Professor Ben Nwabueze has disagreed with President Muhammadu Buhari that Nigeria’s problem is corruption.

Professor Nwabueze in a statement on Thursday said that Nigeria’s problem was that of national question not corruption.

He said: President Muhammadu Buhari, speaking to Nigerians on the occasion of the country’s 57th Independence Anniversary, said: “We must fight corruption which is Nigeria’s number one enemy. Our administration is tackling these tasks in earnest,”

This is a hackneyed rhetoric, which simply re-echoes his Address at his Inauguration as President on 29 May, 2015 when he again said:

“Our fight against corruption is not just a moral battle for virtue and righteousness in our land. It is a fight for the soul and substance of our nation. This is why we must see it as an existential threat; if we don’t kill it, it will kill us” (emphasis supplied).

In my book, The National Question and Corruption (2016) I wrote as follows:
“Not only is corruption not a threat to our continued corporate existence as a country, it is also not our foremost problem. I venture to say, as I said in an interview with The Guardian on the occasion of Nigeria’s 55th Independence Anniversary, that our No One problem is the National Question.”

I proceeded to define the National Question as follows:
“The National Question is concerned with how, while preserving something of their separate identities, the immense number of diverse ethnic groups comprised in the territorial area of the state created with the name Nigeria and forcibly imposed by British colonialism can be coalesced and united into one nation and how the state so created can order the relations among the constituent groups to facilitate such coalescing. That is the essence and the core meaning of the term, the National Question…

The National Question, in its true essence, as defined above, encapsulates four questions which combine together to make it the intractable problem that it is. First, what is an ethnic group in the Nigerian (or African) context, how many ethnic groups are comprised in the Nigerian state, and what is their status or standing in relation to the state? Second, what is a nation in the context of the existence of an immense number of diverse ethnic nationalities to be coalesced or united into one nation?

Third, how are the divergent demands for the preservation of something of the separate identities of the component ethnic groups and their creation into one, united nation to be balanced together? Fourth, does the National Question tantamount to the issue about the absence or otherwise of civil order in Nigeria or, putting it differently, what is the connection between the two?

An ethnic group is not just any group or collection of people. It is a group deriving its distinctive character from the word, ethnic. By its definition in New Websters’ Dictionary of the English Language, the word ethnic refers to “a group sharing a common language or set of customs or characteristics or a common origin”. In the Nigerian (or African) context, the dictionary definition needs to be supplemented by adding after the word “origin”, the phrase “inhabiting a common traditional territory”.

As so defined, with the super-addition of the words “and inhabiting a common traditional territory,” an ethnic group in Nigeria (or Africa) is a nation or nationality in miniature.”

“The status or standing of the ethnic groups or ethnic nationalities in relation to the Nigerian state is a matter of great significance for present purposes for the reason that they (i.e. ethnic nationalities) are :
(i)The territorial and cultural foundation of the Nigerian state. Nigeria, as a state, has no territory other than, or different from, the traditional territories inhabited by its constituent ethnic nationalities from time immemorial – Yorubaland, Igboland, Hausaland, Tivland, Kanuriland, Edoland, Itsekiriland, Ijawland, Ibibioland, etc, with their various cultures. It is thus the ethnic nationalities and their traditional territories, not so much the autonomous individual Nigerians, that give life and substance to the Nigerian state.

(ii) The original and primary stakeholders in the Nigerian state project. It is the ethnic nationalities that ceded or granted the sovereignty or the sovereign powers of government over their territories to Britain, and on which British jurisdiction in Nigeria rested, which therefore makes them (i.e. the ethnic nationalities) the original and primary stakeholders in the Nigerian state.
(iii) The structural foundation on which the Nigerian state stands. The ethnic nationalities are the superstructure, the blocks and pillars, upon which the Nigerian state is built, and without which it cannot stand.

