By Donald Mark C. Ude
Non-negotiable”! That ugly and irritating cliché used to legitimise oppression, unquestioning docility, lopsidedness, colonial mental conquest, incompetence, mediocrity, exploitation, injustice and daily massacre!
“Non-negotiable”! That disingenuous and depressing term, chorused by those whose very actions and dispositions belie the word they utter. It’s a word that immediately proves itself dishonest at the very instance it is uttered; a word that sanctifies an uneasy status quo; a cheap weapon by those profiteering from the status quo. To these fellows profiteering from the status quo, restructuring means war (as though the two words were synonyms). They pretend to be unaware that parts of some countries have even gone their separate ways without wars and bloodshed.
It’s even most baffling if one considers that the British and the Americans constantly on our lips had to negotiate their corporate existence into something workable and acceptable by all. Indeed, it is in recognising diversity by giving it its due place in the very structure of state through what is now being called “restructuring” (basically a re-negotiation) that lasting unity, peace and justice could be guaranteed.
Is one Nigeria possible? Most assuredly! I find it relevant to the topic to present – rather sarcastically – a brief ‘profile’ of a jolly good ‘detribalized’ Nigerian intellectual or cleric vis-a-vis the Nigerian national discourse. The reader is invited to insert the word ‘cleric’ where he sees fit since I shall be using ‘intellectual’ as a placeholder. This is partly prompted by a debate I had with someone who typifies the image I paint in what follows. But I use “he” as a device not in reference to that friend, but indeed to whoever (yours truly included) thinks like him or cuts this image.So, the reader is left to connect the dots; the reader must discern if such a fellow is useful or dangerous to the “one Nigeria” project.
The jolly good ‘detribalised’ intellectual or cleric (‘detribalised’ is used in inverted comma because it is suspect), especially from the South, is somehow expected to play the ostrich, close his eyes to the brute fact of injustice, oppression and lopsidedness. Somehow, he is expected to continue reciting the creed of Western neocolonial influence and ignore completely the internal colonialism being enacted daily in Nigeria.
No doubt, the Western world put us in this mess and has continued to mess us up big time. But it’s also true that we are co-architects of our own problem. Of course, the jolly good ‘intellectual’ cannot deny this fact. He is probably imprisoned in the fear that this would destroy a nice little career of lamentation on what the Oyibo are doing to us. He could write volumes of boring and monotonous books of lamentation on what the Other (Oyibo) did or are doing to “us”.
Of course, the same Oyibo paternalising and patronising audience would always give their hypocritical and perfunctory thumbs-up on social media, because they want to appease and appear ‘nice’. But tell the same ‘detribalised’ fellow to write on the harm he (we) caused himself (ourselves) or what his own brother (our own brothers) has/have continued to cause him/us — and he is short of words.
To even sustain a non-trivial, non-tenuous argument on how the Oyibo he keeps mentioning could possibly also account for our own irresponsibility, bad choices and omissions is difficult – no clear statement, no sustained logic! All we get are some lines to this effect: Oyibo don kill us oo; just accept, and don’t argue, that oyibo don kill us; hmmm I wish I go fi’ open your eyes to see wetin them do to us.
“Oyibo don kill us,” no doubt. But it is not in the simplistic sense it is being presented daily. I made a more elaborate argument to this effect in a journal article recently. I summarise it thus: “Oyibo don kill us” in the sense that, it was from them that we and our leaders got the ‘acquired taste’(as Frantz Fanon would call it) for unmerited luxury that has continued to fuel corruption, political irresponsibility and leadership failure to this day. Note that it is an ‘image’ but then a false one, for the Oyibo is actually a workaholic, who works for every dime he earns and enjoys only at evenings of Summer time.
But Oyibo didn’t force us to vote a chronically nepotistic leader. Oyibo didn’t tell him to fill his cabinet with corrupt and inept tribesmen.(Under the present structure, any Nigerian president would do something similar, but perhaps not in this utterly insensitive and brazen manner). Oyibo didn’t force us to allow corrupt and greedy politicians everywhere in Nigeria. Oyibo didn’t force us to allow rubber-stamp lawmakers whose souls and consciences have been sold permanently to the devil. Oyibo didn’t tell us to sign off a mind-blowing sum for the so-called TAM of the Port Harcourt Refinery when we know full well that, like the previous ones, it will end up not being done.
Oyibo never told us to massacre fellow countrymen daily and sometimes even invite foreigners, whom we tend to love more than our “one Nigeria” compatriots, to help us in the massacre. Oyibo doesn’t go overseas for medical tourism on the very day doctors in his country are threatening strike action. Oyibo lawmakers don’t sit at home or in far away Dubai waiting for salaries without doing the job constituents elected them to do.
