If the articulation of Nigerian-ness and the One-Nigeria project are nebulous, then one doesn’t need a soothsayer to figure out what that could mean for the pursuit of “national interests”. If one accepts the view that Nigeria is a social construct, and a discourse of a geographic expanse in search of an identity, the pursuit of national interests becomes one of those clever claims without substance.
It seems the emergence of the new progressives could be one of the best things to happen to modern day Nigeria. They tend to promote some values ranging from anti-corruption to national unity (aka one-Nigeria) and the pursuit of “national interests”. As much as these are credible and laudable enterprise, they may require further articulation and clarity to be convincing beyond doubts.
The first question that needs clarity is what it means to be a Nigerian. The history of Nigeria cannot be complete without reference to Lord Lugard and his wife who, allegedly, coined the word “Nigeria”. Since that coinage, the concept has been searching for meaning and a people to hang onto. This quest became more intense in the early days of the post-independence era trapped in its colonial past. Unfortunately, but necessarily, the concept has become an arena for multiple interpretations marred by continuous struggles and contestations. It is on record that Awolowo aptly described Nigeria as a geographic expression. It is, therefore, not surprising that one of the greatest legacies of Awolowo to Nigerian identity and politics was his seeming firm belief in the primacy of ethnicity and regionalism over “national identity” and Nigerian-ness. One might be tempted to conclude that for Awolowo, Nigeria was a distant figment of the mind constructed by colonial masters for their exploitation of multiple nations linked by territorial proximity. His revered and legendary politics and political strategies reflected this conclusion.
Whilst Nigeria, as a construct, made governance easy and convenient for the British occupiers at the time, the discourse now needs to be enacted and translated into practice by the “multiple nations” and ethnicities bound together in the geographic expanse. And herein lie the risks and opportunities of being a Nigerian. In that regard, Nigerian-ness becomes a negotiated construct. As typical of most negotiations, Nigerian-ness becomes a product of power relations. The idea of being a Nigerian becomes a subjective mental map, in the true sense, evoked and used conveniently as the risks and opportunities inherent in that subjective identity are explored and exploited. Arguably, the idea of One-Nigeria then becomes the meeting of inter-subjective experiences of Nigeria at any given point in time. The temporal dimension of this identity enables it to be dynamic and fluid. In its fluidity, it rolls-on, and selectively captures anything in its way that helps in the realisation of its subjective goals, often expressed as private gains. The pursuit of One-Nigerian-ness, which ends as the pursuit of private gains, offers an interesting lens to appreciate and re-examine the current anti-corruption agenda anchored on the pursuit of “national interests”.
If the articulation of Nigerian-ness and the One-Nigeria project are nebulous, then one doesn’t need a soothsayer to figure out what that could mean for the pursuit of “national interests”. If one accepts the view that Nigeria is a social construct, and a discourse of a geographic expanse in search of an identity, the pursuit of national interests becomes one of those clever claims without substance. It becomes a strategic use of discourse whose instrumental value is in its ability to coalesce aligned interests, which are often the interests of the elite minority. In this regard, the question becomes: who is the “nation” in the pursuit of national interests? This question even becomes more striking if we accept the view that Nigeria is a constellation of many nations pre-colonisation, and has largely remained so, albeit in spirit, post-colonisation and post-independence. As much as the claim towards “national interest” is seductively elegant, it tends to mask the possible intrigues, instrumentality, and the pursuit of private gains embedded in that description. Given that Nigeria, arguably, comes across as a nation, at least on paper, the pursuit of national interests could inadvertently become a hollow trap and a meaningless bogus claim in a nationless country. In other words, what’s the essence of the pursuit of “national interests” in a country without a coherent and inclusive national identity? What does the pursuit of “national interests” mean in a country where ethnic and regional interests often trump the so-called national interests and identity? Could it be that the pursuit of “national interests” is a cover for the pursuit of ethnic and regional interests? How do we know if and when national interests are pursued? How do we know if and when our “policies”, “political strategies”, “political ideologies” and “political choices” align with the pursuit of “national interests”?
These are critical questions the new progressives should confront head-on, in order to maintain their legitimacy and remain authentic. It is very easy to join the bandwagon of change. However, one thing that is certain is that there is no “interest-less” or “interest-free” change. Every change is enabled and sustained by some interests. The interests can be overt or covert; subtle or obvious. The most dangerous of those interests are those that play on our subconscious without our knowledge and consent. Who in his right mind, for example, would not want to be part of a “progressive change” or pursue “national interests”? The disillusion, I suspect, will arise when this noble cause of progressive change promoted by the new progressives becomes a shield to promote and propagate parochial interests disguised as “national interests”. This will obviously spell the death of the movement.
The emergence of the new progressives is a good omen. Hopefully, the sustenance of their progressive ideals will translate to a better articulation of what it means to be a Nigerian, and the true realisation of national interests for all, in a one-nation country called Nigeria. Otherwise, the subtle clamour for all hands-on-deck now to support the present government, as if there was no need for that in the past, will quickly evaporate and harm this seemingly noble movement and cause.
Long live One-Nigeria! Long live the New Progressives!
Kenneth Amaeshi is a member of the Thought Leadership Forum (TLF), Nigeria, Visiting Professor at Lagos Business School, and an Associate Professor (Reader) in Strategy & International Business at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom. Twitter handle: @kenamaeshi