Politics everywhere is a tribal affair. But for far too long, its domestic variant has been dangerously so. To transcend these divides, and open new vistas of opportunity to our people, is the task that we must carry out over the next 30 years. Unfortunately, it is one that our traditional political class has proven remarkably incapable of.


Nigerians divide easily along basic lines – religion and ethnicity, for instance. It doesn’t matter what the endeavour is – recruitment into work, sharing of values however created, etc. – you can readily get Nigerians to rally excitedly behind pre-defined ensigns. Even in sports, especially football, where the national team often functions as would a delicate hemline holding burdensome fabric together, the sense of unity lasts only as long as the opponent is non-Nigerian. Thereafter, cohesion crumbles briskly.

Not all competition is negative. Where rivalry forces the competing parties to constantly ratchet up the bar, then the communities that these forces are a part of benefit. However, in the Nigerian case, the sense of the relative advantage of the other party is often rivalled by a perturbing need to destroy all institutional support that have made all non-us progress possible. In other words, our ecosystem thrives off competing entities catching-up by making the progress of the relatively advanced party difficult – if not downright impossible.

Understandably, what passes for society moulders as a result. Consequently, the biggest charge against our professional political class is that they unthinkingly leverage our many fissures in advance of parochial causes. The 59th anniversary, tomorrow, of our political independence, provides a background against which to reflect on these and related issues. But the temptation over the years has been to gloss over the widening cracks, and to celebrate instead. Our Dr. Panglosses remind us of how bad it could all have been. Examples abound on the continent of states that have failed to make much of independence – Congo, Somalia, etc. And those that have run aground despite much promise – Libya, Sudan, etc.

The sad thing is that our penchant for cleaving to pre-defined loyalties makes any form of agreement on these matters difficult. Certainly, against the mise-en-scène of this week’s independence celebration, we are forced to agree that the Buhari administration has introduced new cleavages into the national discourse.


So, there’s so much for us to give thanks to God for! Maybe. Except that at heart, this credo is gradually turning us all into zobo-drinking surrender monkeys. Two decades into our Fourth Republic, we are still struggling to agree on the dimensions of our developmental challenges. Is the outlook for the country as bad as all the numbers on the economy suggest? Or are these numbers one outcome of the unfortunate ineptitude of the administration that was in office before the incumbent one?

Conscientious search for answers to these questions should indicate an optimal path on the economy’s development trajectory. We could agree, for example, that the Buhari administration’s best efforts, thus far, have been far from adequate, even when we concede that the Jonathan administration bequeathed it a poisoned chalice. We could also agree that efforts to fix the country were always going to be resisted by vested interests; without perpetrating the malarkey that the failures of the incumbent administration are largely the consequence of such resistance.

The sad thing is that our penchant for cleaving to pre-defined loyalties makes any form of agreement on these matters difficult. Certainly, against the mise-en-scène of this week’s independence celebration, we are forced to agree that the Buhari administration has introduced new cleavages into the national discourse. Where previously we disagreed on religious and ethnic matters, now we are willing to go to war on cultural themes.

Asceticism is a handmaiden of the two religions that have divided this country for much of its independent life. And in this sense, through the new culture wars, a different kind of politician simply chooses to continue leveraging our inability to reach agreement to the advantage of the political class; but riding on an unfamiliar hobbyhorse.


A love affair with a new asceticism is now offered as counter to the traditionally corrupt Nigerian way. Epitomising this new zeitgeist, President Buhari is simultaneously its apotheosis. Almost divine, he now may do no wrong. Is it surprising, then, that his administration is one of the most divisive to rule this country? No. In a sense, too, the self-abnegation that is the hallmark of this new philosophy is not original. Asceticism is a handmaiden of the two religions that have divided this country for much of its independent life. And in this sense, through the new culture wars, a different kind of politician simply chooses to continue leveraging our inability to reach agreement to the advantage of the political class; but riding on an unfamiliar hobbyhorse.

You do not need to agree with Nietzsche on the decadent influence of the “ascetic ideal” on the popular mind in order to decry the tendency of our politicians to divide their constituents along primordial lines. Politics everywhere is a tribal affair. But for far too long, its domestic variant has been dangerously so. To transcend these divides, and open new vistas of opportunity to our people, is the task that we must carry out over the next 30 years. Unfortunately, it is one that our traditional political class has proven remarkably incapable of.

Uddin Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.