Africa’s history changed in the wake of the European and Arabic invasion of the continent, where the strategic preference that the Europeans, for example, placed on males became the foundation for the installation of a patriarchal social system and corresponding male-centered political pyramids. Perhaps, because of the nature of the relationship that various African civilizations and nations kept with these different invaders, there was minimal resistance to the political structure in some places. Also, the culture that they were confronted with in the hand of their unceremonious visitors ineluctably forced them to adopt a system that would eventually polarize their gender unity. This appears to be one of the reasons why African women may have been slow to meet up with their contemporaries in other parts of the world in terms of their contributions to society. With the termination of the colonial structures, however, came the motivations and aspirations of women to reclaim their political positions in society so that they would be once again respected in the social hierarchy. To be candid, this is an inevitable condition because women are important in different socioeconomic positions hitherto assigned to males and because they are redefining democracy, gender, and politics in a global context.
During the recently concluded Toyin Falola Interviews, Dr. Chiedo Nwankwor responded to the question Ms. Ireti Bakare Yusuf asked about how she felt about the topic of engagement, “Women Speak,” by reminding the audience that women have been speaking across time and ages, generations and epochs because they have something important to contribute to the society and would be uncomfortable to remain silent on critical issues. But then, she ends with a rather incisive question: “women have been speaking; is anyone listening?”, meaning that even when women speak, is society genuinely ready to listen to them? From a very keen observation of her tone, the remark revalidates the earlier position that colonization and invasion had affected the politics of Africa in some ways. The idea that women’s voices in topics that directly impact them, particularly politics, are not heard should be enough reason for re-engagement. Ms. Ayisha Osori would also be very practical in her response to the same question. To her, women have constantly become a central focus for social and political discussion, which invariably compels them to speak so that they would appropriately offer their perspective, as opposed to the biased ones. The women panelists seemed to have no contention about this as the third speaker, Ms. Nseabasi Ufot, concurred with the opinions of the previous speakers on this question.
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However, the gravity of this intellectual enterprise is to understand the context of Nigerian and global politics and how it restricts women’s participation and contributions. Women’s voices, which would have been in their highest decibel given the appropriate conditions, have not been considered central in the Nigerian political engagements, particularly from the Fourth Republic. Ms. Osori stresses that the marginal positions appropriated for women in Nigerian politics within the highlighted timeframe do not reflect women’s deficiency in or apathy to political participation. Instead, it reflects an extremely patriarchal system that makes it difficult for them to be represented. This will, however, come with its devastating effects on the general development of the people. Ms. Osori explains that exclusionary politics has been the foundation of women’s challenges in participating equitably in the country’s political landscape. To be fair, while women have been hard hit by this political atmosphere, everyone who does not belong to the status quo has also been exposed to the damaging results of such practice. Primary in the destructive downsides of this exclusive politics is that policy development continues to suffer from bias because women’s voices are not well-represented there.
Without necessarily taking the current topic of engagement outside the purview of the panelists, the moderator again asked Ms. Ufot where she thinks Nigeria is in the comity of nations, with relation to how they engage women in their political and democratic experience. The justification for this question finds strength in the understanding that women are expected to fight back through different means to be appropriately included in the country’s political process. She certainly understands the complexity of the question by her informed responses and established that movements have been formed to mobilize public support for women’s collective struggles.
If people are not made aware of the immeasurable disadvantage it is to them to be excluded from the political decisions of their environment, it would be difficult to make them see why resistance is a profitable progressive measure. Therefore, women have taken to online and offline mobilization and information platforms to educate the people about the activities of their political actors and how exclusionary politics impedes their general progress and development. Among the useful online platforms are the social media outlets used in most cases to educate, encourage, and enjoin citizens to give necessary moral and spiritual support for women’s emancipation movement.
For Nseabasi Ufot, communication through digital information and media awareness is one of the key strategies for changing the political culture to advance women’s interests in society and in political institutions. To the government officials, as important as these information sharing platforms are to the reformation of our general political system, they could be misused at will. On several occasions, there have been reasons for doctoring information to be circulated to the people, which instantly mislead and misdirect them. Therefore, information poisoning is one of the drawbacks of what we have in contemporary times, especially concerning the question asked. If these happen in the global context, the possibility of having women even on the international scene is slim. Enabling the free dissemination of information between and among groups ensures that they are educated on the current conditions that hamper their freedoms, and are sensitized towards how and what to do to remedy the situation. Where there is no freedom of the press, for instance, the psychological effect is that some people, especially women, would be disinterested in politics, which would further jeopardize their interest as a group.
