…Nigeria of the present needs a leader who is democratic, broadminded, positively sensitive to the diversity of the country, intelligent, creative, empathic, informed, and just. S/he must not see divergent views and dissent as threats and treason. S/he must be willing to satisfy, to the full possible extents permitted by the constitution, the various yearnings of the different groups that make up the country.
Some of the conversations that preceded Nigeria’s 57th Independence Anniversary reveal the increasing sensitivity of many Nigerians to the nagging challenge of building a country where the various ethnic nationalities that make it up live peaceably together, work harmoniously for the collective good, and cohere to the same positive values and moralities in spite of their varied and legitimate differences. This challenge, as we have all been witnesses to in the last two years, have become even more intractable due to the forceful agitations for secession, restructuring, and referendum. The unfortunate consequences of this consistently hardening challenge are the worrisome widening of the North/South cleavage, and the ebbing away of the right atmosphere for development.
In addressing the central concern of birthing a ‘new Nigeria’ for all, I wish to raise some fundamental questions. One set of question poses a challenge to the assumption (need for a new Nigeria) of the title of this piece and the other bouquet of questions reinforces its sentiment, to wit, that a Nigeria where we all belong is a possibility.
To the first questions: What is wrong with the ‘old’ existing Nigeria, for which a ‘new’ one is sought? The implicit assumption in our subject of consideration is that there is a problem with the current Nigeria and in that context a ‘new’ one becomes inevitable. Is it that the ‘old’ Nigeria is one that we do not all belong to? Or does it belong to some more than it belongs to others? Are the interests of a few more catered to than those of many? If this is the reality, is the solution to tear down this ‘old Nigeria’ and birth another? How do we, assuming that a considerable number of Nigerians agree that a ‘new Nigeria’ is indeed vital to our overall wellness, bring forth this desirable ‘new Nigeria’? Is it not much more sensible to deal with the problems of the ‘old Nigeria’ rather than seek a ‘new Nigeria’, which certainly will not be free of problems?
How we answer this set of questions will most assuredly determine whether our polity is in need of reorganisation or not. I will return to this shortly.
The second layer of questions which I said strengthens and shares the sentiment of our focus (birthing a new Nigeria – where we all belong) is this: Is a Nigeria ‘where we all belong’ humanly possible? Is an inclusive Nigeria feasible? Is a Nigeria where citizenship not indigeneship supervenes practically realisable? Can there be in our lifetime a Nigeria where a disproportionate number of Nigerians pursue and mind the same positive nation-building values?
My answer to the main and supportive questions is eloquently rendered in an affirmative cadence. I mean a Nigeria where we can all realistically feel a sense of belonging and ownership of our collective progress and happiness is very much within the ambit of what is humanly possibility.
I am of the view that what some of those who call for a ‘new Nigeria’ recognise is the fact that the country that emerged from the sorcery of the British colonial regime, beginning from the forced cohabitation of 1914 (which the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, referred to as ‘the mistake of 1914’), is not one that was created for all of those who would be identified as Nigerians. In other words, it was a Nigeria that, first, was created for both the economic wellbeing of the colonising nation (Britain) and for the administrative convenience of those who ran the colonial machine (Richard Bourne in his comprehensively readable book, Nigeria: A New History of a Turbulent Century, republished in Nigeria by Bookcraft in 2016, reports that far from the reason adduced by Frederick [Lord] Lugard, “this amalgamation had economic, political and ideological rationales” [p.10]), and, second, was handed over at independence to the Northern Region to dominate as a way of stalling the far more organised and developed Southern Region.
Therefore, this Nigeria that came out of Lugard’s dual mandate at inception had within it the seeds of discord, inequity, iniquity, injustice, and corruption. It was structurally imbalanced and fiscally unviable.
Let us remind ourselves that when Lugard ‘manufactured’ this apparently divided state over a 100 years ago, he and his fellow travellers erroneously but authoritatively insisted it was a ‘united Nigeria’. I take refuge again in Bourne’s report: “He [Lugard] had made Nigeria a fact, but it was still really at least two Nigerias, north and south”. Also, “Nigeria went through significant change without becoming a single country. What had been northern and southern protectorates retained largely separate identities.” (pgs 21 & 26).
The man who would go on to become Nigeria’s head of state at independence, Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, as far back as in 1948 recognised the divided nature of the Nigeria the colonial officials were birthing. As he observed: “Since 1914 the British government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any signs of willingness to unite… Nigeria is only a British invention.” It was on this falsity that the colonialists proceeded to build the country, which was later handed over to ‘Nigerians’ in 1960 and began to fracture in January 1966 with the first military coup.
