Sunday, 2 October 2011

Nigeria: A Nation?? at 51

By Zainab Usman

“ ‘Nigeria is a state, not yet a nation’. Discuss” was the very first continuous assessment essay question for GENS 101, Nationalism course in my first year and first semester at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. Myself and many of my classmates probably wrote complete drivel in a bid to answer it partly because we were fresh out of secondary school and hardly understood or were able to distinguish the concepts of statehood and nationhood, and partly because the lecturer hardly came to class to actually “teach” that module. It was not until relatively recently that I got to fully appreciate the weight and import of these concepts, how they relate to me as a citizen and why I was asked that question at the university. This question of Nigeria’s statehood and its viability as a nation was an issue our immediate post independence leaders were confronted with at independence in 1960 and remarkably more recently, as Nigeria marks 51 since the attainment of political independence, Nigerians are increasingly asking the same question: whether we recognize ourselves as members of a single Nigerian nation, bound by common values of Nigerian-ness.

At independence, Nigeria’s political leaders were acutely aware of the socio-economic and political challenges confronting the newly independent entity and were aware of the profound socio-cultural divergence between the hitherto autonomous northern, eastern and western regions. As former US Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell rightly notes, the nationalist leaders, their differences notwithstanding recognized the need for unity under the common banner of a democratic Nigerian state due to shared ideals for the pursuit of economic development, governance according to the rule of law and to serve as a beacon for other African countries on the global stage. These ideals were embodied in the lofty motto “unity and faith, peace and progress” as inscribed in the Nigerian Coat of Arms.

Along the line, after years of intense elite bickering, military coups, a civil war, electoral manipulation and fraud, those common values, yearnings and aspirations have become lost on both leaders and followers in Nigeria. A typical manifestation of this phenomenon is that some Nigerians, from students and civil servants to public office holders cannot recite the national anthem or the national pledge. The basic philosophy of our Nigerian-ness after more than 5 decades has become lost amidst the rubble of crippling poverty, increasing inequality between the haves and the have-nots, the dearth and near collapse of infrastructure, alarming level of insecurity, intensification of ethnic, regional and religious cleavages and animosity amongst citizens, infamous bad leadership and scandalous corruption.

All these have culminated in a political leadership that is confused, mediocre and grossly inefficient populated by a corrupt, self-seeking, and fractured political elite devoid of patriotism, nationalistic pride and sovereignty as the recent batch of Wikileaks cables on Nigeria have revealed. This leadership and elite have not only resulted in weak and dysfunctional state institutions but also a followership which in the absence of effective and inspiring leadership is distrustful of such leadership, and is mutually antagonistic of one another; a followership bedevilled by poverty, inequality, marginalization and a sense of injustice that is increasingly becoming desperate, disillusioned and militant. The militant and violent Movement for the Emancipation of Niger-Delta (MEND) recently warned Nigerians to steer clear of Independence Day celebrations in Abuja because it claimed it was planning a bomb attack.

A leadership which lacks nationalism and patriotism similarly inspires a followership that has little nationalistic pride and devotion. For several years many Nigerians, save the ones in government who have to participate in official protocol, hardly genuinely participate in the Independence Day celebrations. What celebrations can you participate-in when there is hardly power (electricity), when several bombs have gone-off in various parts of a city, when you are grieving over the loss of a relative or friend who died in a ghastly road accident, when newspaper headlines are daily screaming with sordid salacious stories of government corruption and inefficiency, when parents have several graduates loitering aimlessly at home unemployed and where university students nurse a perpetual mortal fear of finding themselves stranded, unemployed in the labour market?

Interestingly, while acknowledging many of these enormous problems, one basic fact which most Nigerians fail to recognize or prefer to (willingly) overlook is our role in it all. It has almost become an automatic reflexive action for everyone to quickly attribute Nigeria’s problems to bad leadership (which is not under dispute). It is almost a comical irony to read the transcript of interviews with some legislators, ministers or other public office holders and hear them complain about bad leadership as the bane of Nigeria’s problems forgetting that they actually constitute such “leadership”. It is as though the concept of leadership in this context has assumed the notion of a nebulous, abstract bogey-monster which provides an escapist punching bag for us to blame for our woes. In our eagerness to blame “bad leadership”, we conveniently forget that those leaders are not foreigners or aliens, but are part and parcel of our society – they were once ordinary citizens like us and are an embodiment of the nature, the pulse and attitude of our society. We fail to remember that if we want our leaders to change, we need to change our ways, our mindset and re-assess our aspirations so that the leaders will reflect those values and when they falter or waver we make them (or pressure them) to toe those lines.

After 51 years of “independence” and over 12 years of democracy we are yet to accept that change has to come from within all of us. If we have forgotten or we no longer respect the philosophy and common values that bind us together, if we have relegated our yearnings and aspirations for a developed, progressing, stable and effectively governed and democratic Nigeria where everyone is equal and can realize their full potentials, then how do we expect our leaders to be any different from us and miraculously have the much desired “interest of the nation at heart”?

As Nigeria marks 51 years since independence, we need to embark on a sober reflection of what Nigeria means to each of us, and what role we have played and are playing in the state of Nigeria today. A nation is built when it’s constituent inhabitants recognize the common values and aspirations they share despite their differences and how crucial it is to safeguard and protect those ideals in every sphere of life. Until we recognize and embrace that, our march towards nation-hood will continue faltering.

