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Nation building: Challenges and reality

I thank the management of the Media Trust Limited for inviting me to be the guest speaker at the 10th in the series of the…

I thank the management of the Media Trust Limited for inviting me to be the guest speaker at the 10th in the series of the Annual Daily Trust Dialogue. I am particularly honored that my presentation will be enriched by the contributions of a trinity of dedicated patriots namely Bishop Hassan Kukah, Dr. Sule Bello and Ms. Ankio Briggs who are the other guest speakers.

The organizers of the programme could not have chosen a more suitable chairman than Mr. Festus Mogae, former President of Botswana, the first African leader to win the Mo Ibrahim Leadership Award. Like most African states, Botswana was far behind Nigeria. It was granted independence by the British colonial regime in 1966. Indeed, Botswana was one of the poorest countries in Africa with a GDP per capita of $70. But with a committed people led by a progressive leadership, the country has been transformed to become one of the fastest growing economies in the world with a GDP per capita of $14,000. Since a Nigerian, the late Dr. Akinola Aguda, as Chief Justice of Botswana contributed immensely to the development of the legal system that has made the country’s judiciary one of the best in Africa, it is hoped that our distinguished chairman would like to share with us the secret of the success of his country.
On November 4, 2008, the election of the first Africa-American, Barack Obama, as the president of the United States of America was well celebrated in Africa. To mark the historic event, Kenya, the country of Mr. Obama’s father declared a public holiday. Having stolen the Kenyan presidential election of 2007 through vote rigging and fraud, I criticized the hypocrisy of the Mwai Kibaki regime in celebrating the victory of Mr. Obama. As the celebrations coincided with a working visit to Nairobi, I asked a few Kenyan friends whether Mr. Obama could have won a presidential election if he had contested in Kenya. The honest answer to the question was in the negative. I was emphatically told that being of the Luo tribe which constitutes 13% of the population of Kenya, Mr. Obama did not stand a chance. I was further informed that if he had contested and won the election with the support of the majority tribes, the results might be annulled by the government!
The Kenyan situation applied to most African countries where elections are contested on the basis of ethnicity, religion and other primordial sentiments which are usually exploited by the ruling elite to keep the people divided so as to maintain the status quo. By basing the presidential campaign in the United States on issues of poverty, inequality, unemployment and the global crisis of capitalism, the result of the election has strengthened the unity of the American people. Thus, in electing an African as president in a predominantly white society, Americans have proved that one nation has truly emerged out of many states or colonies in line with the motto of the country, i.e, E Pluribus Umum (One out of many).
Similarly, the national election held in Ghana on December 7, 2012, was fought on the basis of issues confronting the Ghanaian people. The development of the democratic process in Ghana has shown that without addressing the crisis of underdevelopment, many of the states in Africa are going to witness the “withering away of the state.”
The concept of nation building
The fourth republic remains one of the most heated periods in the history of Nigeria. This is buttressed by socio-economic and political challenges and problems facing the country as represented by calls for “federal character,” “50% derivation,” “resource control,” “zoning,” “state police,” “sovereign national conference,” “secession,” “Sharia,” etc. The causes of the problems have been numerous and often listed to include Nigeria’s national ethnic diversity or ‘cultural plurality,’ unequal resource endowment, nature of its federal structure, weak institutions, corruption, violent native-settler conflicts, rent-seeking and mono-cultural economic base, epochal impact of colonialism, prolonged military rule, absence of infrastructure and dependence on more developed countries, among others (Oshodi, Mcphillips and Odiogor, 2010).
The multiple and dangerous dimensions of these problems seem to suggest that about 20 years after some scholars came up with a major work entitled Dead-end to Nigerian Development (Nnoli, 1993), the country is still at a dead-end. Its problems and challenges have remained huge and scholars and the ordinary citizens and non-citizens alike have consequently continued to proffer numerous solutions at conferences, retreats, seminars, workshops and religious crusades.
In most cases for each of the identified problems, there are more than one suggested way-outs. On corruption for instance, while a military scholar Major-General Ishola Williams (rtd) had suggested that Nigeria’s culture and tradition remain an untapped source of reducing corruption (Williams, 2007), the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and some individuals have argued that the “Chinese treatment” or death penalty be invoked (Attah, 2012; Baiyewu and Attah, 2012; Joseph, 2012). Others have stressed the need to de-monetise the political space in such a way that unscrupulous politicians are discouraged while the necessary institutions are empowered to function with independence and impartiality (Adetula, 2008; Aiyede, 2006; Oshodi, 2011). But in spite of these suggestions, political corruption still persists (Adebanwi, 2010; Adebanwi and Obadare, 2011; Human Right Watch, 2011).
National building: Some comments
Ceteris paribus, the meaning of nation building should not be problematic. The reason is that the meanings of “nation” and “building” are largely not in doubt. The former refers to a group of people with similar history and culture while the latter is to make something develop or take form. But the definitions of concepts and terms are not usually universally accepted. This stance, particularly from the critical and postmodernist theory, is often based on the fact that when such concepts are deconstructed, their ideological, class, ethnic, regional and even (sometimes) their religious underpinnings are laid open for all to see (Mingst, 1999).
