By Tabia Princewill
ONE struggles to find unbiased analysis of what happened to Nigeria. How did we go from a country where everyone from petty traders to the medical corps and market people discussed public policy, or the ideas and ideals of those in power, to a country where blatant tribal appeals and bigotry easily pass for political discourse?
The standard and quality of education dropped significantly under the military and this accounts for a lack of critical thinking at many levels, but it doesn’t completely explain why it is so easy in today’s Nigeria to appeal to primordial interests.
Yes, ethno-religious competition and conflict have always been with us, right from the beginning of our history, and perhaps each era is taught to believe “we’ve never had it this bad” until new forms of technology enable separatist discourse, chauvinism and bias to achieve a wider reach.
The further we travel along the democratic route, ironically, the less we seem to discuss real issues or lay claim to any real ideology, beyond the pervasive impunity and injustice wrecking this country, which we all pretend to detest until it is one of our own friends, colleagues or family who is attempting to bend the law to suit their purpose.
Too many of today’s politicians want Nigerians to believe we are a threat to each other, or that there is some natural incompatibility between the North and the South, or between the Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa-Fulani and other ethno-religious groups.
While we deny our common humanity, trapped in hatred of one another, one particular topic rarely gets discussed, and never in any detail, that is, the subject of economic justice, or the lack thereof in this country.
We constantly lose sight of it, although it is at the heart of repairing our fractured society. This is the real reason why appeals to tribalism gain traction: while the poor are distracted, injustice continues.
There is virtually no platform which on any given day doesn’t feature one analyst or the other who gladly and gleefully explains why Nigeria is doomed, why this country can never work or why the best thing for us to do is to all go our separate ways.
This idea of “dissolving” Nigeria like one would shares of a company is promoted by those who not only have a hand in our troubles but also stand to benefit from the new economic opportunities that would arise from the breaking up of this country into many smaller entities.
Economic justice is at the opposing end of such an agenda because “breaking up” will only create many more feudal units to be managed by the same interests whose mindsets and strategies won’t change in a smaller territory. Quite the opposite.
In fact, if the average Nigerian stands any chance of accessing the “dividends of democracy” it is through a united country where people of the North, South, East and West, through their sheer numbers and the power of shared struggles, can realise their common goals.
“Keeping Nigeria one”, as the slogan goes, keeping this country together and its many diverse groups united won’t be possible without achieving economic justice. We can’t have two countries or two societies, one where the rich and the poor live life at a completely different pace and hope for peace.
While mainstream media narratives trumpet the same, tired, bleak message, selling us the false idea that our diversity is bothersome rather than an opportunity to create something wonderfully unique, hope often comes from the grassroots: some Northern elders directed “Northern indigenes” to leave the South, under the guise of protecting them from insecurity. Interestingly, very few people seem to realise that even if we had ethnically or religiously homogenous regions or states, the same issues and violence would still arise, because even if a town or city were to unwisely become 100 per cent Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa, the huge disparities between rich and poor communities would remain, therefore straining the fabric of society.
Ethnicity only adds a level of complexity to our social dynamic, but it is far from being the fundamental issue at the heart of violence in Nigeria. Luckily, some people know this and refuse to heed the calls of ethno-nationalists encouraging us all to keep our distances from one another. The secretary of the Hausa community in Nnewi, Alhaji Sani Suleman, very wisely said: “The Almighty Allah that created Nigeria and brought us together knows the reason he did so.
One person cannot just break Nigeria for his personal interest. As we are living here in Nnewi, so are people from other parts of Nigeria living in the North and there is no way one can just get up and say Easterners go, Northerners go. It is not possible”. These are statements that should be honoured and amplified.
Curiously for very religious people, not much of our public discourse considers there is a purpose for Nigeria. Why are we so hell-bent on believing Nigeria is an unfortunate accident or mistake rather than an opportunity to show global leadership on inter-faith and inter-communal living?
The short answer is that unbeknownst to many, there is a lot of money to be made in both discrediting and sabotaging this country. We play into the hands of the saboteurs when we repeat their rhetoric rather than interrogate the lack of economic opportunity for all across Nigeria’s ethnic groups.
“The Almighty Allah that created Nigeria and brought us together knows the reason he did so”. Behind every crisis there is an opportunity. To keep Nigeria one is a task we must all urgently get behind.
IN response to the Northern Elders’ Forum asking the Fulani to “return home” if they feel “unsafe” in the South, the President through Garba Shehu said: “No one has the right to ask anyone or group to depart from any part of the country, whether North, South, East or West. They have no authority to make such pronouncements. The polarising role of the Northern Elders Forum and all those other groups dabbling into issues of security to score cheap political points has for long been a sore point in Nigeria’s body polity.
“They should not be allowed to mislead anyone, least of all the Fulani herders. The Buhari administration is fully devoted to finding a lasting solution to the herder-farmer clashes in different parts of Nigeria – one that would be acceptable to all the parties involved.” Private citizens claiming to speak for entire groups of people make divisive statements in Nigeria and pass these off as the thoughts of populations who never elected them to be their spokespersons or representatives.
It’s a strange practice, whereby elite members of society with their own agendas and reasoning claim to represent the masses, even though none of their members have anything in common with them outside of a shared language or ethnicity. Any attempt at creating enmity between the North and the South serves only the political goals of a very small percentage of society.
SECOND Republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, in a recent interview said: “We have to be very careful and mind our utterances. We haven’t learned any lessons from the Biafran experience. It is easy to start a war but it is not easy to stop it.
We all saw what happened during the Biafran war even though a lot of people who went through that experience have not learned anything like some of the leaders of Afenifere. They have been making provocative statements in recent times”.
Socio-cultural groups in Nigeria are built on identity politics. Is there no other means of association in this country, that is, no common ideas to form the basis of a group other than discourse based on a tribal understanding of life?
When one’s worldview is limited by purely ethno-religious considerations, encouraging an us versus them mindset, this impedes our national growth, yet barely camouflages a lack of real ideas.
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.