29th October, 2013
By Egbuns Kemakola
I am persuaded that it would be a mis-step and misreading of both the mood of our populace and political atmospherics to celebrate Nigeria’s centenary. Celebrating an eruptive co-existence would be mere empty paroxysm, signifying shadow, not substance. Rather, it should be annotated and calls for deep, sober reflections and stocktaking.
Nigeria has long been bludgeoned by the wretched happiness of mere subsistence and surreal unity. The late literary icon, Professor Chinua Achebe, asserted that “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely the failure of leadership.” Even before Professor Achebe’s thesis, Major C.K. Nzeogwu had succinctly identified the failure of leadership in more detailed terms: “Our enemies are the political profiteers…those who seek bribes and demand 10 per cent…those who seek to keep the country permanently divided so that they can remain in office as Ministers and VIPs of waste…” In my opinion, the second trouble is that unless the philosophy and web of ligatures stringing our nationalities together are properly articulated and attuned, the desire leadership cannot even emerge. It is trite knowledge that if the diagnosis is wrong, the prescription cannot be right.
Yes, the structural life of Nigeria can be guaranteed if we constructively demolish both “the classic cleavage between the North and South” and the inherent suspicions among the East, West and North through handshakes across the Nigeria, horizontally and vertically, to allow the “status quo” of our “cultural histories” enrich the diversity of our unity. By some benign twist of fate, Nigeria turned out be a miracle by default, not design. It would be a tragic paradox to confirm, by our own “omissions and commissions”, that she has indeed been “a mere geographical expression”.
One hundred years is a long while for a nation to remain perennially nascent and more so for a human generation. All euphoria and enthusiasm notwithstanding, it is very important to note that we have not hitherto striven sufficiently to curb and ensure that the “widening gyre” gyrates at a speed as not to overwhelm the magnetism and nectar of unity. And it is regrettable that, in Nigeria, the State enunciates and drives the notion of nation!
It is our pretence and preference for the mirage of unity that have made us learn nothing from the rockings of our real unity and/or missed opportunities at it. Nigeria, as a state, has thrice been violated in its 100-year existence since her glag independence, a stinging pointer to her faulty foundations. First, on 1 August 1966, Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon declared that “the basis for Nigeria’ unity is not there..”. Second, on 30 May 1967, Lt. Col. Emeka Ojukwu declared secession of Eastern Region from the Federation. On 23 June 1993, General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the presidential poll of 12 June 1993.
We appeared to revel in Lord Lugard’s epigram of the amalgamation: “to unify administrations, not peoples”. I do not, therefore, think that the philosophy of the amalgamation is worth celebrating. Nor do I quite understand, in any case, what there is to celebrate in a unification that was every inch steeped in intrigues and, after Independence, a Nigeria largely ruled and ruined by corruption and mutual suspicions.
We need to appraise the intent and tenets of the amalgamation and, therefore, our co-existence. In my view, this can be done objectively through a Sovereign National Conference, SNC, and a referendum on its resolutions. One wonders why the Establishment/State is afraid of an SNC except for the same reasons they are afraid of free, fair and credible elections, or accurate head count. The SNC is to explore and annotate, for remedy, the flaws of the amalgamation. A dream that remains unfulfilled, or a mere potential, after a gestation of a century is not worth sustenance but re-thinking and recodification.
Do we need a consensus before the truth or objectivity can be cognisable? Why would we celebrate an amalgamation brought about by a skewed architecture of power? For 100 years, Nigeria has survived under a fettering philosophy of geo-political balancing. It is most irritating and deceitful that zoning and rotation had never been done among political parties, supposedly national in a character and formation, but geographical blocks in Nigeria! It is heartless of any political party to wish or insist on clinging to power perpetually, by hook or crook, while administering, in reward, disservice to the people.
In failed States (Babylon system), wrote the legendary Bob Marley in 1978, they build churches and universities from where they graduate thieves and murderers. It is difficult to resist the urge that this aphorism aptly describes Nigeria of today. If Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. – countries that started roughly at par with Nigeria at Independence – are now producing aeroplanes and other finished goods while Nigeria is merely a net importer of finished goods, including tooth picks, and gross exporter of primary commodities, much, then, is left to be desired.
We must wonder and ponder that in the year of our centenary, our country is virtually on the brink with sectarian violence tasking the capabilities of the State, crude oil thefts and pipeline vandalisation are a simmering shame, corruption is at an unprecedented level and our dear country is “in tatters”, according to an elder statesman. Yet others aver that Nigeria is at a crossroads. According to Chief Anthony Enahoro, of blessed memory, “Nigeria is sailing on a broken vessel.” It would now appear that the vessel is not only broken but that its engine is nearly knocked because of a dearth of leadership “lubricants”! Leadership in Nigeria has degenerated to such a nadir as to enunciate her “Somalianisation”.
Are we, therefore, to celebrate Nigeria at 100 because of the unrelenting and unmitigated decline, since the First Republic, in the quality of successive leadership? Or, the miasma of our incongruities, uninspiring human development index, etc? Are we to celebrate a centenary with looters, scammers, bombers, pipeline vandals, annullers, arresters of court judgments, murderers, kleptocrats, kidnappers and other vectors of violence on the loose, walking our streets, hallowed halls and sacred spaces, and garlanded with national honours and traditional titles?
Right from inception, Nigeria was saddled with a political disequilibrium. The imperial concept of “defraying the administrative costs of running the North from the resources of the South” is fatally flawed and cannot be expected to endure.
It is my humble opinion, therefore, to propose that 1 January 2014 be the inaugural date of our Sovereign National Conference, SNC, and to urge the Federal Government to promptly set in motion the necessary machinery for same. That would be the avatar of good luck President Jonathan can conjure and confer on this country.
An SNC would undoubtedly strengthen Nigeria. It is not convoking it that would snowball into what we dread most – her disintegration.
Preserving Nigeria’s corporate existence as the epicentre of black humanity must not be toyed with through selfish and sectional schemings for clinging to power. My hunch is that along an agreed grid of norms and rules, we do need one another after all.
•Kemakola writes from Port Harcourt.