Ms. Ufot was pragmatic enough to respond to the question that although the government continues to show its aversion to protests and public resistance, the people are not throwing in the towel in their fight against injustices and pervasive repression of their voices. To ensure that they have a voice, they have engaged different social media platforms to amplify their interests in the country and how they want it to be run. They achieve this by intelligently analyzing their situations and then draw to themselves a growing audience that also takes their messages with keen interest.
Dr. Nwankwor comes in with a compelling and stimulating insight into this issue. She responds that civic responsibility begins with awareness. Being aware of one’s political system and what can be done to advance it to an envious point helps to channel one’s energy in the right direction. Of course, all these can be sustained in a world where the democratic culture is itself advanced. When democracy is not properly formed, it becomes an agent of imposition and repression where the institutions in the polity work for the benefits of the bureaucratic powers.
Still, Dr. Nwankwor sees some promising future in Nigerian politics, noting that the process of transformation involves endurance and persistence. She remained steadfast in her conviction that in the wake of Nigerian democratic engagement, which began in 1999 with the Fourth Republic, the fact that citizens are challenging the country’s power structure through their engagement on various social media platforms indicates that the country is evolving, although at a very slow pace compared to the expectations of the people. Through available social media platforms, citizens now have increased confidence in challenging the government to the extent of organizing a series of protests primarily through social media mobilization. In this particular trend, women feature prominently and have successfully deployed these tools for achieving their goals.
Naturally, one would expect that a follow-up question to this is to ask about the attitude of the Nigerian government towards alternative perspectives, knowing that leaders in the country have continuously found extreme difficulty in transforming from their totalitarian values to a democratic culture. It is never out of context to ask this question, knowing that citizens have faced state antagonism whenever they develop plans to challenge the government through protest, which is a democratically accepted means of engaging the government in contemporary times. However, the Nigerian government has always reacted with lethal force whenever there is a nationwide demonstration, because they are well aware of the potential damage that protests might do to their reputation and image, and more importantly, in order to protect their ill-gotten privileges and to maintain the status quo.
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For Ms. Osori, she stressed the points already strengthened by the previous panelists who had responded to the same question. Among other things, she emphasized that inclusive politics in Nigeria is under serious prognosis, but this does not mean it is all generally negative, as different narratives have suggested. By the understanding that the women demographic is now being engaged, they have shown through determination that they would always make their voices count, regardless of the circumstances that continue to repress their voices. Without creating an atmosphere for women, it would be difficult for a country to build a civilization worthy of being transferred from one generation to another. She, however, included that it would be misleading if one does not put into context the circumstances that has similarly emboldened the young generation to engage the older generations in power, to ask for their right, as in the recent #EndSars protests in November 2020 in Nigeria.
Many of the #EndSars activists however seemed insufficiently aware of previous activists’ efforts and of state responses of civil repression that have psychologically limited potential protestors or activists from considering confronting the state. Nevertheless, according to Ms. Osori, we must not be distracted from the truth that Nigeria has not actually built a viable and veritable democracy that can be benchmarked for the level of development that the forthright ones can picture.
This pathetic political situation is aggravated by the apparent lack of creativity in building systems and institutions that can help transform the society or people. To take for granted the fact that institutions are the foundations for enhancing an accountable government that is not founded on patronage is to pay inadequate attention to the issue of democratic importance. This, in itself, incubates an insinuation that the government is not necessarily developed by strategies and philosophies but by some unforeseen luck. Without overstating it, this would eradicate the thinking that a country needs appropriate systems to help in its transformation and meteoric improvement. This thought manifests in Nigeria’s institutions, for example in the electoral system where there is no evidence of improvement from what happens in the modern time and the events of the 1960s. This aversion to creativity has affected the polity negatively in that it ordinarily rejects the possibility of attracting the necessary minds who would help improve the system. Elections are conducted with similar experiences as they had in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, with ballot snatching, massive electoral fraud, and the use of thugs and violence, among others, for election purposes.
