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The value of ‘progressive’ politics (2)

By Obi Nwakanma
The modern nation is characterized by border crossings and intermingling, by a necessarily mobile, overt and covert copulation of beings in its domain of reality which must subvert traditional affiliations if a nation must grow.

Awo’s idea of the “north for the northerners and the west for the westerners” contained in his political philosophy is the most toxic factor in the crisis of the nation called Nigeria. But it has frequently been propagated by defenders of Awoist thought to be the basis of “progressive” politics. It is a thought that has defied the cultural logic of nation and national belonging.

The alternative in my view is the unabridged rights of citizenship – irrespective of race, gender, religion, or ethnicity that Azikiwe, for example proposed. The incorporation into the formal ethic of Nigeria of the fundamental human rights takes care of the protection of cultural rights; the mobility of citizenship, the complexity of identity, and the coherence of nation.

Let me reproduce at some length, Nnamdi Azikiwe’s often misrepresented, but profoundly articulate position on this matter published in 1951 in the West African Pilot, and reprinted in his Collected Speeches (Cambridge University Press,1961):“Take the issue of one Nigeria,” Azikiwe writes, “The Action Group are definite in their stand for a Pakistanized Nigeria in spite of the canards published in their newspapers to deceive the unwary.

Mr. (Bode) Thomas made the policy of his party clear at the Ibadan General Conference when he said: ‘if we bear in mind that the various peoples in this country do not belong to the same race, it is for us to make provisions whereby people can live in their usual way of life and come together and work in unity.’ What a bundle of contradictions!

It is sheer nonsense, because as any intelligent schoolboy should know, the people of Nigeria belong to one race – the Negroid race. One does not need a degree in anthropology to know that, yet the Balogun of Oyo had to attend a constitutional conference at Ibadan to advertise his ignorance.

And that is the man who has been elected to be “Deputy Leader” of his party in the Western House of Assembly! Strangely, this gentleman pressed his idea of Pakistanism until some of the members allowed themselves to be misled and beguiled by him into believing that Nigerians do not belong to one race, with the result that the Northerners felt that they had nothing in common with the rest of the country.

One need not be surprised that an acrimonious debate which developed as a result of this foolish talk about Pakistanism necessitated a motion in these words: ‘Be it resolved that no region may in principle impose qualifications which may discriminate against the election of people born in other regions, who may for the time being be resident in the region and otherwise qualified for election to the regional house.”

Believe it or not, in spite of the fact that this motion sought to preserve the political union of Nigeria, it was lost by thirty-one to fourteen votes.

All the representatives from the East plus Chief Soetan of Abeokuta, Archdeacon Lenon of Ikare and Mr. Ejaife of Warri supported it; Rev. Ogunbiyi and Chief C.D. Akran of  Badagry abstained from voting: whilst Messrs Bode Thomas, Timothy Odutola, Arthur Prest and S.O. Awokoya were among the thirty-one who threw the motion out in favour of a Pakistanized Nigeria.

So that, whilst the NCNC believes in a common nationality for Nigeria, the Action Group prefers that each region should take care of its affairs in its own way without any “outside” interference – a very selfish attitude indeed, because it can only lead this country to chaos and confusion.” Notice that Azikiwe stood in resolute defence of the meaning of nation; of citizenship rights and individual liberty.

This is the meaning of progressive politics, thoroughly antithetical to the kind of nativist boundaries which the Awoists claim.

What the Action Group position was arguing for was for a certain kind of internal apartheid system that would exclude “non-indigenes” and create a Bantustan federation of primal nations. This is what Nigeria has of course inherited and become: an apartheid system.

It is the historical impulse of this apartheid wall erected in 1945 in spite of the best efforts of the idealists of the new nation that led to the debates in the Northern House of assembly to legislate an exclusion of the Igbo residents of the North from owning property in the North by 1964; its climax was the massacre, the expropriation of the Igbo and the civil war; and it is the impulse now that has ironically, quite tragically led to the Jos situation and the argument between the Hausa-Fulani “settlers” and the indigenous Berom and Angas of the Plateau.

The irony is quite fetching indeed if it is considered that only in 1964, Hausa-Fulani legislators in the Northern House were debating the exclusion and disenfranchisement of the “settler” Igbo from owning property and from establishing their citizenship rights under a Nigerian federation.

Today the Hausa “settlers” in Jos are now denied their citizenship rights under the same irrational principle. It makes clear the validity of that warning in the statement: “first they came for the Jews…”

Azikiwe’s prediction of confusion and chaos, and the rise of separatist movements as a result of the Action Group position on the nationality question, and which he articulated in his opposition to these moves to abridge the meaning of nation, and deny the sanctity of Nigeria’s political union, and the sanctity of the citizenship rights under one federation, has become the haunting truth of Nigerian history.

The fragility of the nation must thus be clearly placed in that context, except that we have learnt, through the inverse logic of ideological rant, to canonize by popular dissemination, the false logic of nation encrypted in the text of that “Path to Nigerian Friction.”


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