ANNIVERSARY LECTURE: Re – Thinking The Nigerian Nationhood; Issues And Challenges By Akin Oyebode
Nigeria is today at a crossroads. The multifarious ethnic nationalities, culture areas and linguistic groups hitched together by British imperialism are almost totally dissatisfied, if not actually disillusioned by the arrangement foisted on them. So high is the distaste of many for the framework for their co-habitation that loud voices are heard across the land for a reconsideration and necessity for refashioning a more equitable and fruitful paradigm.
In the present atmosphere of irredentism, beggar-thy-neighbour policies and naked quest for ethnocentric supremacist tendencies by the powers-that-be, the disillusionment and intention of the malcontents and discomfited to go for broke in their search for alternatives become quite understandable. A people accustomed to the niceties of liberal democracy, self-esteem, freedom for all and life more abundant would naturally be uncomfortable with diabolical efforts to render them comatose and transform them into slaves or, at best, second class citizens in their fatherland.
A people steeped in meritocratic values cannot but be aghast at the diktat of khakistocrats presumably intent on painting the country in their hue with the inexorable consequence of social conflagration and national atrophy. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, the country is being nudged towards crises and perdition.
It is within this ominous conjuncture that we are being called upon today to contemplate the unfolding scenario in our dear country with a view to charting possible ways out of the threatening catastrophe. Indeed, we are being asked to re-examine Nigeria’s nationhood and justify the essence of our being and justify our claim to membership of the universal family of nations.
Accordingly, it is intended to begin by postulating the determinants of nationhood before uncovering the problematique of the Nigerian State as well as the successes and failures of successive administrations in the task of grappling with the contradictions of the polity which, it must be stated, had proven nearly overwhelming and created the oxymoron claiming to be making considerable progress in welding together the multifarious components of Nigeria while accelerating and intensifying the underdevelopment of the country. Finally, an attempt would be made to construct a prognosis of what can be done to lighten the burden of co-habitation among the disparate people that constitute the country’s population.
When is a Nation
I am sure this august audience would readily recall the inimitable way in which our inimitable Nobel laureate had posed the national question a few years ago in a bid to dramatize the predicament of the Nigerian nation-state as currently constituted. While no prizes are on offer for unraveling the inadequacies of the Nigerian nation-state, it seems apposite to re-visit the indicia of statehood under international law in order to adumbrate the indeterminacy of Nigeria’s claim to nationhood.
Accordingly, only entities possessing a defined territory, stable or fixed population, effective government and capacity to enter into relations with other States are considered States. Nevertheless, it needs be emphasized that possession of the stated indicia does not ipso facto translate into nationhood. Allegiance by the population to a central authority or common flag and national anthem, commonality of values which underpin co-habitation, guarantee of protection by the State against aggression or arbitrariness by other members of society number among the desiderata of a nation. A people bereft of these elements are little more than a rabble.
Although Chief Awolowo’s restatement of Metternich’s formulation regarding countries and peoples who are a “geographical expression,” in comparison with nations has attained the status of conventional wisdom, the riposte that nearly every country or people had started off as a geographical expression could indeed exercise some heuristic value. The fact, however, bears re-stating that any country that intends to command the respect and loyalty of its people must exercise the reciprocal duty of protection toward them.
For, if a people are denied due protection by their government, it becomes very difficult, if not, in fact, impossible to expect their allegiance to the State of which the government is merely a personification. A conscious people can be expected to withhold allegiance and support for an uncaring or tyrannical regime. The social contract is a dual carriage way and the rights of the people are a definite correlative duty which ultimately collapses where and when the government feels free to abandon its responsibilities to the people. The consequence of this is the metamorphosis of the natural right of the people to their right to rebel against an oppressive, tyrannical government.
Nigeria’s Fault Lines
The yoking together of the various people inhabiting Nigeria through what has been described as “the mistake of 1914” has continued to pose serious challenges to many of them who barely have very little in common with others. Today, Nigeria is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious conglomeration ostensibly at war with itself in the quixotic and frenetic quest for nationhood. Whereas there ought to have been strength in diversity, the removal of the scaffolding that held the people together during colonial rule merely accentuated fissiparous, centrifugal and dysfunctional tendencies which colonialism had generally masked. Can we forget that things had boiled over to the extent that the country had endured a fratricidal 30-month civil war which we had pretended ended with “no victor and no vanquished”?
The militariat which had dismantled the federal arrangement of our founding fathers and foisted a quasi-unitary constitutional framework on the people ensured that Nigeria remained a work in progress so much so that the component units of our unique federation are compelled to go cap in hand to Abuja every month for their sustenance. The “feeding bottle” federalism has effectively stunted Nigeria’s growth and development as the country nudges more and more toward perdition.
It is indisputable that no-one has a say on where and to whom one is born or his ethnic nationality. Accordingly, a far-sighted government should blunt the rough edges of ethnic and religious idiosyncracies by putting in place policies based on equality of status and opportunity in furtherance of self-actualization of every citizen. But what do we see today? Increasing emphasis is being placed on ethnic origin, native language and religious persuasion which is not only dysfunctional and counter-productive but also seriously flawed and inimical to the corporate needs and interests of the country as well as national unity, social well-being and collective progress. Until and unless the forces of reaction and ethnocentricity are effectively combated, the country would continue to make progress only in a negative and reverse direction.
Grappling with Nigeria’s Contradictions
As stated above, Nigeria is chafing under the stranglehold of severe contradictions. Granted that nation-building is everywhere a continuous and laborious project, the situation in Nigeria would seem to have been complicated by a dearth of patriotic and insightful leaders possessing a well thought-out strategic plan to change the country for the better. The multiplicity of ethnic nationalities numbering over 400, it must be conceded, makes the task of governance a forbidden one. Yet, ways need to be devised and necessary adjustments made to infuse the people with a sense of belonging and collective stake in Nigeria Incorporated.
