Thursday, June 30, 2016

USA Africa Dialogue Series - Fw: prof olukotun's coloum

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From: Ibini Olaide <>
Date: Thu, 30 Jun 2016 05:37:37 +0000 (UTC)
ReplyTo: "" <>
Subject: prof olukotun's coloum

                                                                                                       BREXIT TAKEAWAYS FOR NIGERIA
                                                                                                                      AYO OLUKOTUN

"The backtracking by Mr Johnson (former Mayor of London) and his allies has exposed the venality and cynicism of their campaign- unfortunately for Britain, far too late"
New York Times Editorial. June 28, 2016.
     Defying the sombre predictions of the bookmakers and the dire warnings of global financial institutions and world leaders, the United Kingdom, in a historic referendum last week voted to opt out of the European Union. As known, the political and economic fall-outs of what is still an unfolding debacle has been momentous. They include the resignation of the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who will however hang on as lameduck until October, financial tremors travelling well beyond the United Kingdom as the Pound dropped to its lowest level in 30 years, and unprecedented national soul searching in the wake of what has been termed a national nervous breakdown. Meanwhile, analysts are examining the statistics of voting capturing divisions between London which voted to stay in the EU and the rest of the country which voted to dump it, between England which overwhelmingly voted to exit and Scotland as well as Northern Ireland which opted for the EU, between the younger population which cast their lot with the Union and the older strata which voted for britain to go it alone.
       But overshadowing all these and the ominous possibilities of the break up of the UK, many are raising the troubling question of how a country reputed for its conservatism and prudence got itself into what Roger Cohen, Op-ed writer with the New York Times describes as "a collosal leap in the dark". One of the possible answers pregnant with lessons for younger democracies like Nigeria is indicated by the opening quote, sourced from the editorial opinion of wednesday in the New York Times regarding the role of politicians such as Boris Johnson, London's former mayor and Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party.    
      These politicians, one of whom may well be the next Prime Minister, riding on tabloid sensationalism fed the voting population with exaggerations and outright lies from which they are now hastily backtracking. For example, Johnson in the heat of the campaign, claimed that Brexit will save the money which he put at 350million pounds a week that Britain paid to the EU and spend it on the National Health Insurance Scheme and other social services. It turned out that the actual value of Britain's contribution is 150million pounds a week. Johnson and Farage have since denied making such claims. What is the lesson here? Electorates in Nigeria and elsewhere should be extremely wary of the inflated and exaggerated rhetoric of politicians who can easily eat their words and promises when trouble or disaster strikes. Here in Nigeria, the jury is still out concerning what and what the ruling All Progressive Congress promised to do for the Nigerian electorate. The result of this is a predictable crisis of rising expectations, which even if the economy were up and running could not be fulfilled. Hence, Brexit teaches us to scrutinize and interrogate our politicians and political parties regarding the promises they load us with when hunting for our votes.
      The other lesson our political class can draw from Brexit is the ease and civility with which Cameron bowed out of office as a matter of principle, having staked his career on a referendum which a more thoughtful politician could have avoided. Cameron could have invented a thousand and one excuses to hang on to office but as Anthony Akinola observed in The Punch (June 27, 2016), resignations on principle are very much a part of British political culture. If our struggling democracy must overcome its arrested growth, our politicians must elevate political practice to the point where they will not employ do or die battles to gain or to remain in office. Nigerian politics is today a far cry from what it was when Chief Obafemi Awolowo voluntarily resigned from the apex civilian postion of the Federal Minister of Finance and Vice Chairman of the Federal Executive Council under the Military government of General Yakubu Gowon. Nigeria is waiting for the advent of the beautiful ones who will reclaim the moral high ground for our retarded political culture.
        The British media considering their descent to degraded discourse, filled with racial slurs and hysteria concerning immigrants cannot escape blame.This is at least one ocassion when the media were absent from their assigned roles as the nation's educator and inspirational storehouse of edifying ideas.The Nigerian media, which by the way harbour an increasing share of thoughtful professionals and opinion moulders should draw a lesson from the scandalously low ebb to which the British media cascaded. They should do this with the awareness that the Nigerian media which are older than the Nigerian state have often acted as arbiters in times of national crises. Of course, they had their ignoble moments as well, such as when they became the unabashed megaphones of rival political gladiators but overall, the media, the quality media especially have often acted as agenda setters and moral compasses for a nation often adrift. That is the way to go at a time when Nigeria faces an existential battle for her very soul.
      There is importantly the issue of renegotiating Nigeria through the holding of referendums even if, as in the case of Spain and Italy, they are not legally binding. In the wake of Brexit, several commentators have raised the question whether our democracy should not include the holding of referendums on such matters as the right of our nationalities to determine their future. Such persons pointing to the example of Scotland which, although voted in 2014 to stay in the UK, is currently contemplating the holding of another referendum which will allow it to go it alone and become a part of the European Union as her citizens indicated last week. The argument here is that the consent of citizens in a multinational union cannot be taken for granted but should be constantly renewed and sought. This view is in consonance with that of Professor Wole Soyinka who argued in The Punch on wednesday that Nigeria's sovereignity is not cast in stone and iron but is eminently negotiable. Of course, there are doubts whether, given the current state of our elections we can pull off referendums without the usual hitches, violence and inconclusiveness. That however is not a good enough reason not to try. 
      As an alternative however, it is suggested that President Muhammadu Buhari listens to the increasingly vehement opinions of our elder statesmen who are suggesting the revalidation of our besieged federalism through revisiting the key recommendations of the 2014 national conference. As Soyinka put it in The Punch on wednesday " The confab report that came under jonathan is even more superior to the one I participated in as a member of PRONACO..The recommendations strike me as workable, practical and infact, as answering some of the anxieties of this nation". Without doubt therefore, one of our takeaways from Brexit is to address the resentments of the constituent parts and nationalities that make up Nigeria, using as basis the major resolutions and recommendations of the 2014 National Conference.

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