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Can Nigeria survive another century?

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Recently at the Main Auditorium of the Lagos State University, Ojo, Chief J. B Oke shared his reflection on the question of whether Nigeria can survive as a corporate entity for another century. His presentation is both historical, conjecturing and declarative. I take the speaker’s quote that: “Our land flows with milk and honey, yet, we live in hunger and penury” as a fundamental metaphor or what we in the academia call statement of the problem. What follows is a mapping of how we got there as well as an attempt at resolving this problem.

The speaker points to the colonial origin of the foundational faultlines that have kept the country in a developmental stasis. The binding together of peoples from divergent cultural contexts within a single political community or state was a foundational error that has continued to engender instability within states and between states. Our guest speaker takes cognisance of this fact.

He further acknowledges the fact about amalgamation that is it was induced by financial expediency on the part of colonial administration. However, the salient point is that the colonialists even in the act of amalgamation took cognisance of the diversity of the peoples of the Niger area and left them with autonomy in unity, in other words, amalgamation was not a nullification of our people’s diversity. The Independence Constitution retains the regional autonomy with fiscal elements which made possible the phenomenal development in the region, especially western Nigeria.

The coup of 1966 which brought the military into the scene created the path for the erosion of regional autonomy and the entrenchment of a ‘Lugardian veto.’ With the veto, the military leadership ran the country as unitary state, unleashed corruption on a largescale. The atomisation of the state structure into the present configuration compounds the foundational error, because, it amounts to panel beating a putrescent system to retain the veto. The point to make is that the military merely compounds a neo-colonial structure over which they serve as watchman or sentry.

Corruption rankles high over the guest speaker’s taxonomy of causative factors which has engendered critical social problems such as insurgencies, kidnapping and general underdevelopment. While noting the failure at finding solutions to the problem through a sovereign national conference often parodied by successive regimes, he underlines the point that disintegration does not necessarily bring about progress. Therefore, there is need for process-led conversation to resolve the antinomies of our state system. The country is young and the present and the future can still be shaped. In a more declarative tone the irreducible minimum for the people is welfare provisioning.

My take: I begin with the question of analytical approach. How best may we understand the national or the situation in the country beyond a taxonomy of its discontents or pathologies? Two approaches easily recommend themselves. I) class approach. 2) Ethnic approach. In any situation there are always a principal contradiction and principal aspect of contradiction. As Mao Zedong puts it:

There are many contradictions in the process of development of a complex thing, and one of them is necessarily the principal contradiction whose existence and development determine or influence the existence and development of the other contradictions.

Zedong also further notes that: “Therefore, in studying any complex process in which there are two or more contradictions, we must devote every effort to finding its principal contradiction. Once this principal contradiction is grasped, all problems can be readily solved.”

Let me quickly note that the principal contradiction can become secondary contradiction in the internal development of contradiction itself.The class approach would dictate an interrogation of the economic relations, the distinction between the haves and haves- not. All parts of the country have their own share of both the rich and the poor. So the principal contradiction is the conflict of interest between the poor and the rich in our society. The class approach has additional value of enabling us to see colonialism as an economic phenomenon. Therefore, we could say that Nigeria was an economic project of the British and not a state project. The creation of Nigeria was to further the economic wellbeing of the metropole, in this case, Britain. The extraversion of the national economy on the basis of export of raw materials before the oil windfall was an outcome of the colonial structure. The discovery of oil only reinforced the dependency nature of the economy as oil exploitation was dominated by western multinationals. Oil rents fuelled corruption and public profligacy. The point must be made that corruption is not cause but effect of the economic structure bequeathed to the country by the British.

The ethnic approach is evidence-based and empirical. The evidence is to be sort in the colonial contrivance. There are historical evidence that the British exchanged intelligence with their American counterparts in their scrutiny of those who would succeed to leadership of post-independence Nigeria. The radical nationalists were barred from any succession agenda. Once imperial Britain and its transatlantic ally, USA had decided. Effort were made towards its realisation. First they identified the inheritance elite, meaning, the Hausa-Fulani ethnic stock was chosen to lead post-independence Nigeria. Demographic illusion was created to make the project credible. As one observer puts it, census count beginning from 1866 were technically deficient and provoked political tension. This pattern has continued up to 2006.

Often the southern elite has always faulted and rejected the figures. Exceptional intercensal growth between 1952-53 and 1963 put at 44 per cent indicates massive inflation of figures. Population census was rigged to accord the North a veto over the rest of the country. The process was sealed with fraudulent electoral exercise in 1959. A former colonial officer in the colonial office, Harold Smith said that the 1959 independence elections were rigged to put the North in power in Nigeria and admitted that he “was one of the British Officers serving on the headquarters staff in Lagos, chosen by the Governor General, Sir James Robertson, to mastermind the covert action to rig Nigeria’s elections”. This was further corroborated by Mr. Peter Smitters who also was a major actor in the modelling of post –independence Nigeria. The first consequence of the above is the creation of what Odia Ofeimun has aptly called the Lugardian architecture, a power matrix which ensures that power resides always in the north.

It is high time we jettisoned the assumption that ethnic factor in interpreting the Nigerian reality is erroneous and that it amounts to a secondary contradiction. Thus, if we take class question as primary from a Marxist political economy perspective and therefore economic relations as primary contradiction, ethnicity has become the principal aspect of this contradiction which must be resolved before the class question can be posed in clear terms or in other words before it can attain the status of principal contradiction. Ethnicity has materiality that is substantive in nature and constitute a reality. The fact of a common language, common ancestry and common religion and infact a common way is as much reified as any other objective phenomenon.

It is a deep appreciation of the Lugardian architecture that informed the views of Tatalo Alamu in his ‘Caliphate and Contradictions’ thus: “As a result of this peculiar structure, the Northern Question looms portentously over the National Question. Under the current structural configuration of the nation, and short of unilaterally and unitarily handcuffing the rest of the country, it is hard to see how the north can be made to catch up with other sections of the country. This cannot even be contemplated without provoking a severe backlash which can result in the fracturing of the country…At the moment, Nigeria is like a four-wheel vehicle with the front and back wheels facing different directions in perfect misalignment. There is bound to be a lot of friction and commotion but no movement. This is why those who advocate for a radical restructuring of the country which will allow the north to solve the problems of underdevelopment and modernisation on its own terms and deploying its own residual strengths should be seen as genuine friends of the north”.

Balarable Musa is recent candid opinion on the Nigerian contraption to the extent that the North is a drag on the south is also relevant in this regard. As he puts it inter alia, “At the moment now because of historical development, the North is 40 years behind the South in educational development.” Yet it controls the levers of the security apparatus and political power. This, quite frankly, is a substantial element of the Lugardian architecture ornated with neo-colonial elite.

A national conversation is the only pacific way out. Those who wish to retain the worn house of Lugard should realise that nations and states are not permanent entities. They undergo construction and reconstruction historically.

Dr. Akhaine, an Associate Professor of Political Science is a visiting member of The Guardian Editorial Board and Acting Chair, Department of Political Science, Lagos State University.

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