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Nigeria’s Cocktail of Oddities—Birth-Pangs of Nationhood

By: Franklin Otorofani, Esq.
 Published April 13th, 2010

Unlike my previous outings, this is not a structured article, but a stream of consciousness. As such, the otherwise structural integrity of my write-ups has been sacrificed on the altar of spontaneity and naturalness.

This article is an agglomeration of the disparate issues and conditions that are burdening the Nigerian nation (?) and denying her the chance to attain real nationhood. For, even as our so-called leaders have treated this extremely important issue with levity and an attitude of extreme indifference, it must be made crystal clear that the attainment of nationhood is a condition precedent for any meaningful and sustainable development, which, I dare say, will continue to elude the nation so long as the issue remains unattended or attended half-heartedly.

A country or state must first be transformed into a nation/state before it can attain its full potentials, otherwise it remains still-born or at best a limping state eternally incapable of attaining her potentials. It’s unfortunate that Nigeria has been such a state since independence and remains even more so today since the return of democracy. At this moment, the nation is pulling apart rather than pulling together, and there are good reasons for that tendency for break up.

A nation state is a geo-political entity, which component units have shared history, cultural values, customs, and traditions, to a more or lesser degrees. These are the ingredients that define a nation and glue its people together. These ingredients confer on a nation its distinct character that distinguishes it from other nations. The above definition readily exposes Nigeria, not as one nation with the attributes enumerated above, but as a conglomeration or an amalgam of nations at odds with one another. 

The Nigerian state is a superstructure that is superimposed on this amalgam of nations with no real efforts made to weld them together. In this connection, Nigeria’s national configuration differs markedly from those of other countries with citizens from various nationalities like, for instance the United States, whose nationalities are not indigenous to the country, but came into the country and acquired its citizenship individually with their cultural roots more or less severed at their points of departure from their home countries.  There are no distinct regions in the United States that harbor indigenous nations except of course for the indigenous Indian tribes that are sequestered in reservations with little or no influence in national politics. On the contrary, Nigeria is composed ab initio of indigenous tribal or ethnic groups with their respective shared cultural identities, customs, traditions, and everything else in between untouched and intact. And they remain so today and forever. These cultural identities, customs, traditions, et al, are not necessarily bed fellows, but act like polar extremes in more ways than one.

It is no surprise, therefore, that its component units cannot see eye to eye on anything other than the common African-ness and skin color that connects all African nations and peoples together. Other than that they have little or nothing in common. These tribal groupings have different and opposing world views. While the North looks up to the Middle East for inspiration, the South looks up to the West for inspiration. For instance, while the Islamic North would have nothing to do with the state of Israel and inspired Nigeria’s severance of diplomatic ties with the Jewish state in the First Republic, which was only recently restored, because of its problems with the Arab world in general, particularly the Palestinians, the South wants nothing else but Israel due to its predominantly Christian population.

While Southern pilgrims head to Israel, Northern pilgrims head to Saudi Arabia. When airplanes fly out of international airports in the North, they’re headed for the most part, to the Middle East, while those from the Southern airports are headed for the most part, to the West. While the North has Penal Code sourced from Pakistan with Sharia laws used to chop off hands of petty criminals and adultery convicts superimposed in many Northern states, the South has Criminal Code sourced from England, and would not even dare to touch Sharia laws with a long pole even in states with huge Moslem populations in the South/West.

There is hardly a common ground other than shared oil wealth. Nigerians must understand that the only thread holding the nation together at this very moment in time is oil wealth from the Niger Delta, which is distributed among the component units leaving the source to bear the huge costs of ecological disasters and environmental despoliation. Subtract oil from the equation tomorrow and you’ll have a collapsed nation in your hands with the broken parts carted away by imperialists lurking in the shadows! Yet oil wealth will not remain with us forever as the industrialized nations aggressively search for alternative sources of energy coupled with the fact that oil is a wasting and not a renewable energy asset.

