Nigeria At 59: To Forget Or To Understand Our Differences?, By Majeed Dahiru
To reposition the Nigerian state on the path to sustainable socio-economic development will be to resolve the fundamental question of national identity. A resolution of this crisis of identity can only be achieved through an overthrow of the current elite consensus of divide-and-rule, leading to a people’s consensus guided by…self-enlightened realisation…
Nigeria’s journey to nationhood in the past 59 years since independence from the British Empire in October 1960, though long enough a time in the history of any nation, has unfortunately only covered a very short distance. The very slow pace of Nigeria’s tortuous journey to nationhood has been enabled in no small measure by the unresolved question of national identity. As country of various ethno-geographic groupings, Nigerians are psychologically eclipsed between either forgetting or understanding their differences in tongues and tribes, as canvassed by its founding fathers. The numerous consequences of the unresolved question of national identity has been the inability of the Nigerian state to evolve an integrated national agenda to maximise its full potentials in the past 59 years, as made manifest in its overall poor ratings in the socio-economic development scorecard thus far.
From the beginning, Nigeria’s journey to nationhood was poised to be stunted, not so much for the colonial misadventure of the British, which lumped “different” peoples around the Niger area into a “geographic expression”, but because of the inability of our founding fathers to look at the entire enterprise of colonialism beyond the narrow prism of politics and see its more important economic fundamentals. While Sir Ahmadu Bello, the political leader of Nigeria’s predominantly Hausa-speaking northern region and the foremost political figure from Nigeria’s predominantly ethnic Igbo eastern region, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, could not reach an agreement on whether to forget or understand our differences, they failed to appreciate the similar plurality of our colonial masters that was deliberately coalesced in a British identity. Convinced that Nigeria was a mere geographical expression, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the political leader of Nigeria’s predominantly ethnic Yoruba western region also failed to realise that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is similarly a geographical expression of a plurality of Welsh, English, Scottish and Northern Irish peoples. And for the many others who get the impression from the words of our founding fathers that colonialism is the bane of Nigeria’s nationhood, they should always remember that Great Britain was itself once a colony of the Roman Empire.
Nigeria’s founding fathers, who were pre-occupied with the pettiness of ethno-geographic differences, failed to realise that underneath the construct of the British identity of our colonial masters are a people as plural as we are. Sir George Goldie, who played the biggest role in the formation of modern Nigeria, was Scottish, just as Flora Shaw, the British essayist who christened us “Nigeria”, was of Irish ancestry. At the time of amalgamation of the protectorates of the North and South of Nigeria into one entity in 1914, the British crown was seating on the head of King George V, an ethnic German who was the grandson of Queen Victoria by her consort, Prince Albert of Germany, through their son, King Edward VII. Just as our founding fathers variously identified as Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa, so were our colonial masters individually identifiable by their ethno-geographic ancestry. The difference was the ability of our colonial masters to rise above primitively rigid territorial identifications by adopting the common identity of their shared geographical expression of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. As no nation is truly blessed with the abundance of human and natural resources, the British were united in their concerted effort to shore up the wealth of their nation through the acquisition of overseas territories to expand trade and investment for the economic benefits of their homeland. This is precisely what the constituent peoples of Nigeria have not been able to achieve 59 years after independence.
…the question of either to forget or understand our differences need not arise in the first place, because there are no differences. Nigeria is not made up of different but various ethno-geographic groupings. As a plural country is clearly distinct from one that is diverse, Nigeria’s ethnic multiplicity is only a manifestation of a variety of the same broad homogenous black race.
Our founding fathers, who apparently considered our colonial masters as racially homogenous (white) and British, unfortunately failed to appreciate our own racial homogeneity as black people. They considered themselves different from each other, on the basis of circumstantial ethno-geographic location and biological happenstance, and hence too diverse to be a nation. However, Nigeria does not qualify as a diverse country as diversity is benchmarked on the basis of race and not ethnicity. The constituent peoples of modern Nigeria, like the British, are racially homogenous with intricate ancestral linkages, as well similarities in culture, language, tradition, norms, history and proximate geography predating the colonial era. That these constituent peoples did not see themselves as one people and evolve into the super country structure that is modern Nigeria before the British colonialism, was indicative of late national evolution arising from a low level of civilisation in the contemporary world. Therefore the question of either to forget or understand our differences need not arise in the first place, because there are no differences. Nigeria is not made up of different but various ethno-geographic groupings. As a plural country is clearly distinct from one that is diverse, Nigeria’s ethnic multiplicity is only a manifestation of a variety of the same broad homogenous black race.
Unfortunately, our founding fathers did not understand our realities from this perspective. By resolutely insisting on our differences, our founding fathers negotiated a Nigerian state from the British a country that would be a federation that is rigidly structured along ethno-geographic fault-lines. This rigid structure was made inorganic as it does not allow for integration and assimilation of Nigerians wherever they chose to reside within the federation. Without a mechanism for seamless integration and assimilation of Nigerians outside their regions of origin, with full political and economic rights, this meant that Nigeria is only a country of indigenes and not a nation of citizens. This faulty foundational configuration of the Nigerian state was to prove as the bane of Nigeria’s socio-economic development 59 years later.
As country of indigenes whose loyalties are primarily to their micro ethno-geographic nationalities, no system designed for a modern nation of citizens has worked for Nigeria. From the Westminster style parliamentary federal system at Independence in 1960, to centralised military rule and the current American style executive presidential system of the Fourth Republic, none of these has worked positively for Nigeria because of the faulty configuration of its structures of state. In a country of indigenes, such as Nigeria, law and order will always be undermined by culture, tradition and religion because constitutionalism and democracy is conceptualised for nations of citizens. National economic policies and state institutions will always be ineffective and weak because they will always be undermined by sectional tendencies. National interest will always be sacrificed for sectional interests in a country of indigenes like Nigeria.
In order to realise the maximum potentials of the enormous promises of the Nigerian state, there should be a consciously deliberate move towards evolving Nigeria from a country of indigenes, where internal resources are shared to depletion, into a nation of citizens that is well-managed and competitive enough to effectively partake in the race for global resources.
By far the most devastating consequence of Nigeria’s faulty structural configuration is that as a country of indigenes, Nigeria’s constituent micro-ethno-geographic nationalities are divided in the struggle over the control of revenue accruing from its internal oil mineral resources. This struggle has resulted into a divisive form of politics of ethno-geographic and religious identity that is being championed by elites across the country to the detriment of national development. Identity politics has only served the personal interest of the political elite, as they have devised numerous means of keeping us divided, while reaching a consensus among themselves on how to distribute Nigeria’s resources through zoning and THE rotation of power. Cocooned into this crucible of intense struggle for internal resources, this has put enormous pressure on the Nigerian state, leading to the rise of unbridled corruption, unmanageable security problems and economic inertia. Sadly, we the people have legitimised this elite consensus to rape our national patrimony, by our own sectional proclivities that make us look upon ourselves as irreconcilably different from one another.
To reposition the Nigerian state on the path to sustainable socio-economic development will be to resolve the fundamental question of national identity. A resolution of this crisis of identity can only be achieved through an overthrow of the current elite consensus of divide-and-rule, leading to a people’s consensus guided by the self-enlightened realisation that we are one people, irrespective of our varied ethno-geographic individual identification. In order to realise the maximum potentials of the enormous promises of the Nigerian state, there should be a consciously deliberate move towards evolving Nigeria from a country of indigenes, where internal resources are shared to depletion, into a nation of citizens that is well-managed and competitive enough to effectively partake in the race for global resources.