Failure of Nigerian State


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Failure of Nigerian State:  Re-Drawing The Fault Lines




Ibraheem A. Waziri

Iya Abubakar Computer Centre,

ABU, Zaria


February 14, 2005



My thesis in the article, Nigeria The Unhappy Marriage of a Quadruple,, which expounded the possibility of the natural fragmentation of Nigeria and other African countries along ethnic lines and understood it to be better along value-culture-based lines, in our quest for way out of the present socio-political crisis, received series of critiques, mostly from my fellow northern writers and scholars.  Notably among them are;


1.                   Dr. Paul Mamza, a senior colleague of mine in the university, and a columnist with Gamji website and the weekly newspaper, Leadership, who after series of interactions would still refer to us in his article, Gowon At 70: This General Is An Incorruptible Leader,, as “…other anarchists who will sooner take Nigeria back to the chaos of 18th century”;


2.                   Mallam Tukur Dan-Mua’zu, an erudite scholar and an authority in cultural studies, who, in his article, Nigeria, Africa And The Value Factor: A Response To Ibraheem Waziri’s Nigeria: The Unhappy Marriage Of A Quadruple, , though agreeing with our conclusions, would still fault our premise that pursuing identity in the mould of ethno-geographical form was the creation of 18-19th century Europe;


3.                   And most recently, Dr. Aliyu Tilde, my mentor in Intellectual Karate, and a columnist with Gamji website and Leadership, whose arguments in the article, The Limits Of Ethnicity,, faulted both our premise and conclusion. Contrary to our conviction, he believed ethnicity, to be a natural phenomenon in the history of formation of political communities and that pursuing a line of reason that will lead to the liquidation of Nigerian Federation would cause more harm to all than good.  Dr. Tilde expressed his support for the call for Sovereign National Conference with a view of restructuring Nigerian Federation only.


It is here desired, to understand that in generating our premise we only followed the pattern of arguments put forward by political historians. When we say: “The revolutions that happened in Europe and America from the late 18th century to early 19th century could be said to be the most prominent that occupied itself with the issue of right of man and the right of nations to self determination, and decent and race as the major factors in determining who belonged to them and who did not.” We certainly do not mean to say that Europeans invented ethnicity in politics. But what we say is they are the ones who first formed states and officially made ethnicity a major factor determining who belonged to them or not. This is akin to what the student of history of constitutional law would mean when he says; “ It was Europe of the 1950s that first promulgated laws that allowed free discussions on sex between parents and children”.  This does not mean there was nothing like free discussion on sex between parents and children before the 1950’s. What is means, however, is it was officially encouraged and made to appear most natural by law, in the eyes of Europeans from those years. What is most unfortunate, which underlines the whole argument, is the fact that the model of forming states in Europe is what has been imported into Africa after the colonial rule. Worst of all is the truth that its trappings were not properly considered but the paradigm has been with us and has influenced our thoughts forming political and administrative criteria both in theory and practice. Since it is embedded implicitly or explicitly, in the many accredited texts on political and administrative theories we read daily in school.


Mallam Tukur, in an attempt to debunk our premise referred to the Egypt of antiquity to make his argument about the official status given to racism, which, I suppose, came from his reading of Cheik Anta Diop’s Africa’s Origin Of Civilisation: Myth or Reality. But then Anta Diop himself recognised the fact that white men where once given equal rights with the blacks of ancient Egypt, which led to them gaining control of the political structure there. It is also clear from the records of Qur’an that Joseph (AS) who brought his father, Israel (AS) and his remaining eleven sons to Egypt, attained high position in the Egyptians ranks only for his piety and the beauty of the values he held.