Meanwhile, the beauty of any intellectual engagement is that people of different professional or career paths can view things from perspectives that align with their academic or professional background. In this case, opinions are meant to differ, and as such, it would help to stimulate a very interesting conversation and engagement. For this reason, the moderator wanted to seek the opinion of Dr. Nwankwor about the position held by the two panelists. Surprisingly, she gave a position that complemented the stand of Ufot and Osori. She reiterated that the democracy of the country is in the Intensive Care Unit because it has not been strong enough to ensure upward mobility of the people, as it enriches only a select few and because it has not always entertained alternative perspectives in most cases. Thus, one would understand that these Nigerian women, irrespective of where they are, are intricately linked to their homeland politics by demonstrating that they not only understand the challenges that are inhibiting the system from attaining a greater height but by also showing that they are aware of the corresponding solutions which they can give for the raging problems. Despite this untoward retrograde, there are some positive and encouraging lights about the situation as there is no cloud without a silver lining. The younger generation has shown that they are capable of changing the narrative. Women’s groups have also become proficient in mobilizing and seeking reform.
Actions that are reflective of a weak democracy are not only demonstrated by the Nigerian or African people, for instance. It is a common challenge in the global political community as there appears to be a wave of governmental repression of people and infringement on some of their fundamental rights. Following the US general elections, laws are being passed by which some citizens are being disenfranchised for reasons that are not always justified. These disenfranchisements are being challenged as well as adjudicated, as they should be.
Non-governmental organizations, important groups, and intellectual communities have not refused to lend their voices to confront such a level of rights abuses, and it is contextually encouraging that one of our guests, Ufot, is making commendable efforts for the interrogation of the situation so that sanity would be returned to the American polity. The very first way to confront a debilitating situation is to know the background to the said challenge. This would make one have a better and objective view of the situation and make informed decisions on how to contain the possible outcomes. In a bid to control the activities of the people, the former American leader builds a narrative that can sway the people from what actually matters, but it is obvious that such would not sail through in a society where markets of information are shared now and then.
According to Ms. Ufot, having failed in misleading the people, the other way is to manipulate the system. She openly declared that the most insensitive thing that anyone would do is to consider fighting a movement whose time has come or to make efforts to downcast an idea whose maturity has germinated. She argued that demographic changes and the sweeping interest they showcase in the political affairs of the community is not something that can be silenced by individuals, groups, or gatherings against its evolution. She jokingly alluded to the age-long conversation of slavery and antislavery narrative when she said that some members of the American public should not consider antagonizing the inclusionary government that factored the multiracial system, or that condoned multicultural temperament in the current system, as it would not lead the white racial community to experience enslavement, the type that their ancestors subjected the Black community to in recent history. While this would not happen for whatever reason, it cannot be argued that the changes it would bring may disallow the preferential treatment that some members of the society have enjoyed to the detriment of innocent others.
The strategy used by these women of value is to leverage the institutional power of the country to challenge individuals or government agencies who decided to use them for their provincial intentions. The litigation process, for example, was considered important in fighting these wars. While the trilogy of litigation process, communication strategies, and direct action are usually very effective in correcting political anomaly in America, these erudite African women have looked into the different ways by which they can be replicated in the Nigerian political terrain so that the country’s politicians would understand that the responsibility of hiring and then firing anyone who is in a political office lies exclusively with the masses. This means that the people would be informed of their untapped power left to suffer unimaginable abandonment because the people have been oppressed and defeated in their spirit.
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These outstanding women are evidence that gender oppression or exclusion in political engagements would generally work against the country. This is consolidated by the understanding that they have not only been equipped with the necessary skills and systems of leadership but have also been very pragmatically strategic in their political tactics. We continue to underplay women’s potential and their possibility to rescue the country from imminent danger of destruction because we have not considered aggressively engaging them in our political system. In all seriousness, they have shown how indispensable they are in intellectually marshaling their points and drawing systematic means of rescuing any civilization known to man.
(This is the first of two reports on the interview on “Political Reforms Nigeria Needs—The Women Speak”on July 11 2021) For its entire recording, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wbkjm59oRdw&t=6s
The Nigerian Condition: Paths Out For The Nation (3)
In the natural order of things, solutions are implemented where problems arise—or, at least, debates on what those solutions mean. In Nigeria, there have been attempted solutions to find a way out of the Nigerian condition. There have also been debates on the best path out of the country’s predicament. There have been talks, in fact, moves, on what the national response to the Nigerian condition should be. However, the more ideas we debate and explore, the more contested the prospects of getting out of this Nigerian condition become.
