By Chimaobi Afiauwa
Any Christian who is an ardent reader of the holy bible would know that Jesus Christ was always full of parables, especially when teaching his disciples about the kingdom of God. In one of his parables, He told a story of two builders and the foundations upon which they laid their houses; one was referred to as foolish, while the other was wise, for he built his house upon a rock.
“And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon the house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock” (Matt.7:25 KJV). I will get back to this story in a bit to know what became the fate of the foolish builder.
The journey of Nigeria as an independent sovereign nation marks 60 years today. On this day, the 1st of October, 1960, the British jack was lowered to herald the birth of a new nation with enormous potentials. Hopes were high amongst many Nigerians, particularly the Nationalists that, with the end to British colonial rule, Nigeria in the hands of Nigerians would harness and utilize its resources to the betterment of her citizens. But today, even as we celebrate yet another Independence Day, the question is how far have we gone to building that nation of economic el-dorado that we all dreamt of?
From every indication, it appears, presumably, that the Nationalists were so much concerned about taking over power from the erstwhile colonial masters, that they were less concerned about the best structural approach of building a heterogeneous country like Nigeria. Since independence, Nigeria has not gotten it right on nation-building. worst still, at any time the opportunity avails itself for us to recalibrate this country’s structure that many have called a contraption, we take the ‘window dressing’ approach.
Nation-building, particularly in a pluralistic country, is an act of statecraft perfected by statesmen who, in their consciousness, are determined to take deliberate actions in order to overcome the ‘centrifugal tendencies’ inherent in a heterogeneous society. Thus, nation-building does not happen by accident, it takes concerted efforts to achieve. Every prosperous nation of the world today was built by statesmen who sacrificed their personal interests for the good of all. Ironically, Nigerian leaders who are quite obsessed about self-aggrandizement, are always too quick to jet off to those nations for luxury holidays, forgetting that leaders of such nations built it through sacrifice.
Prior to independence, it is noteworthy to say that the colonialists were never interested in nation-building in Nigeria and Africa at large. In fact, all that was of interest to them was how to extract and exploit our resources for their economic gains. Of course, the policy of ‘divide and rule’ became a decisive tool to polarise Nigeria, or, at best, pitch one region against another. By the time they left, it was obvious that there are a sharp ideological difference and unhealthy rivalry between the North and South, which still persists till today.
Going further, for the mere fact that the British thought it wise to amalgamated the protectorates of North and South – a union which many still see as unholy – and is still seen as the beginning of Nigeria’s woes, makes nation-building quite problematic but necessary. In one of his famous speeches, the Pan-Yoruba leader and sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo without any equivocation, describe Nigeria as “a mere geographical expression.” Awolowo’s description of Nigeria is nothing but the way many Nigerians perceptibly see their country; and to them, the oneness of the country is merely on paper.
After independence, there has not been any concrete statecraft to holistically build this country into a nation, neither has there been enough evidence on the ground to convince Nigerians to believe in the oneness of the country. Regrettably, we are still divided by our religious and ethnic inclinations, just to say the least. Citizen’s allegiance is first to his/her ethnic group, then to Nigeria. For instance, before he sees himself as a Nigerian, Musa would definitely first see himself as a Hausa man from Katsina. What about Okoro from Enugu? Of course, without any hesitation, he is first an Igbo man before accepting to be a Nigerian.
Unfortunately, the consciousness of Musa and Okoro in the scenario painted above is solidified by the country’s constitution. What both Musa and Okoro get from Nigeria is dependent on the quota reserved for their respective states of origin. Is this not what will call federal character? And, of course, they are treated not based on their state of residence, but by the state of origin. In other words, it means if Okoro was born and raised in Katsina and perhaps pay his taxes in that state, he does not have the right to contest for governorship. This same thing is also applicable to Musa.
Over the years, the Nigerian state has been so hypocritical and deceitful with nation-building, with the gate-keepers too quick to reiterate the mantra of “one Nigeria”. Today, however, the evidence on the ground shows that the country may be drifting to the precipice of disintegration. IPOB members are agitating for the secession of Biafra, the Yoruba World Congress is also calling for the secession of her people from Nigeria and the Okun people (a Yoruba speaking part of Kogi state) has protested for the excision of their land from the map of the North in order to enable them to join their brothers in the South West. All these squabbles in the polity are enough indications to know that the country is seriously wobbling.
Federalism has relatively served as a tool for nation-building in some countries of heterogeneous nature like ours. However, the brand of federalism which we have deliberately constitutionalized in Nigeria is not helping out. In an attempt to perhaps unify the country, the drafters of the 1999 constitution conditioned Nigeria’s federalism to be more unitary than federal. This, indeed, is one of the major reasons stoking the fire of agitation for secession and resource control in the country.
The democratic ingredient of federalism is negotiation. Because of this, the component units that make up any federating system must keep confabulating on sensitive issues that affect the existence of the federation. On the contrary, in the case of Nigeria, negotiation is abhorred by the state managers; for they have often declared that Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable. What they fail to understand is that the pendulum of federalism oscillates between unity and diversity, and only when it is on the balance that nation-building in a pluralistic country becomes easy.
In Canada, there was a time that the province of Québec, a French-speaking part of the country, became a threat to the country’s federation. Quebeckers were really afraid of domination by the English-speaking provinces. To allay the fears of Quebeckers, leaders of Canada quickly came up with an Act of the parliament that soothed everyone. Through the Bi-lingual Act, English and French became recognized as the official languages of Canada; hence, the secessionist agenda of Québec was dissuaded. Maybe we have something to learn from Canada here, just maybe.
Now, back to the parable of the two builders told by Jesus. Unlike the wise builder, the foolish builder was so in a hurry to build his house, and he built without prudence. He built his house upon the sand, and when the rain came, the foundation of his building could not withstand the flood and storm that accompanied the rain: and great was the fall of his house! The interesting thing that encapsulates this parable is that Jesus likened the wise builder to “whosoever heareth his sayings and doeth them”, meaning that the foolish builder had his sayings but did not do it.
Can Nigeria be likened to the foolish builder that heard but could not do what he was told? Or can the fate that befell on the foolish builder befall on this country? I do not wish so!
Whatever be the case, the shaky foundation upon which this country is built must be visited and be addressed. Enough of all this holy pretense that all is well. We must make hay while the sun still shines, lest the thunderstorm rain meets us. To this end, Nigeria’s 60 years of independence calls for a serious reflection; a reflection to know where we have all gotten it wrong, to know how we can retrace our steps, and to come up with a workable modality to fixing our foundational problems.