Nigeria: Options For National Contruction

31 May 2013

By Abdul-Warees Solanke

As Nigerians, we should all sympathize with ourselves that despite our limitless potentials and possibilities, we have been constrained in constructing a true nation, united in her diversity and progressive in her national ideology. We have been on this tortuous trajectory, not because we do not possess the wherewithal to advance but because we lack the courage to begin from the numerous starting points of national construction. The problem with Nigeria is that we are too blessed to know the biggest blessing to leverage on. Confronted with so many options, we seem to be in the greatest dilemma of deciding the most cost effective and fastest means of reaching our promised land.

Rather than just taking any of the trains and routes available to us, we are busy at the national terminus of development figuring out and fighting among ourselves on which of the routes does not have sharp bends and creaky joints and which of the trains have air full conditioned coaches to travel in luxury to the extent that we all seem to be dragging the steering with the captain and pushing him almost out of cabin. If we are not careful, we will collectively derail this train of a nation and crash together woefully, recording unimaginable casualty and fatality.

The crises of nation building are not peculiar to Nigeria: Leadership, Integration, Participation, Representation, Resource distribution and allocation are issues that every diverse society has to contend with. It is in the management of these crises that we short=change ourselves as sectional vested interest take precedence over the collective national interest. What to do in our various ethnic cocoons and tribal camps that we have holed ourselves since independence is to lower our garb of pride, remove the stained and dirty lenses with which we view one another from the distance and travel from our various primordial posts towards that national confluence and have the warm and affectionate handshake across the rivers Niger and Benue rather than posting fake letters and emails without the attachments of love and understanding. What options are available for us? I believe the best options we have are not anything close to dissolution and disintegration as many disappointed patriots would prefer. They are not what marginalized and aggrieved Nigerians should contemplate, even though these seem the easiest way to meet their demands. In the final analysis, if we take the road to the Balkans, we will soon come to the table of negotiating reunification.

The challenge we really have in Nigeria is the lack of will and weakness of structures and institutions required to build a strong nation. In our tribal confusion and ethnic viral infections, we acquired certain national immunity deficiency syndromes. In this scenario, what kills the nation is not the disease, but the arising depression from the stigma associated with the disease. But it is better to admit we have this natural and national virus and take the necessary cocktail of drugs in addition to following the strict dietary regime and have a new outlook to life if we must live happily with our malaise. This is a national strategic management challenge, managing our diversity, our opportunities and our strengths while remaining conscious of our internal weaknesses and national threats.

In my recent fajr reflections, I isolated a number of factors as responsible for our national crises. Drawing from our colonial experience, one can say there was no sincere attempt by the departing imperialists to nurture a true nation from the diverse and complex peoples aggregated into Nigeria. From the dawn of independence therefore, there is what I refer to as structural disaggregation or misalignment in the new nation which gave room for uneven and unequal development. It is to be noted that the colonial government ran Nigeria with policy differentials and variation suitable to their own economic interests. So, before Nigeria attained political independence from the British colonialists, the nation had been a victim of policy inconsistency. The fallout of this misnomer is that the constituents of the new nation, even before the Union Jack was lowered on our soils for the green white green flag to fly in the new Nigerian sky, had begun to nurture animosity towards one another. In any case, our resolve for independence was not uniform which explains why southern Nigeria attained self government earlier than the north.

It is therefore not surprising that on the eve of independence, Nigeria was birthed on a keg of gun powder waiting to explode. In less than two years of nationhood, the West was on the boil. Wetie was in the air. The mainstream political party in the Western Region, the Action Group, despite its standing as the most cohesive and disciplined political party with a coherent ideology, was already being penetrated , compromised and eventually isolated as the opposition party. Its leader, the very charismatic Chief Obafemi Awolowo later to be acknowledged as the best president Nigeria never had lost in the political game as he was caught in the trap of treasonable felony which saw him being imprisoned. Marooned in the Ita oko Island, Chief Awolowo had a bitter experience not uncommon for true nationalists and resilient freedom fighters.

