KWENU: Our Culture, Our Future
Nigeria @ 50: Romance & Reality
M. O. ENE
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. For 28 of 50 years of flag independence, corrupt and autocratic military musclemen ruled this country of over 150 million people. For 22 years, careless and corrupt political parasites and their callous and crooked cronies made a mess of both British-parliamentary and American-style presidential democracies that work elsewhere. Consequently, what would have been the proud banner of African post-colonial progression has turned into a spiteful state.
Between November 1993 and June 1998, Nigeria became the butt of blunt international condemnations. The United States of America put a lid on Nigerian affairs, accusing General Sani Abacha’s military junta of cuddling drug barons and flouting the basic tenets of human rights. Many nations declared Nigeria a no-go business center due to the activities of fax-flimflam, financial frauds. Just when everyone thought all was lost, Nigeria’s most notorious military leader Sani Abacha swung into action. He set up special tribunals to bring some sanity, but whatever was recovered or saved ended up in private, currency warehouses of his lieutenants and safe banks in Bermuda, Brazil, Lebanon, France, United Kingdom, and, of course, Switzerland.
Suddenly, Sani Abacha kicked the bucket.
One thing led to another, and democracy dawned. Again. The internal problems still demanded a suspension of disbelief to comprehend. It was so shocking that law-abiding citizens simply shuddered. How did this beautiful and rich country become a poor state of economic and sociopolitical scorpions? What happened between a promising, political independence, through an immense oil wealth, and this pathetic situation? How could any credible leadership (civilian or military) rescue Nigeria from approaching abysmal extinction?
If it is not leaking, it is working, right? Right! Nigeria is not working; it has been leaking since colonial Britannia patched it up for colonial commercial interests. The 1914 Amalgamation, which gave life to an imperial estate of disparate and ancient African nations, marked the beginning of a tactless exercise in nation building. The exercise has not succeeded, and it is not for lack of trying. Yet, few people see the futility of the status quo. The people of Nigeria have done all they could to patch up a dysfunctional political marriage and make it work. They have run out of places to patch. Things fall apart.
The ancestors of today Nigerians lived and died in the hope that their offspring would carry on the tradition of advancing the culture and economy through strong political leadership, trade, and respect for the rule of law. It was not to be. The leaders have stumbled from one catastrophic crisis to another. In just 50 years, the country has had a bloody and brutal civil war, many coups and countercoups d’état, economic hardships in the midst of immense human and natural resources, social instability, religious riots of sickening proportions, endless ethnic enmities, brutal bureaucracies, and perennial political problems. There is no end in sight.
The present political problem took a new identity after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election by General Ibrahim Babangida (IBB). As soon as the military-propelled transition ran into the eye of a whirlwind called Sani Abacha, the same tribe of failed politicians gathered and designed another constitution: same, old soured palm wine in an unwashed calabash. The dark-goggled dictator designed another deceitful transition bogey on a phantom constitution. Only Sani Abacha knew the exact contents and shape of the new book of laws—as was the case with Malawi’s manic Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Obviously, the transition was a deafening failure, as designed no-event.
With the death of Abacha, his successor Abdulsalam Abubakar hurriedly transformed the failed transition into present-day and surprisingly sustaining democratic dispensation. The political impasse that dogged the failed experiments in democracy dragged on through the new republic. The reason is not farfetched: a fractured federation founded on a faulty foundation.
This presentation does not attempt to answer all the complex questions of Nigeria’s federation. It does not attempt to pin blames on individuals or groups for the failure of what could have been, and could still be, a beautiful land of great African nations. The condition that Nigerians find the country at 50 is terribly disappointing. It is indeed unacceptable that a land endowed with tremendous human and material resources should be crawling while johnny-come-lately states take their places in the league of so-called advanced nations.
What are the solutions to the pathetic problems? Unfortunately, there is absolutely no answer within the present geopolitical structure. Nigerians can only try. There is no way Nigeria can survive as presently setup. The natural nationalism of its constituent entities persists. Masking the peculiarities of such diverse and entrenched ethnic entities behind a murky mask of nurtured Nigerian nationalism cannot continue for far too long.
