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Nigeria and the Search for Nationhood

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Nationhood is the quality of being a nation. According to Benedict Anderson, an Anglo-Irish social scientist, a nation is a community that is socially constructed and imagined by the people who perceive themselves as being part of the group.

To this writer however, a nation is essentially a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of common languages, territory, economic life and psychological make-up; which is manifested in a common culture and behavioural patterns. Nation-building is therefore a deliberate process through which citizens and even inhabitants of any given territory, regardless of their primordial identities and affiliations are made to identify with the symbols and institutions of the state and share a common sense of destiny with others.

It is also the process of constructing or structuring a national identity using the power of the state to create what is called “imagined communities”. A nation is actually imagined because the inhabitants of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow populace, meet them physically or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each person lives the image of a virtual communion with others. That is why an inhabitant of southern Nigeria does not need to travel to the east or North before he appreciates the existence of those other tribes as he can feel their peculiarities and mannerism; maybe just by the ones he physically sees around him. This is virtual acculturation. Therefore, the social, ethnic and religious diversity of Nigerians should not be a barrier to forging a strong and prosperous nation; rather, it should be an abiding strength.

Nations grow when the largest numbers of people look after the common interest of the nation at all times even before personal or sectional interest are pursued. It is in the light of the foregoing that Nigerians who are not of the same ethnic, religious or political affiliations as the leader of the country cannot afford not to wish him well. The leader not only superintends over the common patrimony, his actions or inactions inadvertently determine and arbitrate the social-economic progress of everyone that is related to this geographical entity.

Succinctly put, if the nation is governed by a Northern leader and the Southerners (Yorubas/Igbos/Niger-Deltans) hopes such an incumbent leader fails, then Nigeria remains a failed project and when the Southerner assumes power and the Northerners (Hausas/Fulanis/middle-belters) hopes such a leader fails, then Nigeria remains a failed project. Conversely, if a PDP man is in power, the APC sympathisers wishes him failure and on the other hand, when the APC man assumes office, the PDP people hopes he fails. What this irreverent disposition engenders is that, individuals will rotate power, political parties will rotate power, ethnic nationalities will rotate power but Nigeria will equally rotate on the same developmental trajectory and even decline; such as we are saddled with since the return to democratic governance in 1999.

Clearly, this extreme politicking and ethnic sectionalism has deleterious effects on national growth. While constructive criticism is good for deepening good governance, destructive criticism deepens the schisms that has been responsible for the stunted growth of the Nigerian state. Whereas, politics is the incubator of governance such as is common to any democratic culture, Politicians (who are also ethnic protectionist in same vein) exhibit this spasmodic tendency. Therefore, it is appropriate for politicians to save the combustible energy till when the next electoral cycle beckons and then, the foibles of incumbents can be played up to seek favours from the electorate. The task of nation building is never the exclusive preserve of a leader because they do not possess the omnipotent wisdom to do it. They can only craft a vision while the citizenry drives it. The role of political opposition is to constantly test those ideas against democratic best practices and in as much it elevates the welfare of the people and put the Nigerian nation on the path of sustainable development.

It is not that countries that are prosperous and have achieved true nationhood do not have disagreements within its political ranks or do not have ethnic diversities or do not have corruption in their midst – after all, corruption is a subtle part of every capitalism; but national interests have been allowed to flourish over sectional interest. This patriotic demeanour can only be brought about if Nigerians irrespective of allegiances and affiliations embrace a new paradigm whereby the progressive interest of Nigeria becomes paramount to everyone. Nigeria needs to be the larger local community. Notwithstanding the myriad of challenges and fortuitously though, Nigerians have been able to tag along as one indivisible nation contrary to the predictions of people that felt the fault lines will continue to widen. Despite the evident periods where the tension was palpable and the country tilted to the precipice of implosion, it managed to pull itself together. The recent electoral season was a proof of that irrepressible spirit of the people to remain together.

