Imperatives of (Re) negotiating Nigeria
“Our country is an abiku country. Like the spirit-child, it keeps coming and going. One day it will decide to remain. It will become strong.” Ben Okri
The Nigeria-Biafra civil war of 1967-1970, the multiple rashes of political and religious upheavals since independence, the Boko Haram insurgency, the banditry in the northern part of the country, the clashes between Fulani herdsmen and host communities, the militant agitations in the Niger Delta region, the high incidents of kidnapping across the country, the gradual radicalisation of pro-Biafra secessionist groups, increase in cyber-crimes, mass unemployment, political corruption, weak educational system, police brutality, end SARS protests by Nigerian youths among others are all symptoms of a sick abiku country.
The continued existence of Nigeria has not stopped to baffle many political analysts who have not expected it to survive till now going by the myriads of socio-political encumbrances around it since independence. The Nigerian novelist, Ben Okri, rightly metaphorised Nigeria as an abiku (a spirit-child) nation. An abiku or ogbanje child is always sick and maintains a cycle of dying and being reborn to continue to torment its parents. This implies that the Nigerian nationhood has become a heavy burden or torment on the citizenry. And some of the questions that come to mind when Nigeria is contemplated or conceptualised as a spirit-child nation include, what are the chances of surviving the sickness? Is the family economy strong enough to support further management of the condition? Why has the sickness defied all medications? Is the nation about to die again? Is there a strong medicine man to heal it and prevent it from dying?
Ben Okri says that all nations are children but not all nations are abiku children. Unfortunately, “…ours too was an abiku nation, a spirit-child nation, one that keeps being reborn and after each birth come blood and betrayals. ”Historical facts show that nations are born like children; some get sick and die before they attain maturation (strong nationhood). Some others survive through early diagnoses and treatment or through the intervention of strong medicine men (dynamic political leadership). It is therefore inconsistent with the laws of nature for any person or group to assume that empires and nations cannot get sick and die. The Great Roman and Ottoman empires are no more. The size and influence of the British empire have continued to shrink.
The concept of a nation/nationhood as a social, emotional, or cultural construct or phenomenon can be (re)negotiated or (re)appraised for the good of all. The Indian Independence Act of 1947 saw the creation of two separate countries: Pakistan (for the mainly Muslim population) and India (for the majority of the Hindu population). It came about through violence and negotiation. The great Soviet Union was forced to renegotiate its nationhood in 1991 and broke into 15 independent countries; Yugoslavia renegotiated its federation in 1992 and divided into six independent nations after a bloody war; Czechoslovakia peacefully renegotiated its union in 1993 and became two independent nations of Czech and Slovakia, and South Sudan forcefully negotiated itself out of Sudan in 2011.These nations dismembered because of implosion occasioned by mutual suspicion and mistrust, oppression of minority groups by dominant forces, and the quest for distinct identity. History however reveals that being mono-theistic, mono-lingual, mono-ethnic, and mono-cultural in structure and orientation may not be an index of national stability. Somalia as a failed state has practically one ethnicity, one main religion/culture, and one language.
The argument is that so long as a nation remains an imagined community as Benedict Anderson pointed out, its existence and the intergroup relations of its members and component units can always be negotiated or renegotiated according to its social and political circumstances. Several individuals and groups have argued that the Nigerian nationhood is due for renegotiation after one hundred years of forceful existence as a result of the 1914 amalgamation by Lord Lugard. Renegotiating the nation’s federation is not the same as calling for its balkanization. It means that the various groups (ethnic and religious, social and professional, political and ideological, etc) that make up the country need to have a round table discussion on the present and future direction of the nation. The government should, as a matter of urgency, convoke a national dialogue to discuss the state of the Nigerian nation or revisit the agreements of the 2014 national conference. It is the failure of the government at the centre to acknowledge and address the structural ills and imbalances in the polity that fuels secessionists agitations for Biafra, Oduduwa, Kwararafa republics among others. The fact remains that the Nigerian federation as constituted isn’t working and cannot work. It needs a serious socio-political overhaul.
The recent end of SARS protests across the country has revealed the deep-seated discontent within the youth group. The Nigerian youth operates from a space where the educational and health infrastructure is in deficit, the economy in comatose, security architecture dysfunctional, while corruption reigns in the ascendency. The Nigerian state is a space engulfed in a miasma of corruption, nepotism, oppression, and despondency. The space leaves the Nigerian youth desolate and hopeless in a country that is blessed with abundant natural and human resources. The end SARS protest is an obvious signal that Nigerian youths have conquered fear and are ready to die for their rights. We are witnessing a reawakening in the consciousness of the post-war generation of our youths. And we must listen to them! The political leadership should not wait for another round of protest before it begins to address the deficits in our political, social, economic, and educational sectors. The culture of fear has been conquered in the youths and the sleeping lion in them has woken up. The entrenched cesspool of corruption and social inequality in the system which privileges and empowers a small class of political elites and cabal of power to greedily privatize and annex our commonwealth at the expense of the suffering majority is being interrogated and challenged by the youth. The spirit of soro soke has overtaken decades of dumbness! Let us, therefore, profit from history so as to avoid a replication of the Arab spring in Nigeria. George Santayana warns that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” May this never be our portion in Nigeria!
Dr. Kamalu is Head of Department, English Studies,
University of Port Harcourt.