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Moulding Nigeria into a nation

By Afe Babalola 
“It is clear that the fate which has befallen Nigeria is not too different from that which has befallen other African countries. Since 1885 when the area Nigeria was shared to Britain, Nigerians have not been able to imbibe the spirit of nationhood. The fact is that every Nigerian is firstly a member of his ethnic group before he is a Nigerian.”

IN the past weeks I discussed extensively how Nigeria can revive agriculture as a means of recovery from its current economic challenges. As a marker of how deep the problem is, the government some days ago established a task force on food security.

The government was reportedly concerned about the rising prices of food in the country. At the same time there have been renewed calls by several Nigerians for the restructuring of the country. These calls without a doubt are a direct result of widespread disenchantment regarding the country’s political stability and nationhood.

While it may appear that the two issues of food security and restructuring of the country are unrelated, scholarly research has revealed that the two share a very deep connection. Can it be disputed that political stability is needed to attract foreign and local investment and thereby boost economic growth?

It is for this reason that I intend to focus on the concept of Nigeria as a Nation and identify reasons underlying our failure to evolve as a Nation.

The nation Nigeria

Since the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1916 most Nigerians assume that there is a nation called Nigeria or that Nigeria is a nation. This accounts for the elaborate celebration of one hundred years of the emergence of the country Nigeria. However, apart from being registered as a member of the United Nations, Nigeria de facto is not yet a nation in the true sense of the world. Nigeria is a country described by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo as a mere geographical expression.

What is a nation? Wikipedia defines a nation as “a large group of people who share a common language, culture, ethnicity, descent, or history. Nation can refer to “a people, race, or tribe; those having the same descent, language, and history.”

An ethnic community, or ethnic, shares a common myth of origins and descent, a common history, elements of distinctive culture, a common territorial association, and sense of group solidarity. A nation is much more impersonal, abstract, and overtly political than an ethnic group. It is a cultural-political community that has become conscious of its coherence, unity, and particular interests.”

Prior to 1914, what we had was the southern and Northern protectorates. These two geographical areas were nothing more than commercial areas or entities for the British trading companies. The major objective in bringing the two together was to allow for a more viable commercial enterprise and not because of any need to build a nation. The birth of Nigeria was simply a matter of administrative convenience. The British much like other colonial powers across Africa were more interested in finding a more efficient means of administration than in building nations. The bringing together of unfamiliar groups and identities was therefore bound to cause problems of nationhood as is now the case.

Political and social development

In his book, the State of Africa, Martin Meredith stated as follows:

The most difficult task facing Africa’s new leaders was to weld into nations a variety of different peoples, speaking different languages and at different stages of political and social development.  The new states of Africa were not ‘nations’.

They possessed no ethic, class or ideological cement to hold them together, no strong historical and social identities upon which to build.  For a relatively brief period, the anti-colonial cause had provided a unity of purpose. Nationalist leaders had successfully exploited a variety of grievances among the urban and rural population to galvanise support for the cause.  But once the momentum that they had achieved in their drive for independence began to subside, so other loyalties and ambitions came thrusting to the fore.  “We have all inherited from our former masters not nations but states,” remarked Felix Houphouet-Boigny, ‘states that have within them extremely fragile links between ethnic groups’.  Indeed, as the result of a long historical process during the colonial era, the engine of ethic consciousness – the tribal factor – was more potent than it had ever been before.

Spirit of nationhood

From the above, it is clear that the fate which has befallen Nigeria is not too different from that which has befallen other African countries. Since 1885 when the area Nigeria was shared to Britain, Nigerians have not been able to imbibe the spirit of nationhood.

The fact is that every Nigerian is firstly a member of his ethnic group before he is a Nigerian. In other words, I am firstly an Ekiti man before I am a Nigerian. The same applies to every member of the Kanuri, Ibibio, Efik, Hausa, Fulani, Nupe, Egun, Tapa, Ibo, Ijaw, etc. tribe or ethnic group.

I do not know one of us who is firstly a Nigerian before being a member of his ethnic group. It is only for the purpose of seeking political position or obtaining travel papers that most remember that he is a Nigerian. In 1948, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who later became the prime minister during the first republic stated as follows:

“Since 1914 the British Government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any sign of willingness to unite…”

Post  Independence  Constitution making process recognised diversity: Yet things really should not have been permitted to get this bad. Indeed as I will show, diversity should not be a bar to true nationhood but on the contrary if properly harnessed, should even serve as a means towards achieving true nationhood.

Distinct  identities

The founding fathers of the country recognised this fact. In the process leading up to the promulgation of the independence constitution, the fore fathers of the Nigerian nation deliberated extensively in Lancaster house London on several matters which were imperative for the take-off and the development of the new nation.

Many of the issues discussed related to the distinct identities of the numerous ethnic groups which were by the amalgamation of 1914 brought together under one constitutional banner.

These leaders realized the need to come up with a structure that will preserve the identities of the component ethnicities whilst at the same time allowing for the enthronement of nationalistic sentiments and ideals.

It therefore did not come as a surprise when the Independence Constitution provided for regional governments across the country. By this arrangement each region was allowed to develop at its own pace utilizing resources available to it.

To be continued.


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