By Tochukwu Ezukanma
The different peoples of Nigeria made contiguous by geography, roped together by British colonialism, and bound by political and economic forces, and to a considerable extent, social and cultural agglutinants are so intertwined to the point of being scrambled together like a scrambled egg. Just, as you cannot unscramble a scrambled egg – separate a scrambled egg into its constituent units – you cannot dismember Nigeria. Therefore, the clamor by any group of Nigerians to unilaterally secede from Nigeria is fantastic absurdity.
It is either nauseating sophistry or overwhelming ignorance to argue that Nigeria cannot succeed as a country because it is a product of colonialism, and its continued unity was dictated by force of arms. Many successful countries were products of colonialism, and the unities of many countries of the world were dictated by wars.
The ultimate democracy, and the richest and most powerful country in the world, the United States of America, is a product of British colonialism, and her unity was preserved by war, the American Civil War. It was the defeat of the secessionist Confederate States of America in the American civil war that sealed the American union. Therefore, in the parlance of the separatist forces in Nigeria, American unity is a “forced marriage”. But her unity remains inviolable and none negotiable. The unity of the most populous country in the world and the emergent economic and military superpower, China, is also a “forced marriage”. It was Mao Tse Tung’s Communist Army’s defeat and routing of Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist army from mainland China in 1949 that ended centuries of Chinese warlordism, disunity and civil wars. Despite being a “forced marriage”, her unity is sacrosanct and unquestionable.
Nigerian unity was not imposed by fiat by the British. Before Nigerian independence, the different peoples of Nigeria, after exhaustive debates and considerations, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, resolved to continue to co-exist in one country. Just as the secessionists were defeated in America, Zaire, Vietnam and so many other countries of the world, they were defeated in the Nigeria civil war; and Nigerian unity re-established. And, as the unities of these countries unified by war have remained inviolable and none negotiable, the unity of Nigeria is sacrosanct and immutable.
The post-Second World War geo-political dynamics made colonialism untenable; and the independence of colonized countries of the world, including Nigeria, became inevitable. The war time American president, Franklin Roosevelt, wanted immediate independence for more politically enlightened colonial entities, like India, and a long process of preparation for independence for yet backward colonial entities, like Nigeria. He died shortly before the end of the war, and his desire for “long process of preparation for independence” was not factored into the decolonization of Nigeria.
In retrospect, a protracted period of preparing Nigerians for independence would have been better than the accelerated process that made Nigeria independent on October1st, 1960. At the time of independence, the Nigerian power elite were yet to imbibe the political skills and refinement, and the attitudinal disposition for leading a democracy. Secondly, the emergent country was not a nation, but a welter of ethnic groups, with their competing and conflicting tribal and political interests. However, just as in India, Malaysia, etc, British colonialism laid a good foundation for Nigeria to take off as a modern, though, Third World country. And despite the problems besetting the nascent country, Nigeria worked.
Nigerian worked under the First Republic responsible and committed leadership. There was law and order; the crime rate was extremely low. There were thieves, mostly pick pockets and burglars, but virtually no armed robbers. The police were not armed with guns; they maintained law and order with just batons. Our academic standards, as established by the colonial government, and maintained by the Nigerian governments, were of world class. Nigerian universities, particularly, the University of Ibadan, especially, its medical school, ranked among the best in the world. At a point, Eastern Region of Nigeria had the fastest growing economy in the world. The Western Region government built the first television station, and the biggest stadium in Black Africa. It also had an efficient and effective free primary education system. And similar successes were replicated in northern Nigeria. Therefore, to suggest that Nigeria has never worked is brazen falsehood.
The series of seemingly intractable problems presently plaguing Nigeria did not stem from British colonialism and/or forced unity of Nigeria, but mostly from military rule. Soldiers are trained to kill or be killed. Consequently, they subconsciously live today as though they are dying tomorrow. Those with little care for the future must be financially reckless and compulsive pleasure-seekers. And there was the oil boom to finance their extravagance and hedonism. It was that lamentable mix of oil boom and military involvement in politics, and its attendant corrupt, amoral and profligate governments that complicated the problems of Nigeria.
It was bad leadership that ran Nigeria aground. Corollary, it is responsible and committed leadership, not the breakup of Nigeria, that will transform Nigeria. It can rightly be argued that there are limits to what good leadership can do; it can only lead within parameters already defined by the society. But have the annals of nations not furnished the instructive precedence that leadership can make the dramatic difference?
Just, as it has done in different countries of the world, leadership can lift Nigeria from the quagmire of corruption and moral decadence to a pedestal of probity and decency; gloom of anarchy and social injustice to a new dawn of the rule of law and social justice; enervating bigotry and tribalism to restorative fairness and unified sense of purpose; etc. Yes, good leadership can resolve the problems of Nigerian, over time, because it will readily rise to the object of responsible government, which is “to right wrong, to do justice, to serve man”.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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