On the 6th of October 1963 Haile Sellasie the then Emperor of Ethiopia addressed the United Nations General Assembly thus: “until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned: That until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace.”
The import of Haile Selasie’s address later adapted in a song by reggae legend Bob Marley, remains timeless. It notably holds that nations will remain in perpetual strife until inequality, injustice, 2nd class citizenship, tribalism, racism, colonialism, repression and all forms of injustice are permanently abolished. 52 years after, Nigeria is marked by both the injustices and the attendant strife that Haile Selassie predicted. Nowhere is this more evident than in the recent arrest of Nnamidi Kanu the director of Radio Biafra as he arrived Nigeria from his UK base. Yet, arresting Nnamidi Kanu because of his agitation for self rule only worsens the problem and underscores Nigeria as a creeping and repressive colonial state. Colonialism as we must know does not necessarily bear a White face as most think. Any group that confines another to 2nd class citizenship and or denies another their full rights and autonomy to political, cultural and economic development is just as guilty of colonialism as the traditional White colonialists we are all familiar with and herein lies Nigeria’s dilemma.
Arresting Nnamidi Kanu might seem for some a solution to a problem, but as Barack Obama said in his 2015 United Nations General Assembly speech “a government that suppresses peaceful dissent is not showing strength; it is showing weakness and it is showing fear.” Nnamidi Kanu is not the problem, the Nigerian state as constituted is. Nnamidi Kanu is only a reaction to the many injustices, exclusion, 2nd class citizenship, born to rule philosophy, marginalization and other forms of inequality that characterize the Nigerian state. Nigeria is a state where some are first class citizens while others are 2nd class, a state where some are born to rule while others are perpetual outcasts, a state where state policy deliberately denies some regions critical developmental infrastructure while according others same, a state where prejudice, tribalism, exclusion and hate is elevated while nation building is ignored, a state where it seems the only logic for unity is to share oil resources and not on the basis of consent, mutual respect, fraternity and shared brotherhood.
For these reasons true nationhood has remained stillborn, peace has remained elusive and Nigeria has remained in perpetual strife and ever increasing crisis since her founding. These undeniable realities are the reason the Nigerian state is afraid of Nnamidi Kanu because he speaks to a truth they cannot legitimately counter. He speaks to a truth they know they are guilty of, so out of weakness and fear they resort to repression, persecution and detention. But as history teaches us, arresting him will not take away the problem; neither will it stop the struggle insofar as the conditions that birthed Nnamidi Kanu and others like him remain. You cannot beat a child and ask the child not to cry. Arresting Nelson Mandela did not stop the Apartheid struggle; neither did arresting Kwame Nkrumah stop the independence struggle in Ghana. Such examples are evident all through history.
Nnamidi Kanu has moved beyond being an individual; he is now an ideology, a movement, a cry for justice that detention or even death cannot stop. Interestingly, Nigeria now has two famous Nnamidi’s with identical trajectories, the first Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe fought against external oppression/inequality by the British colonial authorities and won independence for Nigeria, the second, Nnamidi Kanu is fighting against internal oppression, injustice, exclusion, and 2nd class citizenship by some power blocs in Nigeria. Ironically, while the British colonial government never arrested Dr Azikiwe during his campaign for independence, the Nigerian state has primitively opted to detain Nnamidi Kanu. Both struggles were fundamentally dedicated to freedom and justice and like the former; the latter can only be pacified not by repression but by resolving the underlying issues that engendered it.
In every problem is often embedded within it a solution. When Nigerian banks faced an existential crisis with banks collapsing on a weekly basis, it was resolved by experts that consolidating the banks into fewer but stronger banks through a higher deposit base and structural reforms would strengthen the banks, end bank failure and create a stable banking industry. In 2005 the banks alongside significant structural reforms were consolidated by Professor Chukwuma Soludo. Since then banks have rarely failed and Nigerian banks have become global players. In the same vein, Nigeria has perpetually faced an existential crisis due to its contradictions and factors earlier stated. The solution is simple; an urgent commencement of a robust process of nation building through the implementation of the 2014 national conference report, the convening of a further conference of ethnic nationalities to thrash out remaining grey areas with the ultimate aim of delivering a comprehensive nation building constitution. These are urgent steps alongside the possible creation of a nation building commission or ministry that can be taken immediately.
As the failed states index report indicates, the most fundamental cause of state failure is determined to be group grievance, because it recognizes that states that have significant levels of group grievance will be subject to dissent, conflict, internal sabotage, institutional inhibitions and consequently lack the overall cohesion needed to propel any form of appreciable development. Nigeria stands at a crossroads, its either common sense prevails and the underlying issues that birthed the likes of Nnamidi Kanu are resolved through peaceful dialogue or the Nigerian state continues on the road of repression and risk eventual balkanization. The choices are clear enough.
Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu