Essay: Pains in My Heart: The Uninspiring Role of the Nigerian Elite in Nation-building (1960-2018); By John Abhuere (Part 11)

Writers and students of development are agreed that some factors account more than others for the greatness of nations. Nigeria can equally be great if she learns how to tie the ropes. Unfortunately her elite seem to lack those noble values, techniques and skills which help to promote national greatness.
These include: A) an enterprising, altruistic development oriented and unity conscious governing and managing elite, and a crop of good hands with skills and knowledge to execute programs for the progress and unity of the country,
B) active collective effort of citizens in unity and development,
C) able leadership, sound management of resources and good governance and Justice for all,
D) effective/judicious consequence management system and Justice for all,
E) respect for core values such as patriotism, hard work, integrity, morality, rule of law, tolerance especially of other views, ideas religious to mention a few,
F) maximum citizenry participation in the development process, and,
G) high level of mass literacy and education,
It is needless to say that in all these indices, Nigeria has been far below the bar. And that is why even though the country has been well blessed by nature with rich human and abundant material resources including minerals, she has remained poor, backward and disunited. And though blessed with much wealth and potentiality for greatness, its history has been characterized by long roll of disappointments and failures.
In short, largely due to poor governance, inept leadership, ineffective management since independence and lack of knowledge of what it takes to build a great nation or better still, the lack of ability to do the needful for greatness, she has not been able to live up to the expectation of the founding fathers or dreams of the nationalists who struggled for and won independence from Britain on 1st October, 1960. The country has been largely disunited and undeveloped.
Ordinarily, Nigeria should not be difficult to govern. This is so because most of the citizens are uncritical in disposition and are ready to cooperate even their exploiters even to almost a point of docility for a little share of the cake. They are hard working and intelligent people, and can be readily counted among the “smartest” people in the world.
As I earlier observed, the country possesses “geniuses in all the fields of human endeavour” and is also blessed with vast rich deposits of mineral resources, fertile land for agriculture, a huge population for large market and many more. All she needs is just a little push forward in the right direction by her governing and managing elite. This is the time for practical actions and not moments for highfalutin words.
However, rewarding actions had not been possible over time. The founding fathers did not lay solid foundation for national unity and development. They did not project what Tatalo Alamu has called ” unanimity core values and shared Vision” for national greatness (The deflowering of Nigerian youth The Nation 23-9-2018). Man is learning and value- driven being. What the early leaders taught and bequeathed to their successors was “ethnic, religious, regional, cultural polarization” ( ibid ).
In other words they were not taught the right thing and so did not learn the correct lessons in nation building including patriotism, nationalism, good governance. In a word, the ruling elite have not been able to do those things that account for the wealth and greatness of nations till date.
Truly this is no longer the time for highfalutin words. Rather, it is time for wise, concrete practical actions given the severity of of the problems of moment . Thus this essay is a wake up call on the Nigerian elites to do the needful for nation building, national development and unity of the country. If the founding fathers laid the poor foundation, their successors simply fortified it and have been unable to deal with the problems that have prostrated the country over the ages. Highly uncreative and unimaginative in thoughts and actions, they have followed the ideas and imbibed the values of the founding fathers till date to a fault. And thus we have continued to hear 1914 amalgamation and its associated structure being blamed for today’s problems as though time and history have been stagnant in Nigeria since after creation of the country.
Consequently, based on facts of history and empirical evidences, this essay disagrees with those who blame poor structure, the 1914 amalgamation etc for the disunity and under-development of the country today. Rather it points to inept leadership, mismanagement and bad governance as the causal factors against national unity and development in Nigeria. It examines a number of negative factors against national unity and development and holds the Nigerian Governing and managing elites for the appalling situation.
It calls on politicians not to bother themselves with issues of restructuring but rather focus on the context of the constitution especially chapter two in order to help produce a better Nigeria. The country is not bad or backward because of its present structure but because of the weakness of those responsible for the operation of the structure and the promotion of the development and unity of the country. Those who sort to leave the country, did not do so because they were brought together by the British or are under 36 states structure. Rather, they have sort to leave because of various acts of injustice, neglect, elite failure in leadership, management and governance of the country.