The list is endless. My point here is that, at the sphere of immediacy (and not mediacy), we are the co-architects of our own woes.Current political realities have shown that any argument that draws a direct and simplistic nexus between our current woes and the colonial/neocolonial experience would at best be tenuous and dishonest. The agency of the Nigerian/African is at stake here! Deny that they are co-architects of their problems and you might as well call them puppets or sub-humans. We would also have to explain why some other countries that suffered a similar colonial fate are doing much better.
Now, an argument could be made – and I consider it valid – that Oyibo created a mishmash of nation-states all over Africa with utter disregard for indigenous sensibilities and cultural affinities. To me, this is the most lasting injury Oyibo dealt on Africa – the “Black Man’s Burden” – to use the famous words of Basil Davidson in a work whose subtitle is telling: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State. Had the Oyibo done a better job in this regard, we would not have been in this almighty mess we find ourselves. To put it simply, the status quo cannot possibly generate sufficient solidarity and patriotism needed for a state to function normally.
This leads me finally to the million-dollar question: Could Nigeria remain one? Very possible but not with its present structure! It’s even more feasible for people of the South and Middle Belt. I sincerely believe that the entire people of the South and much of the Middle Belt can get along with one another pretty fine in a renegotiated Nigeria. However, my optimism wanes significantly but not completely when it comes to the NE and NW for obvious cultural and religious reasons. Whoever does not recognise this fact is either being dishonest or has been so groomed in falsehood that he doesn’t even recognise the truth when he sees one.
However, in a renegotiated/restructured Nigeria, with a true federal arrangement, the NE and NW might still be in the picture; for then, cultural and religious features would be given their due place. But we can’t eat our cake and have it; we can’t serve sharia and liberal democracy at the same time. We can’t continue to mouth the “one Nigeria” mantra but our daily actions and policies show we don’t even believe it deep down us. So, I think the minimum that is required for a Nigeria that embraces NE and NW to survive and flourish as a country is a restructuring/re-negotiationthat births a new truly federal Constitution.
I am one of those who believe that all hope is not lost; I believe that Nigeria might still be salvaged. I also believe that no one region or ethnicity can unilaterally secede from Nigeria. But if the present unjust structure continues, the Nigerian polity will, by the necessity of its internal logic and contradictions, disintegrate.
This process might even start from the most ‘unlikely’ regions or ethnicities. It is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’; it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The signs are already in the horizon!
But let’s ask: which geopolitical zones seem to be vehemently opposed to it? It appears that it’s mostly the politicians and elite of the NE and NW. The elite and politicians of other zones also enjoy the present unworkable structure, but they generally tend to be more willing to let go.Now, how come 2 decide the fate of 4 (SE, SW, SS, NC)? Why would people (I mean the elite, not the jolly good average Mallam) be so selfish as to prefer an unworkable status quo, a unitary “one Nigeria” that functions ONLY ON THEIR OWN TERMS?
Somehow, the jolly good ‘detribalized’ intellectual is expected to pretend not to see this. It is people like them (esp. the good old Zik and his intellectual heirs we see all over social media) who put the South+Middle Belt in this one almighty mess in the first place. They blame the victim and dine with villain. Please note that ‘victim’ and ‘villain’ has no specific geopolitical location in this context.
They suffer from Stockholm Syndrome; like their Southern and Middle Belt brothers in politics, they have been numbed and terrorized into silent complicity. They bark like wounded mad dogs at some trivial issues and become helpless pacifist lambs on issues that really matter. They are experts in condemning racism and neocolonial injustice but lose their voices when it comes to the horror and injustice that take place in Nigeria on daily basis.
They pontificate, sometimes ignorantly, about every subject under heaven except the Nigerian question, home to a huge percentage of the black race. They think that being insulated in the Ivory Tower or the Rectory will save them and their loved ones from harm when the chips are down. The ‘detribalized’ intellectual hopes that somehow things will miraculously get fine without demanding for it or even talking about it.
They make frequent reference to Martin Luther King Jnr and Mandela, but don’t think that such revolutionary feats could be replicated in Nigeria. The cleric among them speak of Gustavo Gutierrez, Oscar Romero and Cardinal Sin of Manilla but don’t imagine that they could also contribute their own quota to birth a new and better Nigeria. Even the much our beloved Bishop Kukah and a few other lone voices are doing is being undermined by the same people they are speaking for. Well, let’s continue to hope that we get ordinary restructuring from NE+NW by being ‘nice’ and ‘detribalized’ in this false and dangerous sense.
*Ude, C.S.Sp. FWO Research Fellow, KU Leuven, Belgium, wrote via: [email protected]