Former President Goodluck Jonathan has said while Nigeria’s founding fathers deserved credit for the struggle for independence and the victory that followed, they should share in the blame for doing a poor job at nation-building subsequently.
Jonathan said this in his remarks at a national dialogue and public presentation of 21 books in honour of Prof. Udenta Udenta, as part of activities to mark his 60th birthday in Abuja yesterday.
The former Nigerian leader, who served as chairman of the occasion, likened the celebrant who authored all of the 21 books to former Tanzanian president, Julius Nyerere, whom he said championed Tanzanaian nationhood.
He said unlike Nyerere; Nigerian founding fathers paid greater emphasis on ethnic and identity politics at the expense of building Nigeria into a cohesive nation.
“Have we been able to convince ourselves whether we are a state or a nation? If we are a country and a state, how do we become a nation?
“I am not blaming our founding fathers but they failed to integrate us into a proper nation. They operated as individuals and so on.
“Of course, if you have read some of the comments of our former leaders, someone like (Obafemi) Awolowo made it very clear that there was no nation called Nigeria. That it is a geographical entity, it is a country, it is a state, it has laws but there is no nation.
“The country was so polarized especially during the early political party formation and the parties were regional parties.
“There was no sense of commitment to integrate Nigeria into an entity that you can say yes, this is a nation with core values, common philosophy and people will be patriotic to that nation.
“Most of the parties that time belonged to regions and there were no alliances for the purpose of ruling the country.
“When I compare Nigeria with a country like Tanzania, I feel that Julius Nyerere made his vision clear to make Tanzania a nation. They have different tribes, maybe not as many as Nigeria but one nation was at the height of his thoughts.”
The former president explained that like Nigeria, Tanzania was made up predominantly of Muslims and Chirstians, stating further that in spite of the numerical strength and popularity of the two faith, President Nyerere was able to champion a one party state to prevent political parties dissolving into ethnic and religious cocoons as he worked hard with other nationalists to build Tanzania into the nation is had become.
“He (Nyerere) made sure every person from Tanzania speaks that (one) language, those who go to primary, secondary and tertiary schools quickly adhered to this as Nyerere made education compulsory.
“So, you hardly see somebody who didn’t get at least basic knowledge of the language in what we call the first nine years of school education. At that level, you communicate in Swahili,” Jonathan said.
He recalled that his modest attempt at nation building was the driving force behind the 2014 national conference which was designed to address some of the fault lines that had kept Nigerians apart.
He expressed confidence that if the recommendations of the 2014 conference were not only adopted but implemented, “we will not say we have a country called Nigeria, we will not say we have a state called Nigeria, we will also say we have a nation called Nigeria.”
Nigerians will recall that on January 1, 2012, then President Goodluck Jonathan announced the removal of fuel subsidy.
The action led to the adjustment of the pump price of petrol from N65 per litre to N141and the decision sparked mass protests across Nigeria, with the economy taking a hit.
The administration was literally forced to rescind the decision by retaining subsidy and reducing the pump price.
Also speaking at the event, former Minister of Aviation and a chieftain of the PDP, Osita Chidoka, said as the nation awaits the judgement of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal today, parties should prepare to accept the outcome.
Specifically, the PDP cheiftain advised President Ahmed Bola Tinubu to be prepared to relocate to Lagos and prepare for the 2027 general elections if he loses at the tribunal.
“If the court says Tinubu is no longer the President, he should pack his things and go to Lagos and prepare for the next election. If they say he is the president,we will continue our agitation for the reform of the electoral management system.”