The Oasis Reporters
October 29, 2018
I remember the political campaigns of 1983. I was in primary school, but my fascination with politics and leadership was already well and alive. It was a rally during the early weeks of long vacation, at Ngwo Park, Enugu. On the dais was the mercurial Chief Vincent Ikeotuonye; industrious Chief C.C. Onoh, debonair Chief Austin Ezenwa and gentleman Chief Alex Ekwueme. But the major attractions were Chief Emeka Ojukwu, Ikemba Nnewi and the man he was about to introduce: Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari, the then executive President of Nigeria. Shagari came to the microphone, with the characteristic hail of his party, NPN.
‘NPN – Super Power!
One nation, one destiny!’
Thus, he delved into a litany of promises.
My fear is that 32 years after General Buhari aborted that very useful experience in democracy; Nigeria has failed to become one nation. The deeper fear is that it can never become one nation, in fact by current and historical examples; it runs a real and present risk of disintegration. Except the politics, economics and society is fundamentally restructured.
The general motivation for choosing the current government was ‘Change’.
Unsurprisingly, there was no common agreement on what this mantra connotes.
However, I am unshakably convinced that Nigeria needs to change or face its demise. This conviction comes from empirical and anecdotal evidence that abound, for whoever wishes to be objective.
It was Obafemi Awolowo who once described Nigeria as “… geographic description”.
It is interesting to remind us that every country is ‘mere geographic description’! But some countries are nations, or have grown to become nations also. Sadly, Nigeria is not one of them.
Nigeria’s boundary is an artificial creation, left behind by the British colonialists. It does not correspond to a religious, historical, cultural or linguistic entity. This is the reality.
We have largely lived as a fake nation, and we know it. No wonder Awo penned those words. Every national policy from 1960 till date has the shadow of this false ‘nationhood’ written all over it. But we are a REAL country, with all the paraphernalia of statehood. The greatest impetus the state has is force! And Nigeria has been kept together by force, rather than by any unifying or overarching ideology.
There is a philosophy that underlies this forceful union, though. It is called CORRUPTION.
The Economist magazine said that corruption is the only thing that works in Nigeria.
It is worth pondering the fact that multi-ethnic democracy is the most difficult form of government to sustain. Add to it a multi-religious twist and forceful political conjugation, and you will get a rather combustible mix.
We have seen many nations with less fault lines than Nigeria, collapse.
Take the Austro-Hungarian Empire, for a start. It was a multiethnic nation-state or empire in the 19th century. It had Austria, Hungary, Czech, Croats, Slovenia, and Italy as ethnic nations making it up. It was Bohemia in Czech heartland and Hungary with the rich landowners that bore the economic burden of sustaining the empire. Just like the former Biafran homeland in Nigeria. The empire inevitably collapsed with rather violent repercussions. The leaders and regions benefitting from the empire refused to accept the necessary changes, when it was imperative.
The Soviet empire is another example. Many people have forgotten that Soviet Union was an amalgam of several ethnic nations including: Ukrainians, Estonians, Letts, Latvians, Mongolians, some Tartar, Georgians and the anchor ethnic group – Russians. Communism was the ideological glue used by Russia to control and exploit the other nations.
Sometimes it can look eerily similar to the Hausa-Fulani dominance in Nigeria. That empire, as we know, collapsed under its own weight.
Yugoslavia is a rather disquieting example. It was a multi-ethnic country of Serb orthodox Catholics, Slovenia Roman Catholics, Croatians, plus Kosovo and Bosnia Muslim. They lived in an uneasy accord, ensured only by the authoritarian regime of Tito. By early 1990, after the collapse of communism, they began to simmer.
Ultimately in December 1990, the DEMOS party of Slovenia won a referendum for independence from Yugoslavia and announced plan to secede in June 1991. The Croats followed them. The Serbs (the dominant ethnic group in Yugoslavia) declared war. The rest is common knowledge.
Suffice it to say that there is no Yugoslavia today.
Yugoslavia is very instructive because it was the ‘poster boy’ for multi-ethnic democracy in Europe! And it collapsed because its dominant ethnic group was disinclined to restructuring.
In all multi-ethnic countries where such resistance to loose federation failed, war or bloody strife was the result (Bosnia, Croatia, Georgia, Rwanda, etc).
Evidence also abound that ethnic nations do rather well, irrespective of resource base or geographic location and size.
Think about Israel, Iran, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Armenia, etc. These are all ethnic nations.
With the exception of Iran, the rest had to liberate themselves from a suffocating union.
Nigeria will do well to learn from the abundant lessons of history. I see a lot of “Titanic” syndrome in Nigeria. The small tip of the gigantic iceberg, that can wreck the ship of state, is the focus of the government in power. The fundamental fault lines of a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious, and multicultural democracy are not being addressed.
It is on record that the greatest flaw of Nigeria’s attempt at democracy has been elections. The aftermath of the massively rigged election of 1964 and the even worse chicanery of the 1965 repeated election in Western region inspired the first coup.
The blatant manipulation of the election of 1983 was the main inspiration for Gen. Buhari’s coup of 1983.
Under Gen Obasanjo, the country witnessed the most brazen electoral malpractices. From 1999 to 2007, rigging could no longer define what went on as elections.
The current president , Gen Muhammadu Buhari was twice thrashed in supervised fraud called elections, under Obasanjo. Buhari himself said this. He, in fairness, took the matter to the apex court. They ruled against him in rather controversial rulings. Buhari, though he accepted the judgement, completely disagreed with it.
Today, Buhari is president, because Dr Jonathan allowed a relatively free and fair poll. Yet, the man Jonathan is vehemently vilified by all and sundry in the ruling party. The wrong lessons are being learned by many youths, ostensibly the future leaders. It is ‘Do not sacrifice your ambition for national unity in Nigeria’. The worst possible lesson.
From the pathos of a multi-ethnic, winner-takes-all, vindictive politics. Today Obasanjo, who twice supervised our most fraudulent electoral mileu, later became a Buhari supporter before they fell apart.
Written by Frank Olisa Akukwe