By Uji Wilfred Terlumun, PhD
Associate Professor of History and International Studies
Federal University Lafia.
There is hardly any country in the world that did not come under formal or informal colonization or one kind of influence or external domination that gave birth to the process of a new nation. All nations in world history are a fusion of diverse cultures and segments that through a voluntary or involuntary process were merged into nationhood.
Great Britain is a fusion of diverse elements and cultures such as the Scotts, the Welsh, English and even Germanic races, fused into a common nation call Britain. At different times in History, these cultural groups came under different influences from Germany to France, occupied the British Isle and formed the British nation.
The history of Britain is not complete without looking at the role of Oliver Cromwell; a central figure in the emergence and building of modern Britain as a protestant state.
The United States of America began with thirteen English speaking colonies known as the Chespeare Colonists. These were originally private colonies of European commercial speculations in America. China, Japan and Korea also came under some sort of colonialism by Britain and France, though gradually evolved into modern nation-state in contemporary times. There is no doubt, China exercise informal control over Korea, just as Japan at some point exercised control over China.
Nigeria is no exception of countries where diverse elements and cultural groups were fused into a modern state by Great Britain. On October 1st, 1960, the British flag (Union Jack) was lowered and the Nigerian flag hoisted as a symbolic sign of a free nation from the vestiges of British colonialism.
Despite the political independence, the administrative transfer of power; the challenge for the Nigerian nation has been how to social-engineer the different segments and cultures of the Nigerian state into a common nation.
The Definition of Nigeria
Almost all nations in the world were defined in one way or the other, spelling out the structures and the framework of the nation and how the diverse elements that constitute the nation can compete for national resources and be accommodated by the structural framework of the nation.
All nations of the world have founding fathers, heroes of independence and how these heroes define their nations in line with expectations and dreams of their respective nation. In some countries like the United States of America, the founding fathers came out with a declaration that defined their nations’ expectations in clear terms:
“We hold these truths to be safe evidence that all men are born equal and free with certain inalienable rights endowed them by God irrespective of their creed or nationality.”
The above declaration has been the major cornerstone of the constitution of the United States of America that clearly provides for every race and citizens of the United States. In other words, every citizen irrespective of race, creed or nationality is entitled to equality and justice in the share and distribution of national resources. It has been the cornerstone for racial justice and citizenship rights in America from 1776 to the present.
What was exactly the dream of the founding fathers of Nigerians such as Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Herbert Macaulay etc? Did these founding fathers’ dreams and expectations about Nigeria entrenched in our constitutional process or some national documents that defined the Nigerian state and also stated clearly what each ethnic nationality was entitled to get from the Nigerian state?
The country operated under a tripartite system that defines Nigeria of consisting of three major regions: north, east and west, as a concomitant of three major ethnic groups: Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo. The Midwestern region was created much later and the diverse ethnic groups in the north outside the Fulani are referred to as Hausa.
However, the national framework and structure of Nigeria was factored on the tripartite system. This structural definition of Nigeria gave the three principal ethnic groups the hegemonic control and domination over national resources and excluded ethnic nationalities from the control of political or economic resources.
Since independence, the structural definition of Nigeria has been the major contradiction that has produced the ethnic and religious crises we see. What exists at the centre is politics of exclusion that relegates other ethnic nationalities, aside the major three, to the backwaters of Nigeria’s development.
In the share of the presidency and other positions of national leadership, the tripartite system dictates who the president of the country becomes and how resources can be shared. There have been attempts by successive administrations to resolve this challenge, first, the dismantling of regional structures in 1967 and state creation as from 1968. Despite these structural reformations, Nigeria remains a tripartite system that practices the politics of exclusion.
There are statements and declarations credited to the founding fathers of Nigeria. Chief Awolowo for instance defined Nigeria as:
“a mere geographical expression, where nothing exists like Nigerians; a mere creation of British imperialism where the different segments are fused into a common nation state.”
Chief Awolowo never concealed his feelings about Nigeria, that what exist in Nigeria are regional ethnic groups and ethnic nationalities. Ethnic groups were the cornerstone of his political thinking. He made this clear when he pointed to Kwame Nkrumah that the idea of a united Africa was an illusion and utopian. It was better to concentrate on the Yoruba people in the western region and how best to govern and develop the region. Some critics pointed out that it was Chief Awolowo that drove out Dr. Azikiwe from Lagos western province.
In the constitutional reforms of 1922, 1946, 1951 and 1966, the tripartite system had entrenched, giving birth to politics of regionalism and ethnicity. Chief Awolowo’s declaration was in line with the political reality of Nigerians that define the country along ethnic groups.
The regional structures also became a foundation for politics of ethnicity that post-independence Nigeria is factored on.
Sir Ahmadu Bello in the famous declaration has this say about Nigeria and how it was going to affect the destiny of other ethnic nationalities:
“the new nation called Nigeria should be an estate of our great grandfather Othman Dan-Fodio, we must ruthlessly prevent a change in power, we use the minorities in the north as willing tools and the south as conquered territory and never allow them to have control over their future.” (Source: Parrot Oct, 12th 1960, cited in Tribune, Nov, 13th 2003).
