Breaking Ethnic Barriers


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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Breaking Ethnic Barriers



Emeka Enejere



culled from GUARDIAN, January 31, 2005


The state called Nigeria was created by British colonialism. it was built over a period of more than 50 years (1861-1914). The colonial power, through progressive expansion of territories and amalgamation of units reorganised the communities and politics in the areas. The territories were regrouped under the system of indirect rule into native authorities, the divisions, provinces, regions and federation.

Following nationalist agitations and subsequent constitutional conferences within Nigeria and London, the people of Nigeria and their representative administrations achieved political independence on October 1, 1960. The only issue that was left unresolved at the time of independence was the fate of the 1957 Willincks Commission report on minorities in Nigeria. This was to be resolved in the post independence era by the people and government of Nigeria.

Since independence, we have experimented ceaselessly with state creation. Today, while the battle for ethnic states has been lost, Nigeria, a multi-cultural society is a federation of 36 States with a Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. There are 36 States Administrations and a Federal Government. Throughout the Constitutional Conferences in pre-independence and post independence periods in our journey to nationhood, a constant and common refrain has always been the belief in the unity of the country across generations of Nigerians. However, 44 years after political independence, Nigeria is not yet a melting pot. It is faced with a substantial problem of national unity. What is good about the resurgence and recent salience of ethnicity, exemplified by the rise of ethnic militias is that they represent essentially cries for justice and cries against marginalisation and unfulfilled expectation. Because of lack of national unity, our country Nigeria is yet to witness its period of glory. If Nigeria's potentialities in human, material and natural endowments can be actualised, Nigeria will be big, powerful and respected. A big, powerful, respected Nigeria is one in which all citizens shall enjoy and find fulfillment. In addition, a Nigeria whose potentials are actualised will be forerunner of African renaissance as well as a guarantor of the upliftment and dignity of the black race.

This much has been confirmed to me on numerous occasions in my life. First, by my students, academic colleagues and very distinguished African-Americans and Africans in the Diaspora during my sojourn in America between 1972-1980.

Secondly, in 1989 at Dar-es-Salam when Omafume Onoge, Jonathan Zwingina and myself, as members of a MAMSER Study Team on Comparative Mobilisation Strategies in Africa, met with representatives of TANU - the ruling political party in Tanzania. Thirdly, in 1991-92 when Baba Gana Kingibe, Tom Ikimi and myself met with Nelson Mandela in Durban as members of a Federal Government of Nigeria and Political Parties Delegation to South Africa to observe the first ANC (South Africa) Party Convention following Mandela's release from prison. Finally, in 1994 at Arusha/Dodoma, when Bamanga Tukur and myself met with Mwalimu Julius Nyerere in his very humble residence during an African Business Roundtable (ABR) Conference in Tanzania.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was created in 1707. The United States of America was created in 1776 and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1918. They were all unions of "entities" brought together through processes of federation. Over time, all three were reasonably cohesive and successful societies with relatively effective and legitimate governments and a strong sense of identity.

Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe had observed that "in respect of the British, the Swiss, Americans and Russians, they were to discard their individual chauvinistic ideas and practices in order to develop a common nationality". Dr. Azikiwe went on to proffer that "in the light of the experiences of other nations... the Nigerian nationalities would soon shed their parochialism for a higher loyalty to the new nation of their own creation".

Of course, we cannot fail to take cognisance of the fact that by the early 1990s, the Soviet Union was no more and that since the late 1990s, the United Kingdom also had been becoming less united. The lesson that comes from all this is that no society is immortal. As the French Philosopher, Rousseau said: "If Sparta and Rome perished, what state can hope to endure forever". Even the most successful societies are at some point threatened by internal disintegration and decay. Yet some societies confronted with serious challenges to their existence are able to "postpone" their demise and halt disintegration. How have such societies been successful?
The American Political Scientist, Samuel P. Huntington, Chairman of the Harvard Academy International and Area Studies in a recent book titled "Who are we?: The challenges to America's National Identity" (Simon and Schuster, N .Y, 2004) tells us that such societies have been successful "by renewing their sense of national identity, their national purpose and the cultural values they have in common".

