A ‘Nation’ In Search Of Nationhood – By: Amir Abdulazeez
Let’s discuss two groups of events, make some analysis and see whether something like them is likely to happen anywhere in the world other than in Nigeria, the Giant of Africa and the biggest black nation on earth. When Nigerians in South Africa were killed, maimed and harassed in the height of xenophobic attacks in 2008 and 2015, there was hardly any Nigerian back home that didn’t condemn the dastardly acts on the top of his voice. Similarly, revelations of trafficked and migrating Nigerians been sold as slaves in Libya late last year generated widespread and unanimous condemnation from fellow Nigerians. The most interesting thing was that, virtually nobody cared about the tribe or religion of those victims before showing concern. Moments like this make you actually think Nigeria is a nation.
Let’s see the second group of events. Within the first four days of 2018, there were three major attacks which claimed the lives and livelihood of innocent Nigerians. First, was the New Year day massacre of eleven people in Rivers State by suspected cultist. This was immediately followed by a suicide bomb attack in a Borno State mosque which claimed more than eleven lives including the father of the suicide bomber and as well as several injury causalities. The third was the massacre of people in Benue State communities by Fulani Herdsmen which reportedly claimed over many lives and displaced hundreds.
These and other past related attacks and senseless killings of innocent Nigerians have as usual received less than unanimous condemnation from Nigerians. The worst part of it is that people condemn primarily base on their ethnic or religious and sometimes political affiliations to the victims and or perpetrators. Instances like these, no doubt reminds you that Nigeria is nowhere near true nationhood.
What makes one confused is how Nigerians behave sharply differently on issues that require the same treatment with strict consistency; issues that revolve around humanity. One cannot say Nigerians are generally inhuman to behave as such, but it is more than obvious that our demographic differences and the determination to remain divided appear to have irrationally superseded our humanity.
It is a very bitter pill to swallow at 57 years of independence, that Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s words are still as accurate as ever. “Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no ‘Nigerians’ in the same sense as there are ‘English,’ Welsh or ‘French.’ The word ‘Nigerian’ is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria and those who do not.” He wrote in his 1947 book, Path to Nigerian Freedom.
Now, it is needless to waste too much ink in trying to recall events which portray how Nigeria doesn’t fit into the definition of true nations as well as how past leaders have failed in that regard, neither are the lamentations worth our energies. The question we must not however stop asking is, what efforts are our present day leaders making in trying to make us develop into a true nation? Whether we accept it or not, any attempt at prosperity will woefully fail without fixing the fundamentals. Based on the current trend, there will never be any Nigerian leader who will get the required national support and cooperation to bring the desired progress to the country in the next 50 years.
Let us not be fooled by Nigeria seemingly functioning as a nation despite not being one. The only reason why it looks so by the way is because the elites basically function as a nation through the government, but not the citizens, which are most critical. To put this into perspective, think of some basic things a citizen require from his nation or state. A citizen wants to assuredly feel his life and properties as generally safe and secured by the state or at least to feel satisfied by its efforts in doing so. A citizen wants unrestricted access to basic justice when he is directly or indirectly wronged even by the state itself. A citizen wants hope of a better future by the state, which gives him reason to unite and work comfortably with his fellow countrymen irrespective of their social, economic and political differences. No visible foundation for the provision of any of these three in Nigeria presently.
Some two months ago, I heard the story of a Nigerian from the north whose home a team of armed robbers invaded in the middle of the night. After spending hours in embarrassing and dispossessing him and his family of all their valuables without any hitch or sign of succour from elsewhere, they asked him to put on his clothes and go with them, in a move to kidnap him. He vehemently resisted and engaged them in a physical battle; he was so brave in doing so that he never minded; they had deadly weapons and guns. They beat him to unconsciousness and left. This man risked his life to save his dignity because he probably thought that there was not much the state could do for him once he gets kidnapped, and such is what it sadly takes to be a Nigerian.
It is most unfortunate that after decades of military rule, we didn’t really get the fresh start to nationhood that we deserved from 1999. Rather, we got plunged into one destructive crisis after another. The only probable reason why Nigeria is still standing and appears to be working is because the elites are united by selfish interest which is well served.
It is very worrying that our national legislature, operating for close to twenty consecutive years, has grossly failed to put our nationhood into clear perspective with a bright future. They have virtually functioned as a gathering of people who passed budgets after budgets which are barely implemented, pass laws after laws which barely make impacts, debate contracts and self-serving constituency projects, engaging in endless investigations without meaningful results, drain our scarce resources which would’ve been mismanaged by the executive anyway. Successive national assemblies have failed to reform and revolutionize our political system through a holistic constitutional amendment process and exemplification of landmark representation.
Interest groups who have been staunch advocates of restructuring have done better than the National Assembly in this regard, with lack of a national supportive framework and prevalence of deep suspicion and misgivings for the project denying it success. But, as suspicious as people may be of it, it still represents the best practical advocacy of reforming our politico-economic system.
Politics is being played as if every year is an election year. The talk of 2019 began right in 2015 and some have even started talking of 2023. The political players aren’t collectively concerned with our current journey to nowhere. The few of them who do are apparently because they’ve lost out in the current political game or trying to get relevance in the next. From top to bottom, we need to really understand where we are going and whether this non-progressive journey is feasible. Are we sure, we are reading from the same book? If yes, are we on the same page? If not, what do we do?
Our leaders do not need to be told or reminded that a society in the 21st century which is still debating its nationhood without significant headway is still not ready for progress. To start with, we need to revolutionize our politics, for it is from it that leadership emerges. Let us make it simple, accessible, affordable and transparent. Let anybody, no matter how poor and lowly placed have equal or similar political opportunities with the rich and highly placed. By opening up the political space, people will have a stake on how Nigeria should be.
Let there be an integrated approach in revolutionizing our security architecture to produce a system that is basically capable of protecting lives, properties and our territory; then we can take it up from there. Our justice system has been bastardized over the years by our judiciary and the executive seems to care less.as far as people don’t see the state as the vehicle to justice, a society is doomed. Let the Federal and State Governments consider the possibility of reviewing all the court orders they disobeyed from 1999 and obey them. Thereafter, we can begin far reaching judicial reforms to make justice available, accessible, affordable, enforceable and timely.
Those who think we should give up on Nigerian Project and allow for disintegration may be seen as rebels despite having a valid argument. But every nation that will be carved out of Nigeria but retaining the Nigerian mentality and ethics of doing things, which is more than likely to be so, will never function properly as a nation. Besides, there is probably no reasonable society left in this century whose aspiration is to build a nation populated by people of the same ethnic group or religion only. People are now bonded by unity of purpose, which is to attain prosperity together and achieve greater heights in all aspects of life and against all odds. We shouldn’t aspire to be different.