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The rhetoric of domination and future of Nigeria

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The asymmetrical power relations that engender a sense of insecurity, inferiority, supremacy or rivalry between individuals and groups have always shaped human social existence and experiences. These experiences are variegated, shaped and disseminated in diverse narrative patterns as means of justifying some actions in favour of ingroup members or against outgroup members. The Willink Commission of 1957 was set up by the colonial administrationchiefly to address the fears and concerns of minority groups in Nigeria prior to independence in 1960. The fear of minority groups being dominated, oppressed and exploited by dominant groups is natural and therefore not misplaced.

History is replete with instances where attempts were made by dominant groups and forces to silent and in some cases obliterate the minorities among them. The genocide against European Jews by Adolf Hitler during the world war II (1939-1945), the massacre of defenceless Igbo civilian population in Asaba and other parts of Biafraduring the 1967-1970 Biafra-Nigeria war, the Hutu genocide against the Tutsi group of Rwanda in 1994, the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, particularly the massacre of male adult Muslims in Srebrenica, Bosnia in 1995 are just some historical instances of where a majority group tries to wipe out minority members. Social injustices, inequalities and unequal distribution of common wealth are some of the reasons why some groups feel insecure within a particular space.

History shows that wheneverthere are feelings of insecurity (be it social, political, religious, economic, etc in dimension)by any group and there is the absence social justice for all groups within a political configuration, the internal tensions within such society could snowball into a conflict of monumental magnitude. The disintegration of the defunct Soviet Union in 1991 was essentially as a result of the inability of the predominantly Russian led communist regime to recognize and accommodate the distinct linguistic, cultural and ideological identities and sensibilities of the other groups in the Soviet federation. The same can also be said about the Serbo-Croatian dominated former Yugoslavia.

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Colonial and post-colonial Nigeria has had its own share of complaints from groups who feel alienated or outrightly oppressed and marginalized by dominant powers. The creation of the defunct Mid-Western region in 1963 out of Western region, though politically motivated, was intended to address the fears and concerns of the minority (non-Yoruba) groups in the Yoruba dominated region. Thus, by 1963 Nigeria had four regions. Why a similar act was not performed in the Eastern and Northern regions, where the Igbo and Hausa-Fulani groups exercised tremendous hegemony is matter for another day. The minority groups in the Eastern and Northern regions in particular however gained autonomy from the dominant powers with the creation of twelve states out of the four regions in 1967 by the General Gowon regime. Partly for administrative purposes, to accelerate development and to address some ethno-political issues, the military regimes after General Gowon created more states. We now have 36 states excluding the federal capital territory (FCT), Abuja. For equity and other reasons, some geopolitical zones are asking for more states in their areas. It appears that the quest for equity, autonomy and freedom is an endless one. No group will ever be satisfied even if every local government in Nigeria were to become a state or an independent country. The complaints of domination will continue to reverberate within each political and socioeconomic space, with one group accusing the other of dominance.

The creation of more states in Nigeria since 1967 has neither attracted any significant development in any core area of human development nor doused the rhetoric of dominance. The ethnic groups which once attributed their social conditions to the dominance of some major ethnic groups are yet to make any significant progress as autonomous entities or states. As a matter of fact, theyseem to have systematically reversed whatever progress they made under the regional structure. Complaints of domination and oppression continue to be heard from within states where several minority groups once alignedcohesively to negotiate their freedom and autonomy from the former three major ethnic groups. The euphoria that greeted the creation of Mid-Western region from the Western region was a temporary one. Hardly was the region/state created when groups such as the Urhobo, Igbo, Itsekiri, Ijaw, etc started to complain of Bini domination. With the creation of Delta and Edo States out of Bendel State in 1991, the fears of Urhobo domination by other groups started to emerge in Delta State. In Rivers State it was upland vs riverine dichotomy until the creation of Bayelsa State. Even with that, ethnic based political calculations still shape who becomes the next governor of Rivers State. In Benue State, the rivalry is between Tiv vs Idoma (and others) while it is indigenes vs settlers debate in Plateau State.

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The tensions and conflicts that arose from mutual suspicion and accusations of domination between the Efik and the Ibibio/Ananggroups led to the carving out of Akwa Ibom out of Cross River State. One had expected that these disparate groups who once aligned themselves against a common foe (any of the three major ethnic groups) should work together to advance their development agenda. Why should complaints of domination still be heard among minority groups who once evoked what Murray Edelma calls “the united we stand myth” against a common foe to have state of their own? It only shows that the ghost of domination within geopolitical spaces cannot be laid to rest. The struggle of which group controls which space within the multi-ethnic states has led to intergroup conflicts such as the Itsekiri-Urhobo conflict, Itsekiri-Ijaw conflict in Delta State and the Ijaw/ Bini dispute in Edo State. We have also had the Tiv-Eggon clash in Nasarawa State and the Tiv-Jukun conflict in Taraba State, among several others.All of these resulted in the loss of lives, destruction of property and displacement of civilian population.

I have heard some historical distortionists blame one of the three major ethnic groups for the present sociopolitical conditions of some states that were created from 1967. I was forced to remind such people who relish in scape-goating the outsider while excusing their own shortcomingsthat 53 years is such a long time for any serious society or state to discover its destiny, define it and direct it for a productive good of all. Developments cannot come through deliberate antagonism, reactivation and reconstruction of dead myths of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba dominance. Theo van Leeuwen posits that speakers could use mythopoesis as a strategy of constructing legitimation. This is what Jonathan Charteris-Black refers to as “the myth of the conspiratorial enemy”. This is a type of myth in which a hostile out-group is plotting to commit some harmful acts against an in-group. However, the deployment of such rhetorical strategyin the Nigerian context can only create social upheaval, psychological disorientation, diminish the spirit of competitiveness and endanger ingroup and outgroup relations. Groups should optimally exploit their God-given diversities, use them to effect positive changes in their societies, hold their leaders accountablefor wealth creation and distribution rather than continue to construe some outgroup members as evil. The Nigeria of today and tomorrow needs an accommodationist approach that can integrate our unique diversities in the project of creating deeper understanding about identity, intergroup relationship and the humanistic pursuit of the common good.
Dr Kamalu is Head of Department, English Studies, University of Port Harcourt.

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