The Orbit

February 14, 2010

The value of ‘progressive’ politics (3)

THE tradition of intellectual inquiry in Nigeria, in at least, the last 30 years has been at best self-indulgent and unadventurous.

There is no national intellectual tradition worth its name. The interpretation, assessment, and elaboration of the ethic of nation has been ceded to the smithies of reactionary cant. In large part, one of the significant and most dangerous failures of the Nigerian intellectual is the capacity to ventriloquize unreflective cant masquerading as “progressive” thought.

We have failed to situate the difficult question of the meaning of nation as the coverage for all affiliations inherent to nation and national belonging. One of its effects on Nigeria today therefore is estrangement. It is the result of that wall that exists, and that makes possible encounter difficult between the Liberal thinkers from the North and the South who must meet to restore the meaning of nation.

It is the wall that Awo and his cohorts built, not Lugard. It is the wall that makes it impossible for instance to imagine broadly, and to extend the truest empathy for the humanity of those with whom we share the space of nation for as long as they do not come from or identify with our sub-national affiliations.

It is the wall, for instance, that makes the Nigerian in Ijebu-Remo or Kaura-Namoda, however plain their more humane senses, feel that the destruction of the Ogoni is strictly an “Ogoni problem” requiring no more than an Ogoni solution.

It is the same problem that made it impossible for Nigeria to fully re-integrate the Igbo into the space of nation from 1970, thereby creating the situation of alienation that has marked persistent Igbo ambivalence about Nigeria since 1970.

It is the same wall that makes it possible for this nation to legitimize the seizure of the property and the economic ruin of particular segments of its citizens on the talk of “abandoned property” or to allow the disenfranchisement of a Hausa Muslim minority resident in Christian Jos, or fail to arrest and prosecute the killers of the minority Christian Igbo, Gideon Akaluka in Kano.

Nigeria as a result, threads the path of madness and anomie. The failure to enforce the basic rights of the Nigerian citizen, irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity, status, or religion, is the highest failure of the republic, and continues to reify the fissures that have marked the nature of its affiliations since 1951.

Nigeria fails because its intellectuals, who claim to be the guardians of its liberal tradition, are busy creating revisionist myths, or theorizing abstractions. In his discourse of Stanley Macebuh’s seminal essay on the Nigerian mind, the Marxist scholar and journalist, Edwin Madunagu points to Macebuh’s view that the founders of modern Nigeria established it on a “liberal” mooring.

The trouble is that some of the ideas have become ossified, and needs either restoration or recanting. Take the question of nation. I argue that the ideological stance of the Action Group from 1945 is the source of Nigeria’s postcolonial fatality.

The AG conceived of the nation in its fragments, rather than of a nation in its potentially transcendent form. It is this heritage of ideas – the nation as a fragment – that we now retrofit into our various political acts- from “rotational presidency” to the dubious “state of origin” clause. Awoist ideas became the guiding force of the nation from 1967 to date.

Ironically, today, going by the logic of exclusion and sub-nationalist exceptionalism, Bode Thomas’s grand child could never aspire to be Mayor of Abuja – the federal capital of the nation. He is not Gwari. We now have 36 states, most of them broken along the closest lines of the “ethnos” according to the Awoist ideal. The result is that each is ghettoed, in-bred, discriminatory and unproductive.

This break down of Nigeria into fragments and ghettoes has not solved the problems of the union. What it has inexorably done is to weaken the states considerably, create a powerful central behemoth, and exacerbate the minority problem. We continue to deal with the minority question in the same essentialist sense of its ethnic nationalist form first theorized by the Action Group.

But Nigeria has many minorities: religious minorities, racial minorities, gender minorities, economic minorities, ideological minorities – and such like, all of whom ought to be properly covered, according to the proposal of Azikiwe and his cohorts under equal suffrage and universal human rights protection. An Igbo could be a minority in the North as a Yoruba could be a minority in the East, and all needed their rights protected and guaranteed under the mandate of a coherent nation.

It is for taking this “universalist” position that Zik and his cohorts have been accused and crucified for idealism, for trying to import an “American solution” to a uniquely African problem, and for an inability to perceive the true nature of the reality in Nigeria – Nigeria being a colonial creation from multi-national entities, and former empires. But so is Ghana: the Ghanaians took Azikiwe’s message, and through Nkrumah, created a political union based on the ideas of the modern nation.

The difference is clear today. Indeed, there is no ethnically pure nation on earth. Azikiwe’s idea of nation was rooted on the enlightenment foundations that shaped the modern nation, from Rousseau, to Montesquieu, to Thomas Jefferson: it is essentially idealistic and visionary. The alternative to the enlightenment idea of nation is regression to volk – the ethnically pure nation – like Hitler’s Aryan race.

Azikiwe understood clearly that being Igbo or Yoruba or Hausa – being “tribal” did not limit insemination into the nation: indeed, it enhanced it, and guarantees it. But affiliate identities should never be at the expense of allegiance to the modern nation.

The second fact also is that colonialism may have done us an inadvertent favour by defeating and suppressing tyrannical empires and forcing them to the will of a new nation. The defeat of Attahiru, or Overanwen, or the Aro oligopoly is akin in history to the destruction of the European monarchies, from whose ashes rose the new nations of Europe in the post-enlightenment era.

The tendency to romanticize them is a needless abstraction, in the light of the challenges and possibilities of the new nation. Even then, Nigeria has just two options: we may fully accept the task of renewing this nation by reclaiming the idealism of the true nationalists, or we may simply accept that we have nothing in common, and begin a referendum of separation.

We may go our separate ways peacefully and break free from what some people have called this “Lugard’s cage” or begin the second phase of the nationalist movement – that road from which we were forced to turn in 1945 and 1951. These choices are clear.