Nigeria: Things Falling Apart?

Published on 8th December 2011

A raging storm is gathering over my country and a heavy rain may be in the offing. The lightning and thunder sound exactly like those my mother once told me happened last in the late sixties. The signs are so unsettling that it has made me to suddenly begin to visualize those tragic tales in our history books and the indelible scars littered around our national landscape. It was one single devastating rain that changed the architecture of our nation, almost irredeemably. Is history about to repeat itself? Does it serve us better to sit akimbo in mute indifference as if all is well?

I have spoken to some prominent Nigerians in different locations and they have expressed similar sentiments of exasperation. Someone even went to the extent of calling for a speedy peaceful separation. There is a strange anger in the land and if the pulse is anything to go by, then, we may be preparing for something very awful. 

In my almost forty years of existence, there has never been a time when the cracks and crevices on the entity called Nigeria became this obvious. I must confess that these subtle signs have always been there both in private and public life but the covert nature of the manifestations meant that we could pretend and tag along. Whenever there were   occasional out bursts of reality, our pretentious leaders always had new explanations to offer to either console or deceive us after the damage had been done. To them, the false integration and mutual suspicion must continue as long as it served the interest of the fat cats.

Is the story about to change? How? The wave of gloom has grown so deep that it is now difficult for anyone to ignore. I have tried without success to trace the source of the current divisive ferocity and almost complete erosion of national cohesion. Pundits point to the drama that played out after the unfortunate demise of our former President. Others associate the results of the 2011 elections as possible sources of grievance of those who are allegedly generating the current discord in the polity. I find these justifications bizarre. Anyone who is peripherally familiar with the Nigerian Constitution will know that a major event such as the death of a sitting President will naturally lead to a change in gear.  It was odd to discover that rather than strategize on the way forward, some so called cabals concentrated on backward tactics that almost precipitated a national pandemonium. That is history, at least for now, though we can now claim a new word in our political lexicon.

Amazingly, many people are yet to get over that reality.  There are still body languages, actions and inactions across that teach divisive lessons and reinforce old prejudices.  Two descriptions of the Nigerian reality best capture the mood.  The first is the description that Nigeria is just a geographical expression, while the second is the assertion that Nigeria is an amorphous amalgam of individuals busy pretending to be a people. Both claims came from individuals who are so experienced about national affairs that one can hardly ignore their views. Could it be that the truism in those statements are about to play out fully?

Many Nigerians believe that the only reason for pretensions to collectivism on the Nigerian project is the regular availability of a monthly cake to be shared. This consumerist approach has made us a global poster child for resource curse as any attempt at national development always fails.  Those whose responsibility it is to develop Nigeria do not even have a simple consensus yet on the ‘how.’ The universal language is plundering and self-enrichment, while rent seeking and patronage is a shared vision that permeates the (imaginary) barricades of ethnicity and religion created by the Nigerian elite.

Let us not forget that what happened last year was a change in the managers that has not led to any substantial change in style of management. That it was sudden and unanticipated should at least make us realize that no one can be sure of what will happen the next minute.  That is the only hope of an ordinary Nigerian- that some extra-terrestrial event will one day bring us someone who will lead us and not rule us. Many were hopeful at least based on the fact that those in charge apparently for the first time lost control of a majority of what happened then. That hope is now hanging in the air like the sword of the Damocles. Be that as it may, there is this palpable consolation to see that those who saw Nigeria as a conquered territory at least got a rude shock. I hope they survive the shock or at least learn from it.

In all, the common man in Kano or Ibadan, Aba or Yola is yet to feel the change in baton. Pervasive poverty, hunger and frustration cut across every tribe and religion. Those who have contributed to our precarious predicament also cut across all tribes and all religions in Nigeria. We must use hindsight to blame them as a collective if we have to. The way we express our frustration at this time will matter a lot. It is best with our votes!   We must not allow ‘we the people’ to incur more losses or offer ourselves as tools for the same people who are architects of our misfortune.

Now back to my worry. Can Nigeria afford secession as the background murmurings indicate? Indeed anyone who dares to conduct a Sudan type referendum in Nigeria will confirm why I am worried. The reasons could be both genuine and justifiable but I call for caution. Nothing can be more counterproductive at this time. I argue that our best bet will be to live with our mistake. However there is a caveat.  The time has come to consider a model of what I call developmental federalism-a structural devolution that significantly reduces the benefits of winning as well as the costs of losing Nigerian Presidency. That is the only way to overcome the current confrontational and neo patrimonial politics that is threatening tear us apart.

All over the world, oligarchies are being challenged; dictators are being disgraced and universal orthodoxies are being questioned. Ours will not be different.  Many people who have hitherto been seen as invincible have been humiliated and even put to death. In an information world, these realities will impact on all global citizens.

For those who are drumming tones of violence, this is a time to rethink. No one knows who the biggest losers would be. Many may be caught in the cross fire especially now that our self-inflicted labels has made escape to anywhere increasingly difficult.

The looming crisis is avoidable. The fragmentation of our political class on the basis of ethnic and religious fissures must yield to synergy, inclusion and common interest. Rather than create winners and losers, our political parties must begin to form coalitions for issue-based politics and a coherent ideology that will deliver service and thus give them legitimacy.  The fate of ordinary citizens, both in the country and within the West Africa sub region should be part of our concern.  We must rise above primordial considerations and prepare to pay the price for cohesion, amity and equanimity. Nigeria cannot afford a path of instability, secession and national disintegration. This cup shall pass us by!

By Uche Igwe
The author lives in Washington DC.

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