Cross posted from Nigerians Talk


CodLiverOil said...

I have been making the point that the failure of Nigeria can't be simply dumped on our "leaders", as many people are only too happy to do. I had said this several years ago on "Naijablog" & even on "
Thy glory o Nigeria". I was even singled out on one blog for holding a contrary view to everyone else.

It is good to see that there are a few people out there who can see that, our leaders were not parachuted out of nowhere. Simply blaming the ethnic background as a reason for poor leadership, is superficial and incorrect. We have now seen leaders from the various zones of Nigeria and they are all characterised by bad leadership, but these "values", which they bring to office exist in society at large.

If Nigeria is a failure, it's because that is the way Nigerians want it to be.

I am glad that a female northerner (northern women rarely get a platform to voice their views), can tell it like it is. At least someone has pulled their head out of the sand.

Anengiyefa said...

I agree, this is something that a few of us have been saying all along. The following is the comment I left on the site where the piece was originally posted:

I share the views expressed here. The attitude among Nigerians generally is that someday things will get better, or 'e go better'. But one could almost believe that the desired changes for the better are expected to be achieved through supernatural means or perhaps by magic, since many seem to think that sitting back and just wishing it alone is enough. Hence the tendency to consider "prayers" as a viable response in times of crisis, even at the very top of the nation's leadership.

There are changes in attitude that need to take place and right across the the board. And as has been pointed out above, the near absence of patriotism and nationalistic pride applies widely. I totally agree that this is a time for reflection and a time for more of us to start seeing ourselves firstly as Nigerians. Disaffection will only worsen going into the future as we continue to fail to lift people out of poverty and the inequality gap widens, especially with the population growing at the rate at which it is.

CodLiverOil said...

I agree with you entirely on the points you raised.

Prayers have their place, but alone will not move the country forward.

If people think that by, dissociating themselves from society and thinking that someone else will develop Nigeria. The results will be as we see now, leaders who feel no accountability to perform and a country that exists in name only. Where many unscrupulous people can literally get away with murder.

Scouring the land to strip it of it's limited natural mineral resources, rather than looking for a sustainable & diversified model is a recipe for disaster. We don't need new cities, or more international airports and domestic airlines (these are not priorities). Like you said, attending to the basic needs of the masses and constructively engaging the ever-expanding youthful population is the way to go.

Anengiyefa said...

Putting the people first, investing in the well-being of the population, creating jobs, creating an environment where citizens can feel proud of their citizenship, that's what is needed.

Japan took less than 30 years to emerge from almost complete ruin after WW2, to become one of the world's leading economies, admittedly with the help of the US. But Japan did not have the advantage of being able to rely on the huge volume of natural resources as Nigeria does. What they relied on were the people themselves.

Somehow one cannot but feel sadness for Nigeria, because the actuality is that the situation is deteriorating faster than we are able to come to grips with it. This is the explanation for why relatively simple problems seem to have defied resolution for decades. A good example would be electricity supply, the demand for which is increasing in leaps and bounds, but because so little is being done to meet that demand while at the same time planning and projecting for the future, its not surprising that the situation rather than improving, is actually getting worse.

Nigerians tend to care for themselves, but unfortunately don't care that much for the country itself. The result of this is what we see today..

CodLiverOil said...

Some points I'd like to make

"Putting the people first, investing in the well-being of the population, creating jobs"

No question about that, all sectors of society should be included promising opporunities should be opened up. India offers opportunities in information technology to the disabled and under-privileged. Nigeria sees no further than offering bead-making for the disabled (for those who are "lucky").
Better provision for the disabled is needed

I came across this article

How the world sees Nigeria

No doubt Nigerians will be carried away by point one.
"Nigeria 3rd fastest growing economy-IMF", but the reality is the country is little better than other nations that hold no such pretensions

They will no doubt ignore point eleven
"Nigeria is 14th most failed state

DESCRIBED as only better than Somalia,"

The basics that governments should provide, they consistently fail to do. (You accurately cited the failure to generate electricity as a classic example) Hence investors steer clear of Nigeria.

"Why Investors Shun Nigeria - World Bank

The Country Director, World Bank in Nigeria, Onno Ruhl said that unstable power supply, lack of access to finance, high cost of financing businesses, high taxation, poor infrastructure, corruption and macro-economic environment are some of the reasons for poor investment in Nigeria."

There are a few individuals in the government who are trying to use foresight, planning and preparedness, but these are lost on bureaucracy that has no idea of the value of concepts. When tough times approach, what will the country do then?

Hence we can read that Okongo-Iweala is facing an uphill battle to bring some monetary sanity to thoughtless bureaucrats, and corrupt officials.

Meiopic governors

The governors say they are cash-strapped. Yet they want to spend money on schemes such as buying helicopters.

Helicopters are not a priority

When we fail to learn lessons of the past, we have no one to blame but ourselves for our predicament. If that is not bad enough it is diminishing the chances of future generations.

Anengiyefa said...

"When tough times approach, what will the country do then?"

Well, we'll start by holding a session of "National Prayers", lol.

"The governors say they are cash-strapped. Yet they want to spend money on schemes such as buying helicopters."

Yep, perhaps state government helicopters are the means by which to provide that kidney dialysis centre, which that poor mother of four young children in Taraba State so desperately needs.. :)