Generally the Nigerian elites have played very uninspiring role in nation- building since independence. It invites them to positive efforts in nation- building through able leadership, effective management, good governance and justice and fair play for all citizens on equal basis. This is necessary because the task of leading, promoting managing national unity and development belongs to the elites who made vital decisions in the life of any community.
Rather than doing this well, available evidence shows that the Nigerian elite took the country on the wrong road and preached falsehoods to justify their selfish actions. This largely explains why Nigeria has remained poor and disunited since independence .
Where are other reasons for concern with the poor state of national unity and development. According to a writer whose article was shared in whatsApp, though Nigeria has “the smartest people”in arts, sciences, management etc, making their marks in different parts of the world, yet she has remained a “mediocre nation”. To him “the correlates between our gene-pool and national development are so diametrically opposed. We are becoming a failed state. We punch miserably below our weight in the hierarchy of world economics and politics.
None of our institutions is near top 500 in the world university league table. An estimated 50% of our people live in extreme poverty. Youth unemployment hovers around 45% ( 70% for the far north). The poverty is heartbreaking. Our per capita GDP is less than $3000 as compared to Singapore’s $55252. We have the worst road carnage in the world, with more than 20000 lost to road accidents annually. We wasted over $18 billion on the power sector and the people still live in darkness. The state government are virtually bankrupt. It is only by investing in science, innovation and in our young people can we forge a better future”…To Hardball Nigeria “is a net importer of food, roiling in double digits inflation, negative growth and massive youth unemployment”(the Nation 25.9.2018).
Generally, the situation in Nigeria since independence has been poor and far, far below expectation. It is simply beyond pardon. The unsatisfactory state of the country has been blamed on a number of factors including cultural diversity. Though the problems reflect more of elites failure in leadership,management and governance, yet due attention has been paid to the latter. The Nigerian governing and managing elites have not been given due scrutiny and the problems they helped in creating have remained unsolved or unsolvable over the ages.
While there appears to be a lack of ability to solve problems on their part, there is obvious elite’s misperception of the nature of the country’s ailments today and how best to deal with them. There has been misdiagnosis of problems leading to wrong prescription.
In the process lies have been told and truth ignored. Among the lies told by the elites is that national unity and development has been impossible because of the country’s cultural diversity arising from its 1914 formation by the British.
An important truth that has has been ignored is that national unity and development is possible in Nigeria as elsewhere with able leadership, sound and effective management and good governance with emphasis on justice, equality before the law, fair play.
Between these extremes of good and evil, the Nigerian ruling/governing elite have leaned more to the side of evil for selfish reasons. It has been a bad omen. Lies represent darkness, while truth represents light. And the elite’s preference for lies explains why the country has remained in darkness for most part of her history. In the final analysis, contrary to the argument of the elite, Nigeria’s problem is not cultural diversity or structural imbalances deficiencies. The problem is largely immorality and incompetence of the governing and managing elites in leadership, management and governance. This includes the wrong choice they make which depicts serious value conflict.
For instance, there are values and models that promote national unity and development better than others and more suitable to the Nigerian situation that had been ignored by the elites. As the 1999 constitution has shown the values that promote national unity include Justice , fair – play, freedom, equality, discipline, integrity, dignity of labour, religious tolerance self reliance, and patriotism (chapter two sections 17(1) , 23 1999 constitution). But they are not promoted by the leaders of Nigeria for selfish reason. In a word, Nigerian leaders failed to set the right vision, direction, adopt the right model of development, promote those values that aid national unity and development in society even when they were explicitly made in the country’s constitution.
In short, due to the imperviousness of the Nigerian elite,there have been road not trodden, model not adopted , truths ignored, trust broken and many falsehoods preached over time by them. This has been so for a long time now. There have been wrong assumptions and misleading beliefs. To recall one of the factors often cited as the root cause of the country’s problems but which is wrong and misleading is her cultural diversity and associated lop-sided political and administrative structure. As shall be elaborated on later, this is wrong. The mischievous way the early leaders introduced and used the concept of regionalism driven by tribalism and religiousness for their self political advancement and economic aggrandizement turned a beautiful country upside down since independence.
