One hundred and six years after its formation through the act of amalgamation in 1914, 60 years after independence from Great Britain in 1960 and 21 years of unbroken civil democratic rule since 1999 after many years of military rule, Nigeria, the most populous Black country in the world, can best be described as a failure. After many years of misrule by a clique of abusive rogue rulers [military and civilian], Nigeria has become a decrepit hole of endemic corruption, heightened insecurity and economic depression.
Rated as the third most terrorised country in the world, Nigeria is currently embroiled in a web of complex security challenges, which has left much of its 923,769 square kilometres territory ungovernable and many of its 200 million people unsecured. Nigeria’s status as the poverty capital of the world, with more than half of its population living below the line of poverty, has further exacerbated the heightened state of insecurity. And Nigeria’s inability to overcome these existential challenges is attributable to an endemic culture of corruption, which pervades the entire crevices of government, its political leadership, civil service and traditional institutions. As Nigeria attains the diamond age of 60, it has become imperative to understand why the giant of Africa remains a slumbering dark hole of despair, frustration and hopelessness.
At the root of Nigeria’s foundational problem is the unresolved question of national identity, which has impeded its evolution into a united, strong and virile nation state with a coherent agenda for integrated national development. Made up of hundreds of ethno-geographic groupings that were merged together to form one sovereign entity through the 1914 act of amalgamation by the British colonial authorities, Nigeria has not been able to evolve into a true nation state 60 years after independence. Whereas the British successfully created the country, Nigeria, out of a multiplicity of ethnic groupings within its colonial sphere of influence in its territories around the Niger River area, Nigerians have failed to build the nation of Nigeria post-independence.
Right from the start, Nigeria’s journey to nationhood was poised to be stunted not so much for the colonial misadventure of the British, who lumped “different’”peoples around the Niger area into a “geographic expression” but because of the inability of its post-independence political leadership to fully understand and appreciate the historic role of colonialism in the creation of countries and their own role in its evolution into a nation state. Like Nigeria, the British were once a “different” people that were conquered and colonised by the Romans. From 43 to 410 AD, Britain, which comprised the English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish, was a colonial province of the Roman Empire. And just as the British named its treaty territories around the Niger River area ‘Nigeria’, so did the Romans name their colonial territory north of the English Channel, ‘Britain’.
While Nigeria’s first generation political leaders, otherwise called founding fathers, were pre-occupied with the pettiness of ethno-geographic differences, they didn’t quite decipher that, underneath the construct of the British identity of their colonial masters are a people as plural as they were. Sir George Goldie who played the biggest role in the formation of modern Nigeria was Scottish, just as Flora Shaw, the British essayist who suggested the name “Nigeria”, was of Irish ancestry. At the time of amalgamation of the protectorates of the North and South of Nigeria into one entity in 1914, the British crown was seating on the head of King George V, an ethnic German who was the grandson of Queen Victoria by her consort, Prince Albert of Germany, through their son King Edward VII. Just as Nigeria’s founding fathers variously identified as Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa, so were their colonial masters individually identifiable by their ethno-geographic ancestry. The difference was the ability of their colonial masters to rise above primitively rigid territorial identification by adopting the common national identity of their shared geographical expression of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. As no nation is truly blessed with abundance of human and natural resources, the British were united in their concerted effort to shore up the wealth of their nation through the acquisition of overseas territories to expand trade and investment for the economic benefit of their homeland. This is precisely the greatest lesson Nigeria’s founding fathers failed to learn from their colonial experience.
Diversity is a measure of racial differentiation in a sample population of a geographic entity and not necessarily a measure of ethnic variation within a mono-racial population. By this definition, Nigeria does not qualify as a diverse country, only a plural one. The failure of Nigeria’s founding fathers to realise that, like White Britain, Nigeria was a Black mono-racial country that did not qualify to be called a diverse country, reinforced the resolute belief in them that Nigerians were irreconcilably different to the extent that a united Nigerian nation could not be achieved; hence, they negotiated from the British an independent Nigerian state with a federation rigidly structured along ethno-geographic lines.
The rigid structure was made inorganic by political leaders of dominant ethnic groups that were fiercely territorial and did not allow for integration and assimilation of Nigerians wherever they chose to reside within the federation. Without a mechanism for seamless integration and assimilation of Nigerians outside their regions of origin, with full political and economic rights accorded them, there arose the problematic issue of indigene/settler dichotomy, which has rendered some Nigerians outsiders inside their own country.
