Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Divisive Issues Threatening Nigeria
By Luke Onyekakeyah/Guardian
When recently the Libyan strongman, Mu'ammar al-Gadaffi prescribed that Nigeria should divide into pieces along ethnic lines like former Yugoslavia, as panacea to frequent ethnic bloodletting in Jos and other parts of the country, he was certainly convinced that there are fundamental issues that are threatening the unity of the country, which could provide the springboard for a possible demise of Nigeria. There is no smoke without a fire. Something is fundamentally wrong with Nigeria that it has become the target for such uncomplimentary attacks by external forces. Rather than dismissing the fingers pointing at Nigeria with a wave of the hand, they should be given a closer look by the authorities.
It is about four years now since the American intelligence community also predicted that Nigeria would possibly break up by 2015. Those bad predictions were based on the woeful state of affairs in the country. Since then, rather than things getting better, and rather than the leadership re-examining itself to face up with what actually is a grave situation in the country on all fronts, the whole issue is being wished away. At the same time, there are ethnic groups across the country agitating for justice, equity and fair play. Some are threatening secession. But the truth is that these groups wouldn't have germinated in the first place if the Nigerian system has been fair to all. That the ground is fertile for political discontent to blossom is not in doubt.
Unfortunately, the issues at the centre of ethnic discontent are systemic. The issues have become deeply ingrained into the Nigerian into the Nigerian social and political structure. That makes it an uphill task for them to be tackled with executive fiat. How, for instance, do you start to deal with a problem that has its roots in the Constitution without first amending it and then allowing the matter to die naturally once the root has been severed? Knowing the intrigues associated with Constitutional amendment under the present faulty political structure, can the leadership muster enough muscle to deal with issues that threaten the very survival of Nigeria?
But there is no other choice on this very important matter. If the continued existence of Nigeria as one united country is something that must be achieved; if the authorities are not just paying lip service to a one Nigeria; if those dismissing the dooms prediction for Nigeria are not themselves helping to bring it to pass, then what needs to be done must be done now to save Nigeria from possible disintegration as already predicted. That is what patriotism is all about. I have said it once in this column that there are two most important persons in the life of a nation. One is the person who turned a forest into a nation and the other is the person who turns a nation into a forest. History would certainly be harsh on the latter. That is why the burden to save Nigeria is squarely on today's leadership. The continued existence of Nigeria as one entity is in their hands.
Among the divisive forces threatening the continued existence of Nigeria as one corporate entity are: First, the balkanization of Nigeria into 36 antagonistic states and 744 local government councils. This is the greatest factor that has upturned the political landscape of the country in post-independence Nigeria. I have said it before that the creation of states in Nigeria wasn't necessarily a strategic framework to develop Nigeria but a wartime strategy to prosecute the civil war against Biafra. The splitting of Nigeria into 12 states in 1967 by Gen. Yakubu Gowon, the then head of state, led to further balkanization of the country after the war. Ever since then, the country has never remained the same. The splitting of the country into quasi-ethnic states has even changed the ethnic homogeneity of parts of the country.
For instance, at independence in 1960, we had major ethnic groups that spoke with one voice on national issues. We had the Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Ijaw and others. Today, with the creation of states, these ethnic groups no longer speak with one voice as they have been Balkanized. Each state now fights for its survival. The division is so deep that it has created a vicious hatred among people of the same ethnic group. For instance, an Igbo person from Imo State can't get employment in any of the Igbo speaking states of Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi or Abia. Similarly, a person from Ondo State can't get employment in Ekiti, Oyo. Oshun or any of the Yoruba speaking states. The same hatred and antagonism applies to the states in other regions.
Consequently, the best a Nigerian could get from a state outside his or hers is a contract employment. The states in the north employ people from the south on contract basis. Strategic positions are never filled with non-indigenes. State creation has made Nigerians foreigners in their own country. Unfortunately, the state structure is presently a fraud without true federalism that would enable each state to use the resources within its domain to develop itself. Without a viable framework, Nigeria can never make headway and we run the risk of falling victim to the bad predictions on the country. That would be a self-inflicted injury.
The second factor, indigene/settler issue has its roots in state creation. It is, perhaps, only in Nigeria that people are classified as indigenes and the others as settlers or by extension "foreigners" in their own country. This issue has raised major controversy and it is the cause of most of the ethnic bloodletting that is ravaging parts of the country. In Nigeria, going by this discriminatory classification, there are no Nigerian citizens! Whereas the Constitution clearly provided that every Nigerian is a citizen of the country wherever he or she may resides, that provision is openly discountenanced with impunity. The norm, instead, is that what you get where you are depends on your ethnic roots.
Consequently, it doesn't matter how long you have resided in any part of Nigeria; it doesn't matter if you can't trace you roots after being born and bred in a place and established in that place. Once you're known to have your roots from a different ethnic group, you're a foreigner in that place. You have no rights and privileges. But this is unlike what obtains in the United States of America where anybody born in America is a bona fide citizen of the United States irrespective of where the parents came from. It is that progressive system that produced the Barack Obamas of this world. If it were in Nigeria, Barack Obama would have been classified as settler because his father came from Kenya and he wouldn't have had the privilege of aspiring to be American president.
Third in the list of divisive factors in Nigeria is federal character, which unfortunately is enshrined in the Constitution. The federal character principle demands that positions to be filled at the federal level must reflect the federal character of the country. That simply put is saying that there must be representatives from all the zones of the country, all the states of the country, and all the local governments of the country as the case may be. This retrogressive Constitutional provision is responsible for the over bloated federal cabinet with all the paraphernalia that go with the catalogue of offices and the huge cost of maintaining the offices.
Related to federal character is the quota system that throws expertise to the winds and instead promotes mediocrity in the main. The quota system determines who gets what employment in the federal civil service. It determines who gets admission into any federal school from secondary to tertiary level. For example, under the quota system, if a position has been reserved for a particular zone or state of the country, rather than take a capable hand from another state or zone to fill the position, it serves that country better to leave it vacant or fill the post with a mediocre from that very zone or state. The quota system and federal character have contributed to the high unemployment rate in the country. It is a known fact that unemployment is worst in the southern states than in the northern states.
Besides, the two monsters of federal character and quota system keep reminding Nigerians that they're not one people. They are responsible for much of the looting at the federal level as each state or zone of the country is out to corner more juicy positions to themselves. Furthermore, the PDP has used the quota system to determine which zone produces the president at any time. What that means is that somebody must have to be imposed on the country from the designated zone whether or not he is qualified.
How could the country get liberated from the shackles of poverty, ignorance, disease and underdevelopment when the system has put wedge against itself? The only way out is for the system to dismantle these strictures that are drawing the country backward. Failure to do that would not only stall development but could help the forces that are out to tear the country apart. That is not what right thinking and patriotic Nigerians want. The country must rejuvenate itself to remain afloat.