For the nation to attain nationhood, therefore, the present overload of centrifugal and the almost total absence of centripetal forces, which have combined to reduce the nation to a “mere geographical expression” must be deliberately balanced with a healthy mix of policy tools that accord each force its proper place in our nation, because neither of both forces is inherently bad. Both have their places in the scheme of things that must be recognized and respected in our constitutional order. However, the overshadowing of one by the other, in this case, centrifugal over centripetal, is inimical to the nation and a recipe for national disintegration. That is the urgent task before our leaders the consummation of which will inevitably conduce to the attainment of nationhood. There is no shying away from this task as the forces of disintegration press ever harder and harder on the still fragile entity to breaking point.

As this writer sees it, the only way out is fiscal federalism, because the exploitation of one region’s resources to develop other regions in perpetuity while the others keep their resources to themselves is not sustainable and the root cause of the crisis in Niger Delta. We can pretend all we want but it’s just not sustainable and the agitation will not be assuaged by declaration of Amnesty and rehabilitation of militants. It will not be assuaged either by development of the region by the Federal Government. While these are important steps in and of themselves at the moment, they’re only stop gap measures that do not go far enough to address the fundamental question of fiscal federalism. It is fair to predict, therefore, that the temporary respite achieved in Niger Delta is not sustainable and will therefore not last precisely because of the reason adduced above, because no amount of development will override the question of fiscal federalism. The genie is already out of the bottle and not even the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan, who hails from the region, will resolve the issue—at best it will only keep it under the lid as long as he remains the president. But it will re-emerge again in more virulent form in the future if the crucial issue is not addressed now. Perhaps the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) now in the works will make a difference. But as always the devil is in the details and its implementation.

We can equally say the same thing about the conditions in the east of the majestic Niger where the ravages of the Nigerian civil war have become monuments of shame. A region that has the capacity and brain power to transform the nation into modern day Taiwan is being ravaged by kidnappers who have turned the vice into a cottage industry. And our so-called leaders look on seemingly with amusement. There is nothing amusing about wasting our youths and their God given potentials that can lift the nation into the league of developed nations if carefully tapped and exploited to the hilt by the nation. It’s a win-win game-plan. The nation’s future is being thoughtlessly and callously mortgaged through the utter negligence of our youths and their boundless potentials.

Isn’t it odd and shameful that the birthplace of Drs. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Michael Okpara, Chuba Okadigbo, Alex Ekwueme, Chike Obi, Charles Solubo, and several of Nigeria’s intellectual powerhouses, has been reduced to armed robbers and kidnappers’ den? Isn’t it odd and shameful that the city of Onitsha with the largest market in West Africa has been reduced to a shanty town? How in the world is Nigeria going to make it when her youths in that part of the nation are being condemned to a life of crime and extortion rather than as scientists, engineers, accountants, and technologists that would drive the nation’s growth and development? Impossible!

This is why it makes sense to declare or extend the Amnesty to the youths in the South/East who have taken to a life of crime for want of economic opportunities. Just like the so-called repentant militants in the Niger Delta, the kidnappers in the East must be received, rehabilitated and reformed to contribute their quotas to national development. Their brains and talents are too precious to be wasted in crime. They too are Nigerians and need rehabilitation. Don’t they? Perhaps this could be conceptualized and formulated into a nationwide policy thrust that could be extended to the South/West and the North in general, for, the religious fanatics too need rehabilitation. Or don’t they? It would cost the nation a whole lot less to rehabilitate her sons and daughters who have gone astray than to wait for them to unleash mayhem on society and waste billions of naira fighting them with no end in sight. Lives lost can never be regained even if we can afford the cost. Prevention is always a better option than our usual fire brigade methods of dealing with crimes and criminality.     

