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.
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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.
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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.
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. 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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National Change Management Triggers And Landmines For The President Tinubu Administration
By Tunji Olaopa
Almost all Nigerians, as well as Nigeria’s political class, recognize that Nigeria is a great country; a land of tremendous resources and opportunities. There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that the human and non-human resources are sufficient to catapult Nigeria into the top echelon of industrialized countries of the world. What is galling is how such a blessed country could fall prey to the resource curse and the Dutch disease—the paradox of how the opportunity of large oil reserves and a most significant youth bulge eventually turned into a source of harm for the country’s economy, future prospect and the well-being of Nigerians. This is the Nigerian condition that has prevented Nigeria from engaging with her manifest destiny of national transformation that also changes the quality of life of Nigerians.
The success or failure of governing the Nigerian state therefore rides on the capacity of the policy architecture of any administration to first duly take full note of the critical elements that conduce to the achievement of good governance. Within the Nigerian governance context, no government can ever hope to succeed if it fails to take cognizance of the landmines that have prevented previous administrations from making a full proof of their stewardship to Nigerians. One significant lesson from the previous attempts at getting good governance right, from independence, is that we have now been provided with a framework of landmines that should serve as the change management triggers any new administration requires as imperatives for transforming the governance landscape in Nigeria.
What then are the critical landmines that ought to be the focus of focused change management of the Tinubu administration in the next four years?
Diversity management and governance inclusion
One of the toughest predicaments that defines Nigeria’s postcolonial situation is her plural existence. Indeed, the federal arrangement was conceived as the most fundamental governance framework within which Nigeria’s diversities could be managed successfully. Unfortunately, and since independent, federalism in Nigeria has remained disenabling as a governance framework for managing diversity and running an inclusive governance. And indeed, the federal character principle, that ought to be an ingenious institutional means by which Nigeria could facilitate the national integration of her ethnic constituents, has become an opportunity cost for meritocracy and efficiency in institutional and performance terms.
What is to be done? Two crucial things are wrong with the implementation of the policy. One is the evident lack of definite guideline to balance between equity and efficiency in the application of the principle. Second, there is the absence of the requisite political will to compel its proper application within a national competency cum performance management and human capital development framework. The truth is that the federal character policy could be better managed to be more functional, meritocratic and therefore developmental. And this can be done through the development of an innovative implementation guideline to facilitate institutional restraints and accountability framework of checks and balances for the policy.
Restructuring and economic competitiveness
Nigeria’s unitary federalism—that strange contraption—kills all regional and local economic initiatives in the name of centralized planning and policy orientation that stifle all federating units of their potential and comparative advantages. The implication of this is that the constitutional protocols that strangulate economic competitiveness ensure that all policy efforts directed at achieving national economic growth and development will keep draining out the basket of unitarism. The discovery of crude oil in 1962 reinforced the lopsided federal arrangement into a false sense of federal well-being sustained by oil wealth.
What to do? Restructuring the Nigerian federation cannot be seen beyond achieving the federal values of fiscal autonomy, regionalism and resource control. Regionalism essentially allows the six geopolitical zones the economic liberty to explore and exploit their economic and comparative advantages in ways that foster economic competitiveness that conduce to the development agenda of the Nigerian state. This is already the direction that the southwest has been toeing, beginning with the western region of Obafemi Awolowo and extending to the economic cooperation among the southwestern states.
Local government and governance
To underscore the fundamental significance of federalism to Nigeria’s predicament, we confront the third critical dimension to the lopsided federal arrangement—the debilitation of local governance as the gateway to grassroots development and democratic participation. The constitutional powers that ought to be shared at the three levels of government—federal, state and local—have been exclusively arrogated to the federal government all alone. The federal government emasculates the state government which in turn also reduces, to the point of near-invisibility, the local government. In the end, almost all federal policy initiatives fail to make any significant impact on the local populace, hence the deep level at which Nigerians are multidimensionally poor. This is also complemented negatively by the governance practices of the states that starve the local governments of necessary funding.