The Nigeria whose centenary we observed in 2014 without any sobriety and reflection and whose 57th year of freedom from colonial Britain we are observing in a season of political turbulence and economic hardship is not a united, democratic nation! Three years shy of 60, this Nigeria actively remains a divided country of many nations! Nigeria as a nation is not yet a reality! But this unviable, unreal united Nigeria still subsists in spite of the multiple human-made disasters that have convulsed it since creation. How so? The answer is there, as objective evidence reveals, in the ubiquitous ruthless force exteriorised by successive administrations, military or civilian. To preserve the fiction of a cohesive Nigeria, pitiless force would have to be unceasingly applied – especially when that falsehood is questioned.
The question becomes inevitable: When will that UNITED NIGERIA that successive political rulers rhapsodise be created? When will the real ONE NIGERIA, which allows its disparate peoples to live and thrive peaceably together in one polity, be created for Nigerians? This is the same existential question that is variously cast as the NATIONAL QUESTION; or what Claude Ake called the POLITICAL QUESTION, which the emergence of a camorra of undemocratic and incompetent rulers has worsened over time.
Without any doubt, the Nigeria of the last century and the new exist on a wonky foundation which will not allow for a space, where many rather than few belong and own. The scholar-poet, writer and public analyst of a critical bent, Remi Oyeyemi, sums up what this Nigeria is and makes of its inhabitants thus:
We are all dissatisfied with Nigeria. Nigeria has betrayed us. Our hopes are dashed. Our dreams are unrealisable within the Nigerian structure. Those who work hard are in penury. Those whose lands are producing the resources are in poverty. Nigeria deprives those who value education. Nigeria constricts those who want to be international business[wo]men. Nigeria is holding us back from jumping into the age of technology. Nigeria is depriving us [of] a secularity that has been part of our cultural heritage… Nigeria is impeding those who want merit. Nigeria is humiliating those who value integrity. Nigeria is disgracing those who want self-respect and dignity.
This is the Nigeria we have been sustaining since its emergence. While I do not disagree with Oyeyemi’s position, I wish to maintain that this Nigeria is not all gloom and doom. It has recorded some modest feats internally and externally. The tragedy, of course, is that the goblins of disunity and mistrust made the gains achieved short-lived. The achievements recorded are not consolidated because the Nigerian state of many disagreeing nations is imbued with the deadly tendency to always score an own goal against itself, that is, it often harvests punishing defeats from the jaws of sweet victory.
In that connection, we cannot but agree with the cerebral Nobel Laureate and passionate canvasser for a just Nigeria, Wole Soyinka, that “there are prospects for a new Nigeria, but I don’t think we have a new Nigeria yet”. If we agree to this, as I imagine some Nigerians are convinced, the implication is that there is need to unbundle, reorganise the Nigeria that we have today. In other words, we are convinced that the “old Nigeria” is broken (and paradoxically so from the beginning) and direly needs a productive fixing.
In a recent lecture entitled, “A New Nigeria or a Better One: The Fitting Tools of a Great Repair”, delivered at an Annual Dinner of the King’s College Old Boys’ Association in Lagos on Saturday September 23, 2017, the mercurial politician, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, also weighs in imaginatively on the appropriate solution for a peculiarly problematic Nigeria. Like many of us, he too agrees that something fundamental has to be done to bring to reality a Nigeria that is truly for all Nigerians. As he put it:
I dabble not so much in the search for a new Nigeria. I am equally not enthused about the flaws of old Nigeria. What I seek is a better Nigeria. I care not whether something is old or new but whether it shall make us better. Not all change is good. Not every new thing shall be kind to us. Yes, Nigeria must change but some of the changes we need cannot be bought at the store of the new. Many things we need are shelved in the warehouse of the old. Just as we must learn new things on [the] one hand, we must remember vital old wisdom on the other.
The former governor goes on to argue that the present structure is unavailing (“We cannot become a better Nigeria with an undue concentration of power at the federal level”). Evident from his submission above is the need for a reorganisation of the Nigerian polity to make it inclusive and prosperous for the benefit of all. For him, the Nigeria for all of us can be made real from a melange of new thinking and old but usable ideas. This rhymes with the wise supplication of the poet protagonist of Kofi Awoonor’s poem, “The Anvil and the Hammer”, to his ancestors. He supplicates keenly thus: ‘sew the old days [so] that we can wear them under our new garment.’
The point of all I have been saying is that there is a need for a dispassionate discussion of how to forge a new Nigeria. I am for reorganisation of the present state. It is what has to be done. It cannot be wished away and it will never disappear no matter the number of times our rulers or any of us mouth that it is a united, one Nigeria that exists. This is one lie that a multiple repetition of will not make true!
Our task is to compel and insist on the reworking of the currently existing Nigeria. As the fiery and unyielding American liberty crusader and preacher of the social gospel of freedom and quality living, Martin Luther King Jr, argues correctly, “the time is ALWAYS right to do what is right”. It amounts to dodging the issue when present vocal speakers from the North and present rulers of broken Nigeria needlessly remind us that when the last regime was in power the call for reorganisation or restructuring – to use the current buzzword – was either muted or non-existent.