In the Islamic empires of the past there were elements of ethnicity which, “pulled down empires that were built on religion”, as Dr. Tilde asserted. Yet there was no Muslim empire that made ethnic affiliation a requirement to belonging to it. What they did was only to restrict the requirement of leadership in the empire to a certain lineage, the royal family, in order to protect the values on which the empire was built. This, however, was reasonable. It is also what has been happening in democracies, like USA of today. The elite always insist on those people who will protect the Anglo-Saxon’s Western Protestants Values of Europe, to climb the mantle of leadership. Recently, Professor Samuel Hutington, the celebrated author of the world acclaimed book, The Clash Of Civilisations And The Remaking Of World Order, published another work, Who Are We: The Challenges to America's National Identity, where he delineated on the concept of American identity with a view of preserving American “heritage” through the leadership of the Anglo-Saxons. He also criticised American immigration policy, which gives Mexican Hispanics accommodation when, as he claim, “the Hispanics are not seemed to be ready to exchange their Mexican values for American Western values.” So it is really probable that ethnicity pulled down some Muslim empires built on religion.  


It should be noted that Nigeria is not making progress at the expected rate since independence, not, for the reason of its people or their leaders being bad. God is not partial, to have created bad people, non-achievers, in the geography called Nigeria. Students of power know that success in leadership require not qualification only, but a happy confluence of qualification and right circumstance. Hence a dispassionate analysis of our leaders since independence is certain to bring forward a plethora of highly qualified members of international community who failed in Nigerian leadership only for the unfavourable circumstances Nigerian system constantly offered. In Nigeria, the circumstances that make leaders to compromise excellence for mediocrities, in decision-making, are most prevalent. A cursory assessment of Nigerian president’s daily schedule will reveal how 16 - 18 hours of the day goes into solving and burying ethnic, religious, political problems vis-à-vis the struggle to survive on the throne of leadership. It is only a remaining scanty 4 hours can enjoy the dedication to implementing his work plan for the betterment of his subjects.


However, some analysts, following this pattern of thought, believe the reason of our failure to record progress to be rooted in the structure of Nigerian Federation. They believe true federalism as practiced before 1966 coup in opposition to unitary system that was adopted after 1966 to be the answer to our problem. Dr. Tilde discussed this in the article; North Is In Support Of Restructuring. To me, it is neither of the two. Because in the beginning it was the problem generated by the true federalism, which produced unending crisis leading to 1962 attempted coup of the Yoruba and later 1966 bloody coup of the Ibo and subsequently the 1967-70 civil war, that made the wise ones opted and adopted the unitary system. Yet as it is seen the solution is still farfetched.  This certainly should make us ponder over the question of incompatibility among the three leading cultures that provide the guiding spirit to the three original regions of the Federation. The statement credited to the first premier of the Northern region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, which referred to Nigeria as the mistake of 1914, carries some weight. Perhaps Chief Awolowo was right in believing Nigeria to be a mere geographical expression, which contained among others, a nation of the Yoruba, with unique goals and aspirations based on the values ordained by Oduduwa.


At any rate, the debate about Nigeria, in the coming National Conference, should be allowed to explore the question of lack of general and dominant cultural identity and defining philosophy. We often site examples with countries like Malaysia, which recorded immense progress in spite of its diversity, but we forget to remember that the leadership of Malaysia comes from one dominant cultural block. Few paragraphs above we sited how notable scholars of the USA give American Nation one single identity and philosophical attribution in the hope of preserving the strength of the nation. This is absent, or impossible with the Nigerian Federation. A typical Nigerian elite sees himself first a Yoruba, an Igbo belonging to the Biafran Nation, a Hausa-Fulani, a Muslim or a Christian. Most unfortunately is the truth that every Nigerian media outlet carries a flock of opinions that see nothing good about Nigeria. One of the cardinal points in the New Year’s presidential address on the 1st January 2005 was this observation. The fact of the matter is Nigerians do not identify with the nation called Nigeria, and it is never in the history of the world, a story of a nation containing people who do not trace their first point of identification to it, recording any progress.


This leads us to giving some measure of credibility to the thesis of those internationally acclaimed scholars, who see the future of African continent in the light of anarchy and perpetual civil war “because of, among other things, the looming consciousness and affinity people increasingly have for tribe and geography as sole means   of identifying who is who in the string of political equations”. In Nigeria there were 50 ethnic clashes, which engulfed nothing less than 500, 000 innocent human lives from 1999 to date. In Plateau state alone, the figures are put to be 56, 000. The situation is grave and if a state is maintained at this type of “peace”, there will be no need for its adherents to know what is war. And what is unfortunate for Nigeria is it’s this type of “peace” it has been enjoying since independence. To be convinced the more, what we need is to recall the momentous scenario of the series of riots that greeted first republic, from the Southwest.


