The Future of Nigeria

The defining geographical feature of Nigeria is the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers. It is the first thing that grabs your eye when you look at any map of the country. Two of the biggest and most important rivers in Africa, linking together in the centre of the country and flowing together to meet the outside world – or the Atlantic Ocean, if you want to be literal about it.

I have always thought that the Niger and Benue were a strong metaphor for Nigeria, for our federal republic, for what we are. Within the borders of Nigeria one finds dynamic individuals of all sorts, as well as diverse cultures with rich and proud histories. Our best historians (like Elizabeth Isichei) will tell you that the history of the peoples of Nigeria was always intertwined. We learned a lot from each other over the centuries, shared a lot, traded a lot, and yes, we did in fact fight each other as well. Even the wars indicated the complexity of Nigeria. Fighting was as much intra-ethnic as inter-ethnic.

Today, all those ingredients are mixed together in a giant pot of soup called Nigeria. Like the Niger and the Benue, we have joined, ostensibly to present a stronger front in our relationship with the outside world. It would seem to make sense, given the relative ease with which a tiny British colonial army deleted our self-governance by conquering us little piece by little piece. In unity we were meant to find strength. British colonialism might have gone with the wind, but it is a tough and competitive world out there, filled with powerful economic and military powers, both state and non-state, each seeking to advance its own interests. Nigeria united was supposed to give us the standing to look them all in the eyes as equals, to protect our interests and our people, and to be the bulwark of Africa’s representation in the councils of global power.

But it has not quite worked out that way, has it? We may have regained our self-government in 1960, but our country has yet to get off the ground. We are like a stalled engine; visibly we look like we should be driving along the road, but in practice we are stagnant, and stuck on the roadside of life. We are still at square one.

Not too long ago, former President Shehu Shagari called for the expansion of access to education in certain states of the country. It has been 50 years since the imbalance in access to education between chunks of the country was identified as a stumbling block on our march to independence. 50 years later, and it is exactly the same as it was. What the hell have our federal, state and local governments been doing all these 50 years? What? What is Shehu Shagari complaining about? He has been in the halls of Nigerian politics since the First Republic! What the hell has he been doing? Is it today that he learned that some parts of Nigeria have less access to education than others?

Oh, and we are still wasting our time with the same divide-and-rule nonsense about our ethnic and religious differences. This is at least 60 years old, maybe 70. Look, anyone who believes that diversity causes war and poverty needs to visit Somalia. As near as I can tell, they are all Muslims, and they are all Somali. Unfortunately for them, they suffered the same rubbish leadership that Nigeria has suffered and now they are poverty-stricken, wartorn, and get to sit back while warlords dominate their land. In the absence of different ethnicities, the warlords have touted “clans” as their rationale for the violence. The people of Ife and Modakeke, and countless other communities in Nigeria can relate. In Abia and other states, subethnic rivalries are being fired up in divide-and-rule contests for the governorship; and who can blame them when “Wawa Nationalism” worked for C.C. Onoh in Anambra during the Second Republic? One town in northern Imo is still split into two and bickering after Sam Mbakwe exploited a chieftaincy dispute for electoral votes. One moment, our Big Men are talking about “South-south” and “Niger-Delta”, and the next moment, the city of Warri is up in flames as thugs battle it out…. for what? Reminds one of the years when an alleged fight for “environmentalism” in islands today called Bayelsa took on a distinct resemblance to a campaign of violence on people from the “wrong” place.

And yet, 60, nay 70 years later, we are still talking about “northerners”, “southerners”, “di west”, “di east”, “di military”, “di civilians”, “di Muslims”, and “di Christians” and many more such nifty adjectives, as if it has any bearing on 43 years of woeful leadership by men (and women) that cut across ALL of these adjectives. We incessantly heap praise on the very people who ruined our country, while heaping abuse on fellow sufferers like ourselves.

The British conquered us by going one piece at a time, and maintained their rule by ensuring that there was NEVER any organized nationwide resistance to their rule. Today we call it “divide-and-rule”. It was EASY for them to crush all the little, itty-bitty, separate and distinct min-rebellions that emerged, without needing an expensively large garrison army. The cooperation of our “leaders” in the colonial enterprise made it all the more easy.