What to do? Local governance—through the enhancement of community participation and the utilization of social capital and the principle of subsidiarity—serves as the avenue for poverty reduction, rural development and the grassroots consolidation of democratic governance. The Tinubu administration has a really great opportunity of harnessing traditional structures and loci of authorities to facilitate the harnessing of grassroots support for rural development that triangulates the three tiers of government for a holistic development. The OPTICOM—optimum community—experiment is one tried and tested framework that the new administration can invest in nationwide, for effective grassroots development through getting communities to organize themselves for the mobilization and effective management of community resources. Indeed, real development is visible only when the enormous primary wealth of the grassroots is transformed into second and third order categories of wealth, through industrial processing and value chain activities,
Public service reform and the role of the state
From the inauguration of the Nigerian state in 1954 to date, successive Nigerian governments have invested heavily in the public service and its reform. This investment derives from the axiomatic imperative that the public service is not only the human face of the state, but also the governance mechanism of the government. No government will ever succeed outside of a functional, optimal and efficient public service. However, and explicitly due to the near-absence of a focused political will, most of the public service reforms have been compromised by limited successes and lots of damaged control. Most significantly, the Nigerian government has not been able to redefine the role that the state is supposed to play in the understanding of the efficiency of the public service in national development.
What is fundamental is that the Tinubu government must energetically invest in the reform of the public service as the fundamental statement concerning its buy-in into the idea of the developmental state. The Nigerian state cannot become developmental if it fails to reform the institutional capability readiness of the Nigerian public service to deliver on essential public goods. Contrary to the recommendation of the New Public Management and the global reform institutions, the Tinubu government needs an ideological framework from which to resist the neoliberal orthodoxy of privation and liberalization, as well as the onslaught of Chinese imperialism. The developmental state ideology serves such a purpose. It is from this perspective that the Asian Tigers made their significant developmental leap into the future.
Meritocracy and national governance model
In implementing the Nigerianization Policy, the national elites were caught in the grip of the tension between meritocracy and representativeness as the organizing principle for recruitment into the federal civil service. Representativeness triumphed over merit, and that calculated choice became the source of many of the woes of the civil service, especially the loss of efficiency due to a bloated and pathological workforce. The 1975 downsizing of the civil service further compounded the predicament through the introduction of massive patrimonialism and instant gratification. Realpolitik insists that patronage becomes the dynamic for jumpstarting governance rather than merit and competence.
President Tinubu must see immediately that a patronage system that rewards political cronies who lack the appropriate merit to handle critical positions and sectors will be a critical landmine that explodes the possibilities of progress. Merit and meritocracy ensure that round pegs go into round hole. The administration’s first eleven team must be measured against a performance framework that matches each ministry, department and agency against a cascading level of objectives that reinforce the national development agenda. This demands the institution of a cultural adjustment programme that articulates a governance model that eschews the business-as-usual modality for a more productive and productivity-propelled modality for making government work for Nigerians.
Adversarial versus democratic industrial relations
The national objective of a productivity paradigm shift is a significant background to the development agenda of any Nigerian government. The objective of national productivity derives from the need to achieve a high volume of qualitative output with least expenditure of resources. In Nigeria, the challenge of productivity manifests in three ways. One, there is a critical challenge of harnessing resource efficiency in ways that accelerate economic growth. Two, there is the challenge of balancing the rate of investment with the return on that investment. There is also a patent low marginal productivity of labor arising from the average output of the workforce in Nigeria. And this is in spite of the fact that labour productivity does not sum up national productivity. And lastly, there is an adversarial and militancy-propelled labour unionism that eschews complementary labor relations for the maximization of social and public goods, and instead undermines the capacity of the government to achieve labor productivity.
The goal therefore is to translate this adversarial labor relations to a democratic industrial relation that enables trade unions and the government to see eye-to-eye on industrial matters in ways that enhance productivity. An alternative paradigm of industrial relations reorganizes the bargaining dynamics away from its perception as a do-or-die affair to one which focuses on the shared interests of the participants who essentially become social partners rather than enemies. This ‘soft’ approach to collective bargaining is called the interest-based bargaining (or alternatively: a win-win bargaining; integrative bargaining or principled negotiation) managed within a technical-rational rather than militancy-propelled developmental radicalism.