To understand the difficulty of definition is therefore to understand that there are numerous positions. Should it be defined in terms of the locals who live within these states? Or, should it be based on the actions of external bodies (see for instance Dobbins et al, 2007) who as it is often noted forge nations through “blood and iron” (Ottaway, 2002)? Or, as the divine right theory would argue, nations should be made and built by divine intervention? It is the answers to these questions that determine ones understanding and interrogation of the concept. Thus, though some lay emphasis on the role of local politics in the shaping and pace of nation building (Bamgbose, 1998) while maintaining that ethnic diversity and ethnic identity are major impediments in nation building (Connor, 1972), others have stressed the role of international players in the success or failure of nation building (Dobbins, et al, 2007). Suffice to cite some definitions that have emerged.
James Dobbins, Seth G. Jones, Keith Crane, and Beth Cole Degrasse in their The Beginner’s Guide to Nation-Building, define nation building as “the use of armed force as part of a broader effort to promote political and economic reforms with the objective of transforming a society emerging from conflict into one at peace with itself and its neighbors: (Ibid, p. xvii). Based on a 60-year study, they considered some of the actions of the United States, Europe and the United Nations (UN) in other states within the context of “nation building operations.” Marina Ottaway defines it not as the imposition of common identities on “deeply divided people” but the organization of states in such a way that they “can administer their territories and allow people to live together despite differences” (Ottaway, 2002, p. 17). Viewed from this perspective, nation building should not necessarily presuppose the use of force.
For the purpose of this paper, the definition identified by Adele Bamgbose would be adopted. Adele Bamgbose (1998) notes that nation building involves the creation of a sense of territorial nationality, creation of national authority that has legitimacy over subordinate units, expanding the ability of the wider population for concerted effort, creation of a new political and economic structure, reconstitution and adoption of old ones as well as mediation over discontinuities or hardship such as ethnic conflicts and socio-economic imbalance. With this holistic conceptualization, nation building is not only a political reality but also one that has socio-economic dimensions.
The challenge of nationalism in Africa was well captured by a historian who has observed that “Against the 1950 leaders of nationalism, the real count is not that they failed to foresee the traps and snares that lay ahead, but that they all too easily accepted what was offered to them. They accepted the colonial legacy – whether of frontiers or bureaucratic dictatorship – on the rash assumption that they could master it. But as things turned out, it mastered them.” (Basil Davidson: The Black man’s Burden, Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State, spectrum, Book Limited, Ibadan 1992 p. 108). When, Nkrumah advised that Africans should seek political freedom and all would then be added he was of the view that once political independence was attained by Africans the road to economic development would be easy to follow. But as the Ghanaian leader discovered much later the neo-colonial route to development could not lead to the economic prosperity of Africa.
After all, he himself had seen the danger of retaining the colonial apparatus, hence Nkrumah said that “there is a great risk in accepting office under this constitution which still makes us half slaves and half free.” When the independence constitutions became unworkable, military dictators were encouraged by imperialism to seize power to protect its vital economic interests.
Out of the very many military rulers, who administered many countries in Africa for about three decades, only General Murtala Mohammed of Nigeria and Captain Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso had the courage and commitment to challenge the vested interests that had stultified the development of Africa. But both of them were hurriedly and brutally murdered by reactionary forces.
Other patriotic civilian leaders like Patrice Lumumba of Congo, Samora Machel of Mozambique and Amilcar Cabral of Guinea were also killed by imperialist agents for daring to address the root cause of the stagnation of Africa. To rebuild the nation-states, such leaders insisted on popular participation as opposed to liberal or bourgeois democracy.
The challenge of nation building
In 1989, the Soviet imperial hegemony collapsed leading to the peaceful emergence of several nation-states. The Berlin wall also collapsed like a pack of cards and it led to the unity of West and East Germany. The violent balkanization of the former Republic of Yugoslavia led to the emergence of the Balkan States. In South Africa, the solid structure of apartheid gave way in 1994 to the birth of a new nation based on majority rule.
After a civil war that had lasted for half a century, the people of Southern Sudan voted for Independence in a referendum held on July 8, 2011. However, the royal authorities in Morocco have continued to reject the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly calling for a referendum in Western Sahara to end internal colonialism in Africa.
In some other nations, the demand of a people to have their right to self-determination respected is not seen as a treasonable offence. In Canada, two referenda were held in 1980 and 1995 wherein voters in the Quebec Province were asked whether they wanted to secede from Canada and become an independent nation. In both instances, the motion for secession was defeated. In October 2012, Mr. David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and Mr. Alex Salmond, the first Minister of Scotland, jointly signed an agreement to hold a referendum not later than 2014 to test the union of England and Scotland which was consummated in 1707.
