By Emmanuel Chigozie Osuchukwu
Let’s hope we are not going to publish this one day. But it’s the practice of media establishments to write the obituary of great people before they die. I hope this is not Nigeria’s obituary but if it happens let the last man out of the country publish this.
Once upon a time there was a great country with a great potential to become one of the greatest countries on earth. They had a wonderful diversity of people and cultures that at the beginning of nationhood they regaled on the concept of strength in diversity. They spoke confidently as the most populous nation in Africa and held the prospect of leading Africa economically, socially and politically. They boasted of taking their place in the comity of world powers and we seriously believed it. Things started to go wrong soon after our independence from Britain. The crop of politicians that took over from our colonial masters, although great men and compared to what we have now started faltering. The lure and privileges of high office overwhelmed many of them and the practice of the new form of government called democracy was a bit too much to comprehend and put into practice. Before long the virus of military dictatorships prevalent in the developing world reached us. When it did it was so cataclysmic that the downward spiral of this great nation began and it was not easily visible to many Nigerians. It is evident that Nigeria has been moving wobbly since 1966 but it was difficult for us to acknowledge. Either we were all in denial or the political engineers who designed the current Nigerian nation wanted us to believe that there was nothing wrong with the country. Irrespective of our belief, knowledgeable outsiders kept telling us that Nigeria was at risk of implosion and that when it happens it will have catastrophic regional effect. We carried on regardless and even celebrated that great word ‘brinkmanship’ as a good description of our ability to survive any political crisis. But like a stunt man there will be a day his skills will fail him and his obituary will be written. Today Nigeria is burning and at a dangerous crossroad. Many are afraid that the country’s health status could be terminal and we better start writing our obituary.
The ongoing ruthless and mindless Boko Haram insurgency has exposed a country worthy of a cancerous diagnosis. Unfortunately this is happening at a time the country has been terribly weakened by accumulated factors stretching over many decades and now I doubt if we have the common will to face a common enemy. Many even believe that the most dangerous aspect of Boko Haram insurgency is that it is enemy within. So how did we get here? If or when the obituary of Nigeria is written the cause of death will be the failure of leadership to live above the corrosive issues of ethnicity, religion and corruption.
Since independence the trinity of tribe, corruption and religion has been freely used by Nigerian politicians and in the most lethal concoction to destroy the country. The foundations of Nigeria’s geo-political squabbles were laid in the first Republic. The military men that terminated the first republic in 1966 as I have said in previous writings were neither Patriots nor Nationalist. The Northern military officers who gained and exercised maximum control of Nigeria’s political destiny were initially an avenging mob and hardly weaned themselves of their spiteful and ethnic bigotry. This was the class that built contemporary Nigeria. The fratricidal civil war of 1967 -1970 was essentially a tribal war masked in national colours. Since then Nigeria never recovered from being a country that grew without a balanced contribution from all relevant stakeholders in terms of particularly the creation of its governance superstructures and her main ruling ideas.
Policies that accentuated and reinforced our tribal schisms reigned supreme. Eventually Nigeria became a nation at war in and with herself. Issues such as resource control, state creation, sharia law, census figures, and control of the federal government became so contentious that they elicited our primitive instincts of fight to the finish. Primitive instincts naturally thrive well in primordial settings and where those contrived entities do not really exist Nigerian politicians were adept in creating one, albeit artificially. Hence, Northern region that do not exist geo-politically exists in the minds of many northern politicians when competition for power arises. Arewa, Afenifere, Odua Peoples Congress, Ohaneze are some of the reactionary manifestations of Nigeria’s ethnic militancy. In summary ethnicity in Nigerian politics was the creation of the elite to further their political adventures. Without politics, I surmise that ordinary Nigerians will have no issues with each other. But here we are at each other’s jugular. Patriotism and nationalism were sacrificed to the extent that mere loyalty to the Nigerian nation is questionable among many Nigerians including the leaders.
Corruption was one singular issue that standing on its own corroded Nigeria. Corruption would have been less significant if it was just a case of stealing public money. I will concede that the level of stealing by Nigerian public officials is extremely huge and rampant and capable of bringing any nation to its knees. To absolve any public official from corruption is similar to saying that a pregnant woman has no knowledge of a man. Look at the display of wealth and lifestyle of past and present public figures to reach your conclusion. I will simply take Sani Abacha, James Ibori, Tafa Balogun, and the gigantic stolen Pension funds as sample evidence. But the real damage to Nigeria was the way corruption damaged our institutions and our moral fibre. We are damaged to the extent that our institutions have become prostrate and incapable of effective discharge of its roles and responsibilities. Who in Nigeria is confident that Nigeria Police, after experiencing them in check points and in their other lines of duty is there to maintain law and order; who in Nigeria relies on the Judiciary as the bastion of justices and safeguard of the common man when top judicial officers have openly acknowledged that our judiciary is a cash and carry business; who in Nigeria relies on our military as the defenders of the realm after Boko Haram has exposed the rot in our military establishment; who in Nigeria believes that the different levels of law making bodies in the country are discharging their responsibilities as per constitutional requirements and not there to further their personal interests. Corruption destroyed our moral consciousness. It destroyed our ethical values and today Nigeria is unable distinguish between right and wrong. Nothing shocks Nigerians anymore. I wonder how many Nigerian leaders ask those ethical questions such as: Is this right? Is it just? Is it fair? And is it proper? Instead Nigeria celebrates the interesting concept of the doctrine of necessity which basically overrides any sense of propriety.
