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
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
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
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.