By Douglas Anele
The ill-advised action of Lagos state government with respect to the deportation from the state of some destitute of Igbo extraction sometime ago has once again brought to the front seat of public consciousness one of the gaping fault lines in the geopolitical contraption called Nigeria – pernicious ethnicity.
While some commentators support the action on the ground that Governor B.R. Fashola has a duty to rid Lagos of “undesirable elements irrespective of ethnic affiliation,” an overwhelming majority of Nigerians, correctly in my view, condemn it as unconstitutional, inhuman and a futile attempt to tackle a social problem using discredited military tactics.
Thus far, the silliest reaction is the essay by Femi Fani-Kayode, entitled, “The bitter truth about the Igbo,” published in the August 11 edition of Sunday Vanguard. That article drips with so many lies, deliberate misinformation, distortion of facts and warped logic that I cannot help but marvel at the almost infinite capacity of humans for self-deception. I will not dignify Fani-Kayode’s smelly, abecedarian bunkum with a response.
In any case my friend Obi Nwakanma, Nelson Ako Okoli, Kelechi Jeff Eme and others have demonstrated convincingly that “The bitter truth about the Igbo” is a perfection of ethnic rottenness.
What I intend to do in the following paragraphs is to use the negative platform generated by the deportation saga to address two of the most difficult obstacles in the evolution of Nigeria towards a great nation, namely, opportunistic ethnic irredentism and religious fanaticism. But before we go into that, it must be clearly stated that the action of Lagos state government in deporting Nigerians to their states of origin is a paradigm manifestation of the point made poignantly by Chinua Achebe thirty years ago that our problem is, fundamentally, bad leadership. Of course, Lagos, like every megacity in the world, harbours a large number of street urchins and miscreants.
In more civilised countries where people treat one another as human beings, the leaders work extra hard to take care of the poor by putting in place various welfare programmes for that purpose. In Nigeria, things work differently. In the first place, Nigerians are yet to understand that human beings, irrespective of socio-economic status, are bearers of unique value that deserve respect and dignity. Moreover, Nigerian leaders believe that “some animals (themselves) are more equal than others,” simply because they have easy access to a lot of money and power. For our politicians the downtrodden are inconsequential (almost human) unless during election time when their votes would be needed for re-election.
In the specific case we are discussing, Fashola, just like other state governors, has a moral obligation to take care of Nigerian resident in his state, especially the poor, the disabled and the unemployed. Therefore, it is not surprising that different state governments, instead of investing resources on welfare programmes for the poor consider it appropriate and convenient to deport them to their states of origin. This shows the recurrent lack of imagination, creativity and compassion in our leadership. Nigerian leaders prefer superficial, touch-and-go tactics to deep thinking and strategic planning in handling the complex problems of governance.
If government officials who authorised the eviction of some Nigerians from Lagos painstakingly considered the matter in all its ramifications, they would have realised the futility of such superficial approach to a serious social problem and focused their minds on more humane and result-oriented poverty alleviation programmes. It must be remarked that the core issue arising from the deportation saga transcends ethnicity, although that in itself is a major concern considering the damage fanatical ethnicity has been causing the country, particularly since the pogroms against the Igbo living in Northern Nigeria which precipitated the Biafran war.
As already indicated, the nauseating deportation raises the question of the nature of Nigeria’s federation and of citizens’ rights vis-a-vis the overbearing powers of political office holders. Also of interest is the relation between the leaders and the citizens, the overriding philosophy of leadership that guide policy formulation and implementation, and the imperative of developing awareness among political office holders that power ultimately belongs to the people. This means that Nigerians must continue to have serious conversations about the meaning of Nigeria and what it means to be a Nigerian. Such debates necessarily involve clear articulation of the rights, duties and obligations of the citizens to their leaders and vice versa.
Having said that, let us look a bit more closely at ethnicity as a dangerous obsolete approach for negotiating the complexities of diversity in a modern state. As every secondary school student of Nigerian history knows, the creation of modern Nigeria by British imperialists brought together people of diverse ethnic nationalities who had to work together to construct a unified country.
Now, although since independence successive governments have made concerted efforts to eradicate pernicious ethnic irredentism, the problem has persisted because, as paradoxical as it might sound at first sight, ethnicity is entrenched in the basic laws governing the country. Take for instance the 1999 Constitution cloned from the 1979 version. Section 14 (3) stipulates that the composition and conduct of the government of the federation should be such as to avoid the predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups. Yet, in section 15, it prohibits discrimination based on place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties.
Clearly, the two provisions just cited conflict with each other. Supposing there is a job opening, and in order to act in conformity with the federal character provisions in section 14(3) the most qualified candidate from a certain state was rejected so that a less qualified candidate from the “right” state could be selected. It means that the first candidate has been discriminated against because of her place of origin contrary to the provision of section 15.
Thus, inadvertently or by design, our constitution makes allowance for unfair application of ethnicity in conducting official business; it also promotes mediocrity and nepotism by providing legal backing for rejection of excellence. Considering the incredible discoveries in biological sciences which provide compelling evidence that all human beings belong to one family despite racial and cultural differences, anybody that consistently argues fanatically on the basis of alleged superiority of his own ethnic enclave, as Fani-Kayode has done, belongs to the neanderthal sub-species of the genus, homo neanderthalis.
The expression “neanderthal man” is named from fossil remains found in a cave at Neanderthal, a valley between Dusseldorf and Elberfeld; they are the remains of Palaeolithic people that lived around one hundred and fifty thousand years ago. It follows that when someone is described as a neanderthal, that person is primitive, old fashioned and archaic.
One of the distinguishing characteristics and manifestations of primitive mentality is obsessive strong attachment to place of origin and blood relationship. To be continued