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Ethnoism and Nigeria’s under-development

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Muhammadu Buhari

Human beings are rational economic beings – our values, attitudes and behaviours are often shaped by our rational instinct to survive and cater for our needs.

So, the questions that we need to answer are – what the dominant socio-economic system/ideology in Nigeria is and how has it affected the rationality, instincts, behaviours and results that Nigeria and Nigerians have achieved.

Every society is a product of an underlying socio-economic and political ideology, and for good or bad, they determine everything.

By understanding our underlying socio-economic ideology, we may be closer to unearthing the root cause of our problems as a society and fixing the ills of our country.

Capitalism is the socio-economic and political system that allocates scarce economic resources according to private enterprise and for the profit motive; Socialism is the ideology that requires state-ownership of all economic resources and vests the allocation of resources in the State; while Communism is based on the common ownership of all resources and the allocation of economic resources equally to all without classes and distinctions.

Looking at these three dominant ideologies, one will ask – where does Nigeria fit in? Clearly, in none! Nigeria actually is a test case for a different, but not new ideological framework.

It has existed for almost four decades, but it has not been properly recognized, articulated, and studied as a distinct socio-economic ideology.

Yet, it has been the underlying cause of all Nigeria’s social, political, and economic problems because it has inadvertently determined everything that drives the negative thinking and behaviour of Nigerians.

It is ethnoism – The socio-economic and political ideology and system that allocates resources in a country based on ethnic cleavages.

It is unfortunately enshrined in our constitution through the principle of Federal Character and implemented across all strata of society – education, public office and politics so much so that we have quotas for everything in Nigeria, not only in public service, but also in the private sector.

The composition of many Nigerian boards reflect the un-written rules of Federal Character because the public out there that does business with these Companies expect the invisible hand of ethnoism to also be reflected in the Companies with which we do business.

For example, many banks and financial institutions have to somewhat “reflect” Federal Character so that they can access business from all the geo-political regions of the country.

In fact, in the Financial Services Industry in Nigeria (with a few notable exceptions) it is typical to have the Regional Directors/Heads to be indigenes of those same regions so they can attract customers in those Regions.

So, ethnoism is the dominant ideology of Nigeria, and like Capitalism, Socialism and Communism it has its own weaknesses which position it as perhaps the worst of all systems and ideologies.

It is what is responsible for federal character, quota system and zoning, which many people think is appropriate to “carry everyone along”.

The foundation for ethnoism is uneven development – the fact that Western Education was embraced earlier in the Southern parts of Nigeria before the North, and therefore Southern Nigeria had an advantage which had to be managed so that there could be even development.

Granted, it sounds like a great idea, but was it to last and continue forever? Why wasn’t the system implemented as a stop-gap? Spend a certain number of years trying to bridge the gap by aggressively improving access and quality of education, while giving opportunities to the less-developed groups to catch-up.

In our case, we left it as a permanent feature and even constitutionalised the grand mediocrity that it creates, without paying attention to the quality of education – if anything we have even worsened the quality of education – not only in the hitherto under-developed areas, but even in those areas that had an upper hand earlier, creating a pool of grossly under-educated and ignorant people across every ethnic group, whose only focus is the ethnic slicing of the national cake.

How does un-even development account for the rotation of political offices in parties even within States.

In Delta State, for example, you will hear us say it is time for the Itsekiri, and after them the Urhobos and then Ijaws and then Ibos– so was there also un-even development between these four ethnic groups?

Of course not! Is federal character also meant to go down all the way to states and local government areas? Isn’t it clear that ethnoism has been grossly abused in Nigeria?

The consequence of this ethnoism is the new brand of ethnic bigotry that even suggests that certain ethnic groups are naturally intellectually superior to others or better than others – absolute rubbish. We were all born naked, all equal children of God.

His intention was never to create some people and make them naturally smarter, better or exclusively his friends or favourites.

Exposure and the choices that each individual and ethnic group makes is what creates an advantage, and what we should focus on is getter everyone and every group to be better exposed and make better choices, challenging us to be better, rather than leaving us where we are (or worse off) and allocating resources based on our ethnic backgrounds and regardless of our choices and talents.

For example, ethnoism is what is responsible for the grand-corruption in Nigeria. You see when people are caught or being prosecuted for indiscipline at the lowest levels in any institution or for corruption on a grand-scale in the public service, the first thing that happens is that members of that person’s ethnic group rally around in support, claiming that their ‘son’ is being victimised by the other ethnic group that is now in power, who wishes to make things difficult for their ethnic group.

It’s the same everywhere – charlatans in public service, politics, faith institutions, academia, etc., all because of ethnoism. Until we root out ethnoism from our country, we cannot make progress. Unfortunately, it has been constitutionalised by Federal Character and adopted even in the private sector.

For Nigeria to make progress, we need to pay attention to the menace of ethnoism.

• Barrow is a Strategy and Innovation Consultant based in Abuja@gbitseBarrow
me@omagbitsebarrow.com


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