Politics and the party system
From the experiences of the recent electoral experiment, it became clear that Nigeria’s party system still has a long way to go in terms of internal mechanisms and how that throws up candidates with sufficient democratic clout to win elections. A bigger issue is the absence of an ideological framework around which parties could come to a governance philosophy which is meant to orient the direction of policy designs and implementation.
The party system in Nigeria needs to be insinuated into a democratic framework. And this requires a legislation that facilitates the emergence of internal democratic dynamics by which candidates will emerge and what ideological frame a party would operate in.
Anti-corruption and national integrity system
Corruption, both political and bureaucratic, has remained the bane of governance success in Nigeria since independence. The difficulty of achieving infrastructural development, for instance, has its source in a corrupt system that undermines the translation of budgetary allocation into quality infrastructure. There is also the challenge of institutional redundancies and waste that allow scarce resources to be funneled into unproductive projects.
The Tinubu administration needs anti-corruption agencies that must do better than all the preceding ones established by other governments. This will require legislations that will firm up the political will to ameliorate corruption in all forms within the governance space of the Nigerian society. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)/ICPC et al must be legally empowered and institutionally reformed to achieve more in terms of institutional strengthening to foreclose systemic leakages that incentivize corrupt practices, as part of the building of national integrity system to reinforce the detection and prosecution of financial offenders, from serving ministers to executives.
There is a tendency for the government to see these policy landmines as obvious given that some of these issues have been at the front burner of the governance efforts by succeeding governments to ensure that governance becomes good for Nigerians. But the difference that the Tinubu government needs to make derives from the realization that the devil is always in the details of how these policy landmines and issues are treated and the amount of political will that any government is willing to invest in the process of making these policies see the light of day. The political will of the new administration must be directed not only towards doing the right thing but doing the right thing right.
.Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and Professor of Public Administration.
Nigeria’s Forthcoming Presidential Drama
By Tony Afejuku
Who are President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s political strategists? Who are President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s democratic strategists? Who are President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s law and legal strategists? Who are President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s capitalist development strategists? Who are President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s economic strategists? Who are President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s media strategists? These questions consisting of verbal repetition which emphasizes what President Tinubu and the masses of our people are up against are ones that cannot be swept under the carpet and must not be swept under the carpet.
Our new president is barely less than a few days in office yet he and his strategists have conspicuously made conspicuously avoidable mistakes – which indicate to me that sooner than later the president and his strategists will distrust themselves.
Let us take the president’s “subsidy is gone” issue – which I referred to last week. Hell! His first outing has caused us a disastrous disaster. He and his strategists are behaving as our conquerors right from the day the first of their presidency which is our new presidency. They want us to sink it in our consciousness that their concrete actions any time and at all times will and must achieve particular outcomes which will and must prosper them. The people don’t matter. Or the people will only matter if and when they want them to matter. What this means is that our new helmspersons have no eye to history. The people and the masses are forever to be cheated and treated unjustly. Their thinking is absurd but there is no absurdity in their consciousness. This explains why the president, encouraged by his strategists in every department, could terminate fuel subsidy in one wicked and malicious phrase and simultaneously could similarly allow a litre of petrol to be sold for above five hundred naira. As many people have rightly said, no thought of the masses of Nigerians came out of the hearts of President Tinubu and his cohorts of flatterers. If the president and his cohorts were comrades we would have discovered and discerned order and discipline and justice in their first undertaking which has foreshadowed what is to come from this regime. They behaved as if the people and the Nigerian Labour Congress did not exist.
Now when the Nigerian Labour Congress and its affiliate leadership bodies and organisations were ready for a strike and un-strategically gave sufficient notice to that effect, what did President Tinubu on the advice or prodding of his strategically conscious lieutenants do? Rather than admit his strategic error and apologise to the people and the NLC for taking the clearly wrong action, President Tinubu put on a bold face to tell us that he is another ugboju (strong eye/strong face) president of your country my country our country. We expected a drama that never came as expected. But the drama will still come. Next time NLC and the people will no notice give this regime as President Tinubu did not give them any notice before he did to us what he did to us.
