NIGERIA: THE CENTURION NATION (1914-2014)
THE NATION NIGERIA AND THE BEGINNING OF THE JOURNEY
There have been numerous views as to what the notion of a nation is over the years. Though, the idea of nation has been a subject of concern to scholars throughout history. Besides, there has been confusion between the idea of nation and nation –state which depends on the value laden sight of the person defining the two concepts. For the centurion Nigeria, I have viewed and taken her as a nation and not a nation-state. Nigeria! Our fatherland, Nigeria! Our nation has become a centurion. On the one hand, in the language of Senghor (1962), ” fatherland is the heritage handed down to us by our ancestors; a land, blood, a language or at least a dialect, more, customs, folklore, art in one word a culture rooted in a native soil and expressed by race”
On the other hand, Ernest Renan perceived a nation as:
A great solidarity brought about by the feeling of sacrifices that one has made and that one is prepared still to make. It supposes a past, but it is contained in the present in a tangible: the common feeling, the clearly expressed desire to continue life in common. A nation exists by virtue of a daily plebiscite”. Again, and still on fatherland, Senghor made a distinction between fatherland and nation. For Senghor, nation:
…unlike the fatherland, is not a natural determination and therefore an expression of the milieu, but determination to construct or reconstruct. Objectively, it is a restoration along the lines of exemplary model, an archetype. But to attain its objectives, the nation must inspire all its members, all individuals over and beyond the fatherlands, in order words… the nation forges a harmonious ensemble from its different provinces: a single country for single people, animated by the same faith and striving towards the same goal.
From the above quotes, it is evident and crystal clear that the notion of a nation is more encompassing than the fatherland. But more significant to the idea of a nation as offered by Senghor is that, a nation is a platform and rallying point for the inspiration of people of diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds wherein, they perceived one another as a people with common destiny. This presupposes that, a nation is forged by predetermined and conscious efforts of a people devoid of primordial sentiments sustained by their strong will.
The landmass designated as Nigeria is an offshoot of the same historical process that gave birth to the nation. The territorial division of the entire world among the leading capitalist nations in the city of Berlin in 1883 under the chairmanship of Otton Von Bismarck where Britain began the process of formal takeover of Nigeria. Given the decision of Britain to totally take over the affairs and management of the territory, the Charter hitherto granted to the Royal Niger Company since 1886 was revoked and the West African Frontiers Force was established twelve years later in 1898 under the leadership of Governor General Lord Fredrick Lugard who was responsible for managing the territory.
On January 1, 1900, the protectorate of Northern Nigeria was proclaimed in Lokoja, thus marking the official colonial rule in the territory. Besides, there was also the proclamation of separate protectorates in the North, South, and the colony of Lagos. In 1906, the colony of Lagos and the Southern protectorate were unified and in the same vein, in 1914, the protectorate of the North and South were unified to become what is now known as Nigeria christened by the wife of the Governor General, Lord Fredrick Lugard. However, before the advent of colonialism, the Northern parts of Nigeria was majorly inhabited by Hausa/Fulani ethnic group who were organized in various cities/states with a centralized political system and Islam playing significant role in their social organization. It is worthy to note that after the Fulani Jihadist conquest of the territory (i.e. Sokoto Caliphate) the religion of Islam spread rapidly as it was adopted as state religion. The Southern part of Nigeria was majorly inhabited by Ibo and the Yoruba ethnic groups who also organized themselves in empires, cities or states such as the Oyo Empire, the Benin Empire, and the Opobo Kingdom etc. In these areas the centralized political system was not in accord with their social formation like that found in the Sokoto Caliphate (Northern Protectorate) rather, a semi-centralized and egalitarian political structure existed with Christian religion wide spread among the people. The nation Nigeria has more than three hundred and fifty (350) ethic groups from diverse ethnic backgrounds including the majority ethnic groups as earlier alluded to.
PRE-CENTENARY NIGERIA: ISSUES AND CHALLENGES
Issues and challenges confronting Nigeria Nation is not different from any other nation of the world and more specifically the Third World nations given their similar colonial experiences. For example, the transition from colonial to neo-colonial states at independence of the nations of the Third World placed on the shoulders of post –colonial states the enormous responsibilities to transform the inherited states far beyond the level of “mere geographical entities” as jocularly called especially, within the circle of Nigerian nationalist since the advent of post colonial era. Instead, the post colonial states became bedeviled with ethnic and religious issues and challenges that eventually snowball to vicious fratricidal conflicts/ wars that had shaken and threatened the foundation and the existence of African states in the past and present. Going back to the memory lane, states such as Zaire (now democratic republic of Congo), Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi and Nigeria all had a stint of direct violence in the 1960s; in the 1970s and 1980s Ethiopia, Chad, Uganda and Sudan again were faced with civil wars and in the 1990s Liberia, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sierra Leon, Equatorial Guinea have all be threatened and befell by wars leading to wanton destruction of lives and property. In the first decades of 2000s and the first half of the second decade of 2000s, wars have continued to ravage and dehumanized humanity. The long standing political tensions of the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s in Sudan have led to the split of the state in the second decade of 2000s. Sadly enough, the vicious fratricidal war is still rearing its ugly head in the youngest ‘nation’ of the world a5t the moment. Kenya, Cote d ‘voir, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo is also not left out in recent fratricidal wars.
