Nigeria Has A Balance of Power Problem


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Nigeria Has A Balance of Power Problem


Taiwo Akinola

culled from GUARDIAN, February 9, 2006

Balance of power is a widely used concept in international relations, one whose importance in the understanding of the political dynamics in multi-ethnic states has been undervalued due to the limitations in the interpretations of its meanings.          
The basic theme of the balance of power theory is that the international system is anarchical in the absence of a common government and goals. The management of this anarchy is based on the power relations among states. However, within the state system - which is presumed to be non-anarchical, the integrated society is managed by a strong consensus, hence, there is no need to balance power.  


The underlining principle of the balance of power concept is that, the pursuit of power is the common denominator to which all foreign policy can be reduced, and the notion that any preponderant power will always be a menace to the interest and security of other states.  


The concept of Balance of power could be applied to Nigeria's internal politics, because Nigeria is a state of nationalities but not a nation of individuals. In which case, balancing for survival within the state's internal system is as important as the balancing between states in the international system. The Nigerian state system is in crisis because the northern group of nationalities - under the leadership of the Hausa-Fulani nation - enjoys an over-balance of political power, which it has used to threaten the security of other nations and nationalities within the system. The result is the wide gap between fact and value, based on the assumption that what is good for the North is good for Nigeria.  


Balance of power implies an objective arrangement in which there is relatively widespread satisfaction with the distribution of power, so that no one actor or a group of actors can hold others to ransom "with impunity". As a policy guide, it prescribes that structures should be put into place that can reverse or deter any actor from seeking to enjoy over-balanced power.  


The need to balance power could lead to war, but this is not to say that balance of power is the cause of wars. The cause of wars can be found in the fundamental issues, which the balance of power seeks to remove. This includes: The need to prevent the establishment of a universal hegemony; to preserve the constituent elements of the system and the system itself; the need to ensure stability and mutual security in the international system; and to strengthen peace by deterring a policy of expansion by any aggressor.  


The traditional methods and techniques of maintaining or restoring the balance were: the policy of divide and rule (working to diminish the weight of the heavier side); territorial compensations after a war; creation of buffer states; the formation of alliances; spheres of influence; intervention; diplomatic bargaining; legal and peaceful settlement of disputes; reduction of armaments; armament's competition; and war itself. Pre-colonial existence of balance of power in West Africa   Balance of power is not necessarily a new phenomenon in the relationship between the many nationalities that were members of the West African political constellation, some of which later constituted the modern Nigerian State. This balance of power struggle exists independently of internal class problems.   Before the arrival of the British colonial government, the geographical area was made up of many nationalities, among which between 250-350 were later brought together to constitute the current Nigerian state.  


The area was naturally going through the process of enlarged communities and people moved across ethnic boundaries to maximise threats. The Fulanis were involved in balance of power struggles with the Hausas; the Hausa-Fulani were involved in balance of power struggles with the Yorubas, the Kanuri, and numerous nationalities in the Middle Belt area. The Yorubas were involved in similar struggles with the Dahomeys (now Republic of Benin), Benin and Nupe nationalities. The Igbos too were engaged in a balance of power tussle against Benin, Igala and some other nationalities. None of the actors was able to enjoy over- balanced power, and there was no consciousness to bring about a Nigerian nation-state. Fulani expansion was arrested militarily in the north-east by the Kanuri of Bornu, and in the south-west by the Yoruba; while in the south-east, impenetrable terrain barred the Fulani-mounted cavalry.  


The balance of power changed in character, intensity and scope when the British metropolitan powers disturbed the local balancing system and imposed an Hausa-Fulani hegemony on the remaining nationalities.  

The pre-colonial balancing system was seen to be fair because there was no outside interference - what each actor was able to gain or lose was influenced by its power and its diplomatic skills at making alliances. Robert S. Smith who carried out a study of interaction among these pre-colonial social units in West Africa observed that:  


"In large parts of West Africa, before partition of the region among European powers, international relations in peace and war were carried on in a more or less recognisable fashion, and, to go a little further, in a coherent and rational manner which showed itself capable under favourable conditions leading to political, economic and technical improvements in sociality."  


