By Okechukwu Emeh, Jr
To be sure, Nigeria has come a long way since her formal inauguration as a political society in 1914 and independence as a sovereign nation-state on October 1, 1960. In the opinion of this writer, the celebration of 100 years of the amalgamation of Northern and Southern protectorates to form our national entity in January 2014, the unprecedented transfer of power at the federal level from one political party to another following the credible and peaceful presidential poll of this year and the recent commemoration of 55th anniversary of our political statehood should be a cause for national re-awakening in order to pave way for good governance, political stability, social cohesion, economic prosperity and sustainable development in the polity. These events should galvanise us into discovering a new history, a new national community and a new way for moving forward. They call not only for courageous and confident moves to reinvent the hopes and lofty dreams of our founding fathers about building a virile and viable Nigerian state that will be a force to be reckoned with in the world on account of its accomplishments, but also for confronting major factors retarding the daunting tasks of nation-building and national integration in the polity like bad governance, mismanagement, corruption, communal antagonism, disunity, injustice and poor macroeconomic and development policies.
For one, such tasks are crucial to engendering a strong, united and prosperous political society in Nigeria, going by the eye-catching examples of countries of Western Europe, North America and Asia-South Pacific, which have taken a quantum leap forward after overcoming their adverse national challenges. In this new promising era of globalisation and globalised economy, the tasks of nation-building and national integration in Nigeria would make our heterogeneous ethnic nationalities and cultures to intermingle and be subsumed under the homogenising theme of a nation, in a manner devoid of what the Swedish anthropologist, Clifford Geertz, calls “primordial attachments” of race, ethnicity, clan, culture and religion, with a view to creating, nurturing and sustaining a bonding spirit of common identity, common prospects and common good.
For our continued corporate existence, members of our political class (both leaders and power brokers) should go beyond the sing-song that “the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable” or the ad nauseam reassurances that the country will not disintegrate. They should match their utterances with action by forgoing narrow, selfish interest for reasons of national duty. This is where the elevating idea of public spirit – the political form of altruism, which produces effective solution to the problem of cooperation in collective action dilemmas – comes in. If exuded, this kind of spirit, which connotes love of one’s country and sense of civic responsibility, can make members of our political class to demonstrate an unswerving commitment to Nigeria in the interests of evolution of a viable collective system. This is in stark contrast with private spirit (as made poignant in narcissistic individualism, greed, opportunism and personal-aggrandisement), which, in these perilous times in Nigeria, can self-destruct or lead to political and socio-economic paralysis. Therefore, members of our political elite are enjoined to rise to the challenge of nationalist fervour, patriotism, statesmanship, national interests and centrist politics – all embodying public-spirited behaviour – by championing the cause of national unity and shunning acts of unnecessary political brinkmanship and inflammatory remarks that can overheat the polity and instigate sectional disaffection or violence.
For political stability in Nigeria, this can only be fully guaranteed by strict adherence to the basic tenets of democracy, good governance, due process, the rule of law and respect for basic human rights. We should also make our political system to be more open, liberal and participatory. The somewhat close relationship between control of political power and untrammelled access to economic resources and other privileges in the country also calls for a rethink. This is considering that such a relationship, which reeks of prebendalism, has led to a sharp escalation in the penchant for power in Nigeria and with it the continuing agitation for breakup and greater localisation of the locus of power and resource control. And unless the concept of political power is built into our body politic with public responsibility, selfless service and common good, no amount of rotation or zoning of political offices will solve our fundamental national problems.
It is expected that national re-awakening in Nigeria should be pursued with the sole purpose of stepping up confidence-building measures for strengthening the Nigerian state whose foundation is currently creaking under the sheer weight of tension generated by years of unresolved combustible national question. This question arises from the growing need to re-order our polyglot national society with an eye to removing real or imagined fears of marginalisation, domination, oppression, inequality, unfairness and injustice in inter-group (ethnic, religious, political and class) relations in the country, as well as ensure accountable governance, political stability, acceptable constitution/federal structure, national cohesion, human welfare, equality of opportunity, social justice, steady economic progress and sustainable development.
In the humble opinion of this writer, good governance, social justice, unfettered practice of democracy and constitutionalism are crucial part of the equation in any effort to reinvigorate the Nigerian state for peace, stability, progress and development. Good governance is the accentuation of social contract, which requires those in government to deliver common good through protection of lives and property of the citizenry and provision of basic infrastructure and social services, which are all the true ends of political leadership. With this, most of our daunting national challenges can be surmounted, especially considering that the inability of the country to utilise her varied natural and human resources to improve the well-being of her citizens is largely attributable to leadership failure. It is notable that the problem of leadership in Nigeria is mainly how to use political power in a way that will make it not to be susceptible to abuse and misuse. For a purposeful leadership to emerge in the country, we must understand the nexus between good followership and good governance. This is visibly important because, based on the Law of Attraction of Homogeneous Species propounded by Stephen Lampe, a people deserve the leaders they get. For example, a people who desire material progress at all costs and have no regard for moral principles would have as a leader one who holds similar views and who would show proclivity towards looting and plundering their collective wealth. Conversely, an upward-looking people who develop a strong volition for lofty principles, as a result of experience, or through exposure to new knowledge or teachings, will attract an authentic leader with similar volitions and together they will succeed in building a just and God-fearing society. Needless to say, this is the compelling reason we should strive to embody and manifest the change we wish to see in our society.
