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National Question and Future of the Country (1)

| June 5, 2012 More

Nigeria is currently in the maelstrom of agitation for resolution of her national question resulting mainly from leadership and nationality crises. In a book Leninism And The National Question (1997), P.N. Fedoseyev and others note that national question “is first and foremost a question of solving vital problems of social development, abolishing national oppression and inequality, eliminating obstacles to the formation of nations and assuring freedom for the development of people, including achievement of factual equality.”

Evidently, since the end of the Cold War in 1989 and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, as well as the secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia and East Timor from Indonesia (and South Sudan from Sudan last year), the issue of nationality question and the attendant crisis of instability have gained resonance in both national and international discourse.

In Nigeria, a hodgepodge of ethnic groups and cultures the national question has resurfaced with increasing tempo and greater complexities since the return of the country to civilian rule on May 29, 1999. Disturbingly, this development has witnessed a steep and spasmodic rise in ethnic, religious and regional agitation in the polity and the resultant tension, intolerance and wanton destruction of lives and property.

Arising from years of perceived political, economic and social imbalances and injustices in the federation, there is, at present, a current of thought in some quarters that perceived the 1914 amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates to form Nigeria as the most complicating factor of our national question. Alas, certain Nigerians are now apt to view the amalgamation as “the mistake of 1914” or Nigeria as “a mere geographical expression.”

Given the sombre situations of subsisting doubt and foreboding about Nigeria in some quarters, various constitutional reforms had been undertaken to allay the fears of marginalisation, exclusion and oppression by various groups (especially ethnic minorities) and engender true federalism. These included the constitutions of 1951, 1954, 1957, 1959 and 1960. Along with these constitutional frameworks were constituent assemblies of 1979, 1989 and 1994/95, which were inaugurated with the ostensible goal of addressing multifarious political and socio-economic problems undergirding our national question.

Despite such well-meant constitutional initiatives to soothe communal and sectional grievances in Nigeria, it is deeply worrying that the problems have not been roundly addressed. Of course, our history as a people since independence in 1960 has been a traumatic chronicle of turbulent communal struggles for empowerment, security and participation in the sharing of “our national cake”. This is starkly illustrated in the tumultuous events of the 1960s like the Isaac Adaka Boro-led Izon (Ijaw) uprising in the Niger Delta, the Tiv revolt, the military coups of January 15 and July 27, 1966 and the aborted Igbo secessionist attempt between 1967 and 1970.

Currently, the agitational pulls of our various ethnic nationalities and cultures, nursing grievances and sorrow over real or imagined deprivations, are cracking the veneer of our national unity. In the oil-producing Niger Delta region, groups like Ijaw and Ogoni have been apoplectic with anger over what they see as their political disempowerment, social alienation, economic deprivation and environmental despoliation. As a result of such grievances, the region was not long ago plagued by youth guerrilla insurrection over resource control, which was placated by the federal government with an amnesty programme. In the South-West, which witnessed political chaos and upheaval following the cancellation of the June 12, 1993 presidential polls, which one of their own, the late Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola, was set to win, the region is undergoing turbulence spawned by the nefarious activities of a Yoruba self-determination group known as the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC). This is not to forget the minority ferment in the North, as captured in the vociferous campaign for political and cultural rights by non-Hausa/Fulani Christian and animist communities, including Southern Kaduna people and the Seyawa of Bauchi State.

In the same region, tolerance and co-existence between the minority Christian communities and their Muslim Hausa/Fulani neighbours have reached an all-time low since the introduction of Sharia or Islamic legal system in several states in the region. On the part of the Hausa-Fulani, the people are aggrieved over their fate in the present political power equation in the country, coupled with their perceived grievances over the poor revenue allocation to their constituent states – some analysts have cited these as part of the factors behind the current unrest in the north, including the outbreak of the deadly Boko Haram insurgency. In the South-East, the Igbos are lamenting about marginalisation and historical injustices they have suffered in the Nigerian state since the end of the civil war in 1970.

Adding momentum to our national question is a smorgasbord of other burning national issues. These include the perceived top-heavy nature of our federal authority (as informed by years of the unitary system of militocracy), resource control, fiscal/revenue allocation formula, secularity of the Nigerian state, residency rights of non-indigenes and existence of the boundaries that split ethnic and cultural groups across different states or local government areas – a development that has occasioned the growth of Yoruba irredentism in Kogi and Kwara states and Tiv restiveness in states like Taraba, Nasarawa and Cross River.

Other issues are power rotation, canvassed single five-year term for president and governors, constitutional ambivalence over matters like Sharia and the malignant spread of geo-ethnic movements like OPC, MEND, MASSOB and Boko Haram.

Against the backdrop of such sensitive charged issues, many social advocates in the country have called for a sovereign national conference as a means of responding to our smouldering national crises. On the surface, such calls have appeared necessary and expedient. But looking reality in the eyes, the calls for a sovereign national conference can be faulted on the grounds that the protagonists have not lucidly presented how they could organise it without provoking Babel of voices that could endanger and atomize our fragile plural national community. It can also be argued that it is the constitutional obligation of our elected representatives (those in the executive and legislative arms of government), upon whom the popular sovereignty lies with, if there is a political will, to address our national question by resolving justly and fairly the political and socio-economic contradictions that inform it.