Today, useless, woeful individuals can continue to monopolize power and wealth, all by merely raising before us the spectre of “marginalization” and/or “domination” by another ethnic group, another religion, another village, another state, another something, even if they have to invent the something. Yes, thugs carry out acts of violence, killing people from the “wrong” ethnic group or religion. But in 43 years of independence, has anyone ever wondered who assembles, arms, and directs the thugs? Has anyone EVER been convicted for creating and inciting the violence? Even alleged “enemies” of whoever holds the trump card of the federal financial accounts can get away free, because their act of violence validates the actors (“we are standing up for our people, and will not accept dominance from ‘them’”), but also the actors’ alleged “enemies” (“you see what they did to us, how they killed us? We must rally together or face annihilation”). At the end of the day, the actor and his enemy directly or indirectly share the bounty of Nigeria’s national cake, even posing together (all smiles) in newspaper pictures, forming political parties together, serving in “military” regimes together.

Their only REAL disagreements revolve around how much largesse each person is entitled to, and who should be the principal organizer (President or Prime Minister or Governor or LG Chairman) of the distribution of the loot.

The AD/Afenifere are an interesting case in point. Many of their members chanted “democracy” for years, but have been anything but democratic once they gained access to power over the public accounts. The mode in which the late Bola Ige was denied any democratic process in the Presidential nomination in 1999 spoke volumes on what was to come. In 1998/9, the AD declared themselves too pure to associate with an “Abacha Party” (ie. the APP), but when the prospect of the Presidency drifted away, they were quick to ally quite happily with the Abacha Party, and even selected a Presidential candidate in a small cabal, with no transparency or democracy (the Chairmen of the five parties that made Abacha their sole candidate would be proud). The candidate they selected was Olu Falae, the principle economic architect of Ibrahim Babangida, the man that annulled the June 12 elections! Perhaps it was gratitude, as the June 12 elections have provided the ammunition with which Afenifere/AD retains its relevance. And what happens four years later? AD/Afenifere endorses the candidate of PDP, a man they denigrated as a stooge in 1999 (what was Falae?), and a party they have pilloried as being a den of corruption.

Open your eyes, people! Constant cries of “democracy and federalism” are to the AD/Afenifere what religion is to Sani Yerima, and “Igbo Agenda” is to Nwobodo, Okadigbo, Kalu, and frankly Ojukwu (at least Arthur Nzeribe does not pretend; he openly admits to his wheeling and dealing in the name of wealth and power for power’s sake). The political class merely use hot-ticket words like “Sharia” and “Biafra” to gain votes.

A quick analysis of the responsibilities of “leaders” as set out in Islamic tradition will make it quite clear that the political class in the northernmost states do not and have not governed those states according to the tenets of Sharia. The widespread poverty, the low literacy rate, the absence of healthcare or welfare systems, the stagnation of a once vibrant region that has virtually ossified; those politicians are hypocrites, using and abusing the people’s faith for their own ends. Indeed, a study of the writings of centuries of Islamic scholars yields the interesting knowledge that the harsher penalties of Sharia Law (including amputations) are not meant to be practiced in times and eras of grinding mass poverty.

And I grow tired of the cries of “marginalization” and “Igbo President” from men who serve in every government, have business contacts with every regime, support every administration, and reap enormous wealth from the same deliberate distortions of the economy that have plunged the masses into poverty. Men who ride around in the most expensive imported cars while proclaiming themselves beacons for the struggling majority. I am not deceived. It is very convenient to tell the people that their suffering is caused by continuing marginalization, a marginalization that does not impede your access to expensive champagne, foreign mansions, and a multiplicity of wives and concubines.

They just push the buttons, and we follow them like sheep.

“Derivation” indeed. Someone should audit the accounts of the Niger-Delta state governments and LGAs to determine where all the money is going. Massing money in the state government account will not produce true economic growth and development, any more so that Oil Boom in the 1970s. All you get are more MEGA government contracts, on more dubious political projects that NEVER achieve anything remotely resembling the alleged reason for their existence. The RISONPALM corporation is operating at a loss, at a loss, and yet the Rivers State government claims RISONPALM will provide 8,000 “new” jobs in the next two years. Whatever happened to the last four years? Why was job-creation not a priority? Why has RISONPALM been running at a loss?

What really annoys me about constant calls for “Sovereign National Conference” is that it is these same jokers who would fill all the seats at the conferences (as they have done at every other conference), and enact yet another useless set of recommendations (like all the other ones that came before). You can not get clean drinking water from a dirty river. I trust the people of Nigeria; I do not trust the Big Men we allow to lord it over us. Handing them a forum to continue our oppression is not my idea of a “solution”.

