“Nigeria is not a nation. It is mere geographical expression.” — Chief Obafemi Awolowo, 1947 (Path to Nigerian Freedom)
Welcome to 2018. As every Nigerian is oft to say, “Happy New Year”. For our nation, these could be happier times. The President said as much in his New Year message, where he vaunted the successes of his administration — infrastructure strides, in security and in agriculture, and half heartedly apologised for their failures — energy scarcity, unemployment and poverty in the land that has defied “Buharinomics”.
A cursory review of the President’s speech should reveal to any canny viewer the glaring failures of the Nigerian state since 1960: the inability of a generation of leaders to build a nation, from the country they inherited from Great Britain and their forebears- and a seeming unwillingness to do so even in the face of ALL evidence that they need to take on this monumental task.
We remain a mere potential, bursting in its ranks with willing and capable citizens but failing time and time again to achieve anything close to where she should be punching among the comity of nations. This problem, if anything is a failure of the generality of society: of elites in consensus, of leadership as well as followership. After all, our leaders emerge from the general body polity. We won’t install aliens as leaders. So please, if anything in 2018 — take that oft prescribed “leadership problem”, with a grain of salt: our problems are deeper and more total. Nigeria’s problems were created by Nigerian people, and are so Nigerian that it will take ALL Nigerians to solve it when we correctly diagnose the problems we have.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the famous utterer of the words in quote above could have been correct in 1947 about the mere geographical expression that Nigeria was, but why should he be right in 2017, a gallant 70 years afterwards?
In 1947, we were yet to have regional autonomy that allowed the three federating regions build some of the infrastructure which we now have failed to build upon many years later. In 1947, we were yet to have the several rounds of London Constitutional Conferences upon which the independent Nigerian state was constructed. In 1947, we were yet to fight a bloody civil war that should have resolved permanently some national questions. In 1947, we didn’t have the political independence to set our country straight down the path of building a nation. In 1947, we lacked the ingredients for nation building including perhaps even the blessings later turned curse of oil. 1947 couldn’t possibly define our future, or could it?
Societies decide to transform from mere countries to nations, either as a result of confronting external pressures or as a result of massive internal movements that upend norms. In the case of Nigeria, both has been absent. Located in a rather quiet region — we have no serious external common enemy even with the advent of rag tag Boko Haram, nor can the societal breakdowns that have created the “I chop, you chop” culture give rise to sufficient internal uprisings that forced revolutions in several other climes to fester. Simply put, in Nigeria we remain a people adrift, kicking the ball down to the next generation to solve while ensuring to handicap them well enough with economic headaches of our own!
To build a nation, we must realise the three fundamental things that NATIONS do to become truly ONE:
- They argue, agitate and engage one another to determine the terms of unity. This singular threshold is one the current generation of Nigerians (more on #NigerianGenerations in the future, but feel free to enjoy associated twitter thread here) have yet to bring themselves to accept. Be it the American Revolutionary Wars, the Federalist papers and similar duels on how the emerging American society should be structured, the Magna Carta and several enlightenment movement chronicles that modernized Britain, the several insurrections that led to the creation of the modern Russian state from the rise of the Bolsheviks to the engagement factors in the early days the Latin American countries were founded, modern societies argued about their existence before creation. As such, it is a curious phenomenon in Nigeria that the Nigerians have placed an internal gag order on engagement. In fact, our President declare presumptively that “process” not “structure” is our problem and then went on to cite an example of a process change (from Parliamentary system to Presidential system) to back his reasoning. The irony was lost on him! On what terms would Nigeria transmute into a nation state? What basic blocks would form the structure of such state? Is there a consensus for a decentralised, centralised, an hybrid of some sort based system of government? Are our regions, states or local governments the ideal units for exerting the principles of state? Thinking “firmly” that process supersedes structure as the President affirmed in his New Year Day speech of 2018 would not end the need for the debate that should happen. It only postpones the evil day. You can’t build anything on nothing.
- Nations develop ethos, dreams and clear visions for where they want to occupy in the comity of states — and mechanism to pass them on. Nations must have reasons why they exist. They must add value to the culture, wellbeing and existence of their citizens. Nations make sense. Be it capitalism or communism, the Russian nation is devoted to the “motherland’. The American dream and in her early days “the manifest destiny” is well and alive in the minds of every American, and the dream of the Rising Sun is self evident to every Japanese man, woman or child. Every Chinese child is self-aware about the importance China or Canada in the world, and it is taught in her schools. In Canada, I was shocked when I learned that one of my wards in pre-kindergarten is compelled everyday to play in snow for thirty minutes by law to ensure every Canadian kid is acclimatised to the natural conditions of their country. Yes, nations invest in education — ensuring their history and civic duties are well stated and passed on to the next Generation. Every student that went to an American university have taken four subjects in common whether they attended MIT or one no name college in Alaska — in US Government and US History! In Nigeria to date, God forbid! The national history, ethos and thoughts course through the Scandinavian, Indian & Pacific Ocean and Latin American states. In Nigeria we run from our history! We are not a nation. There is a logical reason for Nigeria’s existence, we just have not managed to enumerate them into a body of knowledge we can pass on to the next generation. We are satisfied with the blame game, with the cynical game, with the regret game- and leaving a country instead of a nation for our children.
- Lastly, nations take the pain to know their citizens. Just like we’ve refused to engage or elucidiate a sensible ethos for our nation, this generation of Nigerians (hopefully they won’t be in charge for too long) have refused to count Nigerians. Nigeria operates one of the most porous borders in the world, where every Tom, Dick and Harry can claim citizenship. The current herdsmen-farmer clash is indirectly connected to this reality as nomads from all across West Africa feel free to stroll through our borders to inflict pain on Nigerians, as is the several cases of insecurity at the Cameroon or Benin borders where the definition of Nigerian is bought like chips on a ware of goods. We’ve refused to do sensible identity management because we have politicised planning and nation building — resulting in a country that is under performing and sincerely a joke in the comity of nations!
To this end, if we are determined to stop #MajoringInMinors, perhaps a new generation of Nigerians can begin to think about all three points raised above — and determine that a new nation will arise from the ashes of the failure of the “Wasted Generation”- a generation that got independence on a platter of gold, was impatient to assume leadership and slaughtered its way to the same, that wasted and frittered away new found national wealth and create a culture of “contractpreneurs”, “militricians”, and corruption that continues to dog our country. With this generation of Nigerians, we definitely do not need an enemy!
May God Help Nigeria. Amen.