Inventing a Nigerian Nation By Rees Chikwendu

Most states in the world are composed of people with different cultural, ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups. These groups generally give the people a sense of belonging; yet most conflicts and violence derive their fuels from these very cleavages. Sadly, today’s Nigeria is not an exception; stifled by xenophobia, racism, intolerance, and extremism as a result of its convoluted nature, the country is kept short of evolution. A justifiable argument for the internal conflicts that have maligned Nigeria can be attributed to the emergence of a Nigerian state without the blessings of its nations. Yet, there is the illusion of peace, unity, and progress in such multinational state, without concerted efforts towards Nigerian nationalism.

The transformation of Nigerian ethnicities into a Nigerian nation cannot just happen without certain necessary social processes. There must be voluntarisitic steps to be taken by members of different national groups in Nigeria to accept another as belonging to the same nation. The recent deportation of Nigerians within Nigeria and the hate debates that ensued afterwards is a clear embodiment of what the Nigerian state is at the moment – a house divided.

With the absence of nationalism – intrinsic to a nation – Nigeria is going nowhere; were ethnic conflicts among these ethnic groups to persist, Nigeria may be heading to another civil war or secessionism. Nigerian nationalism is the gateway to its progress.

After almost a hundred years of living together as a people – or what many Nigerians would call unholy marriage alliance – it should be time for the romance and love making to start. After all, how long will this couple keep fighting and ignore each other’s emotional and physical needs? There must be a time to get together!

Such move to inventing a Nigerian nation has been denied primarily by her elites, especially those who sprung from the dominant ethnic groups. There is no willingness for these elites to share power with other aspirant ethnic group leaders.

Brass (1991) put forward that it is such willingness of elites from dominant ethnic groups to share political power that determines the way ethnic conflicts are resolved.

In addition, the absence of alternative political arenas is a big price that Nigeria is paying. It is obvious that the concentration of power at the center is a failed political context. The fears among the elites to shift ground by introducing an alternative that is accommodating to the clamors of the minority ethnic groups is dishing out heavy blows to the state. The lack of a will for realignment and reorganization towards political decentralization to satisfy ethnic demands comes with a price: the present.

Nigerian construction is not an open room that encourages healthy competition and sound ideological engagements.

To ease the tension and internal conflicts that are preventing Nigeria from achieving nationhood, it is important to devolve low politics powers such as economic cooperation (internal markets, resource control, transport, and competitiveness) to the states and local governments, while the central governments should retain high politics powers pertaining to national sovereignty (defence, foreign policy, taxes).

Whereby, powers that the states, regions, or ethnic groups are tired of holding, they can decide among themselves to transfer or delegate these powers to the higher national (common) authority.

The spirit of nationalism is a far cry today because the few dominant ethnic groups have usurped political power. As a result, the remaining minority groups feel sidelined or not heard and thus will voice their demands through whatever means available. In an act of reciprocity, they will not recognize your presence since you fail to recognize their existence. An effort to fight and preserve own boundaries, identity, and resources becomes the struggle. It becomes easier to use social aggression to buy what you need in an environment where your demands are neglected. It is such behavior that is attributed to the extremism and conflicts between Nigeria’s ethnic groups. However, a jigsaw connects many pieces;  Nigeria can be engineered where its different ethnic groups serve a bigger purpose.

In his scholarly role of political transformations, Hobsbawm (1983) argued that nations and nationalism are products of ‘social engineering’. In essence, it means a culture or tradition can be invented and molded to become accepted norms, rules, and rituals. Many parents become successful in raising children through inculcating certain values and behaviors by repetition, which the children imbibe unconditionally in their early years. As is human nature to adapt, it can be assumed that Nigerian nationalism can be invented and inculcated by accepted rules through repetition.

People have moved to foreign lands and in time adopted new culture through adaptation. So a Nigerian nationalism – a new culture and symbol accepted by all Nigerians – is definitely feasible if the deliberate will exists. Culture here does not necessarily mean those intrinsics the Yorubas or Hausas share in common among themselves, but a system of ideas and signs and associations and ways of behaving and communication, shared among all Nigerians. Sadly, such convictions and loyalties and solidarities to the Nigerian state do not yet exist among Nigerians, even among her elites.

Through social engineering, the existing culture of racism, xenophobia, intolerance, and extremism in Nigeria can be obliterated. A new reality can be birthed, one that evolves Nigeria into a nation where the different micro-nations would decide how they would be governed. For that to happen, the elites must allow the interest of Nigeria to take priority above all other interests and values.

In order for a heterogeneous society like Nigeria to emerge into a nation?

Different ethnic groups must be given opportunity to come together to decide how they want to relate with one another. Their deliberate attempt to recognize each other’s differences and similarities and decide to stay together is the solvent that will dissolve ethnic conflicts and violence and in turn pave for nationhood. The elites cannot keep waiting for Nigeria to become a nation on its own, because Nigeria itself did not come together on its own.

There must be concerted efforts to nationalize it into a modern state. Otherwise the country will enter a stage of limbo; the ambition will never be achieved, but the conflicts and violence would persist? Rights consciousness steps towards protecting every Nigerian should be a must. This would convince Nigerians to recognize and perceive their state’s love for them. In turn they will demonstrate loyalty to the state and solidarity to one another any time oppression occurs. All Nigerians must be given equal opportunities? Through consolidating democracy, political movements of minority groups cannot be crushed by the elites. In a society where democracy is the game, thievery, killings, and the bribing of officials would occur less frequently, giving minorities the stage to speak out and advance their claims in the public.

These would enhance the transactional and interactional environment of Nigeria and promote peace among ethnic groups. It would also lead to growth and development – elements of a ‘modern state? Nigerian schools should abstain the glorifying of colonialists; rather, they should promote their own history and nationalists. It is demeaning to be teaching our children how Mongo Park discovered river Niger, from which our own people have been drinking of for thousands of years before Mongo Park first set foot on Nigerian soil. When Nigerian schools still promote and glorify individuals that perpetuated colonialism on our people, irony is not hard to find.

For a Nigerian nation to emerge, Nigerians must see each other as members belonging to one body not minding their ethnicities. Unfortunately, the state institutions still demand from Nigerians their state of origins, which is a subtraction to efforts that would lead to the evolution of Nigerian state into a nation. Schools and employers should desist from asking Nigerians their state of origin, but if necessary their place of birth. Wherever one is born should be his/her place of birth and possibly state of origin. This act of requesting for state of origin should be expunged from the system to encourage oneness and equal opportunity.

It is a Nigerian nation that would open the gate to development through healthy competition. And a Nigerian nation would bring about a Nigerian heaven, where the Southwest is the Commerce, the Southeast the Industries, and the North the Farm.

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