he evolution of Nigeria as a country has been one of the most intriguing surprises of the last fifty years. Many scholars have examined the reason for the apparent inability of Nigeria to fulfill her potential and assume leadership roles in Africa and the world. There are different schools of thought on the origin and solutions to the Nigeria problem. However, two appear to dominate from the desire to proffer solutions that would address the diverse challenges which retard its progress.
One group believes that Nigerian’s problems stem from its structure, and that only structural solution that offers further degree of autonomy to its component ethnic groups would suffice. They argue that Nigeria is not a nation by using a very narrow and abstract definition of nation, and fail to recognise the degree of integrations that has already taken place between the different ethnic groups through marriages, religion, commerce and internal migration. They dream of a return to the ethnic nations in the time before January 1900, unmindful of the evolutionary political changes that have taken place in its structure since then. They fan the flame of ethnic nationality to achieve their aim, and constantly argue for a new constitutional arrangement on the basis of ethnicity. They also emphasize cultural differences, like languages, national heroes and elevate preferences like food, dress senses and musical tastes to the level of difference. Furthermore, they refuse to recognise that the present constitution is abused by legislators and executives from all ethnic groups and that corruption, abuse of power and criminality are human and not ethnic traits.
One serious difficulty with this position, which its proponents fail to understand, or have simply chosen to ignore, is the error in their reasoning committed by coming to conclusion about problems caused by individuals based on information about groups, which is called ecological fallacy. They compare countries and come to plausible conclusions about a particular problem, then use it to propose solutions for problems caused by individual living in another country. They look at mono-ethnic countries which lack Nigeria’s structural challenges, and conclude that Nigeria would be better of if its ethnic groups enjoy more degree of autonomy, but fail to see that the mono-ethnic countries have the same human problems (corruption, tyrannical government, impunity, police brutality, lack of respect for the rule of law, intolerance, injustice and unfair distribution of resources, social inequality, discrimination of minorities, and restriction of liberty) which they attribute to the structure of Nigeria.
The structural school of thought, argue that multi-ethnic states are unstable and unviable. At the same time, they treat the United States as an exception, ignore Canada and fail to acknowledge multi-ethnicity as a strength and contributory to the success of countries like India, Japan, Britain, and Brazil and so on. They try to equate Scotland’s nationalism with their ethnic nationalism, but forget that no ethnic group in Nigeria has colonized the others in the way England colonized and suppressed Scotland and Wales for many year. They dismiss the unstable mono-ethnic states of Middle East, and fail to acknowledge that there are other constructs, on which human beings can segregate even in mono- ethnic states.They then cite Israel, which is a country propped up by United States as example of successful monoethinc state to justify their desire for a country made up of only people from their ethnic group who speak the same language. In this way they confuse the debate and hide their chauvinistic and divisive ethnic nationalism behind the need to find solution to human problems, which would be amendable to other interventions apart from balkanization.
Their apparent fixity on constructs which people choose to define themselves, would seem to constitute serious impediment to their understanding of the issues, which those who believe that Nigerian’s problem originates from human behaviour, may wish to galvanize Nigerians to address. They forget that no part of Nigeria is truly monoethinc in the purest sense, and that there are significant ethnic differences between Ife and Modakeke or Onitsha and Obosi, which are comparable to the difference between a Sunni and Shiite Bahrainis or Catholic and Protestant from Northern Ireland. They are adamant to the fact that mono and multi-ethnic states have human problems which are amendable to human interventions.
In an Internet survey on people's understanding on mono-ethnicity 67% of respondents agreed that "the desire for a mono-ethnic state is an assertion that your ethnicity is superior to others who may want to share the said nation with you. In fact it is rather masked way of expressing prejudice" Dawa Norba, in ‘culture and politics of Third world nationalism’ defined ethnic nationalism as politicized social consciousness centered upon an ethnic identity born out of shared commonalities seeking to achieve unity, autonomy and group interest.
However, there is another school of thought, which locates Nigeria’s problems in human behaviour, attitude and primordial instincts, recognizes the challenges which the structure of Nigeria presents, but concludes that Nigeria's problems arise from human behaviour and attitude; and as such, would yield to interventions aimed at these behaviour; while not undervaluing the additional challenges which its structure presents. This group believes that Nigeria is both a country and a multi-ethnic nation.
I wish to draw attention to the danger toxic ethnic nationalism poses to the survival of Nigeria as a nation,and hope that the incoming administration would recognise that Nigeria’s time for getting its attempt at nation building right is fast running out and that this may well be her last opportunity to get her acts together, before the separatists move in to offer structural solution for what is, but human problems.
