Late MKO Abiola

Prof. Anya O. Anya answers in a lecture at the Award ceremony of the Double Diamond Platform

I have been asked to speak to you all on the topic Nigerian Unity and Nation Building. Under normal circumstances that would have been considered an easy task to undertake. 

However, given that the circumstances in our times can no longer be considered normal in the light of the level of violence, criminality and divisiveness which is now our daily experience, the undertaking becomes a challenge and a dilemma. 

There was a time that some of our leaders especially in the military era would glibly tell us that Nigerian unity is non-negotiable. Most people in the present situation we find ourselves will consider such an affirmation not only hollow but clearly now as uninformed and ignorant. This situation would not have arisen five, ten or twenty years ago. So what went wrong and why?

Prologue

We need to begin from the beginning. Nigeria as constituted at present is a very plural society: multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious. It is the product of the contact of the mainly European peoples with the African peoples on the West Coast of Africa. 

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It started first as a relationship based on trade until it morphed into the obnoxious slave trade. When the slave trade was abolished the European powers started the scramble for choice pieces of African real estate. The contending forces partitioned various areas of Africa as their spheres of influence which was ratified by them in the Berlin Conference of 1885. The British staked their claims principally in the area of the Niger which ultimately became the geographical area named Nigeria.

The arrowhead for the acquisition of Nigeria was George Taubman Goldie who procured a charter from the British Government in the name of the Royal Niger Company in July 1886. It was this company that entered into treaties with various Kings, Chiefs and communities that set up trading posts in the area of the Niger. His interest in the company was later sold to the British Government for #865000 (eight hundred and sixty five thousand pounds sterling). Thus the foundation of Nigeria was a trade transaction in which Nigeria as a commodity was sold by a foreign individual to the British Government. In 1900, the Southern Nigeria protectorate and the Northern Nigeria Protectorate with the colony of Lagos were rechristened: the colony and protectorate of Nigeria. 

Each of the three territories maintained considerable regional authority and separateness. In 1914 the three component parts were brought together through the amalgamation of the three components by Lugard who established a minimalist central administration although the regional arrangements continued.

 Lugard’s interest was not to encourage the emergence of a national administration but merely to balance the books such that the deficit of the Northern Protectorate can be off-set by the credit of the Southern Protectorate and Colony of Lagos. 

As it has been said the Southern lady of means by Lugard’s conception of the relationship was to subsidise the Northern gentry and free the colonial authority in London from the obligation to make up the deficit of the Northern territory. 

There was therefore no incentive on the part of the leadership, North or South, to develop a Pan-Nigerian consciousness. As far as the people were concerned the white man’s contraption did not concern them. In other words the prospect of the Niger Area becoming a nation in the modern sense in the foreseeable future was not part of the plan. So Nigeria to some extent is happenstance, an accident.

Given that Lugard continued the administration of the two entities – South and North as separate territories run through the indirect rule system there was no basis for interaction between either of the regional blocks and there was no attempt to encourage them to share a common vision of their future. From 1914 until 1946 when the Richards Constitution validated the regional administrative structure and in spite of Clifford’s effort in 1922 to attempt the initiation of a representative government, the administration of the area was seen as two silos, autonomous and with minimal contact administratively, socially and culturally.

Under these circumstances the seed of a viable national consciousness could not germinate. The two sections co-existed as two aliens co-habiting in the same house and mainly confined to their own rooms in a supposedly common house. The matter was not helped when the emerging political leaders saw themselves merely as replacing the departing colonialists and not as builders of a new nation. There was no basis for a shared vision of the future. 

The nearest to a vision of a nation emerging from the multiplicity of ethnic groups was espoused by Azikiwe who underrated the intensity of the regional vision as espoused by Ahmadu Bello and Awolowo to their people. He ignored the social anthropological and cultural factors that are important in building a nation and which often determines the mould out of which a national entity can emerge. 

Thus the need for a clearly defined structure and foundation for the brand new nation was not considered or the problems were underestimated. Then and now consequently our leaders and those who have followed them have indulged in wholesale imitations of the values, artifacts and the social and cultural usages of the departing colonialists.

The National Question

The national question usually considers the totality of political, economic, territorial, legal, social, ideological and cultural relations among nations. In a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious society such as Nigeria it attempts to identify the challenges that must be addressed if the nation is to survive or critical issues that have been left unresolved and now threaten the nation-state. 

Many years ago Wole Soyinka had posed the question when is a nation not a nation? The question has resurrected with renewed intensity and ferocity in the last five years in the light of the sectional, sectarian and often discriminatory policies of the present government. There are now separatist movements that insist that Nigeria must now allow some of its people to secede from Nigeria as we presently know it.

 In other words there are now elements in our society who do not subscribe to the idea of Nigerian unity, particularly amongst the youth who now have protagonists for Arewa, Oduduwa or Biafra as independent states outside the Nigerian family. So how did we get here?

When we look round the nations of the world we see nations which show evidence of diversity in their social, ethnic, cultural and religious organisations such as Switzerland, Great Britain, Germany, the United States, the old Yugoslavia and the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. A close examination of these nations will reveal clear evidence that those nations who manage their diversities survive while those who mismanage their diversities often implode to go their separate ways as we saw in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. 