Flowing from the preceding paragraph, it was astonishing to see the effusive enthusiasm with which a lot of citizens embraced the new administration apparently rejecting the immediate past government for its vexatious mannerisms especially on the floundering economy and its inability to rein in the worsening security situation. The people demonstrated that despite the socio-political and ethno-religious animosities prevalent within the system, they could rise up to challenge the status quo and effect a momentous change. If the desire for a departure from the worn out systems of mediocrity, corruption and cronyism sunk deep into them, then it predisposes that the people will be willing to give the government the maximum cooperation it requires to carry out the much needed change it vaunted during the electioneering period. Every new government deserves its periods of honeymoon when it is supposed to first clean the Augean stable and then set the agenda for rapid renewal through the conceptualization of clear policies and processes that brings positive change in every sphere of our national life.

For any nation to experience genuine growth, a national rebirth must necessarily take place. There is a chilling agreement that something fundamental is wrong with the Nigerian state as presently constituted, not only in terms of perceived political marginalisations but also in terms of socio-economic exclusion and ensuring justice in all spheres. Few, there are, who maintain that nothing is wrong with Nigeria and all that is required is attitudinal change on the part of the political and ethnic leadership. For many, Nigeria simply needs a rebirth, a fundamental rebirth. While there appears to be widespread consensus about the need for a rebirth, there is a lack of consensus on the type of rebirth and the process of bringing about the desired change.

Genuine and abiding change is not just about the transfer of power from one political party to another or from an ethnic group to another; it is brought about by ensuring a system that gives the people both the political and economic control of society. For the people to gain this poignant control, some form of revolution is needed! There are antecedents of revolution-propelled national rebirth which led to sustainable development. Revolution could be the people’s revolt, some are ideologically driven and effected through the ballot box and some occur by the extreme ideas of a leader who desires real change. In Nigeria’s case, people have said the people only need to sit down to address the challenges via a national dialogue. Indeed there have been many national conferences but none had sovereign powers; which proponents claim may just be the only way out. But why has none of the conferences or several reforms resolved the national question?

The existential reality is that Nigerians do not trust themselves and that is why everyone recedes into their ethnic and religious cocoons once the pan-Nigerian question arises. We no longer have national heroes but rather, the few bright lights among us prefer to be ethnic champions. Nigerians need to start seeing the nation in the larger perspective. The American citizen is first an American before his identity as a Red Indian, a Hispanic, African-American, Mexican or any other tribe. They see the good of the nation before that of their local affiliations. National rebirth starts when we see Nigeria as our primary constituency. Not until the Hausas, Yoruba, Igbos, Fulanis, Ijaws and all other ethnic nationalities see Nigeria as a big local community to which they all belong, the much needed national unity and integration will be continually elusive.

Historians allude to the fact that the 1914 forced amalgamation is the ‘fons et origo’ (the source and origin) of the identity crisis that has hobbled the attainment of true nationhood. Notwithstanding this overstated fact, Nigeria must move forward as a nation. National rebirth takes place when there is genuine national healing and reconciliation- which stimulates trust and trust itself is the foundation for national integration where people put the country first, support their leaders and have shared aspirations in a communal living devoid of sectional schisms. This new realities entails that, leaders and followers alike will stop to pursue narrow and parochial interest. In the new paradigm, everyone shall break from their ethnic, religious and political confines and together nurture and protect the fast evolving democratic culture of the Nigerian state.

The wave of change that blew in the recent elections which eventuated the change of power at the federal level and other locations in the country has not only brought a national optimism but it offers a unique opportunity for national rebirth. The politicians will continue to do their thing, creating an atmosphere that is suggestive of an unstable polity; especially when they cast aspersions against themselves and heat up the system. But in reality, what percentage are the political class and their cheerleaders?

It is the masses that need to continually and vigorously challenge the establishment not only in the demand of accountability and fulfillment of electoral promises but much more in nudging them to pursue the ideals that promote national reconciliation, integration, socio-economic prosperity and justice for all. When this is realised, it will no longer become a divisive issue who is taking what position or which ethnic group the President comes from, his religion and political affiliation because the system will naturally conscript such a leader to do the right things at all times. This is when genuine progress and true nationhood is achieved.