In multi-ethnic states, there are often minorities who are discriminated against and are prone to idealize the deceptive solution which autonomy offers. However, once they get their own state, they create their own minorities and the circle begins all over again. The agitation for monoethinc ‘states’ have transformed Nigeria from a country of three regions into that of thirty-six states and inflated the cost of government to unsustainable level. In spite of this, there are still minorities in several states (regions, ethnic nations) who clamour for autonomous state on the basis of ethnicity. A ready example is Delta state.
A time has to come, when Nigerians must realize that the solution to the problems that fuel the desire for monoethinc ‘states’ or nations are good government, justice and equal opportunity, rule of law and other civil values, and not structural balkanization of the country on the basis of ethnicity. As a matter of fact, I believe that some states should be considering merging in order to reduce the cost of government and release fund for the development the regions desperately needs. If I were the governor of Abia state for instance, I would seriously be looking for ways to reduce the cost of government and would honestly consider the possibility of merging with another state to reduce the cost of government, stem corruption and find money for the needed development, considering its current financial status and the magnitude of political corruption it has endured in the past years.
Let us consider the Middle East, which offers the best example of mono-ethnic states for further instance. It is divided by religion, which has undermined its ethnic cohesion and created minorities who would welcome a nation of their own. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Omar, are all mono-ethnic states with difficult problems. A Sunni Moslem in Bahrain believes he has very little in common with his Shiite brother. These countries have many difficult human problems similar to the ones we contend with in Nigeria. Corruption and tyranny are not an ethnic traits, and would follow the people wherever they go, unless they have a solution to deal with them.
There are corrupt politician in Britain who, if they can get away with it, would not only fiddle their expenses. The difference between Britain and Nigeria is that, Britain is a country with civil values and strong institutions to hold people to account, control corruption and ensure justice, while successive Nigerian governments have undermined her institutions and created strong individuals and groups who have taken impunity to great heights. What I am trying to make my fellow Nigerians understand is that, there are other constructs, as strong as ethnicity(tribe or nationality), like religion, cast, sexual orientation, political views, views about animal rights and the ‘football club one supports’; which can separate human beings, even brothers.
Contrary to what many would want to believe, Japan is a multiethnic state. Not like a region of Nigeria with similar ethnic mix and common language, but like Nigeria with different ethnic groups and cultures. It had similar problems to the one Nigeria has today. They have found effective solutions to them by emphasizing civilized values and addressing discrimination and injustices, and building a common national identity. In Japan you would never hear a Ryukyuan expressing the type of ethnic sentiments a Youruba expresses towards an Hausa or Igbo towards a Yoruba for instance. This is because they believe in Japan as their country and value their national identity. They are still faithful to their traditions and culture. Many Japanese still celebrate their ethnic identity (I would refer Nigerians to a paper, Multiethnic Japan and the mono-ethnic Myth by Stephen Murphy-shigematsu. Just Google it). I believe that if Japan can do it Nigeria can.
However, in a country where the ruling class is corrupt and immoral and not minded to adhere to the rule of law and the principle of participatory democracy, there would be people who would prefer to uncouple their ethnic group from such a country as their response to the injustices, impunity, incompetence and corruption. Every other argument for a united nation breaks down under such circumstance.
Those who locate Nigeria’s problems in its structure, adopt a very pedantic definition of nation that enables them make a case for their ethnic groups as the nation states of Nigeria, and therefore justify structural solution for her human problems. It would also seem to me that the distinction they make between nation and country is semantic and overvalued. This differences in understand may be due to usage and context in which both words can be used interchangeably.
There are many Nigerians whose loyalty is first to their ethnic groups in ways that subvert the interest of Nigeria as a nation”. This practice has contributed in no small measure to the institutionalization and edemicity of corruption and inability of Nigeria to develop its potential. They see Nigeria as a ‘cash cow’, where they go to pillage for their ethnic groups. Even though these corrupt and debased Nigerians have committed serious crimes against her, they are defended and honoured by their ethnic groups in an attempt to put ethnic loyalty above universal moral and civil values.
The cases of Abacha and Bode George are ready examples. One wonders if Abacha and Bode George would have been treated as heroes if their crimes were committed in Arewa caliphate or Oduduwa nation. What I find most annoying is that even Nigerians in Diaspora, do not fair better in this celebration of criminality. They call them distinguished and illustrious sons and daughters and organize receptions to honour them in the name of celebrating their cultural heritage. This frequent sordid and absurd spectacle never ceases to amaze me. It is therefore easy to understand, why separatists would blame the structure of Nigeria and use instances like these to buttress their case for mono-ethinc states as the solution to the problem of corruption and bad government. However, we know that the solution is to educate the people to accept civil and democratic values, believe in due process and have strong institutions to hold everybody to account. The rule of law instead of the rule of men.