The British unification process took the form of consolidating all the nationalities into one state system, which it divided into three regions suspended over two societies. The northern region is predominantly Arabic with little African culture but almost no European influence. The two southern regions are predominantly African societies with strong European influence.  


William Graf, who also carried out a study of interaction among the nations and nationalities in the Nigerian State, observed that: "Harmony, co-operation and unity have manifestly not characterised social and political life in post-independent Nigeria. Whenever the Nigerian political system has most dramatically experienced breakdowns - constitutional crisis, political immobilism, coups d'etat, civil war, etc. - this has always occurred within a context of inter-ethnic controversy..."  


The accuracy of this observation is supported by the fact that almost all the major crisis that has fundamentally affected the security of the Nigerian State can be traced to her balance of power problems. These include the delay in Nigerian independence in order to persuade the north from seceding from the federation; the treasonable felony charges against Chief Awolowo and his colleagues, their detentions without charge and later, their imprisonment. The Akintola crisis in the old Western Region, the January and July 1966 military coups, the creation of the first 12 states, and the civil war are not unconnected with Nigeria's balance of power problems. The declaration of the 'Delta Peoples Republic'; the violent disturbances in the Middle Belt areas in 1920, 1939, 1945, 1948, 1960 and 1964; the Major Gideon Orkar attempted coup; the Ogoni crisis featuring the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa; and the June 12 crisis (of which the alleged Diya coup attempt is an extension) all revolve around the country's balance of power problems.  


However, in order to conform to the assumptions of the balance of power concept - that "there could be no balance of power struggle within a state system" - the crises within the Nigerian state are either normally associated with problems of class, religion, lack of democracy, military rule, corruption, ethnicity, tribalism, inadequate education and poor infrastructure. But, it could not be a balance of power problem - because the balance of power theory does not prescribe it as possible. The balance of power concept as it is interpreted does not recognise the existence of a balance of power struggle within the original Indian State. But it later recognised its existence between the three independent Indian states after it had been broken up because of the same balance of power crisis which has now taken a nuclear dimension between the original India and Pakistan states. The concept also did not recognise the existence of balance of power in the former Soviet Union until it was broken up into fifteen independent states.  


Yet, it is a fact of history that a striking forerunner of the later European multi-state system was to be found in the political and diplomatic system of Renaissance Italy. (Bozeman p459-89 quoted in Northedge F.S., 1976). Between the Renaissance cities of Venice, Milan, Florence and Naples, together with papacy mirrored in small scale the later European world of Great Powers'. The Peloponnesian war between the two great coalitions led by Athens and Sparta respectively (431 to 404 BC) was in one sense a war for the unification of Greek people, in much the same way as the war between Austrian and Prussia in 1866 was a war for the unification of the German people. The same thing could be said of the 17th century power struggle between the three nations, England, Scotland and the Wales, in the United Kingdom. The political balancing acts in multiethnic states such as India, Nigeria, today are close to that of Renaissance Italy.  


How realistic and how objective is this approach? The litmus test seems to be that balance of power between social and political units could only be recognised, no matter how it was achieved, if they exist as independent juridical states and not if they are separated organically - this is the ideal nation state. The European idea of a nation-state is a product of its history. Yet, judging by the standard of the European experience - either in United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland or Russia - on which this concept is based, this is simply a fallacy. Kosovo, Northern Ireland and Scotland are each trying to answer the same question: how to balance power and how to reconcile different loyalties and identities within a single state. This co-exists with the class problems in those societies. The case of the Kurds, the Yorubas or the Hausas, whose nations extend beyond one state border, has proved that the most important bond of a social and political unit is the organic rather than the legalistic bonds.  