Constitutionally, Nigeria is a secular state. But this has been flagrantly abused by political leaders who realised that religion has its insidious benefits. Like ethnicity religion conjures such emotional feelings that it provided the Nigerian elite the cheapest way of mobilising followership. The dangerous thing about misuse of religion is its ability to override reason. In the North particularly where the prevalence of poor access to modern education and few gainful employment opportunities exist, the lethal combination of ethnic hatred and religious bigotry produced a devastating condition (Boko Haram). Given the enormous size of Northern Nigeria in terms of landmass and population the prevailing conditions of ruthless insurgency and the politics of its existence present immediate and clear danger to Nigeria.
Therefore I contend that the Afghanistanization of Northern Nigeria is the prelude to the country’s demise. Thanks to the politicians and other social and religious elite who whipped up ethnic and religious sentiments that created Boko Haram. The North must rule was one of those idiotic stands that betrayed crass ethnic chauvinism. Thanks also to the same elite who championed the cause of Sharia movement in a supposedly secular nation. Anyone that subscribed to these ideas stoked up the fire that may consume Nigeria. How long an already weakened nation can survive with a huge chunk of its territory under siege is a matter of conjecture. With corruption, national culture of official ineptitude, inefficient and ill motivated security forces as additional impetus, Nigeria is a walking dead.
Are we redeemable or we able to prevent the publication of our obituary? The prognosis is poor but let's remain optimistic. The answer lies in whether Nigeria’s political elite has learnt enough lessons to realize the damage they have done to the country and whether our democratic process can provide a lasting solution and heal a wounded nation. My biggest fear is what happens after 2015. The Peoples Democratic Party, President Jonathan’s ruling party can rightly claim to be a national party but has been in power since 1999 and as usual with any party that has been in office long has offended a lot of people. PDP and President Jonathan are being challenged by a newly assembled political party called All Progressive Congress (APC). The biggest problem is that the driving force behind APC is Retired General Muhammadu Buhari and his antecedents and what he stands for is a matter of serious concern. Buhari’s utterances after the 2011 elections confirm him as an adherent of the North must rule ideology. This is the mentality that manifests militant ethnocentrism, bullying and intimidation. Of equally significant concern is the perception that Buhari is a rabid Islamist and therefore a danger to a secular state. If we go down memory lane, Gen. (Rtd) Muhammadu Buhari, speaking in Kaduna at a seminar organized by the Supreme Council of Sharia in Nigeria, August 2001 said that:
"Sharia should be introduced in full across Nigeria…I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to the Sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria…God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia in the country…It is a legal responsibility which God has given us, within the context of one Nigeria, to continue to uphold the practice of Sharia wholeheartedly and to educate non-Muslims that they have nothing to fear…What remains for Muslims in Nigeria is for them to redouble their efforts, educate Muslims on the need to promote the full implementation of Sharia law."
That speaks for itself and whether Buhari leads from the front as President or from the rear he remains a major concern and by implication so is the party he cobbled together. APC remains a reactionary party with a primarily northern base looking for southern allies and that is risky and dangerous for a nation so divided and in need of healing. Reactionary movements attract reactionary responses and what would happen to Nigeria if APC wins worries me a lot. Similarly would APC’s diehard supporters accept President Jonathan’s victory?
Let’s hope that the national conference is not another Nigerian gimmickry, another futile exercise that leads to nowhere. If all concerned understand the dire state of the country they will grasp this opportunity and start addressing the issues that has placed Nigeria on the precipice. The national conference may well note that Nigeria has no soul. Though fragmented we are yet standing too close and suffocating each other at present. It may easily translate into strangulation even if Boko Haram fails in their objective. We may benefit from urgent review of our unitary federalism. This may sound to some Nigerians a fundamental restructuring but remember as the saying goes, those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change possible. The National conference may also note that the very institutions that we expect to redeem our precarious situation are badly compromised and may not effectively cope with further conditions of severe stress. I sincerely hope we do not get to publish our obituary, come 2015 as already predicted but the ominous signs are hovering.
(Osuchukwu is a London based writer. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org or tel. +447880600236)