Every civilized person would recognise the contradiction such divided loyalty by some citizens would pose to her unity. However, those who locate the problems and solutions of Nigeria in its structure argue that the problems of corruption, which is a human problem, would not be solved; except there is first a degree of additional autonomy to the different ethnic groups. They fail to recognise that their demand for more autonomy to the ethnic nations has been largely met by creation of more states along ethnic lines. Sadly, some of these states are increasingly looking like a big mistake because corruption, sustained by sub-ethnic nationalism, has made any significant development impossible. Furthermore, their position would appear to ignore or minimize the other constructs on which people segregate, even in mono-ethnic states, which give rise to the same problems Nigeria is grabbling with today.
Looking at the two positions, one can see that they are simply expressions of perspectives on the same problem. They are different but not contradictory, even though the structural school of thought may argue otherwise. They both express relative truths, which are relevant to the same context and therefore, should not be superimposed on the same situation at the same time as it would increase conflict and misunderstanding. One proposes a framework to advance an objective within a complex geo-political contraption that exists as a country in which there are a lot of human problems, some of which stem from the arrangement itself, without prior degree of further ethnic separation or autonomy.
The other locates the Nigeria’s problems squarely on its structure and uses the plausible assumptions, that the structure contributes to its problem in an undefined manner, to locate the solutions to its problems in a prior degree of disintegration of the country in its present form into its nation’s states, as they existed before 1900. This is probably because they are convinced that most of the problems of the country, including problems due to human behaviour, stem from the multi-ethnic structure of the country, hence their conviction that a degree of autonomy to the nation states that make up the country is a prerequisite to the solutions of all its problems.
In addition to the error of its logic, the structural school of thought would appear to ignore the fact the human problems would follow the people wherever they go.When a part of an unhappy union embarks on self determination without addressing the problems that are common to all the people of the country, they end up recreating the same problems that inspired their nationalism amongst the minorities of their new nation.This has been born out in some states of Nigeria. South Sudan has confirmed this assertion since this article was first written in 2011.
It would appear to me that Nigerians, who stubbornly locate the solution to its problems in a further degree of disintegration may have a fundamental objection to existence of the entity called Nigeria as a nation, hence, their tendency to see the solution to its problems in its structure. It would seem to me that they are in a state of denial. However, the frightening thing is that their number has grown as bad government progressed and they now constitute a significant proportion of those who advocate for a new constitutional arrangement for Nigeria as a smoke screen for actualization of their dream to break up Nigeria into ethnic nations.
Ethnic nationalists do not care what happens to Nigeria, as long as they have their ethnic states. They are prepared to confuse the struggle for independence from colonial rule with the agitation for autonomy based on ethnicity, in a country where individual have legal rights and avenues to pursue self determination and fight discriminations and injustices. They desire to go back to a utopian state before the creation of Nigeria, and forget that nations like people are in a state of evolution, and that any return to the past only legitimizes natural advantages acquired when men must kill to stay alive.
There is enough evidence of the devastating effect of ethnic nationalism to convince most people that it would be a monumental mistake, for Nigeria to ignore the damage ethnic nationalists can to her dream of building a country united on civil values, equality and the rule of law. This is why Nigerian must take very good care about who they trust with power, and ensure that such individual are completely sanitized of all prejudices of religion and ethnicity. I believe that Nigeria has serious human problems which demand urgent intervention, irrespective of the fact that some part may be minded to achieve a degree of further political autonomy bases on ethnicity. The people that inhabit Nigeria today need to be enlightened about the values that make for peaceful coexistence, whether or not they finally end up in Arewa Caliphate, Oduduwa Nation or Biafra Republic; or in a new Nigeria, which gives each ethnic nation more degree of autonomy that satisfies their nationalistic instincts and aspiration.
Pakistan and India are good examples of what can go wrong, when a nation narrowly defines its identity either on the basis of religion or common ancestry. Both provide invaluable lessons in national identity, multi-ethnic states and mono-ethnicity, which every honest Nigerian should understand. Looking at Pakistan today, who would argue that it would not have been worse off, if it had sort a peaceful separation from India, with enlightened citizens not drunk on nationalism and religion?
Advocates of monoethinc autonomy fail to take on board the fact that, one’s brother or sister can be the most dangerous person on earth, while a stranger can be the best person one would ever meet. Religious people would be aware that Cain killed Abel his brother in the garden of the Eden. While family and ethnic loyalties and identities are very important and necessary component of human identity, they sometimes blind people to injustice, immorality, corruption and provide an avenue to express our prejudices, unless one has a dissociated mind.