But as far as members of the ruling class in Nigeria are concerned, the issue of the nation-state is foreclosed. Hence, two of the country’s former rulers—Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida—issued a joint press statement in July last year where they maintained that the “unity of Nigeria is not negotiable.” There was no basis whatsoever for the grandstanding of both Generals as they were disingenuously relying on Section 2 (1) of the Constitution which states that “Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state to be known as the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
In ensuring that the unity of Nigeria is maintained, General Obasanjo later called on President Goodluck Jonathan to adopt the “Odi model” in wiping out terrorism from the country by subjecting the people in areas where the Boko Haram sect operates to genocidal attacks. But having realized the futility and the illegality of the “Odi model,” President Obasanjo has turned round to call for dialogue with the nihilist organization.
Nigeria is a country of paradox (Oshodi, 2013). It has crude oil but imports refined petrol. It is surrounded by what but hundreds still lack clean drinkable water. Even the United States National Intelligence Council (NIC) seems to buttress this paradox. Few years ago the NIC forecasted that Nigeria would break up in 2015. The same body has recently forecasted that Nigeria would be among global economic powers by 2030. Similarly, in spite of what is referred to as Pax Nigerian that represents the manifest destiny of the country to lead developmental and peace drive in Africa (see Adebajo, 2010; Akinyemi, 2007; Bach, 2007), Nigeria is a country in need of peace itself.
With regards to nation building, the first and second opening quotes in my paper by two respected nationalists in a way buttressed the on-going challenge of nation building in Nigeria. Chief Obafemi Awolowo had stated that Nigeria is a mere “geographic expression” (Adefuye, 1992, p. 27) while Sir Ahmadu Bello had described the amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates by Lord Fredrick John Dealtry Lugard as the “mistake of 1914” (Osaghae, [1988] 2011, p. 1). Conversely, these two leaders and their contemporaries remained some of the most influential and developmental leaders in the political history of the country. The logical question that will follow this understanding is: why has nation building remained a challenge in post-colonial Nigeria?
It is often argued that colonialism is the root cause of conflicts, divisions and the major challenge of nation building in post-colonial African states (Ekeh, 1983; Mamdani, 2001a, 2001b and 2002). In fact, Peter Ekeh, one of the leader scholars on the conceptualization of colonialism had noted that colonialism led to the emergence of ethnicity in Nigeria. He is of the view that colonialism set in motion a number of social structures one of which is the emergent social structure that developed within the newly created Nigerian society owing to the workings and nature of colonialism (Ekeh, 1983). Thus, if colonialism created ethnicity, then colonialism is the main challenge of nation building, hence the principal centrifugal force.
Ekeh’s position on the role of colonialism is further entrenched and made complex by his epochal conceptualization of the term. By this, he defined it as “a social movement of epochal dimensions whose enduring significance, beyond the life-span of the colonial situation, lies in the social formations of supra-individual entities and constructs” (Ekeh, 1983: 5). An epochal phenomenon has five features which include: that it brings and consolidates monumental changes, that it brings about change in social formations and structures, that it impacts human lives far beyond the lifespan of the epochal event, that it goes beyond the individual and that it has implications for the global system (Ekeh, 1983: 6-8). Simply put: the things that colonialism created will take a very long time to be corrected.
To Bamgbose, colonialism ensured ethnicity remained and flourished. For proponents of this view, it was therefore expected that emergent political parties and the post-independence polity would be ethnic-based. Parties had emerged from ethnic organizations and essentially have ethnic leadership and membership. The Northern People’s Congress (NPC) established in 1951 was formed from two Northern associations, Jam’iyyar Mutanen Arewa A Yau and Jamiyyar Jama’ar Arewa (both of which merged to form Jam’iyyar Mutanen Arewa). The Egbe Omo Oduduwa, a Yoruba organization, transformed into Action Group (AG) in 1951. Chief Obafemi Awolowo-led AG while Ahmadu Bello led NPC. Nnamdi Azikiwe led National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC) whose name later changed to National Convention of Nigeria Citizens. It was a party formed in 1944 with its main support base in the south-east.
Since the first republic, parties have not ceased to be overtly ethnic. Suffice to mention some of these parties. The National Party of Nigeria (NPN) had its main followers and members from the Hausa-Fulani in the North. The Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) got its main support from the Western Yoruba speaking part of Nigeria. The Nigeria People’s Party (NPP) had its support base among the Ibos of the South-eastern part of Nigeria. The Alliance for Democracy (AD), Action Congress (AC) and Action Congress of Nigeria got their supports and votes mainly from the West. The All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) was predominantly an Ibo party. Even such institutions as the military were not spared in the ethnic schisms within the state. The military coup of 1966 that led to the death of some top politicians and led to the emergence of Maj. Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi to power was also interpreted in ethnic terms ultimately leading to the bloody Biafra civil war (Akinboye and Anifowose, 1999: 244-245).
Having said this, but should colonialism be the only challenge of nation building in Nigeria? For how long will it serve as the main justification? A critical consideration shows that if colonialism brought the ethnic nationalities that composed the Nigerian State together, the ruling class has instrumentalised this reality for their specific uses. Individuals have taken actions that promote nation breaking. Some heads of state and individuals took decisions that prevented nation building. The followers on their part for numerous reasons have sometimes played the role of centrifugal as against centripetal forces. Three arguments will be used to illustrate the point that colonialism is not enough reason to hinder nation building.
To be continued