As the last horrible regime did to ASUU, this new regime hopped to an Industrial Court in Abuja to halt the NLC’s well but strategically advertised strike, as I have said above. The new regime’s strategists wanted all of us to know that they are like the strategists of the former regime who were in total control of our courts and judges and justices. The judiciary’s fear of the executive is still very much alive. And the judiciary has no soldier it seems again to stand up for the judiciary. There is no judge or justice in the land who justly can stand up for the rule of law, it seems. The masses and people and labour unions will always be worsted by the executive in our courts of law regardless of what the law is or says. The image of the law yesterday is still the image of the law today before our very eyes. Is it not absurd that the rule of law only favours the executive in all sensitive cases? Must every sensitive case be in favour of the federal government and its mighty might that readily is no might that is might at the end of the day? But every court in the land is more or less a riddle which only our presidential strategists and democrats who in fact are not democrats have numerous keys to. But the whole thing is a joke. Our sanctuary or temple of justice is a stage for the theatre of the absurd. Here I remember the words of William L. Howarth, a more than worthy international literary scholar and critic – “when absurdity meets absurdity, the result is perfect sense.” Phew!
So far I have learnt nothing from the case the PDP and LP presidential candidates and their parties have taken to the presidential election tribunal. I know nothing of the happenings there so far. But the drama there will soon hit us. And those who have been following events there closely and reporting them in our newspapers will soon inform us of a visual riddle and its peculiar image being observed there. The lines of the presidential lawyers and those of the opposing lawyers will sooner or later be openly on display on our screens via home video. All notions will be dramatized even though the masses of our people have been barred through the presidential election tribunal preliminary ruling from enjoying live television broadcasts, transmissions and reports of the exciting expository that would and will be revealed at the tribunal. The authority of the court that has prevented our people from exercising their rightful large and tranquil eyes is the undemocratic authority against the doctrine and principle of protecting the weak against the strong – who more often than not are always in the wrong. For how long will the doctrinal barriers placed between our common people and their right to equity and justice continue? Let the people keep on experiencing the hardship they are experiencing. Let the people keep on being oppressed. Let the people keep on being graceful and melancholic in their pains and travails. And let, too, the president and his strategists and cohorts continue to go to our televisions stations and tell lies and lies. Let the president and his strategists and cohorts through their power of dogmatic religions and of their practicing or public oratory, keep on doing in so short a time what their predecessors did – everything will turn out to be what they never saw in their havens and ovens of rituals. And the drama in the court will be the drama of dramas. All of us reading this will in the end be exciting exciters. The judges and justices will realize, before they know it, that the courts have their limits no matter the conditions of tyranny and despotism they work under. Let us all expect the expected and the unexpected at the same time.
The strategy of the people is the strategy of the people. We wait for the drama through the manipulative power of the people that no witch-doctor can cow. Unless President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is on the side of the people and he becomes their president rather than that of the enemies of their progress, there is nothing his strategists can do in the end to bail him out of the drama that is to come. All the master rhetoricians thoroughly versed in the arts and magic of persuasion or argument and capable of logical manoeuvres that serve his and their purposes, will inevitably become non-persons in their own drama of greatness. Let us expect the expected and the unexpected. This columnist who loves this country your country his country our country more than you do has spoken. Ignore him at your peril. Thunder! Yes. But it is not yet. But its time is its time.
Afejuku can be reached via +2348055213059.
African Marginal Identities And The Tyranny Of The Majority
By Toyin Falola
Nothing is far worse than the tyranny of the majority, and if one hides under the primacy of the majority, it will not always be a representation of the truth, reality, and the right perception. The majority can always be wrong. Many of the greatest atrocities in human history are committed by the general subscriptions of the majority and justification thereof. The domination of one group over the others creates a margin in society, casting some into the quest of finding their strength and re-understanding their identities. Africa has more than 1.4 billion people, but with a high rate of diversities, understanding, culture, and conviction. Also, the propensity of general similarities of societal attitudes has exerted similar problems across the continent.