There is the need to understand that prospects for peaceful coexistence and prosperity are only in a state where a dominant cultural identity prevails. It is then; a value-based state where people are gauged only on the merit of their values can be formed. Not what is obtained now in the Federation where people earn things only for their ethno-geographic affiliations; the state and the local governments; sharing of political power among regions and geopolitical zones; the indigenisation policy that have not solved the problem of ethnicity since independence.


Some people interpret what we crave for as the creation of ethnic nationalities out of the 400 ethnic groups in Nigeria. They then argue that our forefathers who negotiated for independence were not representatives of ethnic nationalities, which is right. But it can equally be argued that those forefathers of ours were representatives of three distinct cultural identities that were most visible then, and what we are asking now is the formation of viable states, as they have wished, out of the present Nigeria, which will each identify with a single dominant cultural identity as is obtained in any state with developmental potentialities in the world.


Many have asked me as to how we can achieve this. I really do not have the answers to all questions. But certainly, it is not a requirement that nation-states liquidate only through bloodshed. The case of Czechoslovakia is a good example. It is now two countries, Czech Republic and Slovakia, enjoying peaceful neighbourliness and economic prosperity. For Northern Nigeria the prospects are high. For even though we are not of same religion, like Malaysia, records of history have shown us to be of same value system and institutions. We are a population of over 90 million, which forms a very large market for the international community and our natural resource is immense. Our country maybe landlocked but that really could not be much effective giving that the most vibrant economy in Africa is Botswana which is also landlocked. The ethnic clashes that constantly happen in the North are as a result of us being part of Nigeria. Once out of it our single identity and guiding cultural spirit will save us.


I am afraid that if we do not start thinking along this line, things are likely to suffer maximum degeneration. Since its creation, the story of Nigeria has always been a story of retrogression gradually to the state it is now. My generation of Nigerians have grown to see corruption institutionalised to the extent that we do not have a sense of guilt when we cheat in examination halls or take bribe. I wonder what the next generation of Nigerians will come to see of Nigeria. Perhaps a jungle where survival depends on ones’ ability to possess and manipulate sophisticated armaments. This is not fantasy, for my cousin was gunned down few months back on his way to Porthacort. Till this minute there is no news of how it happened. There is no trace of those who perpetrated the crime. If this will continue, and which is almost certain to if we insist on Nigeria, the next generation will be forced to pick arms and survive on them.


Mine is only a voice of a northern youth speaking for the lower cadre between the ages of 18-30 years old. I would have preferred a thought pattern that will keep Nigeria a true federal state given its status and the power it is likely to command as the bulwark of the black continent.  But the design of nature accentuated with the vile of some self-serving ethnic champions seems to be putting this dream to frustration. While I do not stand at the apex of the pyramid of wisdom, I do not fail to observe that the people and media houses that always reject these ideas as are being put are mostly northerners. In our belief in one Nigeria, we fail to see that even though Northerners have kept political power for most of the 44 years from independence, Southerners have always moulded Nigeria into their own image. We were operating a true federalism at independence before they put pressure for us to change, to their advantage, to unitary system. While in the unitary system, they exerted pressure and got the idea of resource control working to their advantage. They asked for Sovereign National Conference and now something close to it is being given to them with people like Chief Anthony Enahoro, an ardent Yoruba nationalist as its “hopeful” chairman. As these things are happening, Northerners constantly experience intimidation while their political power continues to wane. This should make us understand that the Nigeria we dearly intend to keep is invariably the Nigeria we cannot have. Especially when our Southern counterparts want it to liquidate through a National Conference, or when a set of the Orkars among them gets power in the recent future. My fellow Northerners must learn to come to terms with the truth that Nigeria is not created through divine inspiration, it cannot be found anywhere in our holy books, and nowhere else on this planet can we find the sacred inscription: Nigeria is indispensable. People have lived where we live today when there was no Nigeria and certainly they will continue to when Nigeria is naught.



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