As a multiculturalism composed of many different ethnic groups, Nigeria cannot be a society with a single pervasive national culture. Resentment is bound to exist in such an environment against perceived hegemony. Throughout human society, cohesion has been obtained by organising society on the basis of equality, justice and respect for the rights of groups - minorities and majorities alike. Our founding fathers were perfectly right and cannot be faulted for recognising the benefits and advantages to us as individuals and groups in a united strong Nigeria, standing in brotherhood. Since 1960, a lot has happened and we all know, according to an adage: 'how water entered the stem of the pumpkin".

As C.C. Onoh observed recently, 44 years is enough time for us to begin to get our acts together. I cannot agree more. Part of our problem is that we have been under military rule and the army mismanaged a lot of things. But the politicians have not helped matters either. Although, 44 years is long in an individual's life, and the aphorism a fool at forty is a fool forever, is true for individuals as well as nations, as a political scientist, I cannot fail to remind all of us that periods of gestations are fraught with troubles and tribulations of the type we have been experiencing. The ailment has been diagnosed. We only need to apply the therapy and the correct dosage of the medicine.

To become a "we", a visionary, dynamic, goal-oriented leadership will help in getting things right. Nigeria can be put on sound footing, but first, a conscious and determined effort must be made by the people of Nigeria and their governments. In the immediate period following our attainment of political independence, those we elected to public offices were fairly and relatively accountable. The political parties were based on ideas and principles; opposition was respected and functioned positively, corruption had not become pervasive. Looting of the treasuries at most tiers of government was not the order of the day. Elections were not a farce and the fraud they have become. At least, the people could exercise their right to vote and expect that votes will be counted before agents of contending parties; unlike today, when voters are disenfranchised and results still get announced. There was competition among the regional governments over which government will do better in the provision of amenities for citizens. Today, if you are doing fine in this respect, you are "a loner" among your colleague administrators who develop "bad belle" towards you. Service to the people, good governance have become endangered species replaced by blind ambition while public power has become both an aphrodisiac and a business for private, primitive accumulation. Now tell me: what has ethnicity got to do with all these? Nothing whatsoever.

Nigeria's problems are therefore beyond quota system, federal character and rotational presidency which are temporary palliatives through which we seek to create a sense of participation and belonging in the short term. As transient phenomena, they are not to last forever. It follows that people who want to get into public office have to be thoroughly "x-rayed", including being asked: "what the office they seek is all about? The only difference that ought to count in their selection is their views on how to achieve what we share as basic goals and our belief in the workability of the policies they proffer as well as their capacity to be fair and just to all interests. Not whether the President is from North-West, South-West, North-East, North Central, Souh-East or South-West or any section of the territory of a given tier of government.

Therefore, we must be clear about the complexity of the causal chain of our problem, or else, we shall forever be chasing shadows while living out the substance unattended to. Appreciation of the complexity of the causal chain of our problem, will permit us to determine critical ones from less critical ones. In this regard, given the extent of the decay we have to contend with, anything less than a holistic approach to our problems will only be scratching and postponing inevitable hard choices that confront us, while delaying our steady march towards national integration.

The problem of ethnicity can be reduced to a lack of sense of community. The danger ethnicity poses to national unity (a sense of higher loyalty) is its underlying moral, which is: "Whatever is good for me, I, my group is all that matters". Cultural differences become problematic where accompanied by diverse and conflictual notions of justice, principles, morality and ethics. Fortunately for us, this is not the case. In spite of our diversity, our notions of good and bad and what is fair and just, are similar, if not identical. That sure makes for ease of co-operation and cohabitation in a Federal Nigeria. We must always remember that a return to a state of nature is not a choice available to us today. To paraphrase Thomas Hobbes: the escape from the insecurity of the state of nature where life is short, brutish and nasty means giving up our insecure freedom to an order-and justice based system, that is the Leviathan (i.e a nation state, Nigeria) for our protection and self-actualisation.