Before delving further into the Nigerian condition, it is essential first to examine the consummate ideologies, problems, actions, inactions, and mentalities that have led to the formation of the malignancy of the Nigerian condition. Why has it been so difficult, even seemingly impossible in some instances, to get out of the Nigerian condition? How have the Nigerian people contributed to that which they seek to run away from? Are the country’s problems compounded, not by some bad fortune, but by the very acts that everyone parades? More so, in what ways have Nigerians attempted to escape from the Nigerian condition?
Discussing the difficulty of getting out of the Nigerian condition without reference to the associated causes will constrain that conversation and make it incomplete. So, when presenting arguments, the roles of the average Nigerian in our national calamity must first be engaged. Of these roles, we have the longstanding problem of disinterest. If the focus and attention of the average Nigerian citizen are considered, it might be amusing to find the country on the bottom of the rung. For many out of the about two hundred million people in Nigeria, agitating over the country’s issues holds little weight.
At the general elections in 2015, a fragment of the country’s population voted the administration into power. In 2019 again, Nigerians demonstrated their nonalignment with political issues by spending the day at home. Even during states and local governments elections, the general attitude of the Nigerian populace leaves voting as a task for a specific class. But a few years down the line, the right of complaints became free for all. Individuals, voters and non-voters, lament the collective sorrow that has befallen the citizens. And while this is an acceptable reaction to suffering, one should not forget the point from which it all began. Already, for many Nigerians, election days are desirable public holidays rather than days for performing their civic duties. If this is continued, then we might as well call the quest an odyssey, for it will indeed be a long journey.
Furthermore, at the core of Nigerian society is a problem of internal division. From the inaugural days of the amalgamation down to the challenges of the 21st century, people have been at loggerheads with their affiliation. Rather than be branded Nigerians, a name that confers fellowship with other ethnic nationalities, many defend their ethnic roots while the nationality is saved for international passports. Attitudes that prevailed in the days of Nigeria’s infancy have been passed down through generations. Differences along religious and ethnic lines are at the forefront of any political consideration. In Southern markets and communities, Northerners are glared at with suspicion, and in the North, a slight misstep by an “outsider” is all the precedent for crises. This tense relationship and dissonance from a sense of nationality make it challenging to prompt Nigerians out of the Nigerian condition the right way.
Explicitly, the citizens seek a way out of the Nigerian condition the wrong way because their motivations are problems in themselves. Ethnic loyalty drives many quests out of the Nigerian condition, making ethnic disengagement from the Nigerian state the goal of these quests, a move that has proved unsuccessful, not once or twice. More so, the mention of religion or ethnocentric loyalties drives charged responses to national issues. Thus, Nigerians worsen a condition that would be less complicated without underlying rifts in ideology.
Similarly, the issue of grassroots corruption exists. Another hindrance dangling above the breakaway from the Nigerian condition is the diffused nature of corruption within the societal fabric. In Nigeria, corruption is a learned principle. Young minds are nurtured in an environment that justifies corruption and lampoons uprightness for its seeming absurdity. Even as anti-government rhetoric is never far from the tongue, the cheating mindsets of critics prevent these from gaining seriousness. Many Nigerians only see evil in corruption—one of the fundamental causes of the Nigerian condition—if they are not at the helm of affairs, calling the shots for corrupt moves. The moment they also get a chance at being corrupt, they forget that corruption is evil. This has blinded many Nigerians from the truth.
Break up into different factions all we will; the Nigerian condition will not suddenly roll away because two ethnic groups decide to split up and become independent states. If Nigeria were divided into different countries today—Biafra and Odua—we would, sooner than anyone can imagine, start to talk about the Biafran condition or the Oduaist condition, which would hardly make any difference on the Nigerian condition.
In demanding justice, many Nigerians contemptuously treat their obligation to act reasonably. Corruption is a worn standard of practice for people in the civil service and other government offices, yet it is in these same circles that the government is most likely to fail. So, while it is convenient to shame political officeholders at every point, the citizens bear the fecal stains that are often overlooked. But as long as they remain, the validity of this quest remains in doubt. If we were to cast the above reasons in stone, a fundamental error would be committed, which is the failure to understand.
