- Continued from backpage

As I have argued in the past, the president may give the country the Lagos-Ibadan expressway that successive administra­tions failed to do, which combined with the railway will ease transporta­tion in the Southwest. He may succeed in completing the Second Niger Bridge. He may even complete the East-West road in the Niger Delta. While these would ordinarily be concrete achievemen­ts, they may not make a difference in how the people perceive him and his stewardshi­p. As I have also said before, one can just picture how chaotic Lagos would be without the Third Mainland Bridge. General Ibrahim Babangida built it. That is not what Lagosians remember him for.

The most critical charge in the statement by southern governors is the one which “frowns at selective criminal administra­tion of justice and resolved that arrests should be made within the ambit of the law and fundamenta­l human rights.” Since I was not at the meeting, I cannot state what informed this charge. But the only two recent arrests that could have provoked this statement is that of IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu and his ‘Yoruba Nation’ counterpar­t, Sunday Igboho. I doubt if this is an endorsemen­t of what these two characters stand for or that they are above the law. It is more a rebuke of how some other people who equally threaten the peace of our country are treated by the security agencies. To the extent that equality before the law is the hallmark of a true democratic state, this is a very serious charge against the federal government.

We have so many challenges in Nigeria today. We are getting to a situation in which parents may no longer be sending their children to school because kidnappers now lay siege. Yesterday, the United Nations Education Fund (UNICEF) raised concerns over abductions of innocent school children in parts of West and Central Africa. The statement opened with the abduction on Monday of 150 students “from a school in Nigeria’s Kaduna State”. One of them happens to be 14-year old son of a young man I know. In Nigeria, according to UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, “the UN estimates that at least 950 students have been abducted from their schools by armed men since December. Over the past six weeks alone, nearly 500 children were abducted in four separate incidents across the central and northwest parts of the country. Many of these children have not yet been returned. It is hard to fathom the pain and fear that their families and loved ones are suffering in their absence.”

To compound our woes, the economy is in dire straits at a period when millions of our young people cannot be productive­ly engaged. The national currency is on a free fall against the dollar. Essential commoditie­s, including foodstuffs, are now almost out of reach for the average citizens. The health sector has practicall­y collapsed. To deal with these and other challenges will require a unity of purpose and fewer distractio­ns. It is the responsibi­lity of President Buhari to focus our attention on how to confront those critical challenges. To do that, he must first understand that building a nation requires more than bricks and mortar.

When certain ethnic or geopolitic­al groups within a country feel that their people are alienated from opportunit­ies or are discrimina­ted against in the enforcemen­t of law and order, whether justifiabl­y or otherwise, the state weakens, and progress becomes difficult. That then gives ethnic entreprene­urs the opportunit­y to build on fears and insecurity and polarise the society. The environmen­t becomes even more toxic when political memories and emotions are exploited to magnify anxieties and further divide along faultlines. That unfortunat­ely is where we are in Nigeria today.

Now that representa­tives of the political elite from the Southern part of the country have joined the ever-growing community of ‘Wailing wailers’, it is obvious we have a problem on our hands. If we ignore the fact that they may be playing the politics of power shift, the subtext from their statement, which should not be lost on the president is that he must begin to embrace a sense of justice which is higher than routine legalism. This will entail reaching out to critical constituen­cies that may feel alienated with words and gestures that renew the bonds of national solidarity. And, all things considered, I believe he should begin from the Southeast! Olusegun Adeniyi, Abuja

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