To be exact, Nigeria became a 100-year-old entity, a few days ago, precisely on the January 12, 2014. This in itself is worthy of celebration, considering the religious and ethnic fault lines that have consistently threatened to divide us. As we celebrate this historic feat, let us remember, that, nevertheless, we have much, still to accomplish in addressing the factors that inhibit and limit our march to human dignity hence the title, “The Trouble With Nigeria”, borrowing from Achebe’s book with this title.
I say at the outset, that I agree wholeheartedly with Achebe’s analysis of Nigeria’s problems as one centered on a lack of leadership. I quickly add too, that though the concept of leadership has been over-flogged – nevertheless, it remains at the heart of our hope in this generation to achieve human dignity and opportunity for all Nigerians irrespective of tribe, religion or creed. However, in my view, leadership is not about the big man in charge of a large corporation, or the Governor of a State, or for that matter the President.
Leadership, by my definition, is about all of us, the big man and also the small man taking personal responsibility to advance the common good in whatever way we can on a daily basis. In this context, nobody can hide from the demand of leadership and point a finger at the big man in authority! We all have opportunities to exercise leadership on a daily basis.
The parent who refuses to bribe the invigilator at a JAMB examination is exercising leadership. The banker who blows the whistle on executive misdeeds is exercising leadership. The voter who refuses to sell his vote is exercising leadership. The Civil Servant who refuses to collaborate in corruption is exercising leadership. This is the collective and courageous route we must all travel.
Chief Richard Akinjide, SAN, in an article titled “The Amalgamation of Nigeria Was A Fraud”, written in July 2000, which I only recently read, set out to explain the rationale behind the amalgamation and why post independence Nigeria remains unworkable. Respectfully, I found the article in many respects a cop out, because it failed to take responsibility for the failings of the political elite, membership of which, he enjoyed, from pre-independence times as a legislator until at least 1983, when he was Attorney-General of Nigeria.
What has hindered Nigeria’s post independence elite from building on the foundations of the earlier pan-Nigerian independence struggle? Put another way, why do our political leaders claim a lame allegiance to the Nigerian State but yet resort to base tribalism and religious bigotry as a means of legitimising access to power? The answer to my mind lies in a lack of courage to commit to a pan-Nigerian vision or ideal that gains strength from our diversity.
As leaders, every day we have options – whether to chose the low road leading to parochial selfish interests dressed up in ethnic and religious emotions over the high road of the greater ideal of a pan-Nigerian entity based on advancing human dignity and opportunity for all. Judging by the reports in the press, the 2015 elections would be the most bitterly fought elections to date as we regress unto our fault lines.
In the South-south, it is reported that there is an increasing sense of paranoia about a gang up by the rest of the political elite within and outside PDP to deny President Goodluck another shot at the Presidency. Whilst, in the North, there is an increasing sense of desperation amongst the political elite, who fear that another four years away from the center of power and patronage will worsen their already battered economic and political fortunes.
The real challenge, to my mind, is the courage needed to exemplify a pan-Nigerian vision for all Nigerians irrespective of tribe, religion or creed. Who will stand up for such a noble vision when the spoils of patronage await the ethnic and religious jingoists? Unprecedented courage is needed to journey on the less travelled road of a pan-Nigerian ideal, that would eventually break the chains of underdevelopment and primitive conditions, in which most Nigerians are consigned to live from one generation to the next.
Some scholars posit that very little in our history lends itself to multi ethnic nationhood unlike the experience in Asia exemplified by the Chinese, to some extent by the Europeans and now celebrated as one of America’s secrets of success. Without bothering to debate this hypothesis – my view is to seek ways to debunk it.
Not debunking it lends credence to the view that our case is hopeless; that we are chained to the past of our colonial heritage as a divided and vanquished people. And of course, our detractors would see eloquent testimony in the newly independent South Sudan and the Central African Republic already dividing along ethnic and religious lines.
This is why to my mind, those who clamour for Nigeria’s break up do not understand on the upside the latent power in forging a nation out of diversity, and on the downside, the descent into chaos that a break up would entail. Have they thought through the re-writing of our boundaries? Would it be along the lines of the more recent 6 geo-political zones? If so, how would that solve the problems of ethnic and religious tensions?
In literarily every geo-political zone, there have been violent inter ethnic and intra ethnic clashes. In others, the basis of division and violence has been religious. How then would these boundaries of the post-Nigeria entities be drawn? In my view, those seeking the break-up of Nigeria are avoiding the courageous call to leadership in building a pan-Nigerian ideal. This is the hard task of ennobling every Nigerian with human dignity and opportunity.
I daresay, that from Zamfara in the North to Bayelsa in the South, the recurring question amongst the average Nigerian (notice I didn’t say Northerner or South-Southerner) is whether they will be treated as human beings with dignity.
