The national question in Nigeria
The conventional explanation of crippling poverty, economic backwardness and perennial social turmoil in the midst of vast human and material resources in Nigeria is in terms of leadership failure, administrative ineptitude, technological deficiency, moral decadence and more recently, grand corruption.
Other factors advanced include ethnic and religious differentiation and nepotism.
There is scant recognition of the absence of the spirit of nation behind the inability of Nigeria to take its rightful place among developed countries of the world.
Most Nigerian military and civilian political elite proceed on the highly questionable premise either that the National Question does not exist or that it was resolved with political independence in 1960.
This class of citizens also ignores massive distortions which have taken place in the federal structure of the country since the advent of military dictatorship in the country in 1966.
The delusionary assumption of the political elite that Nigeria is already a nation poses the greatest hindrance to the solution of several problems besetting the country.
Is there a Nigerian nation?
It is significant to recognise that Nigeria was not a nation ab initio.
Numerous independent kingdoms, empires and nations existed before the idea of a Nigerian state was conceived by the colonialists.
Indeed, an attempt to identify distinctively ‘Nigerian’ traits would stretch the imagination quite a bit.
British colonial masters who amalgamated the territories known as Protectorate of Northern Nigeria with the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria to form the Protectorate of Nigeria on January 1, 1914 administered the territory to foster the national interest of their home country. They did not come for the purpose of building a great African nation.
Indisputably, since it gained political independence from Britain in 1960, Nigeria has had requisite characteristics of a state namely, a defined territory, population, government, currency accepted within its borders and recognition as an international person.
It however lacks qualities of a nation. There is clear absence of strong feeling of affinity among diverse nations within the country necessitating periodic resort to force to compel some sections of the country to remain within it. As the Anglo-Irish political theorist and philosopher, Edmund Burke (1729-1797) observed in the 18th century, “a nation is not governed that is perpetually to be conquered.”
Some nations within Nigeria resent being ruled by those they perceive as aliens or people who do not share the same value ideals with them.
In addition, internal functionality of the state in terms of efficiency, effectiveness and credibility of state institutions is in high deficit in the country.
The issue is aggravated by the hypocrisy of the ruling class. Unlike most of the current leaders, the founding fathers of Nigeria were reasonably honest and often spoke with sincerity.
As far back as 1947, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who became Prime Minister of Nigeria from 957 to 1966, stated the issue with eloquent candour when he told the old Legislative Council (LECO) in Lagos in March 1947:
“Since 1914, the British government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs, and customs and do not show themselves any sign of willingness to unite…
“Nigerian unity is only a British intention for the country. Many deceive themselves by thinking that Nigeria is one particularly some of the press people … this is wrong.
I am sorry to say that this presence of unity is artificial and it ends outside this chamber, the Southern tribes who are now pouring into the north are more or less domiciled here and do not mix with the Northern people … and we in the North look upon them as invaders.”
Concluding, Sir Abubakar stated in clear and unmistakable terms:
“Since the amalgamation of Southern and Northern provinces in 1914, Nigeria has existed as one country only on paper…it is still far from being united. Nigeria unity is only a British intention for the country.” (The Hansard, March 20 to April 2, 1947).
Chief Obafemi Awolowo also expressed a similar sentiment at pages 47-48 of his book, Path to Nigeria Freedom published in 1947.
“Nigeria is not a nation: It is a mere geographical expression. There are not ‘Nigerians’ in the same sense as there are ‘English’ or ‘Welsh’ or ‘French’; the word Nigeria is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria from those who do not.”
Most of the things that appear to unite the country or which most Nigerians share in common such as federal constitution, parliament, official language, currency, defence, postal system and other federal agencies are things brought from outside, specifically British experiment.
Nigeria was expected to evolve on the basis of cooperation and mutual respect with a view to forming a more complete union. But this process is yet to commence.
In opening his insightful piece entitled How to be a Nigerian published in May1966, Peter Pan asserted in his humorous style of writing:
“The search for the Nigerian is in progress. Optimists say that before this (20th) century is out, the experiment begun in the 19th century will produce such a people.
Meanwhile, there are Hausas, Yorubas, Tivs, Edos, Fulanis, Ibos and 87 other lesser peoples inhabiting that area of geography” called Nigeria.
And Nigeria’s second military dictator, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd.) asserted with vigour that “the basis for Nigerian unity no longer exists,” as he seized power in an anti-Igbo military coup in July 1966.
To be continued tomorrow.
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