That said, a major challenge and task for the nation Nigeria since her independence has been the task of nation building. As earlier elucidated, forging a nation is a predetermined conscious efforts devoid of primordial sentiments and sustained by strong will of a people. However, these challenges have been daunting given Nigeria’s pre-colonial, colonial and even post-colonial experiences. Religious and ethnic violence, wanton destruction of lives and property have been witnessed in no small measure in recent times. Over the years, conflicts in Nigeria have manifested in virtually all the social institutions which include the political, the social, the economic and the religious institutions. In addition, are the traditional /communal conflicts. These manifested conflicts find expression at national, state, local and in some instances international and regional levels. For example, political conflicts in Nigeria are by products of power struggle within the political class which often involves the manipulation of the population who are inevitably less informed about the essence of political struggle. The elite and the politicians often influence governmental policies and decisions to their own advantage thus exemplifying the fallout and ill effect of sociall distribution of power in the polity. Besides, the struggle for political positions has also been presented along the lines of religious and ethnic order thereby heating up the polity. Sadly, conflicts in Nigeria have manifested between Governors and his deputy, Governor and Churches, conflicts within political parties. Also, are tensions between federal government and the state, the tensions between politician and their financial lords.
Economic manifestation of conflicts in Nigeria includes government inadequacies through its policies to sufficiently address poverty, unemployment, underdevelopment which has always serve as a fertile ground for grievances. It must be noted that greed and inordinate ambition have manifested in various strata of the Nigeria nation, paving the way for chronic and unhealthy economic rivalry and primitive accumulation of wealth between and among the geo-political zones at the expense of the nation. Poverty and conspicuous inequality that stem from economic mismanagement and corruption have had their toll on Nigeria nation. The proportion of population living below a dollar a day is increasing at an alarming rate, and the fundamental cause of poverty in Nigeria has been attributed to economic stagnation that the nation has experienced over a few decades ago, coupled with low productivity in agriculture that has limited the opportunities to increase income for rural majority among others. The heavy dependence on oil boom of since the 60s has not also help matters as this has brought to the fore the challenge of resource competition; that is, the sharing of the largess from oil thus heating up further the polity. This situation has had massive pervasive ugly effects on the political system and social relation in all ramifications. However, it cannot be gainsaid that the era of oil boom has had a profound multiplier effects on the economy arising from its dominance. In the bid to allocate resources with fairness and social justice, Nigeria has created deep resentment in the oil producing areas and attempts to raise the issue have always been discarded as separatism in some quarters and further suppressed by prevailing direct violence.
Conflicts between pastoralists and cultivators have been a matter of concern for successive regimes in Nigeria and across the nation over the years. This condition of conflicts stem from land acquisition and access. The nomadic Fulani have always accused of encroaching into farmland annually during the dry season and as a result, farmers take the law into their hands by attacking the Fulani nomads whenever they encroach into their farmland. However, ethnicity and communal conflicts have seem to be the most dreaded conflicts in the nation ,as this is closely linked with resource competition. The multi-ethnic nature of Nigeria has further made political positions to be very competitive as one ethnic group would want to plough back to his or her region or zone. Ethnic differences have been used for selfish interest in the nation over the years thus leading to heavy causalities among the masses that are not direct beneficiaries of the economic gains of the coveted office(s). For example, a number of inter-ethnic conflicts between the Hausa and Yoruba in South West Nigeria, the Ibo and Hausa in North West Nigeria, couple with migration by some ethnic groups in Nigeria has led to the development of indigene/settler conflicts/wars. Instances of this condition include among others: the Ife/Modakeke in South West, Tiv/Jukun in North East, Hausa /Darkarki in South West , Ijaw/Itsekiri in South South to mention but a few. Still on ethnic divides, Toure (2003) observed that:
…a Hausa person from Niger Republic…illegally settled in Kaduna… to be considered as an indigene, while a Nigerian citizen that is Igbo born and bred working and paying taxes in Kaduna is treated as a non indigene. In another instance, take a Yoruba person from Benin Republic accepted as an indigene of Otta in Ogun state, and not so a Nigerian citizen that is Kanuri. Meaning that in certain situations, it is easier for a person to be accepted as an abstract Nigerian citizen than to be recognized as belonging to the area of residency.
In addition, conflicts that are connected to ethnicity also include those where dispute and changes in boundaries have caused several tensions relating to political power and representation that manifested along ethnic or communal lines. Ironically, conflicts that have been taken to be religious in the nation have been linked to causes other than religion. The dividing line between religious groups and ethnic groups has been very blurred in Nigeria over the years. Thus, the tendency to identify some ethnic groups with a particular religion has further conditioned the political elite’s primordial sentiments. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore the fundamental facts that there have been religious conflicts in the nation. Again and ironically, the problematic has never only been the tensions between different religions but also between within the same religion (i.e. inter/intra religious conflicts).
