By Chidi Odinkalu
It is however, not just enough to wish that Nigeria should not “wither”. It is more important to work to ensure that it does not. In this context, there have been and there remain legitimate concerns about the direction and future of Nigeria and our theme ought to read “Whither Nigeria?” That is the theme I set out to address in the remarks that follow.
In doing so, I proceed on the bases that implicit in our theme is an acknowledgement that our most significant challenges as a country are the triple tasks of building capable Statehood, personhood and livelihoods.
The first deals with our politics (access to and distribution of power), the second addresses our governance (civics, entitlements or rights, and institutions) and the third focuses on our economy (transactionality, value-chains and exchange).
Together, a coherent programme to address these will guarantee and underpin national integration and cohesion. Absent such a programme, perennial conflict is guaranteed; so is violence and this is where we are.
To address our theme is therefore to explore the current pathology of democratized mass violence and the future of Nigeria. In what follows, I propose to examine the descent of Nigeria into a political economy of incapability and will address three broad dimensions to this descent: the politics of competitive marginalization and creeping Bantustanization of Nigeria; the political economy of democratization of violence; and the consequences for Nigeria of its dual belonging in the dangerous neighbourhoods of both the Gulf of Guinea and the Sahel.
I will argue that steering a different course from the one that presently stares us in the face requires measures anchored on a different kind of leadership and elite orientation, as well are urgent investment in and dialogue with Nigeria’s youth and would end by proposing a mechanism for navigating some of the challenges we confront.
I should plead, as I proceed, that what follows are the reflections of a citizen not the declarations of an episodic public officer. I speak without a party Whip and do not reflect the views of any institution or person other than mine as a citizen exercising intellectual and constitutional freedoms as both a professional and occasional scholar.
AN OLD QUESTION ABOUT THE SAME COUNTRY
The question, “whither Nigeria?” is somewhat antiquated. In 1939, a still un-disclosed colonial official, writing “with much diffidence, having no first-hand experience of the country” posed precisely the question that engages us here today: “Whither Nigeria?” S/he counselled against attempting to “pour the constitutional future of a vast country into a single mould”, warning that the consequence could be “disastrous.”
In July 1958, Deputy Governor-General of Nigeria, Sir Ralph Grey, reported a visit from former Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who expressed was unsure whether Nigeria was indeed ready for independence and was worried that the country would “have trouble” thereafter.
In the same year, another colonial officer, M.G. Smith, in a line that could easily have been hewn for 55 years later, feared that Federal Ministers were “unworthy of high office”, lacked “strength and prestige”, and were “always looking back over their shoulders” to shore up their positions in their places of origin.
Far from being allayed after Empire (Independence), these early fears about the future, direction and leadership of Nigeria, as in many other African countries, have deepened since then. The end of Empire left several problems that were to be reinforced and escalated by Independence, without the normative, institutional or human capabilities to address or resolve them.
The consequences were not unforeseeable and comprised nothing that leadership could not have solved. Yet, Independence was followed by prolonged periods of authoritarian mis-adventure and poor leadership as well as an absence of agreed or negotiated constitutional values or direction.
In law as in politics, countries are defined by a population within bounded territories under a common sovereign. Boundaries, howsoever defined, are, however, not facts of nature; they are artificial.