By Obi Nwakanma

Frequently, a certain segment of Nigerians, particularly those from the Southern flank raise the flag of progressive politics, and claim to represent the sum of all practices of progressive ideas in Nigeria. The North of Nigeria is also thus frequently cast as providing the antithesis of progressive politics, and therefore becomes the veritable face of Nigeria’s antinomy in the consciousness of the South.

This is false, of course, but a comforting myth to mostly Southern intellectuals who attempt to place the failure of Nigeria absolutely on the doorsteps of the “conservative” North. The North’s dominance of political power is always the excuse that prefaces these claims.

But let us examine these claims. What is the “North” actually? How has power played out to the point that the South feels always cheated by the North in the equation of power? Has the North of Nigeria dominated power absolutely?

These questions are pertinent to the current debate in Nigeria about political leadership and about the uses of power. There is, without doubt, a preponderance of figures from the Northern parts of Nigeria who have been Heads of the government of the Nigerian federation.

Indeed, from 1957, when the last British Governor-General of Nigeria, Sir James Robertson manipulated the figures of the elections to invite Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to assume the leadership of the government, in spite of the bare facts on the ground, the “North” has laid a claim to the political leadership of Nigeria. To that extent, Southerners have laid the blames of the woes of the nation at the feet of Nigeria’s political leadership, particularly of the Northern ilk. But the leadership of a nation, just as the nation itself is a complex formation, constituted on a broad category of affiliations that renders any one prescriptive or contained sense of it essentialist and linear.

To make this point quite simply: it will be untrue to argue that the North has dominated the leadership of this country absolutely, for in doing that we will be obscuring the multi-dimensional meaning of national leadership. The structure of power in a nation is defined by three domains of power: political leadership, economic leadership, and intellectual leadership, and they must fully interact to create a coherent idea of the state.

Of these three domains of power, the most crucial in determining the direction and moral basis of nation, in giving it its reason for being, and in conceptualizing and constituting its exegetical life are the intellectuals. They ought normally to constitute the thinking arm of nation; its moral and visionary force. They are the resource available to the authority of state for the production of ideas; for innovative thought, and for structuring the cosmology of governance. As we know, the weakest link in Nigeria’s power formation is the intellectual arm in the equation of power.

The absence of the Nigerian intellectual in the governance of the Nigerian state has been placed at the doorstep of the political leadership which frequently co-opts it, corrupts it, and discards it, with scant thought about the consequences of triaging the most strategic resource of the state. Political leadership of the sort we have had in Nigeria has also strategically impoverished the intellectual base of Nigeria’s national leadership, by slowly diminishing the worth of the intellectual; the nature of the domains of knowledge-making and knowledge-acquisition, particularly those places of strategic research which every self-conscious nation, aware of its obligations to history funnels resource.

The result is that it has become utterly difficult to recruit and retain the highest quality of thoughtful people at these crucial bases of Nigeria’s power structure, and therefore, the quality of performance, auditing, and oversight in the leadership of Nigeria has weakened dangerously and progressively. Nigeria’s intellectuals are absent and weak; playing marginal roles; indeed are even non-existent in national politics, and therefore the field has been overtaken and characterized by mediocrity and incoherence.

The political parties have few thinking people; no ideas, and therefore, no masterplan for governance. By all statistical accounts, the preponderance of Nigeria’s intellectuals is Southern. They may claim the suppression of their weight by political leadership, particularly a “conservative” Northern political leadership wary of challenge and ideas. But this too will be false. What has happened is a terrible lethargy and a deadening cynicism which has alienated much of the intellectual force of the nation, and which has allowed it to assume condescending and abstract attitudes to the issues and to the challenges of national power. It is this preponderant core of Southern intellectuals that have always retailed the idea of representing “progressive” politics. I will cite an important example with our own Odia Ofeimun, whose Awoist leanings is unambiguous and sustained. Indeed, Ofeimun has frequently laboured to show that Awoist political thought is the missing link in Nigeria’s political discourse. One of the foundational aspects of that thought is Awo’s ideas on Federalism.

But Awo’s federalist theory is     anchored on what I call “nativist federalism” and it is this very kind of ideas in Awo’s foundationalist thoughts that Ofeimun defends, and it is here that I frequently disagree with Ofeimun, who is in any case a delight to argue with – I, a Zikist, he an Awoist.

His defence of Awo’s position is elaborated further in his recent response to Chinua Achebe’s thought on the meaning of nation. The thinking that federal boundaries must be defined by the lines of the fractal ethnicities that make up the nation is in my view, obscurantist and xenophobic, and there is nothing progressive about that kind of thought.

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