By Mike Ozekhome, SAN
Since the Southern and Northern protectorates were amalgamated in 1914 by Lord Frederick Lugard of the then British colonial government and gained political independence from Britain on October 1 1960, Nigeria as a political entity or socio-political structure has been under threats of disintegration, a threat which exists as a result of lack of understanding and harmony among the different ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria as an independent and a sovereign state.
These factors of lack of understanding, unity, peace and harmony among these ethnic nationalities that constitute the Nigerian state, may be attributed to differences or diversities evident in the culture, language, religion and most importantly the worldview of the various ethnic nationalities that make up the political structure called Nigeria. Nigeria as a country was a British colony idea and shared boundaries with French colonies.
However, the manner in which the colonial boundaries were drawn compounded the problems of the colonies. The colonial boundaries did not take into account the ethnic, religious, cultural and geographical lines. Consequently, some culturally, ethnically, and religiously homogenous and contiguous communities were arbitrarily severed and forcefully kept in different colonial authorities.
And because these communities had been interacting culturally, ethnically, religiously and occupationally before the deluge of imperial occupation, and because the various colonial authorities did not seek integration of the severed communities but, instead their separation, consequent upon the divergent interests of the respective colonial authorities, seeds of discord, disharmony and conflicts were sown in these communities.
New boundaries were created and scarce resources became competition objects. It was not, therefore, surprising that after political independence, when Africans took over the reins of power, the various communities which were suffering under the weight of colonial abuse, consequent upon their “exile” resulting from their forceful separation and excision from their Kith’s and Kins, rose up in gallant defense of their “territorial” integrity and “sovereignty”. They demanded to be re-integrated with their kith’s and kins wherever they might be in the post independent African countries.
However, the demands and movements rather than help in resolving the conflicts, generated new conflicts. It is our contention that rather than seek for reintegration with kith’s the emphasis should be on peaceful co-existence.
Needless to say, African countries with greater mix of these colonial anomalies impinging on the free operation and functioning of pre-Berlin Conference ethnic, religious, cultural and spatial identities and sensibilities, faced enormous, in fact, gargantuan development tasks mediated and modulated by the homogeneity or heterogeneity of these critical determinants of sustainable development. Sustainable development entails not only economic development but equitable distribution of economic benefits such as equitable provision of basic needs, remedy of social inequities and environmental damages. It can be achieved only in time of peace.
Nigeria: An artificial creation
Nigeria’s creation was fundamentally flawed with the British super-imposing Northern hegemony and dominance over Southern Nigeria. Nigeria is an artificial creation. Indeed, the name Nigeria was given to her by a young British journalist, Miss Flora Louisa Shaw (who later married Lord Lugard) on 8th January, 1897.
What is today known as Nigeria was ruled by the Royal Niger Company around 1886 to 1899. Following the revocation of its character, the Royal Niger company sold its holdings in the territory which later became Nigeria to British for £865,000.
This was the price for which Nigeria was purchased. (i.e. about N 735. 2 million only). By 1900, the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and Northern Nigeria Protectorate passed from the Royal Niger Company to Britain. By 1st January, 1914, these two territories were amalgamated as the Colony and Protectorates of Southern and Northern Nigeria.
The fusion of these two territories was done for political and commercial reasons without any consideration on the preferences of the inhabitants of these territories.
These people already had their set ways of life – the Benin and Oyo Empires; Hausa City States; Igbo City States; Kanem Bornu, Ile-Ife civilization cradle of the Yoruba race. We already had great historical figure like Oba Ovonranmwen Nogbaisi of Benin Empire, King Nana of Itsekiri, King Jaja of Opobo, Queen Amina, Mal Idriss Alooma, Queen Idia, etc.
Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Tafawa Balewa, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Joseph Tarka, Chief Dennis Osadebe, Herbert Macaulay, etc., who fought, unarguably, for the flag independence of Nigeria from Britain, in reality, projected the ideas of their enclaves.
For example, while people from the Southern part of Nigeria craved for independence in the 50’s, the people from Northern Nigeria felt the timing was wrong. Chief Anthony Enahoro’s motion for Nigeria’s independence suffered setbacks in parliament on several occasions with the northern members of parliament staging a walkout as a consequence of the motion.
However, in 1953, Enahoro initiated move to self-government through the motion he sponsored in the Western House of Assembly. This eventually led to Nigeria’s independence on 1st October, 1960.
While it could be argued that the people currently occupying the territory called Nigeria were never consulted before the amalgamation of 1914, all of them lifted the Nigerian flag the moment the Union Jack was lowered in October 1, 1960. Many who felt granting independence to Nigeria would usher in unprecedented growth, were surprised to see unprecedented corruption, looting of the nation’s treasury and mismanagement of the country by the supposedly founding fathers of the country.
The military that came to salvage the problem on 15th January, 1966, even compounded it by their lop-sided manner of cleansing the system. There is a conspiracy theory that the Igbos used the coup to pave way for General Aguiyi-Ironsi to be Head of State of Nigeria.