At a time like this in Nigeria, full of sectional grievances and the precipitate conflicts, social justice would be essential in engendering enduring peace in the country. This is because, according to Agness Heller, in Beyond Justice, “Justice is primarily the virtue of citizenship, of persons deliberating about problems and issues that confront them collectively in their institutions and without domination or oppression, with reciprocity and mutual tolerance of differences”.
As regards unfettered practice of democracy, this would make the governance of our national community to be anchored in popular wish, with the majority having their way with magnanimity and the minority the concession of the right of political expression with dignity. This best form of governance can also be instrumental in successful resolution of ethnic minority claims and conflicts in Nigeria, given that it provides the representation for various opinions through multi-party competition. To promote and sustain democracy in our clime, there must be governmental legitimacy, leadership accountability, popular participation, vibrant and welfarist economy, tolerant and open society, active mass media, equal opportunity, tolerance, the rule of law, social justice and respect of fundamental human rights. Also needful is checking factors like politicians not playing according to the rules of the game (which often result in do-or-die politics of political violence and electoral fraud), whipping up ethnic and religious sentiments for political ends and low level of political awareness among the populace. Our rocky road to sustainable democracy would equally gain a new oxygen of hope when our politicians, out of a moral duty, set aside their differences and pander to restraint, dialogue and amicable settlement in order to prevent the polity from being on the verge of violent political eruption.
Two internationally acclaimed models of power-sharing arrangement would also help nudge our plural society towards democratic consolidation, as well as away from communal turmoil that has become part of our greatest undoing since our independence in 1960. One is what Arend Lijphart, a Dutchman, called “consociational democracy”, which would help us institutionalise a broad-based governing coalition in the country that would be generally inclusive of all our major ethnic and cultural groups. The other is integrative model, which would create a mixed federal structure and adopt majoritarian but ethnically neutral executive, legislative and administrative decision-making bodies, as well as device ethnically-blind public policies.
Agreed that representative democracy and power-sharing models are essential mechanisms for fostering mutual communal accommodation, sublimating the agitation for autonomy or secession by certain groups in Nigeria and cementing social peace and serene normalcy, we should strengthen our resolve to create and maintain a national government that is well-constituted through transparent, free and fair election. This is owing to the inescapable fact that a government that emerges from it is an embodiment of national will and, therefore, would be able to promote national unity and equitable development of all parts of the country and thereby reducing the tension that often arise from divisive and destructive centrifugal pressures of ethnic particularism and religious fanaticism. Suffice it to say that the central challenge of managing ethnic and religious conflicts in tense, complex and volatile multicultural state like ours is how to create terms of inter-group co-existence that are consensual, not coercive. This calls for bargaining and reciprocity among our groups, considering the future of one Nigeria that is at stake and the burning need to heal the scars of antagonisms and conflicts. The challenge of fostering inter-group harmonious relations in the country also demands seeking ways of correcting the existing political, economic, social and developmental imbalances in the federation, whether real, perceived or contrived. Alongside this is the imperativeness of inter-dependence and the need for strengthening, rather than weakening, the bridges of integration and unity, which are already in place, while making spirited effort to build new ones and to encourage cooperation among our disparate people. Thus, Nigerians should speak for Nigeria and heal their inter-group wounds in order to live together as one people, with mutual forgiveness, reconciliation, forbearance and concession as their articles of faith. They should say NO to hatred and bigotry, because these factors were behind the major carnage in human history like the Nazi Holocaust (in which more than six million Jews were killed) during the World War II, slaughter of more than 800,000 Tutsis, along with moderate Hutus, by Hutu extremists during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, cataclysmic disintegration of Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s (which came with unspeakable atrocities, war crimes and crimes against humanity) and destruction of the Twin Towers in the US through the September 11, 2001 brazen terrorist attacks (in which over 3,000 people perished).
Tied inextricably to the future of our national community is constitutionalism. This requires managing the affairs of Nigeria according to the dictates of the statute book or constitution. Implying constitutionalism are legality, legitimacy, due process, the rule of law and, to an extent, affirmation of the normative values of the state, including code of conduct and inalienable rights of citizens. Granted that nation-building is a dynamic and ongoing process, our political leaders, especially our national law-makers, should take cognisance of this in producing a workable constitution of our dream. However, they should not make the quest for constitutional review or amendment to becloud their individual commitment to the search for solution to our difficult national challenges. After all, if the gospel truth must be told, the problem of Nigeria is not mainly our constitution but the way we operate it, sometimes, to our whims and caprices, plus our lacklustre way of doing things.