After 44 years, there are signs that Nigerians are tired and are saying loud and clear, "enough is enough", especially as some multi-cultural societies that started about the same time as we did, have made much more remarkable progress than us. Their patience is becoming tenuous as they get angrier about their condition. My candid opinion is that we need a Second Nationalist Movement aimed solely at building Nigeria on firmer and just foundation for the obvious benefits the country holds for all us as individuals, groups, a country, a continent and a race. We need to work to make the present weak institutions of our society strong and functionally effective. There is no reason why the judiciary, the National Assembly, the Independent National Electoral Commission, cannot draw their money from the first line of charge in the allocations from the Federation Account, instead of depending on the executive arm of the Government to effect such release. INEC should be able to hire and fire all its staff as a first step towards ensuring a sanitised conduct of elections. Also, the office of the Accountant General of the Federation should be separated from the office of the Accountant General of the Federation. The office of the secretary to the Government of the Federation should become office of Secretary of the Federal Government. These seemingly minute changes touch on the 'heart' and 'spirit' of true Federalism.

We need a proper Federal Constitution in which is enshrined the principle of fiscal federalism. In a federation, unity is needed not uniformity. We need to quickly correct the disjunction between order and justice, and ensure that culprits are punished. We need creative solutions and a willingness and favourable disposition towards making the necessary effort for bringing about the desired changes. In my view, this in itself is a far-reaching change and that is where to begin. We must aggressively embark on the following actions viz:
* Strengthen our weak infrastructure, political, economic and legal

* Make justiceable citizenship and fundamental human, social,
political and economic rights of our people.

* Vigorously fight corruption.

* Sanitise the nature of political competition.

* Encourage issues - based and inclusive politics.

* Promote skill acquisition and training.

* Encourage popular participation, that is, the active involvement of
Citizens in candidate selection/representation/electoral processes as well as in policy-design/formulation/implementation-execution and the evaluation of public programmes.

* Tackle timidity, ignorance, illiteracy, poverty which conspire to
relegate popular participation to the backburner and lead to a lack of meaningful involvement of citizens in governance. This ugly situation gives rise to a very frightful and negative culture characterised by relatively unresponsive and irresponsible government which in turn gives rise to apathy and autocracy - by which government is seen as 'all powerful' and always right and having the final authority to do whatever it pleases. The people feel their views do not count and cannot make a difference which in turn murders civil society's role in bringing about a virile democracy. The true human rights and constitutional position is that sovereign political power and authority reside with the people from whom the government of the day derives its power and authority. (Section 14, 1999 Constitution of Nigeria and Article 21, Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

We must as citizens move away from merely sitting down and wishing good governance and begin to participate actively in deciding our fate by practically bringing about good governance, transparency and accountability. A democracy should be very sensitive to public opinion and when a majority of citizens overwhelmingly prefer something, it is safe and right to assume they are correct. Since Federal allocation form the bulk share of income for various tiers of government, knowing how they are disbursed and utilised is imperative. Operators of government and the public sector must be above suspicion. Today, we are gradually witnessing the rise of 'pseudo leaders' who are not accountable for either what they do or say; who trade in myths, fantasies and rhetoric; people better at 'performing' as a leader than actually being one. There is not more 'learning the ropes' or 'paying one's dues'.

We need to change the current forms of politicking, effect changes within the political system, make more demands on those we send to look after our interests; so they do not get use to thinking that symbolic politics is all there is to governance. This has left us effectively with rhetoric as action in place of real action. The brokerage politics they practise is for themselves without being held responsible for the deals they use their elected position to make. Some, indeed represent ineffectiveness to an embarrassing degree of perfect absurdity.

As a result, our politics has morphed into a politics of symbolism in which some politicians replace the improvement of the lives of the people they claim to speak for, with making news and people are unable to understand who is acting in or against their interests, due to ethnicity. Since the certification of leaders, to a certain degree, takes place through the media, the media can hardly extricate itself from vicarious responsibility in the creation of some of the 'characters'. If such dangerous trend has to discontinue, the media needs to exercise some restraint in their certification of newsworthiness of individuals.



Dr. Enejere is Chairman, Editorial Board of National Interest newspaper.


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