As a social organism, Nigeria is constantly reacting to conflicting stimuli that continually impinge on her senses very much like our human biological senses. This is because when we get right down to it her senses is the sum total of the senses of her human population structured into geo-ethnic entities vying for attention and sometimes supremacy. While the geo-ethnic entities to the south and east are demanding attention in order to reverse decades of neglect caused by oil exploration and civil war respectively, the geo-ethnic entities to the west and north are vying for political supremacy respectively, at the regional and federal levels, not so much about infrastructural neglect as their counterparts in the south and east. And former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s attempt to break the west loose and integrate it into the mainstream of national politics, as indeed was the late MKO Abiola, and Chief Akintola before him, has only succeeded in antagonizing and alienating the regional lords and the consequent demonization of OBJ by the very centrifugal forces, which Ag President Jonathan, decried in his address to his newly minted cabinet.

The West is not crying of governmental neglect so much as it is striving to hold on to the political control of its region to the exclusion of others, especially by the party at the center. In other words, the West is angling for a con-federal arrangement of the nation’s constituent units that would allow the units to develop at their own pace as obtains in other confederations hence its insistent demand for Sovereign National Conference (SNC). Understandably, this is being firmly resisted by the North for reasons that have to do with self-preservation more than anything else, as we shall see presently.

 And on its part, the North in general, which, going by per capita income, is easily the poorest and most underdeveloped region in the nation, with its primitive nomadic tribes unleashing mayhem on sedentary tribes in the Middle Belt region of its underbelly, is demanding not so much national attention to its developmental needs as it is of holding on to political power by all means necessary.

Let’s face it. The North is all about political power and nothing else and, seemingly unperturbed about its unflattering economic status in the nation. Oddly enough, it would appear that the very notion of power holds such allure and sensual gratification to the geo-ethnic zone that it couldn’t be bothered if a large swath of its population is still leading nomadic lives in the 21st century and parading an army of beggars and illiterates (almajiris), who become easy recruits and foot soldiers of religious fundamentalists.

This primordial and apparent parasitic attachment to political power by one region at the expense of the others is at the root of Nigeria’s inability to forge a stable union since independence. It is inconceivable and, therefore unacceptable, that in a federation of ethnic groups one ethnic group would arrogate to itself the prerogative of producing the nation’s leadership at the center to the exclusion of other ethnic groups in a nation that belongs to all. It is even more painful when the region in question is the least educated and least productive in wealth creation because, put metaphorically, the blind cannot lead the sighted except into a ditch where the nation has ended up today waiting to be rescued yet again.

When confronted with a simple choice between the constitution and its political interest, the North chose to hold on to the presidency even if only symbolically when its son took ill and became medically incapacitated. Against all that is wise and prudent, constitutional, commonsensical and expedient, the region tethered the nation’s presidency to the sick bed of its son in a far away Saudi Arabia, refusing to let go of it, and would not brook the transfer of power to his deputy who is from another region for fear of losing the presidency. The North was only out of power for eight years during OBJ’s rule having held it for 38 years and it was panting and gasping for breath like a fish out of water! Whenever power shifts from the North even for a day, its survival is immediately threatened. That is an unhealthy oddity that needs to the quickly addressed and corrected by northern elites. It is a contagious pathology that has a sickening effect on the body politic, which needs to be extracted now before greater harm is done. 

Unlike other regions the survival of the entire North depends on political patronage and political power is its biggest industry. It is a shame that the survival of an entire region the size of many big countries would depend entirely on political patronage from the center and when it falls short of getting that it feels threatened. Isn’t it why it was reported that the North was asking Ag President Jonathan for “juicy” ministerial positions? Why would a region ask for “juicy” ministerial positions in government? For what purpose is that demand made other than to use those ministries for political patronage, which translates to economic benefits for its elites? Would any section of the United States, for instance, ask for particular ministerial (departmental) positions? It is true that other regions are now copying the North and demanding “juicy” ministerial positions as well for the same or similar purpose, but they’re not as overbearing and desperate for it as yet as the North. The reason is that governmental patronage is not their only source of livelihood as it is in the North.