On national development, we should uphold equity, inclusion and sustainability. We should also address our infrastructural deficits, as well as human needs, in terms of education, health care, capacity building, recreation and environmental conservation (especially in this terrifying era of climate change and the associated global warming). Achieving grassroots development in Nigeria would require good macro-economic governance that will place a premium on prudent management of our finite resources, while taking visible measures to deal with the lachrymal waster-pipes of corruption, mismanagement and profligacy. This is impelling in order to ensure even human, infrastructural and social development in Nigeria, as well as drag the country out of the flames of worsening crime and violence, which, apart from ungodliness, greed and human wickedness, are fuelled by harsh economic reality, revolution of rising expectations ensuing our present democratic dispensation, relative deprivation, sense of abandonment, worsening gap between the rich and the poor, mass poverty and youth unemployment. It is incontestable that with the carrot of huge improvement in people’s lives by those in our corridors of power at all levels by ameliorating poverty and suffering while energetically wielding the stick of enforcement of law and order to constrain and control the rate of violent crimes now unprecedentedly assailing our national abode and creating a climate of fear, insecurity and vulnerability, cases of armed robbery, assassination, terrorism, sea piracy, ritual killing, cultism, kidnapping, sectarian strife, rape and whatnot will spiral down.
To get a foothold on a global market, we should be irrevocably committed to building a dynamic and competitive economy, which will necessitate reducing our dependence on the oil sector and fortifying the economy with clear-cut, exhaustive and unambiguous policy reforms – including privatisation and liberalisation (and restructuring/ rationalisation of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government based on Steve Oronsaye’s Report). There is also the urgent need to lessen the dominance of the unproductive investments in the public sector, improve the sector’s efficiency and intensify the growth potential of the private sector. This should be complemented by drive towards industrialisation and increased international trade with greater vigour, as well as cutting-edge dynamics of information and communications technologies (ICTs), biotechnology, renewable energy, alternative investments (including knowledge, capacity building, mechanised agriculture, infrastructure concession, small and medium enterprises and tourism). All these are imperative in order to generate wealth and create jobs, which will not only be for our common good, but will also help decelerate the rising tide of rumbling of public discontent and the attendant threat to national security through violence and breakdown of law and order. However, for Nigeria to be an economic success story in the magnitude of China or those of the Asian Tigers like South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, it must create the enabling environment by waging a full-scale assault on corruption, mismanagement, impunity, nepotism, cronyism, high cost of governance, political instability, national insecurity and foreign dependency, which, to say the least, are enemies of sustainable growth and development.
As part of our national re-awakening, basic components of our social fabric, which inexorably affect both political and economic order, such as families and ethnic, cultural and religious groups should be used as the linchpin of national rebirth. This sort of social re-engineering should be under the rubric of uplifting values like love, peace, equality, tolerance, altruism, cooperation, freedom, self-sacrifice, spirituality, morality, discipline, orderliness, conformity, respect of authority, civic duty and patriotism. These values and others should be high on our national agenda, because they are central to building a well-ordered Nigerian state and stemming the cadaverous rot that has permeated all levels of our society.
Having gone thus far in stressing the overriding necessity of national re-awakening in Nigeria, all the critical stake-holders in our nation-building project – particularly those in authority and the civil society – are implored to rally round and play a constructive role in salvaging our disconsolate nation state. This is extremely important because there is strength in unity – united we stand and divided we fall. Again, this beautiful land of boundless opportunities (Nigeria) has a promising future for its component groups, irrespective of affinities, especially if strong, appropriate and consistent measures are taken to reorder it based on the praxis of justice, equity, fairness, tolerance, understanding, reconciliation, forbearance, national commitment and a sense of belonging. What is more, with our rich human and material resources, our strength as the most multi-cultural and populous black state in the world/the giant of Africa and our common African consanguinity, we could realise the Nigerian Dream of national greatness, which every one of us will be part of it, without limiting opportunities.
We should also take advantage of this forthcoming centenary to ruminate on our tumultuous history of political instability, civil war, military intervention and incessant communal disturbances. Of course, a lot of blood has been shed to keep our beleaguered federation as one united and indissoluble political entity. If Nigeria is worth the pains of dying for, then it does not deserve the disaster of being allowed to collapse or break up. Doing otherwise will not only be tantamount to paying a great disservice to our founding fathers who fought hard for our independence, but also showing lack of appreciation to those who made supreme sacrifice of laying down their lives for the unity of the country.
In conclusion, with more than 100 years of our amalgamation and 55 years of our flag independence, Nigeria can be said to be, currently, at a crossroads: at one side is the semblance of hope arising from our continued existence as a people despite our alarming twists and turns, while at the other is the omen of uncertainty emanating from our present mounting national challenges. Nevertheless, that our dear country has a prospect of great and sustainable future, even to a degree of rising like a phoenix from the ashes, if there is the will and determination by our leadership and followership alike to tackle such challenges and forge ahead with tenacity and resilience is not beyond the bounds of possibility. Therefore, there is never a time that there is a sense of fierce urgency to restore hope and faith in our nation state, as well as the citizens’ confidence in its leadership and institutions and in themselves, as now when we are making a great march of history under the present promising administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. This is important because, as Frantz Fanon, the late French Martinique revolutionary, said: “Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it”. May God bless Nigeria.
Emeh, a research expert on conflict resolution/peace building, sent this piece from Wuse 2, Abuja. (08036895746, email@example.com)