It is also important that Nigerians explore the genesis of the Hutu Tutsi genocide. It started with ethnic nationalism. Although advocates of monoethinc states continue to trace the cause to the structural arrangement of the country, it is clear that if Hutus and Tutsis deemphasized their ethnic identities and concentrated in building a nation where social justice, equality, rule oflaw and other civil values reign supreme, they might not have created a perfect environment to fermented the prejudice that expressed itself in the smoke screen of ethnic nationalism, under which the genocide was perpetrated. Ethnic nationalism is like a scalpel. In the hand of the surgeon it is a source of life, but an instrument of death in the hand of a murderer.
I believe that it is time for Nigerians to start emphasizing what unites us as a country and people, and say it loudly and clear, that what makes human beings special, enlightened or people of intergrity, is not the ethnic group they belong to or the religion they profess. Rather, the strength of their character, the way they think, their behaviour, relationship with others, their sensitivity, and what they are willing to justify in the name of cultural identity, God, or religion. These are the constructs that make people safe, wise and moral beings that can be trusted to act justly and fairly to all people, at all times. It is the values and beliefs that a man holds dear which are supposed to inform his behaviour or give him ideas about how he is expected to behave and conduct himself. Beliefs, ethnicity and culture, influence human behaviour, hence, the need for people to understand the unconscious motives and instinct that inform them. As Plato argued in the ‘Republic’, achieving this goal is the real and true reason for our existence.
This is why I call on Nigerians to focus on human factors that are contributing to our underdevelopment and bad government. This should be an important area for our legislators to focus on, so that they can pass just and fair laws that would preserve our unity and draw attention to the human factors that inform our conducts and behaviours. I hope that they would start by reviewing their jumbo pay, by bringing it in line with the economic realities of the country.
Nigerians must take its citizens who yearn for mono-ethinc states very seriously, and either educate and dissuade them from their aspiration, or create a just democratic process for them to actualize their dream. Ethnic nationalism is a social cancer in any society. It cannot be ignored. Recently we watched the pulverization of the Tamils in Srilankar. Nigerians have turned a blind eye to the terrible atrocities committed by our armed forces in Niger Delta against the people who have resorted to arm struggle to solve the problem belonging to Nigeria has presented to them. We have kept quite at the use of disproportionate force and collective punishment against the people who have borne the price of our oil economy. Actions like this only make disintegration of Nigeria more likely.
Soon we may experience the birth of South Sudan after years of civil war, not from the barrels of gun, but from the dividends of democracy and civil values. I have mentioned the problems in the monoethinc states of the Middle East. I presume these examples are enough to warn die hard ‘nationalists’ that mono-ethnic state is not a panacea for all discriminations, bad governmentand other inhumanities that countries face, which they often cite as the reason for their demand for monoethinc state.
Perhaps, if Nigerian leaders were sufficiently enlightened and dissociated in their ethnic prejudices, understanding of human nature and behaviour, they might have avoided a civil war by finding a more intelligent and creative solution to the anxieties of the Ibos in the 1960s. I am inclined to conclude that it would be unwise for any other ethnic group in Nigeria to embark on a quest for autonomy, without first making a coherent intellectual argument and case for it, or allow it to develop through a mass movement in the heat of emotions as many now seem to think is inevitable.
The issues I raise are dear to my heart. This debate is not a game. It goes to the heart and soul of Nigeria as a country. We cannot afford to see it simply as an intellectual argument to be won the way lawyers try to win cases. These represent my views about Nigeria,for which I am ready to do everything in power to achieve with like minded Nigerians. I love my country, and it pains me that somehow, Nigeria has allowed the worst of her citizens to gain power and good honest men have only found comfortable seats from which to complain.
At the moment, Nigeria has a enormous problem. It is like a ship taking water. Nigerians have to agree a fairer power and resources management formula that would be acceptable to those who pay the human and environmental price for her oil powered economy, and satisfy the demand for mono-ethinc states by the separatists who locate the cause of her problems to its structure. This would enable the former to give up violence as a means to self determination, and the later to drop balkanization as the only solution to the problems we all agree need immediate interventions.
Nigeria has to drastically bring down the cost of government and enthrone accountability by removal of immunity from prosecution for politicians in office. The best way to control corruption is to make stealing impossible and prosecution swift and certain. As I have pointed out in this article, there are many creative ways of doing this. No country can survive and have enough resources for development, when the government consumes 80% of the recurrent expenditures. I am persuaded that Nigeria would choose the part of enlightenment and determine to build a united country where the people subscribe to civil values of tolerance, justice as fairness and respect for individual liberty.
I hope Nigeria survives.