The Northern members of the Nigerian Army did not hold back as they retaliated over the killing of Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Maimalar and others by also slaughtering many innocent Igbo soldiers and civilians through a genocidal ethnic-cleansing. This eventually led to the Nigerian Civil War. There have been many coup d’états in Nigeria since the 1966 coup d’état. However, since the year 1999, there has not been any coup.
There have been different agitations springing up in some parts of the country. If there is one thing all Nigerians are agreed upon, it is the belief – fueled by disappointment and frustration – that have we have failed to fulfil our potential as a nation, we are a long way from living up to the dreams of our founding fathers.
Right from our 21st year of independence (when we hypothetically came of age), till date, few issues have consistently featured in our national discourse (particularly in the media) as the National Debate.
Virtually every thing that can possibly go wrong, is wrong with our country: insecurity, collapsed infrastructure, failure of the public school system, an economy in shambles (epitomized by the free-fall of the value of the Naira and spiraling inflation), an unremitting insurgency, etc.
The list is endless. With such a litany of woes, it is no surprise that many Nigerians have since given upon their country. But is all hope lost? Is the situation irredeemable?
Can Nigerian be salvaged? If so, what does it take? As usual, the first step in tackling any problem is accurate diagnosis. Accordingly, in attempting to deconstruct “The Nigerian Conundrum”, the first task is to assess the scale of the challenge –to probe the depth of the rot. In his book “The Trouble with Nigeria,” Professor Chinua Achebe surmised that Nigeria’s problem “is simply and squarely a failure of leadership . . .
The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, the challenge of personal example, which are the hallmarks of true leadership”. He concluded that, with good leaders, we can overcome the challenges of tribalism, lack of patriotism, social injustice, mediocrity, indiscipline and corruption.
Those sentiments were echoed a generation later by a notable scholar, who, when asked to identify the key “Issues/ Problems with Fix(ing) Nigeria “offered the following response: “Complex ethno-religious composition that gives rise to tribalism; High power distance culture that makes institutional leaders see themselves as ‘Lords’ that cannot be questioned rather than as servants of the people; Corruption on steroids; Weak institutions, and high illiteracy/ poverty rate, that make it easier for the political elite to weaponise poverty.” I will add, state captured by elite buccaneers and weak followership/civil society.
As pointed out Ehi Braimah “Bad planning, wrong choices/ priorities, egregious greed and corruption are largely responsible for Nigeria’s fall from grace”. By that, he was alluding to a time (in 1974), when Nigeria was reportedly so prosperous, that she lent money to the International Monetary Fund, (IMF).
The source of that revelation, Alhaji’ Abubakar Alhaji, the then Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Finance, identified over-dependence on oil and the huge cost of governance at all levels as contributing to the comatose state of our economy.
How our societal values disappeared
Our values have gone thrown overboard and jettisoned in the mad rush by seemingly everyone (but particularly our youths, the supposed future of tomorrow) to get rich quick by all means, fair or foul. Religious institutions are not left out.
There is seemingly no end in sight as the outlook is all doom and gloom. The political class must be sampled out for blame – for obvious reasons: they control the levers of power. Unfortunately, they have failed, calamitously, to wield it for the public good and have, collectively, been responsible – more than any other group of Nigerians (except, perhaps, the Military) – for the sorry state in which we find ourselves. Each of them, to a man (or woman), has been singularly (and shockingly) selfish clannish, uninspiring and largely incompetent and unpatriotic. As role models, they have been anything except that.
On the contrary, Nigerians are routinely regaled with stories of official corruption and graft, which in some instances, assumed bizarre – if not comical – dimensions, with an assortment of wild animals – from chimpanzees, to snakes and even termites being blamed for the disappearance of humongous amounts of cash in public coffers.
Civil servants have graduated from crèches under President Yar’ Adua and Jonathan where they fleeced the country of few billions, to tertiary and post-graduate institution where they now pocket hundreds of billions of naira.
It is hardly surprising, then, that an increasing number of young Nigerians have become disillusioned and lost hope in their country and, as a consequence, taken their destinies in their hands by choosing to vote with their feet and emigrating, some by road, other through the deserts and seas.
The demographics of those involved is diverse – from the not-so-educated to professionals, with Nigeria doctors and nurses, in particularly, reportedly among the highest arrivals in the EU, UK, Canada, the US, the UAE and elsewhere. The cost of this obvious brain-drain is incalculable and it remains to be seen how it will affect our development and future generations.
Beyond even all that, it is equally clear that, politically, Nigeria has never been as divided as now, with large sections of the country openly clamouring for secession while others, who are not going that far, ask for the country to be re-structured with more power devolved to its component parts, particularly in the areas of security and fiscal federalism paradox of our situation than the following by an anonymous online analyst.
(To be continued).
Thought for the week
Sustainable development is the pathway to the future we want for all. It offers a framework to generate economic growth, achieve social justice, exercise environmental stewardship and strengthen governance. (Ban Ki-moon).
God bless my numerous global readers for always keeping faith with the Sunday Sermon on the Mount of the Nigerian Project, by humble me, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, OFR, FCIArb., LL.M, Ph.D, LL.D. kindly, come with me to next week’s exciting dissertation.