of Law Conversation with Bill Gates, Sr."
For a man who is the father of the world's richest man, Bill Gates, Jr., and a very wealthy man in his own right, his views on life and governance are stunning and admirable. Although he says he is a "Liberal", some of his views are more or less leftist. He believes in what he calls the "criticality of role of government" in development and, against the current advocacy for less government and more private sector role, he sees government as a "critical ingredient of the success of the society." To the applause of the audience, he demands an "appropriate level of taxation on the wealthy" as a way of redressing the economic imbalance in the society, and believes the wealthy owe it as a duty to give back to the society without which the wealth couldn't have been made in the first place.
The philanthropy of the Gates is legendary and is probably the largest in the world. Of his son and what he does through philanthropy he ended rhetorically: "Do you have any idea about my pride in my son?" The clapping would not stop after which Mr William Neukom, Founder and President of WJP, reminds us that the feeling is mutual between father and son!
Obasanjo and Nigeria came up for mentioning by Bill Gates, Sr., as he recounts one of his visits to Nigeria with former President Jimmy Carter on one of their philanthropy projects. He was lamenting the lack or non-observance of the rule of law in developing countries where nothing gets done as it should and how at breakfast with Obasanjo they mentioned the fact that some of the pipes they had sent to Nigeria to help in alleviating lack of potable water in rural communities were still lying at the ports uncleared. President Obasanjo, he said, took his phone and called an official "who he knew by first name" and demanded the pipes be delivered to where they were needed. That very day it was done! It helps to be the president, he said wryly.
"Obasanjo, delightful fellow", he added, almost as a caveat, still amused by the memory of the encounter.