By Iyabo Obasanjo
DURING the madness of the third term push by allies of my dad, President Olusegun Obasanjo, I remember arguing with one of the main protagonists about why the push was undemocratic and would end in failure and why it was incongruent to who Obasanjo was in world affairs, being the first African military leader to step down for a democratically elected government and never looked back.
His greatness was in this act and following it up by another act of leaving and making sure a valid election was done would be a legacy second to none. The argument back to me was but “only him can rule Nigeria”. This answer threw me for a loop, and I eventually responded that if there was only one person that could rule a united Nigeria then we should be talking about negotiating our separation rather than his third term since he would eventually have to die as he is human being and therefore Nigeria would no longer exist.
Getting him a third term to keep Nigeria one was putting a plaster on an occurrence that was bound to happen. That individual is now being proved right in his assessment, the governance of Nigeria has gone from bad to terrible since he left office, although I still do not think that justified him or anyone else staying in power after a reasonable term limit which for Nigeria is currently eight years. At three presidents after him, the fissures have become deep valleys. It is obvious to anyone that as Chinua Achebe wrote about and Yeats before him, ‘the Centre cannot hold” for Nigeria and things are falling apart.
Most countries are negotiated entities that have been agreed upon by war or a negotiated agreement, especially when they are not islands with a natural landmass that can easily be seen as one land entity and even several relatively small islands are divided into two national areas, eg Hispaniola having Haiti and Dominican Republic and New Guinea having Papua New Guinea on one side and the other side is part of Indonesia. African countries’ territorial spaces were not decided by war or negotiated agreements that included the citizens of the countries but by Europeans in 1885 during the “Scramble for Africa”. The consequences of those negotiations without any local involvement, is that we have situations in most of the countries that the citizens inside of it could not have abided with under situations of natural wars or negotiated treaties. It’s better to be conquered and have that happen than to be unequally yoked with co-citizens you don’t respect. Almost all African countries are continuously fighting this precarious balance of ethnicities the Europeans foisted on us. My instinct is to say we should get over ourselves and make these units work, since I don’t see the benefit of making smaller countries.
Small countries tend to be weak and unable to improve the lot of the citizens compared to larger ones, but there are exceptions to this, the Liechtenstein’s and Monaco’s of this world are small islands of landlocked prosperity. The goal of a large country is that it can garner resources much easier to improve the wellbeing of its citizens than a small country can, usually. But in Africa we have a situation that at the dawn of the 21st century after we were carried across the globe by vicious inhumane enslavement and our resources plundered in various forms, including our art, that our entities and units of governance are as divided as ever before.
We were divided for the benefit of the economic development of other lands and the internal fractionalisation created by those outsiders persist today in a way that still benefits those other lands, leaving people inside them, poor, ignorant and desperate.
Add on greed and ego and it is almost impossible to continuously improve the lives of Africans in ways that will make the human capital of the continent progress and improve the lives of Africans by themselves. It would be glorious for both the African in Africa and the worldwide African diaspora of recent or historic dispersion, if large successful countries where our people thrive and our children and their children for generations yet unborn lives of contributing ideas and improvement to their environment and the world, occurred. But as we don’t seem to be getting there with the current structures we have in place, then devolution to units that work and bring progress is the only option. Real secular entities, where each person gets the education and other resources they need to thrive.
Most Nigerians have slowly arrived at this conclusion, that while Nigeria has the best chance to be that great African entity, its internal problems are far above one that can make it ever achieve such often touted but mirage greatness. The only arena it achieves such greatness is in its population size which in itself is not an achievement but due to a basic function that the smallest living entity on planet earth, the virus has, that is: the ability to replicate and pass your genetic material on.
Ability to carry out this basic instinctive function is the source of pride most touted about Nigeria. It is a primal instinct that is not even worth shouting about and certainly not an achievement of intellect or prowess worth honouring, especially if most of the large population live in misery. Next touted, is the absolute size of the economy but when you divide that economic output by the aforementioned population size, it puts the average Nigerian at less than a dollar or two a day in income, especially with the extreme wealth inequality that exists in the country is taken into consideration. That the country needs to divide is no longer said in low tones by tribalists or incendiaries in the middle of plotting, but the conclusion that is a remedy to save lives and improve lives.
It is actually tantamount to hatred of humanity to not have this as a solution to the continued misery people have to endure daily.
People are asking for devolution out of desperation and necessity, not out of a wish to fight each other. People are tired. Life was always cheap, short and difficult in the space called Nigeria, but its current level of disarray leading to a state of constant anarchy is new. Ending Nigeria as it is currently constituted is a humane killing to save lives.
I really wish there was a way to save it, but the option of an actual effective federation with subunits that are efficient is not possible as each of those subunits have been spoilt under the current system where no hard choices are ever made to solve problems. How will the new subunits created from devolution then survive? you ask. Simple, because they will be forced to, and use the brains of the human beings within them to find innovation and creativity which already exist but are not harnessed. Countries facing seemingly unsurmountable challenges have done better than those where easy solutions abound.
The subunits may also fail but at least I think they will put up more of a united effort to improve the lots of their citizens than the current larger country does, because they will have shared history dating back thousands of years before colonialism to use to raise morale and give hope.
The Chinese revolution battle cry was that the Chinese culture existed thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans on their shores and the same with the subunits, they have thousands of years of culture and ancestral lore to use to get their people to work towards successful nation building. In its over a century existence as a unit and its over six decades of so-called independence, there is no uniform identity created to motivate and unify and all attempts using procreative ability and wealth that comes from the ground and is mined by foreign companies, are hollow to the people that live reality of the country. Rhetoric and propaganda must at least have some grain of truth to it.
The person that told me only my father could rule a united Nigeria is still prominent in the Nigerian political life and I consider him a brother from another region, although we haven’t spoken in over a decade. Congratulations, brother, I see you and wish you well.
Associate Prof . Iyabo Obasanjo
wrote from Williamsburg, VA, USA