“Integration, not amalgamation, is God’s plan for the nations. I believe God is giving Nigerians an opportunity for national integration as against amalgamation that we have had in the past centenary …
I believe strongly that this nation is destined to be one great, united country modelling unity in diversity to Africa and the world.”
- Dr Tunde Bakare
Centuries ago, prior to the advent of colonialism, the ethnic nationalities which today constitute the Nigerian state existed as separate and independent sovereign territories. They started out as migrating and splintering families, clans and villages but some became city-states, kingdoms and empires. Though independent, to varied extents, depending on factors such as proximity, size and capacity, they interacted through trade, wars, conquests and annexations and, sometimes, intermarriage. Then came the European explorers, first the Portuguese, then the British, French and Dutch in commercial transactions that evolved into conflicting geo-political interests among these European powers. At the 1885 Berlin Conference these conflicts were resolved in the partitioning of Africa and the territories around the Niger area were seeded to the British. With the Berlin mandate, the British set out to consolidate their control of these territories using manoeuvres, intimidation and outright massacres. Seeing them as mere business enterprises, for administrative and organizational efficiency, the colonialists then embarked on the progressive amalgamation of these territories.
The amalgamation had begun in 1883 with the merging of the Oil Rivers Protectorate with surrounding territories to form the Niger Coast Protectorate. Then, in 1897, the defeated Benin Kingdom was amalgamated with the Niger Coast Protectorate to form the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. Then in 1906, the Colony of Lagos was merged with the Southern Protectorate to form the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. Finally, in 1914, the Northern and Southern Protectorates were amalgamated to form the framework of what was destined to become the Nigerian state. With that framework in place, the period between 1914 and 1960 saw the growth of nationalism and agitations for independence. Eventually, an independent Nigerian state emerged in 1960 upon meandering through the maze of regional interests and sectional inclinations. Since then, through political upheavals, coup d’états, pogroms, threats of secession, a civil war, repressive military and neo-military dictatorships, inept civil administrations, nepotistic governmental institutions and a lingering inclination to ethnicity among the citizens, it has been for the tottering African giant a staggered quest for nationhood. One hundred years after the amalgamation, Nigeria seems to have remained a mere amalgam – a mixture of administrative entities lacking genuine integration of the people. Consequently, though the Nigerian state has managed to remain intact since independence, it may be said that a Nigerian nation is yet to be born.
Manifestations of the Dearth of Nationhood in the Nigerian Polity
1. Political Manifestations
- Ethnic origin and inclination of political parties: From the 1951 elections, political parties have often been regionally and, consequently, ethnically inclined, having strengths within particular regions and being either weakly represented or completely absent in others; for instance in the First Republic, the north had the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), the west had Action Group (AG) and the east had the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC); in the Second Republic, while the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) was seen as northern, the Nigerian People’s Party (NPP) was perceived as the eastern party and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) had its roots in the west; in the 2011 elections, while the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) was predominantly northern and the Action Congress (AC) was predominantly south-western, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) was almost entirely eastern; even the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which prides itself as a national party had no substantial impact in the south-west
- Voting patterns: Consequent upon the ethnic spread of political parties, overall voting patterns in Nigerian elections often have an ethnic undertone
- The zoning debate: Since the commencement of the Fourth Republic, the increased debate on rotation of political offices among geopolitical zones has further revealed the lack of national cohesion
- Nepotism and sectional preferences in political projects and appointments: For instance, the Yaradua administration was inclined to appointing indigenes of Katsina and Kano in top government positions; this was reversed with the emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan who has, however, been accused of taking his Ijaw origin too far as president
- Sectional bias in policy evaluation and appreciation: There are often allegations of sectional bias by incumbents in the federal, state and even local levels of governance in the allocation and implementation of projects; while some of these expressed sentiments of marginalization may be justified others ignore sound judgement; a case in point is the sectional interpretation given to the cancellation of the Lagos Metro-line project by the military administration of General Muhammadu Buhari even when the then government cited fiscal constraints as necessitating the policy; another case in point is the perceived sectional motives for the non-interest banking policy by Lamido Sanusi as governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
2. Socio-Economic Manifestations
- Sectional identity and indigene-centred citizenship: The application of the principle of “state of origin” as against “state of residence” in access to employment opportunities, promotions and incentives
- Inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts: The lingering Jos crisis is a pathetic example
- Sectionalism in social interactions: This is seen in the direct or indirect discriminatory attitudes of the average Nigerian to people of ethnic and religious groups other than theirs
- Citizens’ attitudes to the fight against corruption: The celebration of corruption displayed in the brazen defence of James Ibori and Depriye Alamiesegha by their respective kinsmen and the rousing welcome of Bode George by the South-West wing of the PDP were clear cases in point;
- Citizens’ attitudes to bad governance and failed leadership: This is reflected in ethnically motivated defence of poorly performing leadership as well as sectionally fuelled attacks on calls for protests against such leadership as seen, for instance, in the resistance of the South-South to critics of President Goodluck Jonathan and the sentimental opposition of that region to the January 2012 fuel subsidy protest
- Ethnic-based militarism and insurgence: From the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) to the Movement of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and from Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC) to Boko Haram, the surge of militancy along ethnic or religious lines is a clear indication of the dearth of nationhood in the Nigerian State.