Or whether they will continue their precarious existence in largely abject poverty, side-by-side with their privileged kith and kin that have been transformed into the new colonial masters, seduced by power and patronage, but lacking the responsibility to serve the greater good of all.
For the religious and ethnic jingoists, who do us all a grave injustice in seeking to perpetuate religious and ethnic division: in truth they simply further an old colonial script mastered by the British, in pursuing the policy of divide and rule!
After all, statistics tell us that corruption, under-development and under investment in healthcare and education, not where the President comes from, are the biggest causes of infant mortality, short average lifespan of Nigerians at a mere 47 years, and the very high illiteracy levels compared to Asia, Europe and America.
To add insult to injury, most villages across Nigeria barring some communities with a long history of commerce predominantly but not exclusively found in the South-east and South-west, have to live with the crass display of corrupt wealth in the hands of the new political elite acquired overnight, at the expense of basic healthcare and education facilities that ennoble their brothers and sisters with a modicum of human dignity within the same communities.
In pursuit of this pan-Nigerian ideal, what hope does the impending tussle for power between the PDP and APC provide? To some this will be a political battle between the old political order and the new progressive grouping. Others, more cynical perhaps, or weary of much political motion with no change, see it as a rehash of the old battle for power between the North and the South with strong religious undertones.
In other words, some assert that we have not exorcised the demons of ethnic and regional politics. Added to this mix, is the assertion that APC has sacrificed its progressive credentials on the altar of political convenience in welcoming defecting PDP governors and one or two former PDP governors. Have these defecting governors gone through a Saul of Damascus experience? In other words, is their move to APC borne of embracing progressive politics or is it simply in finding a haven from which, to seek political office, or settle political scores.
These are questions many Nigerians, weary of politics as usual are asking. In Bayelsa State for instance, which incidentally happens to be my home State, the defectors arrived and immediately announced themselves as the new executive of the APC in one breath! This brazen and crude power grab, all the more glaring when the properly constituted State Harmonisation Committee (SHC) was yet to elect an Exco! Where there is impunity and scant regard for basic party rules and etiquette, what does this portend for the progressive credentials of the APC? In the coming months, it will take great leadership vision for the APC to define itself along the ideals of a progressive pan-Nigerian ideal.
As for the middle class, where are they to be found in embracing a pan-Nigerian ideal? The middle class is largely unorganised and in disarray. To understand why, we need to re-visit the earlier attempts at a pan-Nigerian ideal. The first attempt at this was the formation of the Nigerian National Democratic Party by Herbert Macaulay in 1923. Herbert Macaulay and Azikiwe would later form the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun (NCNC) in 1944.
In the ensuing post-independence politics, NCNC found itself clutching at the straws of a pan-Nigerian ideal, in the face of the ethnically nuanced political agenda unveiled in the West and the North, by the Action Group (AG) which, initially started life as Egbe Omo Oduduwa and the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC). In the second republic, this replayed itself with the emergence of “Nigeria” in the name of all the parties – National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Nigerian Peoples party (NPP), and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), but behind the façade of name, most Nigerians read North, East and West respectively, and voted accordingly.
Macaulay and Zik’s ideal of a pan Nigerian future struggled to find expression in post independence Nigeria. Sadly, the Nigerian middle class lost its way as the vanguard of a detribalised pan-Nigerian future in the long years of military rule. Since the end of military rule, the middle class has instead found itself as cannon fodder – technocrats serving at the whim and caprice of the political masters who use them for window dressing.
Those who have not wholly succumbed as compliant perpetuators of a religious and ethnic divide and rule system have found themselves in an uncomfortable marriage with our current brand of politics. Consequently, the non-entrenchment of a pan-Nigerian ideal 53 years after independence is Nigeria’s greatest hindrance to emerge as the vanguard nation pioneering an African renaissance.
The trouble with Nigeria therefore is that we do not recognise our place to lead an African political and economic re-awakening that must redefine the fortunes of Africa. So where the vision of a pan-Nigerian ideal, built on the values of human dignity and opportunity for all are lacking, we are consigned to the smallness of division and strife exploited by old and new colonizers, foreign and local in nature.
Nigeria is uniquely placed to lead based on our population size, ethnic diversity and human endowment in every field of human progress in the Sciences and Arts. The answer to the trouble with Nigeria so eloquently captured by Achebe lies in courageously leading and fighting for a pan-Nigerian ideal. This ideal faces its greatest threat today as 2015 appears to want to resurrect and amplify a clear cut north and south divide like never before.
The essence of true leadership in politics today lies in resurrecting the early pan-Nigerian ideals of Macaulay and Zik, whose cosmopolitan worldview embraced strength in diversity close to 100 years ago.