In one of the bargaining tables for Nigeria’s Independence, Zik famously implored Sardauna: ‘Let us forget our differences.’ To that the enigmatic Northern leader responded, ‘No, let us understand our differences. I am a Muslim and northerner. You are a Christian and easterner. By understanding our differences, we can build unity in our country.’ Sixty years to the above conversation, Nigeria is still as divided as it was when the so-called flag independence was achieved on the first day of October 1960. Just as Zik, Awo and Sardauna engaged on futile negotiations on the best and generally agreed image to which to remold the independent Nigeria, today political leaders are yet to resolve the puzzle of “who gets what when and how.”
Nigeria’s Diamond Jubilee therefore, affords us the opportunity to look inward and gauge the annals of our national development –evaluating our journey thus far in nation-building as well as the extent to which we have smudged our ethnoreligious fault lines in what the famous British writer, Israel Zangwill dubbed the melting pot. It is against this backdrop that this piece anchored its analysis around the following two interrelated posers: 1) Why at 60 we are yet to fully translate our differences into strengths and, 2) What factors still hinder our journey into nationhood? Zik’s observation that Nigeria achieved its independence on a platter of gold was not an indication that the process was all bed of roses for the nationalists but a comparative analysis to what was obtainable from other African countries say, Congo, Algeria, Kenya, etc. where guerrilla warfare were resorted to. Apart from leaders of the Zikist Movement that smelt the acrid smell of colonial brutality, there existed some sort of bipolar perceptions between the nationalist leaders on what the word“nationalism” actually denote and what its modus oparendi connotes.
While Southerners saw it as the communal struggle for the emancipation of their countrymen from the shackles of imperialism, Northerners viewed it as a passport for Southern domination. This explains the reaction of Sarduana when Anthony Enahoro moved the Motion for Self-Government in 1956:
“The North does not intend to accept the invitation to commit suicide…As representatives of the people, we from the North feel that in all major issues such as this one, we are duty bound to consult those we represent…if the Honourable members from the West and East speak to this motion amended, for their people I must say here and now, Sir, that we from the North have been given no such mandates by our people…we are late in assimilating Western education yet within a short time we will catch up with other Regions, and share their lot… We want to be realistic and consolidate our gains.”
The above infra-dig by the representatives from the North brought the legislative business of that day to an abrupt end. It led to the Kano riot of 1953 and more importantly delayed the country’s independence. As a way out, the British colonial authorities in their wisdom, granted internal self-rule to the Eastern and Western Regions on August 1957 whereas Northern region voluntary postponed accepting it until 1959.
This lackluster attitude of the Northern elites towards decolonization as highlighted above was the evidence of years of cordial relationship with the British colonial masters.The relationship which dated back to 1879, during the era of Informal Sway when the Royal Niger Company was governing the defunct Northern Protectorate of Nigeria, aided the region in the politics and intrigues of “who the cap fits” and which region would protect the British interest after October 1st 1960. So when the Union Jack was finally lowered and general autonomy achieved, struggle for State power and its appurtenances became the be-all-and-end-all of politics. Zik and Awolowo were rigged out in the epoch-making 1959 election through British machination, though with the former placated with the nominal position of governor-general. Northern elites smiled home with the lion share, boasting that the former British colony is now their estate.
Like what happened in other newly independent African States, the NPC-NCNC Coalition Government continued the colonial political system. This culture among the first indigenous African political leaders to follow the footsteps of their former colonial masters was aptly captured by Prof Daron Acemoglu, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Prof James A. Robinson, of University of Chicago, in their fifteen years intellectual inquiry on ”Why Nations Fail.”
“It is not only that many of the post independence leaders of Africa moved into the same residence, made use of the same patronage networks and, employed the same ways of manipulating markets and extracting resources as had the colonial regimes and the emperor they replaced; but they also made things worse.”
The ethnoreligious colouration of political decisions bloated Nigeria’s chances of being distinguished in the comity of nations. Meritocracy paved way for mediocrity and nepotism.Therefore, the nation’s diversity that ought to be transformed to strength becomes an albatross on the neck of its national development.
The incursion by the men in Khaki to save the situation finally brought Nigeria on its knee and thus make us happy with the appellation “the sleeping giant.”From 1966-1979, 1983-1993, and 1993-1999 that military was in charge of the administration of this country, they made drastic decrees that deterred national development as well as tilted the North against the South. Through military fiat, the Kaduna mafia that hijacked those military administrations bastardized the federal system. Driven by the elan for the emplacement of Northern hegemony, they transformed Nigeria into what Prof Isawa Eliagwu of University of Jos christened “feeding bottle federalism.”This explains the logic behind the recent unceasing calls for restructuring. Presumably, Nigeria is today poised on threshold of monumental historical contradictions. Since the return to the civilian rule in 1999, the country is still gasping for leadership. Leadership that that will proffer lasting solutions to the perennial crisis of insecurity of lives and properties, ethnoreligious intolerance, vicious circle of poverty, power tussle, and Farmers-headers conflict. At 60, Nigeria is faced with the eternal question once posed by Chernychevsky and taken up by Lenin in old Russia: “What is to be done?”
In 2015, Jonathan led administration inaugurated the National Conference to diagnose and proffer solution to many of the countries sociopolitical problems but the incumbent administration on the assumption of office classified it as “jobs for the boys.”
Jonathan writes from Enugwu-Ukwu, Anambra State.