My contention here is very simple: We have tried for nearly a century to forge a national identity and unity without much success. We failed because we have never discussed seriously and dispassionately the modalities for “one nation, one destiny.” We learnt little from the rich lessons of our turbulent history. We never stop to ponder why certain trends persist.
With the botched transition to 1993 Third Republic, some constituent nationalities talked of secession. Why do certain groups seek a divorce they are unlikely to get only when they feel that national events stack against them? Why do some ethnicities clamor for one Nigeria when the going is good, and lament the failure of Biafra—and their leaders’ roles during the war—whenever the going is bad?
There are many questions to ask, and very few answers to give. This work is not a panacea for whatever afflicts Nigeria. What is it? Is it leadership or lack of one? Maybe, but is also a failure of followership and structure. Many fail to realize that Nigeria is a colonial contraption of many nations that grew from different cultural, religious, and social standpoints over different historical intervals. There are so many untapped good things about these nations. Nigerian so-called leaders fraudulently believe that there is an indivisible nation called Nigeria. They sweep the rich ethnic attributes under the carpet as unspeakable “tribalism,” as if there are “tribes” roaming about in Nigeria and fighting for the political control of over 150 million people!
The truth of the matter is that Europeans formed their new states along defined ethnic and linguistic lines. In Africa, they carved up ancient nations into states along arbitrary lines. Therefore, while European ethnic and linguistic entities became rich seamless states, African nations became poor colonial contraptions. There is no other continent with such brazen geopolitical gerrymandering. There are no other people in the world so brutally beat-up into dysfunction as Africans
Uncorrected colonial crudity has been the bane of endless conflicts in Africa.
This alien gerrymandering was at the root of the Congo-Katanga crisis, the
Biafran blight, the ravages of Rwanda, the slaughters in Sudan, the faults in
South Africa’s political terrain, the lunacy of Liberia, and the now-solved
sorry situation in Sierra Leone. There is no country in colonized Africa that is
untouched by a foreign political culture hoisted on groups of nations that have
worked out their ways of life over the centuries. The crises are not likely to
end without a radical reversal of these colonial contraptions called countries.
Nations emerged from European colonialism and embarked on building a country. The various nationalities neither talked to each other nor negotiated the terms of association. When they talked after independence, they talked about each other and exploited jingoistic and religious sentiments. Stereotypical schemes designed to ward off the fear of domination fouled decent discourse. The resultant and now encoded ethnic enmities dribbled deep into the false fabric of a false federation, a fabric woven around the economic and imperialistic interest of Victorian Britannia.
My counsel therefore is that these nations must renegotiate a new model for constructive coexistence. If they cannot forge a nation now, they do not have to be at each other’s throat. If they hope to survive in a resource-starved and fiercely competitive global village, these nations must coexist, even if for survival necessity. Whatever society or politics evolves in the next 50 years, these nations will coexist in some socioeconomic arrangement. This is the time for Nigerians to consider just how constructive the coexistence should be, possibly in a popular national conference.
Views presented should propel a possible process of creating constructive coexistence in confederation à la Suisse or Britannia, a functional federation, or a radically rigid regionalism. Whichever cap fits, the various nations should bring the details to a table of negotiation as equal partners. This should not necessarily be about societies or political statehood. Discussions that lean on Nigeria’s nurtured nationalism, an assumed allegiance, have not stood the test of time. Why waste time with fairytale nationalism when diversity can create unity in a productive and progressive political paradise? What is the driving force behind the lip service paid to one Nigeria? Is there something some know that the peoples of this geopolitical ghetto don’t?
I put out relevant arguments on a backdrop of history because people relate to past events easier than abstract theories of sociology and political science. Records of proper places, notable names, and times exist, but my interpretations are somewhat different, and they may not be 20/20. My opinions are exactly what they are: mine. My views do not reflect those of any persons or group of persons. Nonetheless, I hope that everyone who wades through my expositions and proposals will find the presentation worthwhile.
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