While the view that cultural diversity has been responsible for the disunity and underdevelopment of the country today has been wrongly held for ages even without much historical and empirical support, it is by no means abating today.For instance, in the more recent history, there has been a heightened demand for restructuring of the country which as observed by Gbenga Omotoso is “elitist antidote to Nigeria’s debilitating ailments” (The Nation 13-9-2018b/p). The main problem here has been the lack of agreement on the meaning and format of restructuring. Advocates simply assume that it is good in itself- the answer to the country’s problem today.
Let’s take two cases of such argument for illustration-one by Bashorun and the other by Anele. According to Chief Olorunfumi Bashorun, restructuring would “enable the states to cut their cloth according to their size”_ to do things in their own way say setting their own wage system. But by restructuring the author had in mind the “devolution of power” – the transferring of some of the functions on the exclusive list to the concurrent to enable the state and local government have more responsibilities. To him ‘Regionalism’ which Anele advocates would”no longer work today due to many reasons” including cost of administration, current statutory structure of states”( interview in the sun October 6,2017 reviewed by Femi Orebe in the Nation ofOctober 21, 2018 p20).
In his “The anatomy of restructuring” in the Sunday Vanguard October 21, 2018 p21, Douglas Anele avers: restructuring properly understood and well implemented would have positive outcomes nation-wide in the long run…, would reduce the ferocity in the quest for control of political power and resources at the centre, has the potential to motivate all parts of the country to mobilize available human and natural resources at the local levels for productivity and wealth creation which is a win- win situation”. While he did state how the magic would be performed, what is Anele’s idea of restructuring? It is nothing other than decentralization as ordained in the 1963 constitution, Aburi Accord, power sharing of 1954- all of them other words for regionalism of the pre1967 era.
Wondering why some conservative …leaders oppose the idea of decentralization of power and resource control so vehemently, he advocates for a return to regional structure using the 1963 constitution as a guide within the present six – geopolitical zone. To him, such restructuring shall require “no reinventing the wheel” But by the time he finished with what is to be done, the fear expressed by Bashorun against regionalism today became very obvious not to be ignored. Unmindful of historical experience, he thinks organizing the regions along linguistic and cultural lines would save the day but forgot that commonality of history did not stop civil wars in Yoruba speaking area in the 18 and 19th centuries.
As he puts it “boundaries of the regions can be delineated in such way that linguistically and culturally connected communities should be located in the region where majority of their kith and Kin are domiciled. Thus all Igbos should be in one region, all Yorubas should in one region and Hausa-‘ Fulanis must be in one region. To the author, any” serious talks about restructuring must drop old jealousies and mutual suspicion as though there are no conflicts in a mono cultural society. While this would lead us to the kind of hermetic existence that did not promote national unity and development in the first republic, yet as the author also notes there are others within the advocates of restructuring group who want “economic restructuring, moral restructuring” etc. thereby making the debate more fluid.
The voices of the advocates of restructuring may be loud but the main problem with them is that their arguments often lack historical and empirical support. And they divert attention away from the real cause of our national problem – elite’s ineptitude in governance, leadership and management.To this extent all arguments based on it such as the call for return to the pre1967 regional structure are unhelpful today. There are other debilitating factors that impede national unity and development to consider.
These include inappropriate ideology expressed in such statements as “the state has no business with doing business or economic activities”, the private sector is a better manager of the economy, and thus it should lead efforts in driving the economy forward, big companies do not go under, failure of public enterprises in Nigeria is enough reason to preclude the state from engaging in economic activities, ideology is dead with the collapse of the Soviet Union -meaning that values, morals, ethics, philosophy have no place in nation- building any longer in nation building. Yet others are corruption, misrule, poor governance etc. They reflect poor intellect and weak intellectual background, unhelpful mind set, poverty of knowledge, a narrow and negative attitude of the Nigerian governing and managing elites.