The fate of marginal identities has much to question and a lot to discuss, despite the easy exits Africans take from advancing such discussions and ignoring the obvious. Those with marginal identities are evidence of realities and their discriminations, oppression, and subjugation are disguised issues the continent enjoys suffocating luxuries from and care less about giving the marginals breathing space, which will be discussed in this part. Diversity ought to foster unity and strengthen the development of the continent because of the availability of creative variety, making it a model to all. Unfortunately, ethnic hegemony, fundamentalism, gender domination and subjections, extreme cultural conservativeness, and prejudicial convictions have created more gaps among the people. While these are unsurprising, the deafening silence, oblivion, and discussion-apathy that those who matter in the continent have shown towards the subject put one in fear of what is yet to come.
Millions of Africans die year in and year out from the hegemony of the majority, which drives many into psychological and physical damage. One then tends to ask what the fate of minorities would be in years to come. The LGBTQI+ persons are victims of entire citizenries and systems, including rural dwellers who make up about 52.13 percent of Africans and are destructively cut off from the mainstream supply lines; refugees, displaced and stateless individuals subjected to inhuman treatments, constant persecution, and wasting away at borders and camps despite the supposed celebrated African unity mentality; slaves and pawns that society have drawn out their wills to the hands of some wicked individuals; disabled people with lesser societal attentions, with the few given to them objectized; marginalized ethnic groups; politically disadvantaged women and youth; secluded women; and people living with albinism. Many of these are common marginal identities with daily unfavorable encounters with others.
The level of diversity in Africa has necessitated the rise in marginal identities and their marginalization rate. While it is desirable to keep the tenets of culture intact at all times, one fundamental characteristic of culture is its susceptibility to change and its ability to accommodate those changes, expand, and adapt them with contemporariness subjected to the details of the people. Societies change, and Africa has seen several developments in ethical values in recent times as many of our convictions are questioned and their continuous viabilities are in doubt. The influx of globalization and modern cultural advancements that have diffused into Africa has allowed people to gain and regain consciousness about their identity and re-construe the perspective understanding of who they are.
Society is ideologically expanding on all fronts and there is nothing anyone can do about it, no matter how long parts of society hold back. Do not get me wrong; I do not state that African cultural values should change or that the novel perspectives about values should displace the traditional preconceptions that would be a step towards attracting identity loss and defeating all the aims of Pan-Africanism and Africanism endeavors made in the past and striving in the presence. The position is that the culture must adjust to accommodate people who are inhumanly subjected to identical massacre, personality conflict and oppression. It is to say that the culture should shell off dangerously prejudicial values. For instance, the killing of twins was part of the etymological conviction of the Efik people in Nigeria, who believed the children were a bad omen. Such trials by ordeal and other similar cultures have given way because of their negative impacts on society, despite the resistance of some people. This is the same spirit of logic I draw this disposition from and it compounds the need for cultural adjustment.
Issues around LGBTQI+ persons in Africa are one of the most controversial subjects of discussion to raise in Africa, even among scholars. This stems from Africans’ understanding of the subject as there is a general disposition about it because of its strong contradiction of several African cultural values and ethics. Gender and sexuality are core to African institutions, defining all activities and behavioral spaces in which people operate. As a result, one will understand the disposition of the continent to non-conformist sexualities and societal reactions to them. In several quarters, they are perceived to be an abomination to society, which may attract spiritual repercussions because of their capacity to degrade social contracts and fibers. Therefore, one cannot claim that the boasts of Africa in the spirit and existence of diversity spread to tolerance towards the LGBTQI+ community. This explains the disposition of the African governments and the jamborees of anti-gay or anti-sodomy legislations and policies that limit the constitutional rights of people with different sexualities.
Harsh societal reactions, vulnerability, and marginalization towards the LGBTQI+ community is a global phenomenon, as has been asserted by the Human Right Watch report in 2015, but Africa takes a strong position in antagonistic dispositions. Aside from cultural disposition, a strong angle to understanding the people’s reactions towards the community is the level of understanding an average African has about members of the community. Africa sees the identity as an emerging and novel culture inherited from Eurocentric domination and American influence rather than biological or instinctive orientations. Furthermore, Africans discuss it in lieu of spiritual conditioning that points against the emotional states of the African minds. Hence, they are subject to public criticism, embarrassed on the streets, sometimes stripped naked to “shame the devil,” and killed in the most inhuman manners on very bad days. But LGBTQI+ persons are human first, and many of them get their sexual orientations beyond their will and control. Would “what is” be considered non-existent? No matter how biased society might be, it is important to protect the people who identify as such, first as a human, before considering sexuality.