It is pertinent to note that diversity in a nation can give rise to nationalist movements and the responsible management of these movements can conduce to peace and harmony within the nation or the alternative when the constituent parts go their separate ways as was the case in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.

In the management of diversities, various political concepts have emerged such as self-determination, federalism and democracy as well as individual rights such as freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

 A comparative examination of the process of management of diversities shows that in general, diverse societies that are managed successfully are usually democractic and believe in and practice the concepts of social justice, equity and fairness in their social and political relations. On the other hand totalitarian, autocratic and feudalistic political systems cannot manage diversities and often implode and disintegrate.

With regard to the issue of the national question, we find much of the literature is associated with Marxist and socialist analysis of European societies which is why their perception of the national question often veers towards the examination of the class forces that play a central role in directing national movements in different socio-political and geographic settings. 

Their concept of class is derived from the emergence of class in post-industrialisation situations in 18th and 19th century Europe. Most African societies are communal. Hence the analysis of the interplay of social forces including the class categories in the society may not apply in the same way. 

This may also explain our inability to understand the ethnic factor in our politics and social management. This has affected our understanding and analysis of post colonial African societies. This may have therefore compromised the socialist and Marxist understanding of African societies and contributed to the lack of an African response to the post colonial social phenomena such as neo-colonialism that hobbled our political leaders in their search for an African path to a future of social progress and economic prosperity.

The Current Situation

Nigeria is currently enmeshed in a multiplicity of crises with multi-dimensional facets that have contributed to the emergence of deep fissures in the body politic. 

There is the social crisis which is seen in lack of national cohesion and has often led to stark poverty in the mass of the people. There is the political crisis that has led to the loud clamour for restructuring, devolution and redefinition of the constitutional relationship between the component parts. 

There is the economic crisis which has left us sixty years after our independence from colonial rule mired in underdevelopment when our peers with less conducive circumstances such as South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia have exploited emerging global circumstances to become developed and emergent regional powers in the modern sense of development. 

The conjucture of these problems have led some to predict or even to affirm that Nigeria is transiting to the status of a failed state which given the recent emergence of separatist movements – Arewa, Oduduwa and Biafra to mention a few these constituent parts may be on their way to separate existence as independent states. This conclusion is obviously emerging from a counsel of despair. Nations such as China have emerged from worse circumstances to occupy their present dominant position in global affairs,

The difference is leadership and the deployment of high intellectual perceptive capacity and acumen in the leadership to dissect, understand and reassemble the elements of insightful and historical analysis into a new vision of the future that can attract, enthrall, invigorate and motivate the citizens to anew effort to build a nation. But such a vision must not ignore the realities on the ground in the putative nation’s effort to build a new nation.

In our present circumstances we have had in the last decade the insurrection in the North East engineered by Boko Haram. We now have the extension of the Boko Haram organization into the North West as reported in Niger State. In addition, Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and even Sokoto States are in the grip of bandits, kidnappers and sundry purveyors of criminality. In the North Central, Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba and other states of this zone have witnessed the rampaging Fulani herdsmen who have displaced the indigenous people in an effort to acquire these lands as new settlements and colonies. 

In the South the same Fulani herdsmen have occupied the forests in the South West, in the SouthSouth and in the South East. From these redouts they have carried out campaigns of murder and even arson. 

In an effort to counter these new lords of the forest we are observing the emergence of new self-help vigilantes and other local defenders of their ancestral land. Possibly in reaction to the perception that the law enforcement agents have tended to aid these foreign interlopers as recently alleged by the Governor of AkwaIbom State, we now have situations where police stations and even INEC offices have been attacked or burnt. 

To some, it would seem as if Nigeria is teetering at the edge of a deep abyss, ready to tilt over on the least application of force. To others we are at the early stages of low intensity chaos given that these violent phenomena which are threats to our security started in the Northern states and have progressively moved South, we must develop a comprehensive strategy for dealing with it. It can no longer be regarded as a Northern, a Southern, an Eastern or even as a Western problem. It is a Nigerian problem. We must tackle it as a national problem which we must deal with from its epicenter in the North. So how do we approach the challenge?

In the development of a viable strategy we must have certain basic conditions fulfilled. The first is that there must be trust and confidence in the leadership which is the foundation for credibility. In these regards, certain statements made in the past by Mr. President in relation to the fight against Boko Haram when he advised the former President Jonathan that fighting the Boko Haram was tantamount to fighting against the North come to mind. Again as leader of a Miyetti Allah delegation to a former Governor of Oyo State Lam Adesina he had queried the latter why he was fighting his people (the MiyettiAllah) by trying to organize how the herders should operate in order to avoid creating problems for other citizens.

These doubts in the mind of the people have been reinforced by his determination to build a modern railway to northern Niger with international loans borrowed on behalf of Nigeria which will be repaid by Nigeria. In addition it is alleged that he plans to build refineries in Katsinaclose to the Niger border which should refine crude oil from the oil fields of the Republic of Niger. 

The Eastern Railways are still in a decrepit state in the poor state the colonialists left them as narrow gauge when they departed. The plan currently is not to modernize them with the standard guage but to refurbish them as the narrow gauge. Our refineries have been non-operational in the last five years but we are to build a new one for Niger. Consequently the question has been raised: which is the priority for our President, solving Nigeria’s social and economic problems or tackling the economic problems and underdevelopment of Niger?

CONTINUES NEXT WEEK

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