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The Nigerian troubadour: Statehood or nationhood? – 4

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In practice, the Nigerian state implements domination, not of the dominant class in society but that of the state-bearing nation.

At the turn of the last century, the Economist of London noted that Nigeria was a badly divided country and likened it to its football team with talented individual players who however do not play as a team.

In 2005, the United States in its Intelligence Report on Nigeria highlighted the unworkability of the Nigerian project describing it as a marriage loathed by its leaders over which no one has been able to enforce a divorce (Quoted in Akhaine, 2008).

Also, The Guardian bemoaned the state of the polity and averred in It’s editorial that: The present structure has bred identity politics of ethnocentrism, undermined national unity and patriotism, institutionalised corruption, violation of the rule of law and a dehumanisation of the people. These antinomies have also led to state-led violence and enduring separatist impulses on the part of many nationalities that make up the country (The Guardian, June 20, 2016).

The above contradictory dynamics of the Nigerian state only reinforce the ever-self-validating statement of Awolowo (1966) that:

Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no ‘Nigerians’ in the same sense as there are ‘English’, ‘Welsh,’ or ‘French’. The word ‘Nigerian’ is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria from those who do not.

Conclusion: Anyway Forward?

I have argued in the above that what the ruling clique at the centre in Nigeria has laboured to build is statehood not nationhood. Simultaneously, I have argued that the desired destination is civic-nation that is based on a cluster of right under the rule of law. However, the civic-nation project has been truncated through the unconscionable creation of leviathan statehood by a state-bearing nation in a multinational state setting and the corresponding resistance.

The pathologies of the failed enterprise such as economic crisis, ethnic violence, insurgency, erosion of the democratic space and sundry social vices often categorised in most analysis of Nigeria are to be understood in the context of the inversion of the civic-nation-state project into a brazen statehood aberration (see Adebanwi W. and Obadare E., 2010). This analysis has shown that the state in its present form harbours the possibility of either to blossom by steering the ship of state into the civic nation haven through reform or double its steps toward inevitable disintegration.

Usman (2000) has articulated elements of national unity by highlighting events and phenomena such as the complex mix of ethnicity and natural factors that could enhance the unity of the Nigerian people. In his enterprise, he failed to acknowledge the presence of a state-bearing nation as well as emphasise the essentiality of justice and equity in ways that undermine the claims of nationalities.

Nevertheless, if the current minders of the Nigerian state are persuaded to follow the path of a civic-nationhood, I suggest the following as its constituting elements: common citizenship that guarantees everyone who lives in the territorial polity access to education, housing, health care and gainful economic engagement but within a federal state structure; recognition and autonomisation of the sub-state nationalities as organising units of the federal state in ways that are coterminous with common citizenship (because Nigeria is a country of indigenous people, not a frontier state like the United States of America); and a functional legal order that foregrounds the rule of law. These prescriptions are predicated on the prevalent realities in the country today. They could be altered by the shifting dynamics of production relations that could be more conducive to building the civic-nationhood, the country’s aspired destination.

It is to be noted that the incumbent administration in Nigeria is not persuaded towards the path of reform of the state system despite its rhetoric. In the context of the widespread call for reform, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo remarked that the administration was opposed to territorial restructuring (Vanguard online, August 28, 2018). This will not resonate well with the restive component nationalities of the Nigerian state. In case, the nation inclines towards disintegration, it should be guided as some have argued to avoid the predictable human calamity.

Professor Akhaine of the Department of Political Science, Lagos State University, delivered this lead paper at the Faculty of Social Sciences International Conference, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, Nigeria.


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