Regardless of questionable societal trends, however, an overwhelming responsibility lies upon the government. In many cases, the citizens’ responses to dynamics are attempts to adjust to emerging situations. Yet, any drug that must cure the Nigerian condition must work in both ways—a reformation of public mindsets and a concurrent attitude of change from administrative levels. On that note, let us look into the various paths that have been tried, all in the bid to find a lasting solution to the Nigerian condition. To wit, each of these paths finds strength in diverse arguments. Popular among these paths are talks of restructuring, agitations for secession, and fiscal federalism.
This is perhaps the story-changing solution that no one really understands. To many Nigerians, restructuring means different things. These may be classified into two: broad application of the term “restructuring;” and restructuring in a more specific sense. A broad application of the term finds faith in a loose portrait. Here, Nigerians characterize restructuring as anything, even the slightest shift, that differs from the current operation of the government structure. This model has no particular demand. Instead, it leads people to believe that satisfaction will be found in a change, no matter its form. It might even be argued that this is likely what most Nigerians accept because of uncertainty. There may be a clamor for a reorganized system, but where an understanding of what that should look like is absent, people tacitly accept a form that says, “anything goes.”
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However, there is a more specific application of the term “restructuring.” Here, the word is not specific because it is universally agreed upon but because the purveyors have mentioned, in succinct terms, what they posit it to look like. To the purveyors of this more specific form of restructuring, there should be reforms such as state policing, devolution, and decentralization. The advocacy for state-run police units posits that internal security management should not be within the unilateral purview of the federal government.
Instead, these powers should be adequately centered in the states. As opposed to the current structure, federating units can run their police forces, design and deploy them according to the peculiarities of respective territories. The idea of state police is mainly born out of prevalent security challenges across the country’s subregions. The federal response to this has been in the form of “community” police officers, another fancy word that portrays policing as one that grows out of the neighbourhood itself. In a burst of geopolitical dissatisfaction, governments in the southwest and the southeast have established their security networks—Amotekun and Ebubeagu.
Nevertheless, evolution and decentralization carry a broader political weight than their preceding counterpart. In this model, power is parcelled and redistributed from the central government to the component units. Responsibilities of the federal superstructure are limited to matters like defence and external affairs. Most sectors where the administration was formerly dominant will directly engage the states. Thus, the reins of power are held by hands as many as the number of states.
We can define secession in two names—Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho. It does not take much to understand where this is headed quickly. Amongst all the solutions in the public space, this is perhaps the most radical, most combative, and best attempted of all. No administration likes to hear the word, and those who say it are wary of what could come. In the context of the names mentioned above, what applies is years of litigation and maybe, in a rare demonstration of government clout, detention in foreign countries. Secession rends the fabric of the Nigerian map and gives each region its piece. It is a farewell to what we once had.
There have been arguments against the plausibility of secession for any one component of the Nigeran state, arguments that find their footing in the provisions of the Constitution. There have also been arguments about the secession ratio: will those who secede do so based on the size of their ethnic population? What fraction of the national land would become theirs? Will minority ethnic groups join the seceded nation? There are many questions, arguments, and governmental moves; some backed by the law, others not so backed, which have stalled the success of any secession. The closest any part of Nigeria came to seceding was the first agitation for the Biafran nation, which led to the Nigerian civil war.
Fiscal federalism possesses ties to the incumbent vice-president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. The model presses for stronger financial muscle in the states as opposed to prevailing norms. Rather than have components that scramble for bread bits, fiscal federalism poses to have fewer dependent states. Without mincing words, it considers finance as the primary cause of political ramblings. Will the corruption-inclined nature of the Nigerian state allow for the success of fiscal federalism? Undeniably, there is a quest to get out of the Nigerian condition. The phrase “Nigerian condition” is not to be viewed at face value, for it truly represents a spreading disease whose symptoms are manifest on the surface and visible to passers-by—other countries of the world.
Nigerians are not wrong in seeking ways out of the Nigerian condition. In fact, Nigerians who have made moves to help the people out of the Nigerian condition should be applauded for trying. Yet, here we are, and it seems like the situation is getting worse by the day, making people wonder why this is so. In the last part of this series, we would look at why the attempts to find a solution to the Nigerian condition have proven futile and how we can genuinely end the Nigerian condition.
Part 3 of 4 of the series on the “Nigerian Condition,” commissioned by the New Times. In Part 4, the concrete exit options will be examined.
