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Nigeria @ 58: Stabilising the polity

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By Emmanuel Aziken,  Political Editor
THE reality of Nigeria in 2019 is in every respect a far cry from the vision of the country’s founding fathers just before independence in 1960.

Though varied in ethnic and religious outlook, the 53.5 million population carved into three regions at independence nevertheless had a common focus of a united country at independence.

That pan Nigeria vision was what, just before independence, led to the emergence of the Sokoto born Mallam Umaru Altine as the first mayor of Enugu in 1956. When he finished his first term and was denied a return ticket by his party, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, NCNC, he ran as an independent and won!

Such hopes of stability in democracy and economic progress were not only shared among Nigerians. There was much expectation even from the international community as the newly independent country was seen as an anchor for the African renaissance.

The country’s first post-independence leader of government, Prime Minister Abubakar Tafewa-Balewa with his impeccable English and sonorous delivery was a sight to behold and courted in the international circuit. Americans indeed lined the streets of Washington waving Nigeria and United States flags to welcome Tafewa-Balewa to their country in 1961.

Poor political decisions

However, 58 years after, and following a series of military interventions and a bloody civil war, it is no longer news that Nigerians are desperately seeking to define the Nigeria question: to wit, what to do with Nigeria.

As presently constituted with an estimated population of 190 million, the country is wobbling in many parameters.

Many nations faced with political instability have sometimes used economic growth to mask political fault lines. However, for Nigeria, that opportunity is not there. Weak economic growth which is increasingly dwarfed by population growth is increasingly compounded by poor political decisions. It is no surprise that many are now looking at the post-independence model that spurred confidence in the First Republic.

Remarkably, the destabilisation of the polity came with the dislocation of that Independence model by the military following the intervention in January 1966. The British bequeathed three regions in a healthy competition for economic growth; they were spurred by their distinct constitutions that helped to give regional flairs that enunciated the realisation of individual potential.

That was, however, brought to an end by the Unification Decree promulgated by the General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi regime on May 24, 1966. Whereas the sense in the unification decree was to build a common identity and remove what was at that time considered as ethnic divisions, the effort certainly backfired as it triggered the dissonance that culminated into the civil war which ended in January 1970.

The move by General Yakubu Gowon to heal the acrimony that flowed from the disturbances which was triggered by the promulgation of the Unification Decree partly led to the creation of 12 states by his military regime that forced out Agiyui-Ironsi.

Imbalances in the polity

Gowon’s 12 states saw the former Northern Region gifted with six states while the three regions in the South were also divided into six states. However, subsequent divisions of the states and the creation of local governments progressively led to an advantage for the North against the South.

Some of the country’s previous leaders through their linkages with other political leaders from other parts of the country were able to paper over the fault lines in their efforts towards nation building. Even as recent as the year 2000, such collaboration was evident as in the united effort by Northern and Southern National Assembly members to pass the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC establishment bill which was conceived to address the particular circumstances of the oil-rich Niger Delta region.

However, the ascent of the Muhammadu Buhari administration on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC in 2015, brought with it initial hopes of further pushing the unity of the country. His election manager was a South-South governor who in his own belief masterminded the defeat of the first South-South president of the country.

However, subsequent actions of the regime have led to quivers about imbalances in the polity that have spurred potential fears of instability. The imbalance in appointments, especially in the security services and educational sectors, were compounded by the worst insecurity situation to have befallen the country since independence.

The herdsmen attacks on farmers in the Middle Belt region were such that upturned historic relationships between farmers and herders and inspired insinuations of conspiracy theories about hegemonic tendencies.

The administration’s failure to address the attacks and bring culprits to book has spurred the conspiracy theories that are now pulling the strings that bind the nation.

It is no surprise that among erudite minds almost everywhere that the chorus that Nigeria returns to its post-1966 configuration to ensure the stability of the polity is resonating!

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