In spite of the many misconceptions about Nigeria, it is possible to provide the historical context of disunity and under-development of the country or how they were deepened and entrenched in it. They are largely traceable to the ideas and actions of Nigerian elite especially after independence. However, many Nigerians without much thought on the subject have readily blamed the cultural diversity of the country for her disunity and point to the amalgamation of 1914 as the cause. Yet as elaborated below, the country once acted in unity and in concert for national development. Against the early high spirits of patriotism and nationalism and dedication which attended the struggle for freedom leading to the attainment of independence in 1960, it can be truly said that Nigeria has been moving backward instead of forward in terms of national unity and development.
There had been other false claims too that needs to be corrected in the national interest. For instance many people without much critical evaluation, had jumped to the conclusion that a politician such as Chief Obafemi Awolowo introduced tribalism or ethnicity to Nigeria thereby laying the basis of disunity and attendant poverty. According to them it happened when as a result of some behind the scene moves by the Action Group led by Awo, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe could not form a regional government in the west in the1950s when his party- the NCNC obviously won more seats than the AG. While these assertions are mere fables- not original to those who say them today, they have not added much value to the cause of national unity and development.
Unconsciously such people are not original because they merely express the views of the earliest leaders on Nigeria and critics of Awo. And they peddle falsehood and blame the wrong quarters for introducing ethnic politics in Nigeria. For reasons I intend to advance it was time to change the narrative to reflect historical reality of the time. Basically as shall be elaborated below, the British encouraged tribalism in Nigerian politics through the Richards’ constitution.
Before that constitution, tribalism was there though not used as strong weapon of securing political advantage. For example, Awo, Bello, and some British administrative elite saw cultural diversity as a problem and obstacles to nation building, derided the 1914 amalgamation for ‘bringing strange bed fellows” together.The leaders projected their view in books, political thoughts and actions to their numerous supporters across the country. Though many members of the NCNC- Zik’s political party accused Awo of tribal politics, yet they knew better how the resort to tribal sentiment, religious beliefs began to gain currency in Nigerian politics. And that was after the introduction of party politics and Regional government structure in keeping with the provisions of the Richards’ constitution.
For the avoidance of doubt, it should be stressed that cultural diversity is not the cause of disunity and Awolowo did not introduce tribal politics to the country. Both are parts of the falsehoods that stalled efforts in national unity and development of the country. Both can be said to helpless parts of the political evolution of the country. For a fact, there are grounds to attribute the rise of real tribal politics in Nigeria to 1947 when the Richards constitution took effect. The Richards Constitution fertilized the tribal and religious flowers that were hither to dormant in the country into highly very dangerous monsters that would ensure her disunity an under-development till date.
There examples to show that Awo was not the arch-tribalist some would have us believe. A good example here to recall is the crisis of the Nigerian Youth Movement much earlier in the 1930s in which Zik – an Ibo politician supported a Yoruba contestant Akinsanya, while Awo and other Yorubas lined behind the non -Yoruba candidate- Ikoli . The episode reminds us of a country that was ideally beautiful and in which affinity to tribe was low or weak. At that time even though there were many tribal or ethnic groups as they are today, yet many leaders made their decisions based on noble ideology and principles in the overall national interest.
But all this changed with the advent of the Richards constitution with all its political promises and outlook. It calls for new approach based on strategic thinking on how to win political power at the regional level. This was the challenge before Awo, Bello and Zik following the offerings by the the Richards Constitution. In a word some political developments associated with the new constitution and response to them gave rise to unhealthy competition for power, jealousy and personal ambitious for same that made the pursuit of genuine national unity and development nearly impossible in the country ever after.
The attendant insatiable desire for power, passion, jealousy, selfish ambition and unwisdom of the political elite introduced tribalism to party politics, created and deepened disunity and stalled national development. As the Bible tells us ” where jealousy and personal ambition exist, there will be disorder and very vile practice (James3:16-4:3). Nigerian spirits of patriotism, nationalism, unity and common action for national development suffered severe set back and turned back the hands of the clock for national unity and development. This was not the work of one man.

(To be continued)

Dr. Abhuere, FNIM is the founder of Centre for Child Care and Youth Development, Abuja

Author: News Editor

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