Now, you might read the above and feel that I am just another person listing Nigeria’s problems. Trust me, I know how you feel. I too get sick and tired of people listing Nigeria’s problems. That is another thing we have been doing for well over 50 years. We have been doing it every year since independence. Our fellow Africans, and people from all over the world, have since joined in. Everyone has a story, a book, an essay, a complaint. We are all talking about “Nigeria’s Problems”.

I am tired of that. It is time we do something.

Our hopes can not be placed in the political class. Even the supposed “reformers” in the political class are just as bad as the people they claim to criticize. Anthony Enahoro wants to split Nigeria up. Chief Enahoro has been involved in Nigerian politics for over 50 years. In all this time, he and others like him, had every chance to make Nigeria work, to make the country successful. Having not done that, he is now telling us to break the country to pieces. Why? Why not step aside and let someone else come forward and make our country into the success it should have been from the start? Gani Fawehinmi and MD Yusufu are both courageous men, with the guts to stand up for their principles. But we have heard all these platitudes before. We all know poverty is a problem. We all know human rights are an issue, but talk is cheap. We need concrete, real world plans (and not wishful thinking) to pull us out of the morass. Fawehinmi (a stalwart of a Nigerian legal system that still wears white wigs and black robes like the British), Yusufu (a former Inspector-General of Police), and Balarabe Musa (a scion of NEPU and PRP) might be critics of the system, but they would NEVER dream of bringing it down completely. They wish to reform a system that should be discarded. And with all due respect, none of the three has presented a concrete plan for dragging our country forward. Worse yet, for Nigeria to maintain stability and peace while undergoing true change, real reform, and a first step (finally) on the path toward progress we are going to need a lot MORE than what is on offer. They are treading the same exact path taken by men like Aminu Kano, SG Ikoku, and other “reformers” before them. They will simply be drowned out, while the rot continues unabated.

It is high time that ordinary people, ordinary citizens, and ordinary Nigerians took control of their own fate. We should not just sit down and watch other people determine our destiny. They have not done a good job of it so far, and it is highly unlikely that they will start doing a good job today.

It has been nearly 43 long years of independence, and we are still stuck at square one. Our country has so much potential. We all know this. The knowledge of our potential has probably been the single comforting factor we have had since Independence. Even as things continue to fall apart, we remind ourselves always that with the right leadership, our country could be something special.

Well, instead of sitting around and waiting from the right leadership to materialize from thin air, isn’t it time we did something?

Most Nigerians living outside the country are not living on streets paved with gold. Bills, taxes, tuition, relations in need of assistance back home, job security in a recession; it is a difficult life. However, those Nigerians who belong to the “western/industrial” middle class do have somewhat more disposable income than Nigerian living at home.

On the converse end, Nigerians living at home, particularly the domestic “middle class” combine the attributes of strong education (inasmuch as many graduates are unemployed) with grassroots presence and contacts.

It is time for us to combine our forces. It is time for Nigerians from all ethnic, geographical, and religious backgrounds to come together to join the strength of our minds and our arms in achieving those things we have prayed for since 1960.

Look, nothing good is going to happen unless we make it happen. I invite any Nigerian interested in actually doing something, in taking action rather than complaining, to join the NICOMO mailing list (nicomo1960-subsc[email protected]). Reading an article by another writer recently has reminded me that a broom is stronger than a broomstick, a forest stronger than a tree, and a fist stronger than a finger.

It is time for us to stop complaining and start acting. Down one path lie peace, progress and prosperity. Down another path lie the same anarchy, poverty and disease wracking many countries in Africa. I do not know about the rest of you, but I do not trust our political elite to make the right choices, and I am tired of this nationwide feudalism where we all sit by doing nothing and leaving power in the hands of a narrow political elite. The same names and faces; new faces that are just old wine in new bottles; and coups and elections that change nothing. Enough is enough.

It is time for power to truly reside in the hands of the people. It is time for our choices, our wishes, and our goals to become the national agenda. We the people hold in our hands the ability to shape our destiny. We must not only force “them” to listen, but we must also actively and proactively take charge of the direction our nation is headed to.

But we must get off our backsides and actually DO something. The Nigerian Confluence Movement will welcome anyone interested, even if only one person. Every major change in world history was accomplished by a few determined people; we ask you to be one of the few. The confluence is where two major rivers join. The confluence is where 130 million people from different ethnic groups and religions unite to build a strong country. The confluence can be where Nigerians committed to true reform and change in our country unite to achieve the common goal.

Nigerian Confluence Movement (NICOMO). ([email protected]).

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