News & Features
Who is building Nigeria, really?
For keen observers of events in this geographical space called Nigeria, the challenge of building a stable nation since independence in 1960 has been like Heracles’ attempt to slay the Lernaean Hydra. The problems keep replicating themselves.
In Greek mythology, Heracles (Hercules), son of Zeus, slew his six sons and wife in a fit of madness sent to him by Hera, the goddess of women and marriage, who was engaged in a contest of wills with Zeus over whose candidate would be hero. On regaining his sanity, Heracles deeply regretted his actions and was purified by King Thespius. He then travelled to Delphi to inquire how he could atone for his actions. The oracle Pythoness advised him to reside at Tiryns and serve King Eurystheus for 12 years, performing whatever labour might be presented before him. Eurystheus therefore sent Heracles to perform 12 excruciating tasks, the second of which was to slay the Lernaean Hydra, an ancient serpent-like water monster with reptilian traits which had many heads. Heracles battled to slay the hydra, but for each head he cut off, two more sprang up.
With its unity and corporate existence ever threatened by multiplicity of hydra-headed challenges, Nigeria has remained a muddy lake, in a state of motion without movement and perpetual infancy. The country seems to have inherited the curse of Sisyphus, another character in Greek mythology who, as a punishment for his trickery, was condemned by the gods to an eternity of frustration – rolling a huge rock up a steep hill only to watch it roll back down, forcing him to begin again, and to repeat this throughout eternity.
Today is Nigeria’s 57th Independence anniversary, but the country is still at the foot of the same steep hill where it began in 1960, still struggling in vain to roll up the same rock. All the challenges that threatened to tear the country apart in the First Republic, all the issues that led to military incursion into politics and a 30-month bloody civil war, every single one them is still around and has assumed even a more dangerous dimension. And while Dubai is redefining the future of transport as it tests the world’s first flying taxi, North Korea is pushing the world to accept it as a nuclear power and some countries are perfecting electric cars, here we are celebrating that Jordan has agreed to supply us with arms to fight insurgents. Well, we are doing well. At least we hope to produce pencil by 2018. That’s something.
But the crooked politicians who are benefitting from this failed structure would most likely roll out the drums in celebration. Ask them what they are celebrating and they would gladly tell you, “Our unity; we have succeeded in keeping the country together in the face of many challenges.” And you ask, what sort of unity when the drums of war resound in every part of the country, when the components parts of the country are up in arms against one another?
It was seven whole decades ago that the highly revered Obafemi Awolowo published his Path to Nigerian Freedom, where he contended that Nigeria “ is a mere geographical expression” and that “there are no ‘Nigerians’ in the same sense as there are ‘English’, ‘Welsh’ or ‘French’”. Ordinarily, that assertion would have prompted a strong desire to build Nigeria into a virile nation.
But no. Successive governments in the country since Independence, military and civilian alike, have behaved like the ostrich. Constantly mouthing ‘One Nigeria’ without lifting a finger to achieve it, they have pretended as if they did not know that nationhood is not attained by decrees, that unity is not achieved by the power of force, and that peace of the graveyard is no peace at all. Rather than sincerely tackle the numerous challenges bedevilling this country, they have continued to tuck them under the carpet and pretend they do not exist or could just disappear by the wave of a magic wand.
And talking about challenges, Ibrahim Gambari, professor and former under-secretary-general and special adviser to the UN secretary-general, in a 2008 lecture identifies five main nation-building challenges facing Nigeria – the challenge from our history; the challenge of socio-economic inequalities; the challenges of an appropriate constitutional settlement; the challenges of building institutions for democracy and development; and the challenge of leadership.
Nation-building, he says, is about “building a common sense of purpose, a sense of shared destiny, a collective imagination of belonging”; “building the tangible and intangible threads that hold a political entity together and give it a sense of purpose”; and “building the institutions and values which sustain the collective community in these modern times”.
“Nations are built by men and women who have the will and vision to accomplish greatness, not for themselves, their immediate families and friends, but for their country. I believe that if we can find the will to offer such a leadership, and support it by strong and dependable political and economic institutions, we will find a way to our national greatness,” Gambari says in the lecture themed ‘The challenges of nation-building: The case of Nigeria’.
Who then is building Nigeria? My answer, unfortunately, is no one. And that’s one of the greatest contradictions of present-day Nigeria – that while politicians continue to shout that “Nigeria’s unity is settled, not negotiable”, no one is really working towards that unity. Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, daughter of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, said that much in an angry letter to her father in 2014 – “Every public official in Nigeria is working for himself and no one really is serving the public or the country…. When no one is planning the future of a country, such a country can have no future.”
Nations don’t happen by accident. Even when diverse peoples find themselves bundled together by some accident of history, if they are to become a nation, they must come together and find a common purpose, a unifying factor. And it is always work in progress, a dynamic process in constant need of nurturing and re-invention. New challenges would crop up, but what really matters is the sincerity of those at the helm of affairs to resolve these challenges in a way that every component part of the group feels a strong sense of belonging. In that way, the nation comes out stronger. This is what’s lacking in Nigeria.
Big Read |