The Late Nigerian Activist and socialist, Bala Usman (1987) shed more light on the thin dividing line between religion and ethnicity and has a manipulating tool by Nigerian political elite as he noted that:
The real basis of the manipulation of religion in Nigeria today is the need to obscure from the people of Nigeria a fundamental aspect of our reality: that is the domination of our political economy by a class of intermediaries who are being increasingly exposed. And this is to enable this class to cover themselves with religious and ethnic disguise in order to further entrenched division among our people, slow down their awakening.
In the same vein, T. Taure (2003) equally noted that:
…The decade of the 1980s was one of the high rises of religious fundamentalism with influx of foreign-bearing ideological material-on Muslim and Christians sects. The Nigerian government also joined strongly in the politicization of religion. Government patronization of religious leaders and organizations, increased largess was extended to religious leaders …into all sorts of Christian and Muslim circle looking for legitimacy with the implication of undermining national unity.
The untold hardship and the destructive role of religious conflicts and its attendant threats to unity in Nigeria like any other nation with similar challenges cannot but be over emphasized. Thus, Cardinal John Onaiyekan (1993) noted thus:
…Where the issues are more complex and strongly felt, it can be said that it is in this part of Nigeria (referring to Northern part of Nigeria) that we have to hammer out valid solution for the whole nation. The religious question is only part of the larger national question about what is Nigeria...
It is interesting to note that the Cardinal noted this twenty years ago; today the North East Nigeria has been worst affected by religious violence of high magnitude leading to the lost of many lives and property. With the daunting challenges confronting Nigeria nation, she has survived the turbulent times and today she celebrates her centenary year of existence, a wonderful moment to behold, occasioned by the incessant prayers of the faithful from different faiths in Nigeria.
CENTENARY MORAL OBLIGATIONS AND THE WAY FORWARD
Fellow compatriots, our Centenary moral obligations to our fatherland, our nation start right from this moment. As Late Nobel Laurel award winner, Dr. Nelson Mandela once said “the time is always right to do right thing”. It is against this backdrop that it is right time and high time we started to treat ourselves with dignity and mutual respect, it is right time we eschew all forms religious bigotry and primordial sentiments that have held back from enjoying our common humanity and heritage from our ancestors, it is right time we discarded the perpetual sense of insecurity, mutual distrust and intolerance, it is right time we started a new beginning that is full of hope, abound with peace and tranquility. Quoting Ronald Reagan “Peace is not the absence of conflict; it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means”. Tangentially, Mother Theresa thus noted” if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other”. Borrowing the analogy of John Darby (2001) on peace process as mountain climbing:
A peace process can be compared to climbing a mountain… All previous expeditions have failed. There are no obvious paths to the top. The climbers are inexperienced in negotiation and must pick up the skills as they go along. To make matters worse, the mountaineering team is composed of people who have previously been at each other’s throats, often laterally, and who are now roped together. They must now overcome their suspicions and fears to accomplish a common task. For many the ending of violence is a sufficient task.
The late great Icon Nelson Mandela put it that “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb”. The hill of a century we have climbed and many more yet to climb as one nation. Fellow compatriots, we must end the conflicts and violence threatening and shaking the foundation our common humanity and existence as a nation. We must allay fears and suspicions for the sake of the lofty task ahead of us. Let us all forgive one another and chart a new course “for without forgiveness there is no future” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu). And as for George Mac Donald “forgiveness is giving and so the receiving of life”. Further, quoting Aleksandri Solzhenitsy:
“In this way we differ from animals. It is our capacity to think that makes us different, but our capacity to repent and forgive. Only human can perform that most unnatural act and by doing so only they can develop relationships that transcend the relentless laws of nature”.
Fellow compatriots, Don Williams Jr. Once said “on the altar of prejudice we crucify our own, yet the blood of all children is the color of God”. Men, women and children’s lives have been shortened and wasted as a result of conflicts and violence over the years. “Through compassion we also sense the hope of forgiveness in our friend’s eyes and our own hatred in their bitter mouth when they kill, we know we could have done it; when they give life, we know we could do the same. For a compassionate man nothing human is alien” (Henri Nouwen). Fellow compatriots, Let us show compassion and forgive one another as we bask in the euphoria of the centenary year.
Fellow compatriots, special tribute to the founding fathers of this great nation of ours, special salute to all that have held the mantle of leadership of the Centurion nation, be it an accountable or non accountable leadership. We have to forgive ourselves and chart a new course. Fellow compatriots, I like to end this piece with the acronym derived from the name of our great leader and former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon. This acronym has once been put to test and survived thus our Centenary mantra becomes: GOWON
G=Go O=On W=With O= One N=Nigeria
Fellow compatriots, let us all go on with one Nigeria. Congratulations! Mr. President. Congratulations! Fellow compatriots. God Bless Nigeria! God bless her people!