By Obadiah Mailafia
THE late French agronomist, René Dumont, once lamented that African nations have no purpose. I would imagine he was starting from the premise that the majority of our countries emerged as colonial contraptions that did not follow the linear path of nation building and political evolution followed by the European Westphalian state. With regard to Nigeria, many commentators refer to “the mistake of 1914”. My friend Tony Nnaji, a jurist of uncommon erudition, has made the valid point that the 1914 amalgamation did not involve any plebiscite or consultation with the peoples so affected.
It is self-evident that the British had no noble intentions in bringing us together. They did it for reasons linked to Weberian administrative rationality, including the need to build a war-economy at the wake of World War I. The mysterious hand of Providence is often at work in human affairs, as Cambridge historian Sir Herbert Butterfield has reminded us. And if Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right is anything to go by, I believe that the unseen hand of Fate was at work in the making of Nigeria.
Albert Einstein noted that “God does not play dice with the universe”. Nigeria is God’s biggest and perhaps most extravagant thought experiment. The Almighty was trying to explore how a country evenly split between Christians and Muslims and comprising more than 200 ethnic communities can live together as a prosperous democracy in our glorious continent of Africa.
It has been, if truth be told, a rather costly experiment. During our tragic civil war, we lost more than two million souls. Since 1999, we have lost more than 100,000 from ethno-religious pogroms. The insurgency in the North-East and the murderous herdsmen militias in the Middle Belt have unleashed terror on an unarmed and defenceless people; creating more than three million internally displaced persons, IDPs.
The human and material devastation are one thing; the other is the erosion of trust and destruction of the social capital that has hitherto held communities together in organic solidarity. We have become deeply fearful and suspicious of one another – in the manner of ships that pass each other at night in the silences of the deepest ocean.
It is a fearful thing when members of the same community begin to view each other as enemies in the manner understood by the German political philosopher and jurist, Carl Schmitt. Conflict can exist between members of the same community. Among a free people, politics is the vehicle for resolving conflict and for the authoritative allocation of values. Between enemies there can be no politics but only war. And a house divided against itself can never stand.
How do I speak about destiny in these frightful times of bitterness, fear and Coronavirus?
The Almighty meant Nigeria to be the leader of Africa and of the Black race. By 2030 our population is forecast to be 410 million. We will be the third most populous nation on earth, ahead of the United States and only behind India and China. If we can intelligently harness our natural resources, invest in our people and build the requisite infrastructures and enabling eco-system, there is no reason why we cannot become a world power in the coming half-century.
But it is clear that it will not happen automatically. There are world powers out there that are both scared and envious of our Nigeria’s rise. Late elder statesman Yusuf Maitama Sule, revealed what one of the Western leaders told them when the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, sent himself and Shehu Shagari as emissaries to seek assistance in prosecuting the civil war: “We know why you are here, you have come to seek our favour and support for your cause. But let me tell you, we do not care about you, all we care about are your resources. If we could get robots to exploit your resources for us to develop our economy, we would not mind a lot of you being eliminated. You Nigerians are a peculiar case; you have the population (and) resources; and we know your resources more than you do know about them. All you need in Nigeria is a fairly long period of say 10 to 20 years and you will be able to make it. You will become a very strong economy; will join the economic powers. But you need this period of uninterrupted peace and stability.
“But we will not allow it, because within that period, you will use your brains, and Nigeria has got brains. You will work hard and you are hard-working people; you will exploit your resources and you have them in abundance and you will develop your economy. Developing your economy needs market and you have no problem with that because of your huge population; in addition, you will have the entire West African region as your market. If that happens, you will be a thorn in our flesh; we would lose our source of raw materials because you would be using them in your factories. We would lose our market because you will be the market and also get other markets in West Africa. So, even after your civil war, we would create one problem after the other for you so that you may not enjoy the peace and stability that will enable you develop and become such a strong country.”
The world is envious and fearful of Nigeria. We are a gifted people, with cultures that are as old as the Egypt of the Pharaohs. Our students consistently top their cohorts in world Ivy League institutions. We have a self-confidence that irritates a lot of people. Our energy and can-do spirit are second to none. There is no telling what this country can be if only we have leadership of vision, courage and purpose.
But we cannot blame outsiders for all our misfortunes. We are, in fact, are our own worst enemies. Our disastrous policy choices and leaderships failures are more than enough to guarantee system collapse in the coming decade. To avoid inevitable calamity, we must evolve a new governance ethos anchored on Enlightenment, social justice and development. We have no choice but to re-engineer our Constitution and federal structure. The 1999 Constitution is a piece of legal fiction because we the people never sat anywhere to agree a new consociational compact. It was forged in the smoke-filled barracks of General Sani Abacha’s brutal and corrupt autocracy.
It is also self-evident that our federal structure, as currently constituted, is programmed to fail. Majority of the states could not possibly survive without federal handouts. Power must, therefore, be devolved to the regions. I propose five new regions: Sharia North, Yoruba West, Igbo East, Niger Delta and Middle Belt. Each region must be allowed to develop in accordance with its own cultural and ethno-religious mindset. The federal centre should focus mainly on national defence, foreign policy, customs and monetary economics.
Our Nigeria of today is a juggernaut without a soul – without collective purpose or direction. Our leaders are bereft of vision; governing on the basis of exclusion and narrow, sinister agendas. People who feel alienated and excluded will sooner or later rebel. The American political scientist, Barrington Moore Jr, famously observed that a scientific approach to human affairs must of necessity be anchored on the refusal to deal merely in hope. Things can only get worse if we continue on this sordid path. We need enlightened leaders who understand the clarion call of a higher destiny. It is the biggest task of nation building and statecraft for our generation.