When will this oddity end in Nigeria? When will the North sit up and get its acts together? The region cannot continue to live off the sweats of others just like its Almajiris. At a point it has got to tell itself the home truth. The almajiri culture that permeates its rank and file must give way to productive culture just as it was in the good old days with its groundnut and cotton pyramids. It must recapture its past and run with it. That and that alone will earn it respect and admiration from other component units of the federation rather than its present inordinate and despicable attachment to political power at the center like a leech. 

Today all that culture of self-sufficiency and productivity is all but lost and replaced with beggarly culture that feeds on political power and its acquisition and eternal custody thereof. And to demonstrate just how much it loves power and how far it would go to keep it, a comatose president was surreptitiously air-ambulated home in the dead of night and sequestered in the inner sanctum of Aso Rock, to act as symbol of its presidential power as the substance of power itself had suddenly and dramatically slipped from its grip and shifted to his deputy, courtesy of a resolution by the National Assembly in spite of its vehement opposition.

And a month later, with no government official, (including the Ag President allowed to see him), a coterie of Islamic and later Christian clerics were then secreted into the inner sanctum to intercede on behalf of the ailing president who could barely understand the word, “Amen!” And pronto, the clerics came out swinging that the “president had recovered quite remarkably” (as if they saw him before in Saudi Arabia or in Nigeria), and would “soon resume duties!”

How a pathologically muted man who, by their own testimony, could barely nod his head during their contrived prayers, could deliver such a weighty message through them to the nation has become the 9th Wonder of the World! How Islamic clerics suddenly became official presidential spokespersons in the place of information minister or the president’s own communication director, the utterly discredited Olusegun Adeniyi, remains a question mark. And how Islamic clerics got transformed in Aso Rock to become Yar’Adua’s physicians that would certify him “fit to resume duties soon” is another Nigeria miracle that could only occur in Aso Rock.

It would soon come to public knowledge, however, that the miracle workers were on special mission to save the Yar’Adua presidency that has all but expired to begin with. For the North, or more appropriately, the elites that control it, the shadow and symbolism of the presidency alone, is good enough even if another is in charge and expiring in a matter of months. In other lands where sanity and rationality are the norms rather than the exceptions, leaders resign voluntarily as a matter of course without much ado, but the oddities in our polity make that a tall dream and an unattainable proposition.

In all of the endless scheming to hold on to power, however, one question sticks out like a sore thumb: hold on to power for what? What has the North done with power for 38 out of 50 years of the nation’s history? The North has its almajaris (army of beggars) to show for its hold on power for 38 years! Yet it wants more of the same so that it could double its beggar population by the year Y2020. That is how the North sees development and it’s no wonder that the West would want a con-federal system to break away from this apparent Northern drag on the nation. And many in the South and East share similar sentiments; all because Northern elites have reduced the region into a parasitic nuisance that is perpetually economically dependent on the rest of the nation. Yet this is a region that is capable of being the bread basket of not only the nation but the entire Africa and beyond. Yes, this is a region that should be brimming with giant food industries that would provide employment for its teeming youths and move them away from religious fundamentalism. This is a region that is endowed with abundant mineral resources of whatever description that could turn it into an economic haven. Its elites that have been ruling the nation since independence have refused and/or neglected to explore, exploit, and develop those resources. They would rather feed fat on oil from Niger Delta leaving its general population in wretched conditions and grinding poverty. Thus a region so blessed has remained so poor—but for how long? That is the question that is hanging in the air unanswered.   

Yet the point must quickly be made that the North’s apparent insatiable appetite for power has sound and deep roots in economics. When a people are so pathetically bereft of economic power other than manual, barefoot, bare-hand, peasant farming in an otherwise modern economy dominated by hi-tech, it is perfectly understandable why its elites would want to hold on to power with super glue as a surefire means of economic empowerment, not of the common people, but of itself. And that is enough reason to subvert the constitution and refuse to handover and devise all means to frustrate the transfer of power to someone from another region. Self-preservation is the first law of nature and the Northern elites need no tutorials on that. The nation is thus witnessing the triumph of economics over constitutionalism and legalism in the hands of Northern power elites.  

