By Jerome-Mario Utomi
Some leadership traits that were useful in the past might not be so today, because we are facing a situation that is totally different from the one that prevailed in the late 1990s or even in the early 2000s. We must, therefore, find new forms of leadership, because the sophisticated ventures we are considering today requires a higher level of initiative and creativity
— Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirate.
Looking at the human carnage presently ongoing across the country-from the South East to South West, North East to North Central and similar human tragedies in the South West, North West, it is enough to cause dropping spirit among the vast majority of Nigerians.
This feeling orchestrated by the happenings becomes particularly worrying when one remembers that it is happening despite huge budgetary allocations to the security and defence sector. And coming at a time when recent economic policies in the country has already thrown hundreds of thousands of Nigerians out of employment while simultaneously driving more people into the ranks of beggars, whose desperate struggle for bread renders them insensible to all feelings of decency and self-respect.
Except in a peripheral way, if we truly analyze the characteristics of excellent leaders regardless of their nationality, we will find out that they are both creative and innovative. By contrast, while the creative and innovative leaders in the other parts of the world are thinking up, and doing new things because they possess the know-how, energy and, power to implement ideas, those lacking in these attributes passively conditioned their responses to leadership stimuli such as the present happenings in the country. Of course, right from independence in October 1960, successive leaderships in Nigeria developed automatic ways of responding to the political, economic and socioeconomic occurrences. They repeat this act, yet expect different results. This leadership style partially explains why the nation is currently in grief.
With this highlighted, let’s focus on the larger frame of challenges that set the stage for the present challenge- the marriage of two unwilling brides who had no say in their forced and ill-fated union called amalgamation of the northern and the southern protectorates on the 14th February 1914.
Indeed, not that everyone agreed with the direction the amalgamation was taking. There was heated internal debate/opposition about whether we should be pursuing this multi-ethnic union. Some leaders of the protectorates, particularly from the East argued that we should go slowly for now. Such suggestions however, fell on deaf ears. But, again, it puts in plain words why the East had to wait till the 1920s before it was finally forced to join the union.
Despite the existence of an unequal relationship, the nation state from one British Colonial Amalgamated Entity was later, in preparation for the independence, restructured into three Federating Regions. The Northern Nigeria, led by an Hausa-Fulani ethnic Nationality, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the Western Region of Nigeria led by a Yoruba ethnic Nationality Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and the Eastern Region of Nigeria led by an Igbo ethnic Nationality, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, respectively.. The Capitals of the respective Regional Governments are Kaduna, Ibadan and Enugu respectively, while Lagos, though part of Yoruba land, was unanimously chosen as the Capital of the Nigerian Federation, during the Restructuring Meetings of the Amalgamated Nigeria in 1951 at Ibadan Western Nigeria. Please see the Report of the Conference to this effect at Ibadan Western Nigeria under the Chairmanship of the British Colonial Secretary, Sir Oliver Littleton.
The situation says something else. As noted in my recent and similar piece, Nigeria, at independence in 1960, became a federation, resting firmly on a tripod of three federating regions-Northern, Eastern and Western Regions. Each of the regions was economically and politically viable to steer its own ship, yet mutual suspicion among them was rife. The British colonial overlords probably intended the protectorates to operate in asymmetrical manner with no part of the amalgam claiming superiority over the other. This arrangement conferred on the fledgling country the form of the Biblical trinity. However, Nigeria has but unfortunately remained a castle without foundation. Our regional loyalty surpassed nationalistic fervor with every ethnic group seeking primarily what they can get from Nigeria.
Why do I share this painful history? The answer is not farfetched; apart from being verifiable facts, it points at why Nigeria is doing great in name but unfortunately, the people in it are not. While this state of affairs continues to thrive, there are in fact, more stunning reasons and effective argument that if we are desirous of solving the nation’s present political and socioeconomic challenges, we must first, acknowledge that Nigeria, in absolute terms is made up of not just three but well over 120 ethnic groupings. And accept that the nation’s current challenge goes beyond the banality of ethnicity to include regions’ undercurrents.
Above all, the nation must admit that most of these smaller ethnic groups are by no means comfortable with their blanket categorization under the three major ethnic groups. And such clumsy arrangement urgently needs to be recognized and these groups given their pride of place via a structural re-configuration of the political entity called Nigeria. Readers with critical minds may ask; what is the evidence that tribal loyalties are stronger than our sense of common nationhood? And how can the piece justify the claim that the smaller tribes are not comfortable with the ‘trinity’? This piece will concentrate on two examples.
The first made manifest in 1957, during a meeting the British Colonial Authorities convened in London for Nigeria’s representative Political leaders from Northern Nigeria, Western Nigeria and Eastern Nigeria, respectively. At that Conference, it was reported that Chief Harold Biriye, a leading Politician of Ijaw ethnic Nationality from the Niger Delta area of Eastern Region of Nigeria, pleaded strongly with the British Colonial Authorities to carve out the Niger Delta part of the Eastern Region of Nigeria to serve as the 4th Federating Regional Government of Nigeria in order to take care of its peculiar environment, culture, ecology and to develop at its own pace and factor endowments. Pleading time as the constraint, the British Colonial Authorities asked the Government of Nigeria, after independence, to undertake that assignment. To understand this account fully well, this piece will encourage readers to search and read the report entitled; scientific and Technological Innovations in Biafra (1967-1970),
Also, in the mid 1960s,Lee Kuan Yew, the pioneer Prime Minister of Singapore, who was in Nigeria for the Commonwealth of Nations meeting, observed thus; I was not optimistic about Africa. In less than 10 years after independence, Nigeria had had a coup and Ghana a failed coup. I thought their tribal loyalties were stronger than their sense of common nationhood. This was especially so in Nigeria, where there was a deep cleavage between the Muslim Hausa northerners and the Christian and pagan southerners. As in Malaysia, the British handed power, especially the army and police, to the Muslims. In Ghana, without this north-south divide, the problem was less acute, but there were still clear tribal divisions’.
From the above accounts, it is obvious therefore, that the nation urgently needs a higher level of initiative and creativity to address the ethnicity challenges, confront brutal forces and secure the masses while revitalizing the nation’s economy.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos, writes via [email protected]