To refuse to take the right steps towards reconstructing the country is to favour continual de-structuring which has caused Nigerians untold excruciating pains. Reshaping Nigeria is not the same as breaking it up for the different nations within it to stand independently of the other. When well-meaning Nigerians call for a ‘new Nigeria’ or, by another name, ‘restructuring’, they are simply saying “let’s create a nation space where our collective interests will be safeguarded and no one will feel threatened, marginalised, cheated, and unwanted”.
Now to the second question which I – early on in this piece – noted its answer as ‘yes’ – that whether a Nigeria where all of us can really belong is attainable. But first to make this happen, the principles of justice, equity, respect for differences, tolerance of what the other positively is, and enthronement of citizenship and not the depriving concept of indigeneship must be firmly instituted.
As Soyinka reminds us, “Justice is the first condition of humanity”. Where it is absent, as in the Nigerian case, there will always be tensions and turbulences. Secessionists of all hues will become heroes/heroines. Clamourers for restructuring will become thorns in the pampered skins of governmental agents. When we enthrone justice as a principle, it will not matter which ethnic group, religion, or political party we belong to. We will not understand justice from the jaundiced view of ethnicity, religion, and political affiliation, which says a thing is right because it favours my ethnic formation and religion, but it is wrong if it involves different groups of different ethnic provenance, religious persuasions, or party membership. When justice flows like water from the hill, a wrong policy and under-performing ruler will not be right and be praised as performing because you have sympathy for the ruler. A country welded seamlessly to the culture of justice will always ensure that what is sauced for the goose is sauced for the gander.
Furthermore, there is a big injustice that is favoured and preserved in our current defective federalism and its fiscal policy. The federal G<emgovernment with a lean direct constituency takes the largest share of our revenues, while the total dues of the federating units (states and LGAs) are smaller. We run an envelope economy that sees states go to the centre monthly to collect allocation, rather than what obtained in our regional system years when the regions gave money to the federal government. The current absurd system needs correction to enable us have a Nigeria for all.
Come with me to the issue of Value Added Tax (VAT) as revealed in a PUNCH editorial. As of today, Lagos State generates 55 percent of the total VAT collected in the country. The Federal Capital Territory, 20 percent; and the remaining 35 states together, 25 percent. Curiously, when it comes to sharing, Lagos State which contributes more is put on a lower rung of the ladder but poor performers from the North are favourably projected to get such shares that are incommensurate with their contributions. As reported in the paper, in last February’s allocation, Lagos got N6.14 billion, Kaduna State with 1 percent contribution got N4.23 billion ahead of bigger contributors like Rivers and Kano states.
With its many Local Government Areas (LGAs), the North is more favoured in the sharing of revenue. But Lagos does not have more than 20 LGAs and its attempt to create more is discountenanced by the federal government. Kano and Lagos started with the same number of LGAs in 1967, when state creation happened for the first time. Kano has since moved on to have an increase that gives it the current 44 LGAs. Even Jigawa State that was carved out of Kano has more (27) LGAs today than Lagos. A Nigeria where some parts enjoy the sweat of others, while they contribute little or nothing to the commonwealth, is certainly not one that favours justice and promotes the culture of inclusiveness.
More annoying is the fact that in the Northern states (12) where sharia is actively practised, alcoholic drinks in staggering numbers are routinely destroyed by the Hisbah, the sharia enforcement agents (in 2015 this group in Kano destroyed 326,151 bottles of beer and 240,000 in November 2013, etc.). Oddly, these 12 states which ban and destroy assorted beer share in the VAT that is obtained from alcoholic beverages sold in non-sharia states. This shameless injustice cannot serve us in building a Nigeria for all. It has to perforce change. In its change is a Nigeria where we all truly will belong without tears and sorrows.
Similarly, the practice where successive Nigerian rulers flourish in double morality, ethnic chauvinism, and injustice cannot make Nigeria a nation for all. Favouring one’s ethnic group to the disadvantages of others in a multi-ethnic space is an ailment which Martin Meredith in his seminally researched book, The State of Africa, highlights as one of the weaknesses of many African heads of state. It ruins a polity. We have to end it in Nigeria if we are to be happy with one another.
The philosophy of ‘change’ of the present administration, in spite of some of its laudable but tokenistic successes, has become mere sloganeering because the man who champions the ‘revolution’ is comfortably caught in the thicket of primordial ethnic politics, as well as being stranded in the discomfiting peat bog of double morality. In the ongoing weakly organised campaign against corruption, we have seen and heard about the use of antiseptic agents against suspected members of the opposition and deodorant in cases involving governmental persons or members of the ruling party. Why, for example, is the case involving the suspended secretary to the government of the federation, Babachir Lawal, taking months to resolve? Did the chief of Army staff, Lieutenant Tukur Buatai, not get cleared the other day?