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Our Journalists Are Our Last Hope
In the big spirit of our broad democratic tongue, mind, heart, eyes, nostrils, ears and skin, this column is devoting today to some ardent followers of it. It is letting some readers pour their hearts out with respect to our “Journalists are bandits” which appeared last Friday. The fabulous readers who number among the column’s main-stream followers cut across various geographical spaces of our country and across the professions of our educated and academic elite. Of those selected one or two are females. What gives this columnist immense joy is that they pour out their patriotic saliva with respect to our country’s current predicament which its political helmspersons especially at the centre of governance are turning bleaker and bleaker day by day and day by day without qualms, but with severe pains to the ruled, the unfortunate bearers of the brunt of rudderless presidencynologists. These readers share perfectly and in-to-to this columnist’s sentiment and positive and courageous, brave and bold hope that things cannot continue as they are now in your country my country our country. Our journalists and columnists must rise to the occasion and become bandit-journalists and bandit-columnists to make our country the progressive country it is destined to be.
The very last two paragraphs nailed it. As a journalist I know that the profession has gone to the dogs! That not withstanding, those who are committed to their conscience must continue to stand by the truth. I say with boldness: Afejuku belongs to the class of the Noble!
I don’t know what APC did but it’s an irony that the same media they rode on to victory is what they’re now scared of. Never have people been so scared to criticize government as it is today. People are afraid to offend the powers that be or to avoid being marked. If those who are elected to serve are not criticized, then they have nothing to fear again. They can do as they so wish without fear. The propaganda that they employed to write glamorous stories just as the best movie producers can produce magical films but a thousand lies cannot stand one truth.
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The ironically dense and sarcastically biting essay emphasizes the misperception by political rogues in power of journalists and creative writers who deploy the pen-craft to awaken our collective dead conscience to the reality of power abuse. As always the vintage essay is timely because we witness evermore constant threats to the media by this censorship-monger of a presidency. We thank God for still keeping “bandits” like you in active rebellion against silencers of the vociferous.
Good morning, Sir. I just want to personally say thank you for your article … this morning (Friday, 23 July). God bless and continue to protect you. You have given me hope that all is not lost.
Thank you for assuring citizens like us that there is still hope. A lot of Nigerians have given up, and they can’t be blamed; the people (religious leaders, private entrepreneurs, politicians and systems) they looked up to have failed them. Nigeria shall survive and will be great again by God’s grace.
Good morning, Sir. I read through your interesting piece and my standpoint comes from this quote. “Of course, the Khashoggi treatment was much earlier on in Nigeria (on 19th October 1986) visited on our own dear Dele Giwa.” My sincere question is: do we have journalists these days who can tell the truth in the face of threats of death? I see many journalists these days being drafted into political positions as chief press officers, commissioners of communication and media officers and their force of eloquence and vibrant zeal as the 4th wheel of the government estate comes to an end. Will the real journalists stand up and be counted?
Thank you sir for this professorial piece. I read and read and reread and saw truth embellished in the article. Of a truth, it takes extra boldness to tell the whole truth at a time like this in Nigeria.
I have read the masterly, scholarly piece twice. It’s so loaded and rich. The man Buhari bared his fangs in his first coming ala GMB with his draconian press-gag decrees. We can’t forget what Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson went through. It appears the democratic apparel with which he has been donned in this second coming as PMB is getting worn out and really now thin. He is losing and has almost completely lost patience and is set to show you bandit-journalists or journalist-bandits, pepper whether you are 4th, 3rd, 2nd or 1st estate of the realm. But I like your spirit. Our journalists are our last hope. Whether he knows it or not, he will find out soon that there are bandits and that there are bandits. You guys should continue your harassing and confounding brand of banditry bravely and boldly. Na him go taya. Plenty hailings for the great column …
Amazing insight! Journalists should be the first estate of the realm! This is an idea they should take seriously to stamp their authority on the socio-economic and political affairs.
Sir, in my own little way, I dare say that this one is an exercise in apocalyptic and eclectic journalism! In guarded temerity and mellifluousness it reminded me of the parallax ingenuity of the Giwas and Ekpus and the audacious erudition of the Babarinsas and Soyinkas, etc. It takes a “YOU” to journalistically puncture the acropolis of feudalistic conspiracy and the planned annihilation of the scum of the society!!! Thanks for keeping the flag flying!!!
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.
