Olawepo-Hashim, A Voice For National Unity In A Season Of Division

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By HASSAN IBRAHIM

The last few months have been turbulent for the Nigerian government, if you think of the impactful #EndSARS protest, the dip into another economic recession, the killing of 43 farmers in Zarbamari Village, Borno State, and the rising wave of kidnappings, armed robberies, banditry, and much else. The #EndSARS protest that was at the behest of Nigerian youth, was a reminiscence of the famed Arab spring, which altered the political order in some Maghreb countries and the Mid-East, with yet unresolved residual effects. 

The #EndSARS protests exposed Nigeria to the world as a country with socio-economic contradictions, fit enough to throw the nation into a tailspin. With the calming of nerves, or respite, from the protests, the times seem ripe for voices of reason to rise in interventions, to provide pathways to peace, development and growth, in a plural nation, often enveloped by mutual suspicion, poverty induced crime, and threats to unity, despite age-old commitment to harmony and indissolubility.

For the entrepreneur and former Presidential candidate in the 2019 Nigerian general election, Mr. Gbenga-Olawepo Hashim; he is concerned about issues that would rather strengthen the nation, as against dividing it. He cites the example of the debate on zoning the contest for the office of the president in the 2023 elections, arguing that zoning is divisive, patently false as a narrative, and inimical to national development. He hinges his argument on the placidity of the endeavour, and one that is capable of diminishing competition, and boundedness.

A typically cerebral thinker, Olawepo-Hashim stressed that zoning is counterproductive to the nation’s unity and national development for its tendency to be reductionist, and for putting off merit, in political permutations.

To the politician and business mogul, what is rather needed is a president that will unite the country, secure it, and transform the economy, from a toddling underdeveloped economy, to a modern productive, and an effective one. This kind of president should emerge from a painstaking process of assessing his/her records, vision, mission, and objectives, rather than the simplistic course of allocation, implied in zoning.

Deducing from history, the business executive said Nigerians are always ready to vote for a good president without zoning. Stressing with no zoning in 1993, late Chief MKO Abiola got votes from Kano against Alhaji Bashir Tofa, his principal opponent, who hails from there. Obasanjo also won elections in 1999, without the support of his South-West origin. Therefore, “The talk of zoning the Presidency is a false narrative, divisive and inimical to national development, as it amounts to a case of our turn president”. This eventually “makes leaders escape accountability, because it becomes difficult for the people to question such leaders, on account of the defence from his people who are wont to argue that he is there man”

“This phenomenon” he pursued, “is dangerous for national unity, cohesion and national development. Rotating president is a pedestrian diversion from the current subject of devolution of power and decentralization of power from the over centralized centre to the federating states in Nigeria. Nigeria would not just become a just and fair federation, simply because a southerner is exercising the over blotted power at the centre. It will be more equitable and efficient when the powers are devolved more to the states, regardless of who occupies the office of the President,”

He reasoned that as a founding member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and first Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party at a young age in 1999, he could recall that most of the people talking of how Obasanjo, a Southerner became president in 1999, were not there in the PDP. “Because of this, they are now simplifying issues. I was one convener of the PDP in 1998. I know the proper context for what we did. It was not as if other people from other zones did not contest against Obasanjo.

“Alhaji Rimi contested against him in 1999 from Kano, also Dr. Alex Ekwueme. In 2003, Chief Barnabas Gemade from the North contested against President Obasanjo. Ditto for Buhari in 2015. Chief Rochas Okorocha from the Southeast contested against him. The emergence of any leader or presidential candidate at any time, is usually a product of intense horse trading, negotiations and bargaining. Not outright zoning to any region,”

Not done yet, he argued that “any discerning mind that means well for Nigeria, must construct a national platform and build a national consensus behind their programme. Now, what Nigerians need are justice and good governance. Many Nigerians are victims of injustice. Our politicians should avoid ethno-religious narratives that pitch citizens against each other”

Olawepo-Hashim had earlier outlined certain facts that Nigeria can be proud of amid the many economic, political, security, social and even religious issues it faces even 60 years after independence. He cites those developments as “inspiring milestones in the nations strive for national unity and integration.” According to him, in “1950, Dr. Olorunnimbe was the first Mayor of Lagos, while Mazi Mbonu Ojike was his deputy, just as Chief Ekyuiyasi from Ogwashi Ukwu (Igbo) represented Benin West in the Western House of Assembly in 1952, in an election he twice ran for.

“Other than this, in 1957 Felix Okonkwo, was a special member of the Northern House of Chiefs in Kano, while Malam Umaru Yushau, the Sarkin Hausawa or Chief of the Hausas in Onitsha was elected a member of Eastern House of Chiefs in 1957. Additionally, Aba, an Igbo society voted Margaret Ekpo, a non-Igbo in 1961, just as Abakaliki voted Chief Eyo Bassey to represent them in parliament.

There are more. “Alhaji Ibrahim Abubakar Imam from Maiduguri represented Tiv land Gboko in the House of Representatives, and Chief John Umolu from Estako represented Port Harcourt in the Eastern Region House of Assembly. In the South west, as well, Obafemi Awolowo led the campaign for Ernest Ikoli, an Ijaw man to defeat Chief Akinsanya in a Lagos election. Nnamdi Azikiwe also led the NCNC to a clean sweep of legislative seats in Lagos and an Attorney in Calabar, Atta Mumu, from Ghana, represented Calabar in the parliament.”

He noted that these facts are well documented by well-meaning Nigerians, and he hopes the country returns to this glorious era of detribalization. He recalled that in Sardana’s North, though the Premier was Muslim and Islam the dominant religion, Sharia was not a tool in the hands of the corrupt and the inept to whip up cheap support through hollow religious rhetoric. No one lost his life or a limb through the decision of a suspicious court, and they sentenced no one to death for making a song. Christians and Muslims worked and lived peacefully, and they represented both religions in government.

“It was a very interesting part of Northern history when late Chief Sunday Bolorunduro Awoniyi, the Aro of Mopa–a Christian Northerner and accomplished technocrat was as an influential figure in Sardauna’s administration as any talented Muslim Northerner could be. He played the role of the Chief of Staff in a clime when even Easterners and Southerners were judges and administrators in Northern Nigeria. This is the Nigeria of my dream”

And on the youth question, he said “Nigeria is undoubtedly a nation with a huge potential. The youth make up its major population and asset. No nation in its right senses plays with the youth population. In fact, the youth are drivers of development and should not be neglected” He had planned to engage the teeming unemployed Nigerian youth in all the productive sectors of the economy, when he ran for the Office of the President last year. He had a blueprint of such integrated and all-inclusive developmental agenda.

To Mr. Hashim, neglecting   such a vital sector, was a great disservice to humanity. One of the consequence, as Hashim had predicted, was the #ENDSARS protest which erupted like a hurricane in most Nigerian cities. There were various propositions on the structure of the Nigerian state, before the youth protest. While others called for restructuring, some had called for the dissolution of the union. I wish we were sensitive to all these to prevent the protests”, the entrepreneur pursued. To the thinker, activist, politician and businessman, it seems therefore that it is morning yet on day on his increase in political participation.

Hassan Ibrahim , a public affairs analyst , writes from Abuja.

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