In constructing the new Nigerian State, the British did not seek to remove the cause of the pre-colonial balance of power crisis - the struggle to prevent over balance of power. That was never their mission. Instead, they conquered the smaller nationalities on behalf of the larger ones, and later imposed the authority of one of the larger nations on other members of the union. This action on its own created a problem of legitimacy, which further increased the scope and the intensity of the internal balance of power struggle- crisis became a permanent feature of the new system. The British embarked on policies, which enhanced the disparities among the different nationalities. This includes the engineering of an unbalanced structure, and different administrative and educational systems. The effect of the latter, says Professor Awa, "helped to create a cleavage between the North and the South in intellectual and psychological orientation." By creating the three regions, the British weakened the power of the centre and the bonds of tribalism - which was, at the time, the fundamental units of social bonding and political activities among most of the political units- and allocated the power to the Hausa-Fulani, the Yorubas and Ibos. The Yoruba gained greater awareness as a nation through this process that also marked the beginning of Ibo nationalism. The Hausa-Fulani took advantage of the situation and created a northern awareness, by merging the ruling class of the Hausa-Fulani, Kanuri, Nupe and the Tivs into one Northern power elite. This had the disadvantage of decreasing the number of actors, but increasing the intensity, the stake and the resources for perpetrating the balance of power crisis.  


Sir Hugh Clifford, a former Governor who was aware of the extent of the damage that had been done to Nigeria's unity - at a time when the possibility of dividing Nigeria into two separate countries was contemplated - had expressed his concern at the correctness of creating the Nigerian state when he said: "Assuming that the impossible were feasible - that this collection of self-contained and mutually independent Native States (separated from one another, as many of them are, by great distances, by differences of history and traditions, and by ethnological, racial, tribal, political, social and religious barriers) were indeed capable of being welded into a single homogeneous nation - a deadly blow would thereby be struck at the very root of national self-government in Nigeria, which secures to each separate people the right to maintain its identity, its individuality and its nationality, its own chosen form of government; and the peculiar political and social institutions which have been evolved for it by the wisdom and by the accumulated experience of generations of its forebears."  


There is considerable evidence from the behavioural irregularities which characterise the social, economic and political direction of events in the Nigerian state, that its unbalanced structure is the most critical factor to the country's inability to compound and synthesise its enormous resources into effective economic, military and governmental mechanism to further its national interest.   Nigeria has a balance of power problem, fronted by the three nations - the Hausa-Fulani, the Yorubas and the Ibos - whose particular configurations form the basic structural framework within which all other interest groups in the federation are forced to operate. However, power is over-balanced to the advantage of the Hausa-Fulani who led the northern group of nationalities.   My thesis is not that the Nigerian state, like any other developing country, is immune from problems such as corruption, poor education, lack of infrastructure, ethnicity, tribalism, military rule, class divide and manipulation by the elites. Far from that. My argument is that in terms of intensity and scope, its balance of power problem is the one single factor that contributes most to the economic and political instability in the state. It is the super-structure engendered by this factor that compounds the normal problems facing Nigeria. It is this problem that renders everything we touch putrid and poisonous, and is the only reason why the state is not making progress. If we do not address this problem, but pretend to be marching forward, we would be negating all our positive inputs by sheer stupidity.   In order to fully appreciate the influence of the balance of power problem over the other ills facing the Nigerian, it may be necessary to point out that the super-structure created by the overbalanced power thrives on corruption and nepotism. Because the system lacks ownership, corruption at the centre is seen as a way to empower each nation and nationality involved in the struggle for power. And for the nationalities in power, it is also a means to reduce the influence of real and potential enemies. Outside the context of balance of power conflict, what they are doing may amount to corruption or nepotism, however, in the context in which their actions are carried out, the attitude which they display, is comparable with the way states tend to justify the resources spent on wars as reasonable because 'national interest' is involved.  


However, at the local levels - nations, nationalities and tribes - where a different type of corruption occurs (the sort associated with the process of development), there are heavy penalties. The difference in attitude is caused by a lack of ownership of the centre, which is not the case at the local level. The resources at the centre have no legitimate owner, but the sub-systems do. There is competition at the local level with no intention to destroy existing resources; but there is conflict at the centre, giving rise to a destructive attitude and a lack of prudent management. How does one account for the tendency of northern nationalities - who control the power at the centre - to hire Indian and Pakistani teachers to the detriment of fellow Nigerian teachers from the south, who may be more qualified than most of the foreign teachers?  


The military and the security establishment - now in the service of the 'north' - is required to maintain the status quo. It cannot be reformed nor reoriented until it is no longer required to perform this duty.       
   Mr. Akinola is the current Secretary of the Movement for National Reformation (MNR) (Europe Branch).


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