Buhari, Turkey and the meaning of democracy

President Muhammadu Buhari

Although it seemed like an ordinary congratulatory message from one head of state to another of a friendly nation, President Muhammadu Buhari’s public felicitation with the government and people of Turkey on the successful conclusion of the country’s referendum was an unfortunate utterance and a dubious eulogy. The generous but needless accolades on the regime of controversial President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose leadership has been lampooned by damning criticisms, questions the rationale behind President Buhari’s statement.

Moreover, the praises showered on the referendum as a reflection of democratic culture were also self-indicting since they stand in contrast to certain actions taken by this administration. Viewed against the stark reality on ground in Nigeria, Buhari’s utterance might either be seen as made tongue-in-cheek or outrightly misguided. It was therefore expected that given the evident inconsistencies, Buhari’s congratulatory message was bound to draw criticism and even fierce condemnation.

According to news reports, The President commended Erdogan for his maturity in leading his people to the polls to decide on the future of leadership for the country that would further deepen peace and stability. It went on to interpret the president as stating that ìthe referendum showcases the democratic credentials of the country and reflects a willingness of the Turkish people to live together and jointly pursue a better future.

In the contention of some, Buhari’s seeming innocuous statement might well have been a tacit endorsement of President Erdogan, a man, who has cracked down on opposition, emasculated rights groups, contemplated autarchy, and is degrading Turkey’s dicey secularism to a complicated religious state.

But beyond the perceived endorsement of President Erdogan’s alleged despotic tendencies, Buhari’s eulogy not only questions the motive of such salutary comments, but also provides opportunity for Nigeria to reflect on its foreign policy. Since that 1960 Independence speech passionately delivered by Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria’s first prime minister, Nigeria has left no one in doubt that its foreign policy would be centred on Africa. This would be fostered through the exemplary leadership of a greater Nigeria built on the infinite potential of its rich diversity.

So far, throughout its political history, Nigeria has nurtured and maintained that status with steady progress. Nigeria’s paternalistic but forceful role in the fight against the apartheid regime of South Africa, and in the liberation of the frontline states in that sub-region are reference cases in regional cooperation and comradeship. Its leading position over more developed western nations in peace-keeping missions both in Africa and the world at large has remained unsurpassed even to this day. Its status as a cultural birthplace of the black world is a fact which contemporary politics of difference has demonstrated.

The tenacity and industry of its people, the people’s determination, positive aggression and inclination towards accentuating life and good cheer as well as their capacity to economically transform whatever geographical space they occupy outside their homeland, are unique qualities of the Nigerian. Little wonder then, the great Madiba, Nelson Mandela, in his sagely reflection about the resurgence of the black people would assert: ìThe world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The black people of the world need Nigeria to be great as a source of pride and confidence.

If the wise and experienced know this about Nigeria, it is pertinent to raise certain disturbing queries, as for instance: Where did Nigeria miss it all? How did such big dreams begin to pale into wishful fantasy as hope beckoned? Where did Nigeria miss it in such a manner that our president would begin to misconstrue the routine act of despots as heroic democratic culture worthy of emulation?

Nigerians should be wary, if not, averse, to any form of ego-tripping and sectionalist tendencies that obviate the aspirations of the collective. It would not be far from the truth to hold that selfishness, false unitarism reminiscent of Erdogan’s despotic machinations, brash dictatorship of subsequent administrations, especially the military junta and their civilian cohorts, have been the bane of a progressive Nigeria. Ever since the unitary government started taking over the progressive development landmarks of the different regions such as the universities, the media organisations and other regional enterprises, the appreciation and promotion of Nigeria’s diversity was destroyed.

As this newspaper has always expressed, Nigeria needs to engage in conscious and deliberate extrication of its people from the morass of poor leadership and visionlessness. For too long, Nigeria has steered off course; little or nothing reflects the erstwhile potential captured in the glowing eulogy of her founding fathers. For Nigeria to return to its focused journey towards greatness, it must be self aware of the existential destinies of its many peoples, understand their aspirations and needs, respect the right of peoples to their natural endowment, and reflect these rich diverse endowment, potentials, resources as power through constructive social engineering and proper management effected by the best of its human capital.

This, by all means, would demand national rebirth nurtured by effective historical and cultural education and facilitated by a radical educational curriculum review. It would also require a return to the traditional moral values that instilled discipline, sacrifice, fellow-feeling, honesty and respect for the community.

True, Turkey might have successfully leveraged upon its medieval heritage to transform itself into a regional power and influential cultural hub, Nigeria too has all it takes to return to its glorious past.

The point being highlighted here is that nations that have been known to assert themselves internationally are nations that have identified their vision and are working assiduously to attain measurable goals by solving their own local problems through home-grown solutions. They have also been known to nurture a collective national agenda with which they carve a niche for themselves in the global space and convert their endowment into power.

Nigeria, with all its endowment, be they natural resources, favourable environmental advantage, strategic position in the global space, and its unrivalled diversity and plentiful human resources, has no excuse not to convert such richness into power and global respect.

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