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The Nigerian Condition: A History Of Division (2)
The Nigerian condition is not a happenstance; it is a condition with history and extensive roots. Nigeria is what it is today because some things were never right from the outset and are still not right. Therefore, it is tantamount to moving in circles if we seek to get out of the Nigerian condition without taking thoughtful reminiscing and examining where the problem started. If we do not visit our past, we will continually make the mistakes of our predecessors, thereby meeting the waterloo they met. I have often said that the problems of Nigeria are made in Nigeria, patented by Nigerians, and manufactured in our cities.
Corruption in the Nigerian government did not start three or five years ago. Kidnapping and banditry are not matters of a few years ago; only that they have grown beyond the capacity of the state to stop them. Agitations for disengagement from the Nigerian entity did not start twenty years ago—all ethnic groups had threatened to secede. Neither is it true that agitators are only just recently meeting their waterloo—Isaac Boro and Odumegwu Ojukwu were visited by state violence. All these things have been playing out from the onset, and they keep doing so in an endless loop, in a seemingly wash, rinse, and repeat manner. If we wish to make any tangible progress in solving Nigeria’s problems, it is essential that we first study the Nigerian situation. Thus, it is pertinent to ask ourselves: What is Nigeria?
Nigeria is the “afterthought” of a British commissioner, Lord Frederick Lugard. At the allocation of entities on the African continent following the 1884-1885 Berlin conference, the different entities that currently make up Nigeria fell into the possession of Great Britain. These entities consisted of distinct kingdoms which shared geographical boundaries—Hausa, Jukun, Ebira, Tiv, Nupe, to mention a few of them, in what is now called northern Nigeria. These kingdoms had their distinct languages, cultures, and people. The kingdoms in the Sokoto Caliphate had their relationships cemented by Islam. They traded, exchanged ideas, and fought wars. Some groups interacted outside the framework of how the colonial government defined “states” and “power.” For the benefit of the colonizers, the entities which make up present-day Nigeria were grouped along geographical lines. The first was the grouping into Northern and Southern protectorates, laying the foundation for solid divisions.
The earliest seeds of the fully grown and malignant Nigerian condition can be traced to this epoque, when peoples of different orientations, cultures, value systems, and beliefs were broadly zoned into two protectorates. However, the seeds were not fully germinated at this time because most of the kingdoms still operated on some degree of autonomy as they still had their fundamental monarchy-based system of governments. All the kings had to do was report back to the commissioners and district officers. This meant that before 1914, there was nothing known as Nigeria as a country, and the differing cultures had not been fused in the cauldron of a faux unifying culture and identity. At that time, there was no need for the peoples of those different cultures and kingdoms to present themselves as one, and there were no conflicts of interest, all of which make up the Nigerian condition today.
In 1914, the distinctly governed protectorates were amalgamated into one. At the whimsical thought of Ms. Flora Shaw, the new entity was named Nigeria. One thing that many people have failed to think deeply about is that the amalgamation of Nigeria goes beyond merging two protectorates. The British, through Lord Lugard, merged these two entities for easier administration and more efficient economic management. Did they consider some underlying nuances that would have served as pointers to the seeming impossibility of merging over 250 ethnic groups, with little to no interaction, into one country? The entities which make up present-day Nigeria were distinct, unrelated entities before the colonial administration. Therefore, the amalgamation can be seen as the earliest sign of the existence of a half-blown Nigerian condition. Recall that the lauded indirect rule, as applied by Lord Lugard, failed woefully in the East but was a massive success in the North and a partial success in the West. This, if not anything, should have given the colonial administration some insights into the fundamental discrepancies between the peoples and cultures they chose to merge into one.
During the earliest years of the new country, the Nigerian condition still manifested at half capacity because the administration was structured along a regional basis. The people were allowed a degree of self-identification. The West, consisting mainly of the Yoruba people, had the government of the western region. The Hausa-Fulani and other minority groups were in the northern region, the Igbo were in the eastern region, while the Niger Delta and mid-western region belonged to the ethnic groups that now make up the bulk of the South-South geopolitical zone. Nonetheless, the Nigerian condition started and was further aggravated, as the politicians in the South insisted, by the wrong allocation of rights by the British colonial government. In a country with four regions at the time of independence, the Southerners argued that it was crooked of the British to have allocated 52% (over half) of the legislative seats of the soon-to-be country to the Northern region in an attempt to make the North agree to the country’s independence. Till today, what the British might have seen as a clever move is a driving force in the psychological makeup of northern Nigerian politics.