Another identity worth contemplating is women who continuously fall victim to societal bias against the role of women and the understanding of women. Africa has a special hierarchical approach to social structure, and after the advent of colonialism, the response to the status of women has worsened from the level and rate of patriarchal prejudice that existed before. However, one must state that the continent has been moving positively towards gender inclusion and reconstructing the role of women. Politics, social roles, sexualities, and identification are problems women face in African society. There is large political marginalization in terms of contesting or participating in roles and elections. Although the political spaces in Africa have been opening up to women, the continent has seen female presidents and leaders like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Slyvie Kiningi, Ivy Matsepe-Cassaburi, Rose Francine Rogombe, Joyce Hilda Banda, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, Sahle-Work Zewde, Samia Suluhu Hassan, and other influential female African leaders. In the Nigerian 2023 general elections, there was a considerable increase in the number of female voters–52.5% were male voters, and a close 47.5% were female. However, females still face social discrimination in the continent as several believe that the only place they can function is the home.
In addition, millions of African women still live in seclusions in one form or the other, including Purdah systems, widowhood, and different religio-cultural conditionings. Some of them are cut off from the rest of society, incapacitating them and reducing their role in the developmental process of the continent. This results from beliefs, as several of the secluded women are not victims but have done so intentionally. Hence, addressing marginalization in this context must be done within the confines of culture and tradition. Women’s sexuality is taken very seriously in an average African society. It is the reason for many conservative cultures and opinions about women and a driving factor behind the evils of female genital mutilation and rigid sexual rules around women. The sacred African angles to women’s sexuality have brought about spiritual constructions that have attracted nebulous assaults and ritualism towards women because of the conception that they are especially spiritually different.
Also, ethnic differences and conflicts result from marginalization, creating compulsory but strong marginal identities. The diverse characteristics of the continent have brought about the existence of small minority groups shocked by the hegemonies of the majority. Crisis in Ethiopia, rivalries in Zimbabwe, agitations in Nigeria, unrests in Rwanda and Burundi, Kenyan wars, and other unrest in Mali and others are largely traceable to ethnic marginalization and domination. This has claimed millions of lives on the continent and has rendered many helpless. Ethnicity is the test of African unity and the continent is failing woefully in this regard.
In 2021, it was stated that Africa has about 52.13% of its population dwelling in rural areas. This shows that sometimes majority and minority factors are not often based on the number in comparison but influence in comparison. Burundi alone has about 85.94% of its population living in rural areas. According to the World Bank, there are no less than 687,081,738 Africans in rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa. Individuals are the majority but have minority voices and influence, except in certain situations. Interestingly, the food-producing populations are rural dwellers, yet development often passes over them. This continuous marginalization of these people is as dangerous to the continent as taking slow and gradual poisons. On a larger scale, this goes to the root of refugees, stateless, and displaced persons who are not considered key to societal constructions.
People living with disabilities are another identity that society has not been able to open its arms towards, and when such sympathy is done, it is often done in the most embarrassing forms. Africans have generally stereotyped people with disability with some level of condemnation. It does not matter what one does; as far as one is living with a disability, you are considered poor and discriminated against because society does not expect any level of mental or physical ability from people with disabilities. It is more pitiful that a spiritual status is attached to these persons, making them vulnerable to abuse, violence, ritual killing, and objectification. More particularly, people with albinism, hunchbacks, twins, and others with special forms of birth are subjected to consistent violations, abuse, and ritualism. Countries like Tanzania, Malawi, Nigeria, and others have reported cases of grievous assaults and killings of people with albinos. They are often seen as ritual objects and materials for power.
Notably, the first step towards achieving reasonable solutions is to allow society to become more tolerant through awareness and collaborative approaches. There is a need for orientation change across Africa and the development of enforceability measures. Without a doubt, solutions to several of these discriminatory social convictions are not in aggressive movements, as many international and non-profit organizations have taken gradual steps that incorporate cultural and traditional peculiarities.
(Prt 1 of the Extract of the 2023 Audrey Richards Distinguished Public Lecture, University of Cambridge, June 7, 2023).
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