(iv) A sociological reality. Ethnic nations and tribes in African society are a sociological reality, even in the urban centres newly emerged as accompaniment of the new state system created by colonialism. The ethnic nation or tribe is integral to, it is an organic part of, what constitutes the traditional society in Africa. The basic unit of the society for social and, to some extent, economic life, is not the atomic family of a man, his wife (wives) and children, but the extended family embracing several related families which together make up a clan.

Several related clans make up a tribe. The traditional African society consists of a collection of such tribes; it does not, and cannot, therefore, exist apart from its constituent tribes. Abolish the tribes, and the traditional African society also disappears from existence.

Tribes in traditional Africa should not therefore be thought of as inimical to society; they are the heart and the soul of African society. It is possible that they may, as we march towards greater and greater urbanisation, cease to have significance in the non-urban areas too. But until that happens, it is as well to recognise the tribes as a sociological reality and as necessary pillars for building a nation”.

It must be stated that the National Question has an intimate connection with corruption as a fundamental cause of it. The origin of the state in the African continent, as an alien organism planted in the body of Africa by European colonisation has created in Africans an attitude towards it as belonging, not to them but to the white colonialists, and that his interest in it is to get as much from it as he could, by any means, largely by corrupt means. Thus, corruption, in Nigeria as in other African countries, had its origin, by and large, in attitude ingrained in us towards the state.

This attitude must be uprooted if corruption is ever to be eradicated – what has been referred to as the re-structuring of the mind. The President, as the elected leader of the people, has the primary duty to mobilise the people for such re-structuring of the mind. For 2½ years, President Buhari has totally failed to acknowledge his duty, much less to take any concrete action to tackle it.

Recent events in the country have proved beyond doubt that it is not corruption, but the National Question that threatens the continued existence of Nigeria. There are agitations for the Republic of Biafra, Niger Delta Republic and Oduduwa Republic.

In my book mentioned above, I advised several things that need to be done to tackle the problem of the National Question, including in particular Re-structuring and the setting up of a Peace and Reconciliation Commission, as has been done in 23 countries of the world. Between the President’s Inauguration on 29 May, 2015 and the 57th Independence Anniversary on October 1, 2017 is a period of nearly two and half years, a period marked by the total absence of action directed at the problem of the National Question, by a total failure to recognise the existence of the problem and, more significantly, by actions and utterances that exacerbate the problem, such as actions that deny justice and equal treatment to some of the ethnic nationalities and the exclusion of many of them from the Federal Government.

The 57th Independence Day Anniversary sadly reflects this utter lack of appreciation that the National Question is our Number One problem in the oft-repeated rhetoric that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable and more specifically in the following statements.

“Recent calls for re-structuring, quite proper in a legitimate debate, has let in highly irresponsible groups to call for dismemberment of the country. We cannot and we will not allow such advocacy. Any deserved constitutional change should take place in a rational manner only at the national and state Houses of Assembly”.

How sad indeed!! These bodies are just agents of the people with limited mandate. They do not replace the people who are their principals and in whom the sovereignty of the country resides; section 14, Constitution 1999.

The President added:
“In the past two years, Nigeria has recorded appreciable gains in political freedom. A political party at the centre losing governorship elections, National Assembly seats and even state assemblies to opposition parties is new to Nigeria.”

To say that this “is new in Nigeria” is an amazing statement coming from a President who won the presidential election in 2015 by defeating an incumbent President belonging to another political party.

It is a measure of the political freedom that exists in Nigeria since 29 May, 2015 that the country has been reverted to the inglorious era of authoritarian rule in Africa’s political history when the freedom of the individual was oppressively trampled upon by detention without trial and conviction by a court of law for long periods of time ranging from one to fifteen years, when court orders granting bail to detained individuals were flagrantly disobeyed; when groups or organisations were arbitrarily proscribed; and when dialogue as the accepted means for amicable resolution of conflicts in a democracy was disdainfully abandoned, which now constitutes a betrayal of the democratisation revolution that swept across the world from 1989, including Nigeria in 1999.
Professor Ben Nwabueze

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