A quick fact check is equally in order here to buttress the claim that the present administration is contributing heavily to the consolidation of a Nigeria where many do not belong. The case of the unafraid Shi’a Muslim cleric and head of the Nigeria Islamic Movement, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and his followers, help us appreciate how the APC regime in Abuja is not different from its predecessors going back as far as the time Lugard created Nigeria. Many Muslims who are Sunni by ideology rejoiced at the brutal crackdown of this group whose members, numbering about 360, were killed by the Nigerian Army and buried en masse in a secret grave. El-Zakzaky and his wife are still in detention – incarcerated in the untrue name of national security.
Were the present Nigeria not a stranger to the virtue of justice, other non-shite Muslims would have condemned the clampdown and extrajudicial killings and demanded justice for the dead and the wronged. Were the ruler of this present untenable Nigeria a just person, he would have sanctioned the deranged soldiers who committed that horror and not condemned the group – in the same unjust fashion as the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai.
The same lack of sensitivity to the cause of justice guides the government’s responses to the terror of the Fulani herdsmen. In fact, a government spokesperson has even told us that the herdsmen, who they had initially falsely claimed were foreigners from neighbouring countries, are not terrorists but mere criminal bands! Do not forget also that the quit notice issued by the disoriented Arewa youths some months ago spurned a huge debate but the government developed feet of clay when it was supposed to arrest the separatists. In this case too, we were told they were not arrested in order to avoid unrest. But when Kanu’s IPOB stepped up its improperly organised dissent, not even the Mobile Unit of the Nigeria Police Force but the soldiers of the Nigerian Army invaded the South-East in a poorly choreographed dance. In no time, there was a ruthless pacification and consequently the group was outlawed and declared a terrorist organisation – all before the appropriate organ of government (the judiciary) was approached to consider making the declaration. We see in this government’s response how not to build a Nigeria that all of us belong to regardless of our dissenting views.
Shall we talk about governmental appointments? Those too do not assure a nation for all. Look to Mr. President’s kitchen cabinet. Skewed in favour of his region, of course like many of his predecessors. Look to the service chiefs – not one is from the South-East, as it is heavily northernised. Remember the major money spinner, NNPC; its recent composition with 15 members had 10 from the North, three from the South-West, two from the South-South but none from the South-East! The Department of State Services also had its own story of northernised appointments.
The truth is that if the leader of a country demonstrates a sense of justice and fairness, which is more required in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious universe like Nigeria’s, his subordinates will not be emboldened to act otherwise.
What this teaches us more and more is that Nigeria of the present needs a leader who is democratic, broadminded, positively sensitive to the diversity of the country, intelligent, creative, empathic, informed, and just. S/he must not see divergent views and dissent as threats and treason. S/he must be willing to satisfy, to the full possible extents permitted by the constitution, the various yearnings of the different groups that make up the country. For there to emerge a ‘new Nigeria’ where we can all confidently say we belong, the republican ethos of tolerance and debate must be consistently favoured. There must be conversations on issues around coexistence and governance and the leaders must never insist to have those conversations in their own ways and according to their own selfish worldviews.
Nigerian rulers must understand that force alone, in and of itself, cannot build a nation. Let force be unleashed as many times as it is possible and let agitations for a better organised Nigeria be quashed with every possible ruthlessness and brutality that can be commanded. The unchanging truth is that without justice such cocktail of repressive actions will be the requisite recipe for continual violence, instability, and agitations. The standing categorical conclusion of our maker, as recorded in Proverbs 14:34, is that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people”.
If we do not remember anything else, let us not forget that justice is critical to the realisation of a new Nigeria where we all can proudly say we belong. Let us remember that no nation is considered liveable without meaningful continual reorganisation. Let us remember that we need to prayerfully commit ourselves to taking the relevant actions that can aid us in transforming the prospect of a ‘new Nigeria’ into lasting reality.
In closing, let me summarise the thesis of my address in the pertinent words of Richard Bourne in his referred book:
The existential question for Nigeria may never entirely disappear while ethnicities remain dissatisfied with their position in the federation, while disparities in education and wealth remain sharp and while religion is a tool for anger rather than harmony. […] But given its manifold riches, in human and physical resources, Nigeria’s second century could surprise the world and Nigerians themselves, with a success story (p.216).
Ademola Adesola writes from Ibadan, Oyo State.
The piece is an extract from a keynote address delivered at the lecture organised by the Association for Good Government and Governance in Nigeria, Ibadan, to commemorate Nigeria’s 57th Independence Anniversary.