Causal and Sustaining Factors of Sectionalism in the Nigerian Polity
- The positions of opinion leaders: Except care is taken to ensure that regional interests are subsumed in the national interest, statements and positions on issues by leaders of socio-cultural organizations such as Arewa People’s Forum, Northern Elders’ Forum, Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, Ijaw National Congress, South-South People’s Forum, Afenifere, Oodua People’s Congress, and others which are stakeholders in the search for a more perfect union and which should be at the vanguard of forging an acceptable framework for national coexistence could inadvertently hinder the emergence of a national identity; it is therefore a welcome development that some of these organizations have begun to attract a new breed of Nigerians that have demonstrated commitment to nation building
- Lack of commitment by political leaders to nation-building: Nation building is a serious policy agenda requiring strong political will and creative socio-cultural engineering strategies, the kind that Nigerian governments have failed to muster, deploy or sustain as the case may be
- Despite the progress achieved through national integration vehicles such as Unity Schools and the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), corruption, nepotism, quota system and violence have minimized the gains of these initiatives
- Low-visibility of genuine bridge-building efforts and inspiring bridge-builders: Momentum created by sincere gap-bridging campaigns and messages have not been translated into highly visible projects or movements for nationhood
- The failure of the Nigerian state in its obligation under the social contract with citizens: Patriotism and loyalty to the national course are the natural result of the provision of public goods by the state; in the absence of this, apathy sets in
- The sectional interpretation by citizens of the failure of the Nigerian state: When the State fails to provide public goods, the gap in patriotic fervour is filled with sectional loyalty fuelled by opportunistic politicians seeking to take advantage of the situation and by citizens’ perception of state failure as sectional marginalization
Consequences of the Dearth of True Nationhood in the Nigerian Polity
- Perpetuation of bad governance as the power of the vote is unwisely used to bring to power or to maintain in power, incompetent politicians
- Exclusion of the best, brightest and most competent from politics and governance through sectional political behaviour
2. Economic Consequences
- Lingering underdevelopment as a result of long-term bad governance
- Failure of the nation to harness its numerous but diverse human resource strengths to combat its common economic problems
3. Social Consequences
- Discordance in social mobility brought about by a combination of apathy and sectional interest
- Divided and weakened response to genuine opportunity for transformational leadership as well as skeptical attitudes towards earnest clarion calls for a citizen-driven revolution due to sectional interpretations given to such calls by divided Nigerians (this is why the self-serving political class strives to preserve the status quo using the divide-and-rule strategy)
The Year 2014 and the Strategic Timing of a Movement for True Nationhood
This year 2014 proves to be an important year as Nigeria marks the centenary of the amalgamation. Since 2013, the government began to make preparations to celebrate the centenary by setting up a committee in that regard and, although the government has said there is no budget for the celebration, Nigerians are not unaware that such projects are avenues for profligacy. Opposition parties and advocacy groups have been engaging in debates as to the appropriateness or otherwise of such celebrations. At the same time, opponents of a united Nigeria have begun to thicken the lines of disunity by emphasizing the notion of the “mistake of 1914”. Opportunistic politicians are either fanning the embers of ethnicity to gain the support of marginalized constituencies or making inconsequential statements in support of unity to score cheap political points depending on their 2015 political aspirations. Nevertheless, 2014 presents to genuine patriots an opportunity to turn around the tides of our nation and to do so strategically by pulling Nigerians from their respective sectional biases including tribal prison-walls and religious caves into an integration movement, one that unites Nigerians against common problems and against systems and institutions that represent or perpetuate those problems – problems like poverty and disease, corruption and violence, insecurity and underdevelopment – even if such systems and institutions are political parties or their bastions. Designing frameworks for such a movement and stirring genuine patriots to action will be the focus of subsequent parts of this article. Nevertheless, it suffices here to state that, like the biological process of conception and birth, nationhood is conceived and delivered at an appointed time. It is conceived with divine input and delivered with human cooperation. It is no coincidence that the term, “nation” derives from the Latin word natio, which means “birth” and connotes labour. The birth pangs of nationhood are manifest in social, political and economic upheavals as well as in discontent with the status quo among the populace especially those called to birth it. Such persons must rise up to the occasion remembering the words of William Bradford, one of the early settlers who laid the foundation for the American nation,
“All great and honourable actions are accomplished with great difficulties and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage”.
- Mobilization Unit, Save Nigeria Group