As things began to fall apart for the new nation, the Young Turks in the military, the press and the academia who were already witnesses to regime changes in some parts of Africa were afflicted with the twin diseases of evolutionary impatience and rabid revolutionary consciousness, the result of which was the coup d'état of January 15, 1966 that saw the assassination of key political figures and top echelon of the military in Lagos, Kaduna and the east. The details of that plot have been written in different versions of memoirs depending on the position and motives of the actors and authors.

Before 1960, Nigeria or the constituents of Nigeria were not decided on what future to craft for the nation. We are still at it, almost 52 years after the queen agreed to let Nigeria go from her majesty's suzerainty. Nigeria's diversity and vastness are usually cited as reasons why it would be impossible to forge one country. I disagree with that notion, because diversity is not inherently evil or problematic. What comes as a challenge are the intentions and sagacity of managers and stakeholders of a diverse political entity. In all diverse polities, there is always the minority question. Because of the peculiarity of comparative disadvantage of the minorities, the cry of marginalization is always prevalent among them. The real and quantitative weakness of the minorities and their insignificant demographics always lengthen their distance from the power centre of the polity. So it is not uncommon that the minority question becomes a big issue in a pluralistic polity. The enduring challenge in such a polity, therefore, is how to ensure distributive justice and equity so that no group, no matter how insignificant is its strength and number, is excluded from the socio-economic and political benefits in the scheme of things. This is a real policy challenge, the solution to which is putting in place a very robust and effective affirmative action contents in the constitution, written or unwritten.

Beyond ensuring distributive justice and equity through affirmative action however is the need to ensure the primacy of rule of law in the diverse polities. The compromise or the breach of the rule of law in most instances is at the detriment of the minorities who often lack the voice and the strength to challenge their denials and deprivations in the larger political context. Again, what protections and guarantees exist to prevent the abridgement of the rights and privileges of the minorities or against the oppression and exploitation by the majority in the socio-economic and political context of the nation is another policy challenge.

The first option to overcome this miasma is through the instrumentality of the rule of law. Inherent in the primacy of the rule of law, therefore, is the institutionalization of good governance in the national polity. Here, we begin to raise questions on how fundamental and strong are our national objectives and directive principles of state policies as contained the ground norm of the nation, the constitution? How participatory is our political and decision making process? What are the pillars of transparency and accountability? What are the constitutional protections and guarantees for the constitution itself, its interpreters, executors and enforcers? What is the substance of immunity and immunity waivers in that constitution?

These questions are germane to incorporating elements of good governance in any polity, the deliverables of which would manifest in the promotion of political and democratic pluralism, building strong and effective regulatory institutions and mechanisms, ensuring distributive justice and equity in the allocation of state offices and resources and promoting socio-cultural and religious diversity.

In this climate, it will be possible for all to seek equal opportunities and have equal access to power. It will be possible to live anywhere in Nigeria as a Nigerian and not as an indigene of a part of Nigeria. But the ultimate policy challenge for the government of the day is facilitating nationwide infrastructural development and diversifying the national economy to the extent that every Nigerian can live anywhere and work anywhere without resorting to political opportunism and the political cannibal and economic rapist mentality of looting the treasury, emptying the pot of the commonwealth and stuffing the throat with a selfish bite on the national cake. With development policies, we should be able to trust, depend on and optimize our chances and dreams. The collective challenge for Nigeria is what framework do we institutionalize that will create disincentives for political jobbers but empower true patriots to work for national development and cohesion and consequently build the New Nigeria of our dream and not break her up as our enemies dream.


ABDUL-WAREES  SOLANKE B.Sc. Mass Comm (Lagos); Master of Public Policy (Brunei Darussalaam)  Head, Voice of Nigeria Training Centre, c/o VON Transmitting Station, Ikorodu, Lagos. Formerly the special assistant to the Director General, VON, he is the 2007/2008 Commonwealth Broadcasting Association scholar in Public Policy at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam, 08090585723


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