Now, this is the official explanation from the Secretary to the Federal Government, who was reported to have said that the dissolved Federal Executive Council decided to be “lenient” with the president rather than declaring him medically unfit to perform his duties, which is now a fact that no longer requires medical verification. “Leniency” is the word and euphemism for holding on to power. I must have been missing something though, because I can’t exactly remember seeing that word in the constitution or where it fits in when it directs the FEC to declare the president medically incapacitated if it is satisfied that that is the case. Well the FEC came out to tell us that it was not satisfied of the president’s medical incapacity! That fiction was invented in order to preserve power in the North. In other words, the FEC willfully decided to ignore the constitution and play games with the destiny of the nation—all in an attempt for the North to hold on to power, even if symbolically. Consequently, the smooth operation of our constitution has been hampered and severely constrained by regional forces bent on subverting it in order to promote its economic interests at the expense of the nation.

 When governmental actions are not guided by the constitution but by extra-constitutional considerations, it’s a clear indication that the constitution is no longer viewed or regarded as the “supreme” authority in the land. And that is a disaster waiting to happen. It’s a monstrous oddity that threatens the very foundations of our nationhood. If the constitution is what anything at all in our democracy, Nigerians are demanding its full and complete implementation now!

My advice to the Northern elites is this: instead of clinging on to power, the North is well advised to embrace wholeheartedly the much despised western education, which alone is the ticket to economic empowerment rather than political power. Education is the great economic and social emancipator that is within the reach of every individual who decides to take advantage of it. By rejecting western education in favor of religious education for so long, the region is destined to produce religious fundamentalists rather than scientists, engineers, technologists, and all the professionals that drive the modern Nigerian economy.

However, the region should come to terms with the reality that its erstwhile monopoly of political power in Nigeria to service its elites is gone forever and will never be regained. And ultimately, its salvation lies in producing brain power just as the rest of the country is doing to move Nigeria forward on an even keel. As the election of MKO Abiola in 1993 and former president Obasanjo in 1999 and 2003 clearly demonstrates, the average Northerner couldn’t be bothered on who rules the nation and therefore indifferent to presidential zoning arrangement. Like his southern brother or sister, what the average Northerner is concerned with is the amelioration of his or her economic conditions and it doesn’t matter where the leader comes from. Power grab by aging Northern elites has no meaning for him if it does not translate to his economic benefits. And the evidence on the ground for 38 years is that it has not and it will not in the foreseeable future. Northern elites cannot therefore hide under regional cover to corner political power for themselves. Scheming endlessly and desperately to hold on to political power is the old game that will not get the region anywhere but the same old results. The North needs a game change and strategic rethink otherwise its very economic survival in modern Nigeria is a questionable proposition that would continue to engender political instability in the nation. 

Far from condemning all Northern elites, however, one must commend those like Abubakar Umar, Balarabe Musa, and the young turks who stood stoutly on the side of the constitution. Though an old horse and part of the old order, one must nevertheless, single out General Muhammdu Buhari for his forthrightness in calling on the FEC to do the right thing by obeying the constitution.

In his own words as reported by the This-Day Online 041010 edition: “…as far as the Nigerian constitution is concerned there is no problem with the succession, as it is absolutely clear.”

“I am therefore pleading with Nigerians especially the elites to please stick to the constitution…”

It’s such a shame that President Musa Yar’Adua surrounded himself with those who have absolutely no regard or respect for the constitution including his former AGF, the very notorious Michael Kaase Aondoakaa, while all the while chanting “Rule of law!” “Rule of law!” which he did his very best to subvert and rubbish.

The Nigerian constitution is by far one of the most detailed and precise constitutions in the world and deliberately so framed because of the character of our people with a propensity to bend and twist every rule to their favor and out of character. But if our leaders will not respect the clear and unambiguous provisions of our constitution, and are willing to substitute its provisions with their ethnic agenda, our constitutional democracy will be imperiled and a return to anarchy and eventual disintegration will follow as matter of course.  God forbid!

Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

Franklin Otorofani, Esq.

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