impossibility of Nigeria

By Douglas Anele

Continuing with our analysis of Farooq Kperogi’s submission in his essay entitled “The Intellectual Case Against Nigeria’s Break-up,” the author hyperbolically affirms that “There is no nation in history whose formation was the consequence of democratic consensus. Historically, most nations were formed by conquests, expansionist wars and forceful co-optation, not by consensus.”

Strictly speaking these claims by Kperogi are misleading and historically inaccurate even if one ignores the fact that “democratic consensus” is a vague expression which covers different modes of reaching agreement especially on political issues. Take for instance the emergence of Malaysia and Singapore. Malaysia came into being after Singapore, the Federation of Malaya, north Borneo and Sarawak agreed to form a single country on September 16, 1963.

Almost two years later, precisely on August 9, 1965 when protracted negotiations between representatives of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) to settle escalating disagreements in the union were amicably concluded, the Malaysian Parliament unanimously voted 126 – 0 to allow Singapore become an independent nation.

Thus Singapore’s emergence refutes the assertion that no nation has ever emerged from “democratic consensus.” Moreover, as the Singaporean example also demonstrates, because nation-building is a work-in-progress whose outcome is uncertain due mainly to the complex interplay of human intentional actions and unintended consequences of those actions, an agreement to belong to a country today through “democratic consensus” could lay the foundation for future disagreements that might necessitate outright dissolution of that very country.

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Another classic example of a nation created through agreement by relevant stakeholders is the defunct Republic of Biafra which lasted for almost three years. Igbo haters and those fanatic about retaining “Niger-area” would dismiss the claim of nationhood for Biafra. Yet Biafra was more qualified than Nigeria to be called a nation because, among other things, she met the extremely important psychological criterion of nationhood, namely, a strong sense of unity of purpose, belongingness, and consciousness of a common historical destiny among majority of the citizens based on long-standing cultural and linguistic affinities.

As is well known, the first decisive step towards creating Biafra was taken on May 26, 1967 after the unanimous decision of the 335-member Consultative Assembly of Chiefs and Elders in the eastern region mandated Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu as governor to declare an independent state of Biafra “at an early practicable date.”

Had jihadist Fulani caliphate colonialists led by Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon backed by Britain, Russia, Egypt and other agents of neo-colonialism together with saboteurs within Biafra allowed the country to stand, perhaps the “interminable whining” Kperogi referred to dismissively in his essay would have abated considerably. That said, the important point to note here is that Biafra was the product of consensus, and no amount of Igbophobia, grammatical finagling, empty denial or historical revisionism can change that.

A crucial component in the emergence of nations glossed over by Kperogi is that although violence, force and wars tend to be part of the process, logically speaking as a contingent historical fact it does not necessarily have to be so. More crucially, nations do not just emerge automatically after conflict and war because eventually at some point consensus-building, and demanding negotiations would be needed to conclude the process.

The United States of America (USA) is a good example in this regard. When the civil war there ended in April 1863, leaders of the victorious Union and the defeated thirteen Confederate slave states sat at the negotiating table to hammer out and ratify unification treaties, including the Thirteenth Amendment that  abolished slavery, after which the US as we know it today was born. It follows that countries emerge almost always from conflict and negotiation, not just from “conquests, expansionist wars and forceful co-optation” alone.

Kperogi used the case of Somalia to argue that ethnic homogeneity does not necessarily translate into peace and harmony in a country. That is correct given that ethno-religious and cultural homogeneity is not a necessary and sufficient condition for peaceful coexistence within a geopolitical entity. But the contrary is true also: the more ethno-culturally and religiously diverse a nation is, the greater the potential for conflict, disagreement and, crucially, agitation for secession. Admittedly, Somali is one of the most ethnically homogenous countries in Africa, consisting of 85% Somalis and 15% of other ethnic groups majority of whom are muslims. Still, the potential for disharmony and conflict has always been there.

Moreover, keep in mind that in the 19th century the Somali sultanate was colonised by three different countries, namely Italy, Britain and Ethiopia, which accentuated the country’s diversity and created more opportunities for internecine friction. More generally, since opposing tendencies and forces are inherent in nature, including human nature, conflict is inevitable in every social formation, meaning that the greater the ethno-religious and cultural diversity of a nation the higher the probability of centrifugal forces that might tear it apart.

Hence it should not be surprising that, all things being equal, countries with less diversity will also harbour less centrifugal forces. Imagine if the northern and southern protectorates were not amalgamated and had evolved into two independent countries, would the riots of 1945 and 1953 in Jos and Kano respectively, the pogroms against Ndigbo and military coups of 1966, the Biafran war and other violent disturbances in the country have occurred? Would southern Nigeria had been ruled by a succession of northern military dictators?

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One wonders why perceptive commentators like Kperogi seem to be persistently fixated on the continuation of Nigeria as a country despite repeated failed attempts (including destruction of Biafra)to construct a united, viable and thriving nation out of her. In addition they naively think that if the country had been governed all these years by honest, knowledgeable, imaginative and detribalised selfless leaders, she would have been more unified, made tremendous progress and possibly be as developed as Singapore and South Korea, countries that were more or less at the same level economically as Nigeria in the 1960s.

It hardly occurs to them that perhaps the “crippled giant of Africa” was designed such that “national unity” is subordinate to the primary objective of serving the interests of Britain, the Fulani ruling elite and their collaborators from other parts of Nigeria, in that order. This might help explain why it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a transformational leader like Lee Kwan Yew to emerge in the country as presently constituted and why Britain ensured that the promising nation called Biafra was crushed in a devastating civil war.

Looking at Nigeria chequered history dispassionately, there are excellent reasons for demanding restructuring [confederation is preferable, in my opinion] or outright dismemberment. The fact of deep cultural and psycho-spiritual differences between the major ethnic nationalities in particular has been highlighted earlier.

Another point is that the ugly and uninspiring story of Nigeria’s emergence and repeated failures of leadership at the centre (dominated by northerners) to rise above selfish and parochial interests cannot provide the important psychological cement needed for nation-building. As we stated a moment ago, Nigeria came into being mostly through violence by Britain to serve her economic interests.

To be concluded.

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