Nigeria’s founding fathers did not found a nation. They founded a country of hundreds of feuding ethno-geographic nationalities. Rather than unite Nigeria for the purpose of global economic competiveness, Nigeria’s founding fathers divided Nigerians along ethnic fault lines for the purpose of political power and control of Nigeria’s internal resources. Consequently, Nigeria’s so-called founding fathers bequeathed to future generations a country of indigenous tribesmen and not a nation of citizens, 60 years after independence. By their very nature, tribesmen are fiercely territorial and ethnophobic. They consider people of other ethno-geographic origins as strange elements irreconcilably different from their own kind. In a country of indigenous tribesmen such as Nigeria, to be Enugu means to be Igbo, to be Kano is for one to be Hausa Fulani and Oyo is always Yoruba. A Nigerian cannot be Igbo and Sokoto, Hausa and Anambra, Yoruba and Imo, Tiv and Taraba or Ibibio and Cross River. This situation has created an ethno-geographic apartheid system that limits the economic and political rights of Nigerians in their own country through systemic discrimination and marginalisation. It is easier for an ethnic Igbo citizen of Italy to be elected into the Italian senate than for an ethnic Igbo resident of Kano State to be elected as a ward councillor. Similarly, it is easier for an ethnic Hausa citizen of UK to be elected mayor of London than to elected chairman of Onitsha South Local Government of Anambra State.
As a country of indigenous tribesmen, loyalties of the constituent peoples are primarily to their ethnic nationalities and not to the Nigerian state, and their fidelities are to their customs and traditions and not to the constitution of the state. The allegiance of a tribesman is usually to the traditional authority of his ethno-geographic group and not to the constituted authority of the state. Therefore, constitutional democracy, military dictatorship, economic policies and political processes that are designed for the good governance of a modern nation of citizens will not work for a primitive country of indigenous tribesmen.
From the Westminster-style parliamentary federal system at independence in 1960 to centralised military rule and the current American-style executive presidential system of the Fourth Republic, none has worked positively for Nigeria because of the faulty configuration of its structures of state.
In a country of indigenous tribesmen such as Nigeria, constitutionalism, law and order will always be undermined by culture and tradition of the constituent ethnic groups and national economic policies as well as implementing institutions will always be ineffective and weakened from being subsumed by sectional tendencies.
By far the most devastating consequence of Nigeria’s faulty structural configuration is that, as a country of indigenous tribesmen, Nigeria’s constituent ethno-geographic groupings are sharply divided in their struggle over control of revenues accruing from its internal oil mineral resources. This struggle has resulted in a divisive form of ethnic identity politics, which is being championed by the elite across the country to the detriment of national unity and development. In a country of indigenous tribesmen that is steeped in identity politics, corrupt practices such as tribalism, nepotism, favouritism, cronyism and sectionalism are legitimate cultural means of securing a chunk of the national cake by the political elite of the various sections of the country. Sanctioned by culture and ratified by religion, corruption is made official in Nigeria by the affirmative action of zoning and rotation of political offices among the ruling elite from the constituent ethno-geographic groupings in order to have equitable access to Nigeria’s common patrimony. Sadly, this affirmative action has been skewed by Nigeria’s ruling political elite from equitable distribution of resources to their various sections of the country to equal sharing of loot among themselves.
Being cocooned into a pressure cooker of intense struggle for internal resources by Nigeria’s rogue political leadership has put enormous pressure on the meagre resources of the Nigerian. Made prostrate by the cancer of economic mismanagement, Nigeria is nearing the end stage of state failure as a result of heightened insecurity and unbridled corruption as the state has become weakened from the strengthening of forces of destructive disruption of non-state actors. To reposition the Nigerian state on the path to sustainable socio-economic development will be to resolve the fundamental question of national identity. To resolve Nigeria’s identity dissonance there is a need to overthrow the current elite conspiracy to divide and rule Nigerians by maintaining the status quo by a people’s consensus of unity in plurality and consciously work towards transforming Nigeria from a country of indigenous tribesmen to a nation of citizens led by statesmen.
As long as Nigerians continue to allow themselves to be divided along ethno-geographic fault lines, they would have granted an irrevocable power of attorney to their rogue leaders to continue to misrule them in perpetuity. Therefore, guided by the self-enlightened realization that Nigeria is not really a diverse country of irreconcilably different ethno-geographic groupings but only a plurality of ethnic groups within a broad mono racial family of peoples with shared historic, geographical, cultural and traditional proximity, which predates the British incursion into continental Africa, the first step towards the redemption of Nigeria from a country of indigenous tribesmen to a nation of citizens is to reconfigure the structure of Nigeria’s federating units away from its ethno-geographic rigidity by substituting state of origin with state of residency. Substituting state of origin with state of residence and evolve a deliberate as well purposeful political process that allows for integration and assimilation, Nigeria into a nation of Nigerians where a Nigerian can be Igbo and Kano, Hausa and Anambra, Yoruba and Sokoto, Kanuri and Bayelsa, Ijaw and Borno, etc. Not doing this will mean Nigeria remaining trapped perpetually at the bottom of the pyramid of human and societal development, where life is short, brutish and nasty.