It might well be wishful thinking to canvass downplaying the state of origin of key players on the country’s political or security chessboard in deference to competence and meritocracy. Nevertheless, there is a felt need for social engineering and endearment of the various constituencies in the polity in order to carry along as many people possible through socially relevant and just5ifiable socio-economic and political programmes and policies.
The experience of other countries with regard to socio-economic and political transformation within a reasonable timeline is enough to teach us requisite strategies and tactics for our own transition from the third world to the first.
We are all Africans even if our native languages are not the same. Accordingly, it is not too much to ask that we de-emphasize our differences in the overall interest of our collective need and national progress. It needs be brought home to all concerned that there are immense benefits to be derived from harnessing our endowments in the larger interest of Nigeria. As the world’s largest concentration of black people, we have a historical mandate to actualize our dreams and aspirations, unencumbered by parochial and self-serving nuances. Undue emphasis on ethnicity and religion should be seen as an unnecessary and avoidable hindrance to achieving the utilitarian hopes and aspirations of our people.
Reconciling and Resolving Divisive and Divergent Tendencies in Contemporary Nigeria
The push and pull factors in relation to nation-building in Nigeria exert tremendous influence on the country’s growth and development. While there are forces wedded to the status quo, there also exist forces ranged towards radical or revolutionary change in the scheme of things. The interplay or clash of these forces can be best grasped through an understanding of the ratio and balance of class forces within the polity.
To the extent that the dominant ideas of every epoch are those of the ruling class, to that extent can it be said that the outlook and consciousness of the ruling class have a bearing on its capacity to come to grips with the contradictions in the society. In other words, solutions to problems prevalent in the society depend largely on the existing power equation and the perception of the political leadership and how any resolution or reconciliation impinges on the existing power equation and perceived threats to the ruling class.
Where and when by act or omission, the State is unable to exterminate threats to its existence, the extinction of the State must be deemed imminent. This is why no effort must be spared to ensure the elimination of threats to the survival of Nigeria.
The pernicious and callous aggression by Fulani herdsmen across the country should serve as a wake-up call to all men and women of goodwill and humanitarian disposition on the necessity for peaceful co-habitation among Nigerians. A situation which hampers reciprocal love, respect and trust for fellow human beings is, quite frankly, antithetical to peace, order and good government and should be unequivocally and strongly condemned by all who wish Nigeria well.
Where Do We Go From Here?
These are indeed harrowing times for Nigeria and Nigerians when majority of our young ones have lost faith and confidence in the Nigeria project. They are ready to vote with their feet at the slightest opportunity in order to pursue their dreams elsewhere. They no longer have heroes here and seek succor in foreign football teams, foreign music and foreign dressing.
The middle-aged and elderly are also generally dispirited but find it a little more difficult to jump ship on account of existential demands. So, they are condemned to live out the rest of their lives under the threat of armed robbers, kidnappers and hired assassins.
This leads me to the question, what is to be done and how do we emerge from the labyrinth of crying poverty, underdevelopment and inexorable descent into the hobbesian state of nature?
It would seem that there is a felt necessity to re-invent the country and re-create the basic values which had helped hold the country together—love and mutual respect, fairness in inter-personal relationships, good neighborliness, etc. In an age of collective self-doubt and general despondency, the powers-that-be must evince a resolve to effect a turnaround in our affairs and create the pre-conditions for a better tomorrow.
In addition, we need to enlist credible protagonists and believers in the Nigeria project in order to re-kindle confidence and hope in the Nigerian dream. They should be in the vanguard of the crusade for a kinder and gentler country which would make life worth living again. There is need for a moral re-armament in order to advocate the benefits of one nation and one people not through hackneyed programmes such as the NYSC but innovative policies that would fire the imagination of our youth, de-emphasizing state of origin, ethnicity, religious and cultural orientation in favour of a broad national ethos and love for and commitment to a united Nigeria.
For far too long have we allowed the country to drift and be rudderless like a ship at sea without a compass. We have not tapped sufficiently into the transient patriotism witnessed whenever the Super Eagles are engaging foreign teams arising largely from failure to provide “democracy dividends” to the preponderant majority of the population. What is called for now is a recovery mission on a national scale aimed at inculcating integrative nationalistic values.
Regrettably, this cannot come to pass automatically. There first has to be an awareness by the nation’s political leadership of the acuity of the situation. Next, well elaborated programmes and policies must be put in place as a blueprint of national goals and objectives. It is simply indefensible and unacceptable that nearly 60 years after the country’s political independence, we are still in the quagmire of underperformance and stasis. Therefore, a consensus has to be forged among opinion leaders across the country regarding the country’s vision and mission with in-built timelines of the roadmap for Nigeria’s transformation.
Disparate, uncoordinated efforts would need to be substituted with harmonized plans which put Nigeria first. Venal politicking, ethnocentricity, influence-peddling and racketeering must be immediately jettisoned in favour of pan-Nigeria endeavours and attitudes such that whoever falls below expectation is expeditiously sanctioned irrespective of his state of origin, religious persuasion or circumstances of his birth and any other consideration.
It is only when law is applied without distinction that the country can be said to be making progress on its journey towards nationhood. Double standards, sacred cows and ad hominem application of laws should no longer find a place in our national experience.
In the final analysis, Nigeria’s journey to nationhood would be considerably shortened if politically correct public office-holders are brought to power. We need to constantly remember the sentiments of Joseph d’ Maistre to the effect that a people get the government they deserve. So, the ball is back in the court of the people who must always ensure that the right people are voted into power