At present, it could be noted that what is of utmost importance is safeguarding the Nigerian state. This demands just, equitable and fair treatment of all groups in our polity. The late Sir Clement Akpamgbo (SAN), former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, amplified this national imperative when he asserted at the 2002 Gamji National Conference that: “What is needed in Nigeria today is the amelioration of decades of national alienation and exclusion in order that a new nation of equal, creative and responsible partners will emerge. A nation that would have a viable and responsible central government whose power potentials and resource accumulation will not threaten the ability of the federating units to discharge their constitutional obligations.” What a food for thought!

There is no doubt that addressing our national question would also demand a remarkable change of heart by some members of our power elite who have become the black sheep of our nation-state. More often than not, members of this elite, while united among themselves through social, economic and political engagements, employ what Clifford Geertz, a Swedish anthropologist, calls “primordial attachments” of ethnicity, clan, religion and culture to divide the masses with the sole aim of weakening their consensual ability to demand for the basic minimum of good governance, the rule of law, human rights, liberty, social justice, human welfare and other imperatives of a well-ordered society.

Considering such a scenario that reeks of conspiracy and lack of patriotism, Nigeria is in dire need of a political elite that would be broadminded, people-oriented, unifying and nationalistic. Such an envisioned elite group should take a cue from the arresting steps of their counterparts in Western democracies like the United States and Britain. In those countries, members of their political and power elite have turned themselves into a guardian class. Simply explained, the guardian class, which comprises of people of different political and ideological hues, is an elite group that is duly committed to nation-building, not nation-destroying, by working for the collective interests of their national state. No matter the odds, members of this class do not equivocate on the future of their fatherland but, instead, play a positive or constructive role to shape its future.

This laudable disposition of patriotism and statesmanship of the guardian class was played out in the United States during the presidential election that produced the second administration of George Bush (Jr), which witnessed a hiccup in the Florida results. But the Republicans and the Democrats had to resolve the crisis based on their common understanding of the mundial (or friendly) spirit of democracy and the fact that America is seen as a lamppost of majority rule in the world. It is the same spirit of the guardian class that also informed resignation of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain in the 1980s, in the heat of popular disenchantment with her bitter economic reform programme, tagged “Thatcherism”.

It is hoped that our political elite would imbibe the virtues of the guardian class in advanced democracies and gravitate towards moving Nigeria away from the edge of socio-economic and political catastrophes. They should be involved in healing the deepening rift in our national society by rising above the chasms of ethnicity, regionalism, religious bigotry and class differences and using dialogue, negotiation and concession to engender a resurgent Nigerian state, marked by mutual communal forbearance, sympathy, empathy and goodwill.

There is no question that inclusive, power-sharing national government would also be exigent in responding to our national question. This is where the issue of what Arendt Lijphart, a Dutchman, calls consociational democracy comes in. This is a kind of political arrangement in which the centrifugal tendencies inherent in a plural national community are counteracted by the cooperative attitude and behaviour of different ethnic and cultural groups. Among others, consociational democracy required: 1). Government by a grand coalition of elite groups from different ethnic nationalities and cultures. 2). The exercise of mutual veto or “concurrent majority”.3). Proportionate representation of groups. 4). A high degree of autonomy for each segment to run its internal affairs. 5). Conflict management and agreement among the different elite and groups. 6). Multi-party system, which reflects the pluralistic nature of a national state and 7). Commitment to the maintenance of political cohesion of a national community.

In view of the unifying and stabilising attributes of consociational democratic framework, it is expected that leaders of our various political parties would spare a thought for this political model. They should start articulating how any of the parties that would win presidential election in the country in 2015 would form a national government that would incorporate all shades of opinion. In fact, at a very tense and delicate time like this in our fatherland, full of communal antagonism and bloodletting, what we desperately need for peace, stability and security to prevail is politics of sportsmanship, winners not taking all, negotiation, inclusion and reconciliation.

One cannot conclude this piece without alluding to the causal relationship of the economic impulse of increase in cost of living, hunger, unemployment, social inequality and mass poverty with the adversarial relations among our social groups nowadays. Indeed, such indices of relative deprivation, along with the grave consequences of our distressed economy, as worsened by corruption and mismanagement, have fuelled communal tension and disturbances in Nigeria. Ted Gurr, in ‘Why Men Rebel’ (1970), has this in mind in his relative deprivation hypothesis, where he describes group violence as a reaction to the discrepancy between people’s value expectations and actual achievements.

Considering this, our national government should pursue poverty alleviation and job creation with vigour, while bracing up to wrestle with the disparities felt by some of our aggrieved social groups. By applying solutions aimed at closing economic gaps between our social groups and mitigating human misery, our government would be laying a solid foundation for surmounting the rising wave of sectional discontent and grievances and the associated violence and bloodshed.

To ask: In the wake of the nationality question that has made Nigeria to creak under the strain of communal dissension, does the federation have a future as indivisible, indissoluble and virile national community? The answer is yes but with a caveat that members of our political elite, including those in the corridors of power, must be wholly committed to building a new Nigeria where every group, irrespective of ethnicity, religion, region or creed, will be given its fair due in the national scheme of things. By attempting such a soothing massage to our troubled political society, this our national house called Nigeria would not fall.

Emeh, a researcher and author, wrote in from Abuja.

Category: Bauchi State News

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