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In allocating over half of the legislative seats to the North and leaving the other three regions to scramble for 48%, many have argued that the British inadvertently passed a message to the North that all regions of the soon-to-be independent Nigeria are equal, but the North is more equal than others. Could they have carved out the Middle Belt as a separate region? To the South, the mentality of being the No. 1 manifests in the North’s approach to politics and national concerns to date. Why should the biggest region not control power? Nigeria operates a federal system of government, yet the federal charter does not take effect in the bulk of federal appointments or university admission, to mention a few. By advocating for a unitary government, Majo General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, who came to power in the first military coup of 15 January 1966, was blamed for unleashing the process that produced the centralization of power and wrong-headed federalism. A civil war followed, with the military in control for years. Power became highly centralized in the federal government.
The Nigerian condition is about the blame game and finger-pointing. The narrative from the South has permeated the thinking of millions of people. It is expressed simply: The “North-is-more-equal” mentality continued into the first few administrations of the new country, coupled with deeply corrupt practices, till the military, deeming itself as the people’s messiah, arose to take power from the civilian government. Is this view correct? If so, did it make matters better? It did not. Since its inception, Nigeria has faced corruption, a warped sense of national and uniform identity, and nationalism deeply punctured by ethnicity and ethnic loyalty. These are endemic problems caused by the fact that Nigerians have never entirely accepted the sense of being one nation—we are too apart in our notions, beliefs, social formation, and cultures. The narrative about Nigeria is tied to the region where it is created. People think first of their ethnicity before they think about Nigeria. During elections, parties permutate along religious and ethnic lines rather than ideological ones: “We have a Muslim Hausa as the presidential candidate, let a Christian Yoruba man be his vice, and an Edo woman his campaign chairperson. The Igbo did not vote for me!” There is nothing for the Igede, and nobody remembers the Esan. “The Edo can wait to produce the chairman of the party!” It has never been about ideologies; it is always about the best ethnic conjunctions producing concoctions that produce constipation.
When agitators like Nnamdi Kanu, Omoyele Sowore, and Sunday Igboho take up the challenge to call for a revolution or seek the disengagement of their ethnic groups from the Nigerian entity, millions applaud them for the courage to challenge a sitting government. Yes, it is well to applaud them for their one minute of fame. However, they also remind us of Chukwuemeka Ojukwu’s Biafra, the Mid-Western region’s Republic of Benin, and other secessionist or separatist moves that have been made in the history of Nigeria. In the early 2000s, Afenifere and Ohaneze called for a national conference to examine the legitimacy and plausibility of a federal and united Nigerian state. The years that led up to the country’s independence prove that the citizens have never for once seen Nigeria as a successful “United States of Nigeria.” The agitators for an independent Nigeria saw a failed state even before Nigeria got its independence. Since then, many Nigerians have always advocated for the country’s breakup, which has formed the basis for the Nigerian condition.
Taking a tour through Nigeria’s history will reveal that the Nigerian condition is a phenomenon that has been with us since the first attempt to lump different peoples together to form two protectorates in 1900. The amalgamation of the two protectorates gave rise to the malignancy of the phenomenon, and it has seemingly become worse ever since then. The failure of the Nigerian state is rooted in the deep sense of commitment to ethnic and regional beliefs. And because the components have never been wholeheartedly invested in making the clumsy centre succeed, the centre does not hold. The citizens consider themselves first as Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Efik before considering themselves as Nigerians. This is why the quest out of the Nigerian condition cannot be fully quenched. It will rise, like the phoenix, in another form because the old and the young go through the baptism into ethnic-centric loyalty.
There is no problem related to the Nigerian condition whose cause cannot be traced to the fundamental problem of the country’s formation, an artificial contraption. Also, there is no failed secessionist or separatist agenda or movement whose failure is distinct from the failure of others. Perhaps, Kanu and Igboho did not know this. Sowore is probably aware, which may be why he opted for revolution instead of the breakup agenda being pushed by ethnic leaders and warlords. Nigeria is what it is today because things were not set right from the beginning. The moves to divide Nigeria have failed because all agitations have shied away from the same thing and followed a similar path.
What have the agitations and agitators shied away from? Can the quest out of the Nigerian condition be rightly brought to the light of fruition? In the next instalment in this four-part series, I will examine the fundamental problems of the attempted paths out of the Nigerian condition.
. Part 2 of 4 of the series on the “Nigerian Condition,” commissioned by the New Times. In Part 3, the failures of the exit options will be examined.
. Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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