The quotation above clearly reveals the expectations of Sir Ahmadu Bello and put the northern Fulani political class about their dream of Nigeria. In his outburst, Nigeria was an Islamic project to be captured and subjugated from north to south using the coercive instruments and institutions of the state. Militant Islamic politics or political Islam has come to stay in Nigeria since independence.
In the First, Second, Third and the Fourth Republics, the formation of political parties as well as participation has always been mobilized and recruited along ethnic and religious lines. There has hardly been a time in Nigeria, except in the June 12th episode where political parties and participation transcended ethnicity and religion within the context of the tripartite system.
This structural defect has been at the centre for a call on resource control or a sovereign national conference in Nigeria. Under President Goodluck Jonathan, a national conference was convened, but the findings and recommendations are yet to be implemented, owing to political reasons.
In the First, Second, Third and Fourth Republics’ national plans, it has been envisaged that Nigeria will be: a nation of great diverse opportunities for all Nigerians; a land of freedom and equity for all; a just and egalitarian society; a dynamic nation of industrialization and several others.
These were also the dreams of the Nigerian state and perhaps the expectations of ethnic nationalities in the country as to what is their stake in Nigeria. Since Nigeria’s Independence (1960), the country has seen more of poverty and inequality, a steady decline of industrialisation, a depressed economy that has failed to promote the land of bright opportunities for all. Migration in all facets of skilled and unskilled labour have driven Nigerians off their country to live ashore the West and even the Far East. Nigeria has failed to be the land of bright and equal opportunities as envisaged by the founding fathers.
Chief Awolowo declared his intentions clearly about his own expectation of Nigeria. He said he would make himself formidable and access all the wealth he can. He was concerned about himself and his people just like he pointed out to Azikiwe and Nkrumah.
Although, the late sage contributed to the development of the western region, he also entrenched the politics of primitive accumulation of wealth in Nigeria, where politics is seen as a vehicle for personal aggrandisements.
Dr. Azikiwe was to some extent, a Pan-Africanist. He was also vulnerable to politics of ethnicity and religion. He in reference to the Sadauna said it was important to forget our differences as northerners and southerners and as Christians and Muslims. This is a nationalistic statement from Azikiwe. The Sadauna in reply emphasized the differences in our ethnicities and religions, in pursuit of accommodation and tolerance. These fathers on one hand believed in a cooperate Nigeria but also promoted ethnic and religious politics and the politics of primitive accumulation.
The Challenge of Development
All contemporary social and economic crises in Nigeria such as the Boko Haram, Indegenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Oduduwa People’s Congress (OPC), Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) are the offshoot and products of the structural framework and visioning of our founding fathers.
We have already pointed out that Nigeria is defined along ethnic and religious lines and giving significance in our national politics as to how group participation is organised and national resources shared. The collapse of the First Republic (1960 to 1965) was a product of the contradiction of ethnic politics at the centre of Nigeria. The coups and counter coups from 1966 were reflections of how ethnicity and religion has eaten deep into the professionalism of the Nigerian military. The Nigeria Civil War (1967-1970) was a fall out of ethnic contradictions as well as the shortcomings of the vision of the founding fathers.
In the contemporary era, the emergence of insurgency and irredentist movements such as Boko Haram, IPOB, OPC and MEND is tied to the struggle for resource control as well as regional domination. The emergence of regional security outfits or militias like Amotekun by the Yoruba West are clear indication of a near failed state, broken up along ethnic and religious cleavages.
To compound the challenge of ethnic and religious crises, the leadership in Nigeria since 1999 to the present has been caught up in the web of liberal and neo liberal economic theories as to how best to transform the economy of Nigeria, based on the invisible hands of the laws of demand and supply in a free market economy.
The idea is that foreign intervention through the private sector will create the dream of industrialization and save Nigerian economy. This has been the dream from 1960. To date, Nigeria has failed to become an industrial estate. The country has remained the major exporter of raw materials and commodities; a major consumer of goods produced by the industrialized nations. This policy of consumption has killed local industrialization as well as indigenous technologies.
There is no contemporary challenge in Nigeria that is without historical roots traceable to the actions and inactions of the founding fathers. They set the framework and dictated the tempo for the modern Nigerian crises. History is indeed a rear mirror as Ajayi Ade pointed out.
It reflects our past to understand the present reality that projects the future. In the contradictions of the actions and inactions of the founding fathers, we can appreciate the wave of crises in Nigeria today.
From issues of security to challenges of unequal distribution of wealth and resources, our founding fathers were the basic corner stone of the House called Nigeria. Nigeria can learn from nations like China, Cuba, North Korea and India in her quest for development. The following is mandatory using the experience of the countries mentioned, if Nigeria must attain greatness:
Redefine Nigeria based on an African identity; taken into cognizance our indigenous knowledge system and resource. No country has achieved greatness without a national identity.
Restructuring of Nigeria to accommodate all ethnic groups in both political and economic considerations.
Reform the educational system to harvest our indigenous life ways in the Arts, Sciences and Technology.
The thinking of citizens must be nationalistic and not based on ethnic or religious affiliations. These sentiments have failed us woefully.
There should be cultural and societal reorientation to embrace our unity in diversity.
Uji, Wilfred Terlumun, PhD
Associate Professor of History and International Studies,
Federal University Lafia, Nasarawa state.