Essay: Pains in My Heart: The Uninspiring Role of the Nigerian Elite in Nation-building (1960-2018); By John Abhuere (Part 111)

Ever since 1947 when the Richards Constitution came into effect, Nigeria can be described as a country which has been moving backward instead of forward. This is so in many respects especially in terms of unity of purpose, patriotism and nationalism. For many reasons bordering on self interest of political elite, there has been progressive, rapid decline of the huge national sentiment which gave rise to the nationalist movement early in the life of the country. According to Lincoln national sentiment is important because it was all a country really needs to remain united, developed and great.But in Nigeria, it was diverted midway to independence from the real cause of national unity and development for sub national interest.
It is important to note that even though the country is in a dire state of disunity, under- developments and near point of disarray , yet she really took off from optimistic position of the strength of unity of purpose, high hope of success and promise of a great future. At least it was the faith in the strength and power of unity and unified action, and the strong desire for progress,- development that that first motivated and brought men and women of diverse backgrounds into one struggle against British imperialism in Nigeria.
Indeed, in more ways than one, Nigeria can well be described as a product of the perceived power or strength of unity, benefits of love of freedom and strong desire for meaningful development of the country for the enjoyment and happiness of citizens. Today not many citizens of Nigeria seem to appreciate the fact that both their country and the nationalist movement sprang from the bowel and springs of unity, faith in its strength to work magics for the success of goal and the collective strong desire for meaningful development. In a word, everything done by the nationalist/ fighters for freedom before 1947 was done with national unity and development in mind
This is important in trying to understand the castigation of cultural diversity of the country as cause of disunity. Things began to turn wry due to the elevation of personal interest above the nation’s by the political elites and their huge failures especially in leadership, management and governance. Thus we began to observe the country steadily descending with the march of time from its Olympian height unity to its present low ebb in the deep valley of pessimism of disunity. Nigeria was seen to be rapidly deviating from the course of unity of purpose in the pursuit of freedom to disunity of action in nation building.
Things started off for the country on a sound note of unity, but due to a number of factors including the poison of the Richards constitution, Nigeria degenerated to its present ugly and terrifying position of disunity, poverty and under development. Both the British and Nigerian elite appreciate the strength of unity and fell to its spell. For example, the amalgamation of the British territories around the Niger was reportedly done to reap from the benefits of the strength of Unity of action.
As Tamuno (2011p4) has shown in his book -Oil Wars in the Niger Delta, 1914 was in fact the “culmination of the British amalgamation efforts started in1898. It was a follow-up to Lord Selborne’s Committee recommendation for the “partial amalgamation of the Niger Territories” in order to enhance the revenue from commerce especially palm oil trade and so reduce the burden of imperial Treasury in running those areas”. It was a great exercise or effort in unity or faith in it.
According to the author, the first stage of the merger took place in 1906 with the amalgamation of “the Lagos Colony and Protectorate with the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria”. And the second came with the 1914 merger of the enlarged Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria with the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria. In all these, the success of the British laid in the skills, and knowledge of the British colonial elite in administration, resource management, faithful commitment to colonial vision and mission and prowess in military duties aided by superior technology in weaponry.
While the qualities such as skills in leadership, management, governance, patriotic commitment to a cause etc that account for success of the British elite in Nigeria are not applied by the their Nigerian elite, it should be observed that the nationalist movement in the country was organized on the platform of unity for freedom, democracy and meaningful development for all in a free and independent nation- state.
Also the Nigerian Youth Movement- the first attempt by Nigerians to seriously come together as one , the first major political party- the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon( NCNC) were erected with the spirit of unity and driven on the platform of national unity and development.
On their part the Nigerian elite under colonial administration organized themselves in unity to kick colonial rule out of Nigeria. In fact, the nationalist movement was intellectually driven by higher ideals of patriotism, nationalism and great zeal for freedom, independence, democracy and better system of governance. Here the pre-independence political elite rose above their sub cultural levels to fight for independence not for their tribes or ethnic groups but for all Nigerians. As both chief Anthony Enahoro and Alhaji Maitama Sule had revealed, today’s emphasis on one’s tribe, ethnicity, region was strange to the Nigerians of the pre-1947 era. The fighters for independence simply saw themselves as Nigerians in a struggle for freedom in a fight against colonialism on behalf of all tribal/ethnic/ religious groups of Nigeria.
However, all these were before 1947 when the country had not been poisoned with regionalism by the British through the Richards’ Constitution. It would be recalled that the Richard constitution drawn in 1946 but became effective on 1st January 1947. It replaced the Clifford Constitution of 1922. Essentially it was reportedly initiated equally to promote the unity of the country and accelerate her development. But surprisingly, it went to produce the opposite -disunity by reawakening the tribal sentiments that were then heavily weakened by the burning flames of nationalism and intense patriotic zeal for independence.
Against the foregoing, it shall therefore remain one of the ironies of history that a people who started off the nationalist movement on the platform of unity and driven by a common aspiration and commitment to a common goal of attaining freedom/independence and development for all the ethnic groups of the country should end up in sharp divisions and disunity that does not promote concerted action in nation building.This ought not be the case but the offerings of the Richards’ constitution especially regionalism, the greed of the elite for political power and economic wealth, and their gross incompetence in leadership, management and governance allowed the ugly,depressing and disappointing situation.
The birth of regional political parties truly sowed the seed of discord and perpetual state of disunity in. Nigeria. It is part of the effects of what we have decided to call the poison of 1947. As indicated earlier, following the political reward system of the Richard’s constitution, the spirit of patriotism and flames of nationalism began to wane and to dim. Sentimental attachment to the nation state weakened and rapidly began to dry up. The divisive feature of that constitution was its provision for the formation of political parties as basis of forming future governments. Bad politics has been the foundation of disunity of the country till date.
The political parties that emerged took a tribal posture. The constitution seemed to have made the Nigerian elites to remember their ethnic backgrounds, awoken them from tribal slumber to discover a new but dangerous and unhealthy use of tribalism and other related primitive narrow and negative values such as regionalism, religiousness as weapons of political wars and advancements.
In addition to the provision for the formation of political parties, the Richards Constitution created three regions namely-eastern, western, and northern region. It broke the Southern Nigeria to create Eastern Region with headquarters in Enugu, Western Region with Ibadan as seat of regional government and left the whole of Northern Nigeria as one Region with Kaduna as capital city. It created the political environment for the resurrection and thriving, flourishing and elevation of tribalism as a weapon of political support and sabotage in Nigeria.
This is so because in effect, it created regions for each of the three big tribes to dominate. It was therefore not surprising that the political parties formed assumed ethnic and regional posture and vision of development and unity. Each of the regions had a major tribal/ ethnic group which gave birth to inter-ethnic and inter regional rivalry. Thus unwittingly, the constitution provided grounds for the majority tribes in each of the regions to dominate others. It was a very crude development with largely negative effects on the unity and development of the country.
As already observed, the political parties that emerged after the Richards constitution assumed regional posture. Even the hither-to national party -the NCNC but now driven by the new waves of heightened tribalism engineered and inflamed by the poison of the Richards constitution was reduced to a regional party. The Action Group was seen as a Yoruba party to win power in the western region. The Northern People’s Party was a Fulani-Hausa party for winning power in the Northern Region. And the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon a national party but with huge Igbo membership was adopted by the Eastern Region as its own political party.
The poison of 1947 which reawakened the tribal feeling of Nigerians is thus a critical causal factor of disunity and retardation of national feeling. As Fukuyama (2012) has observed, tribalism has been a strong element in the politics of nations from times immemorial and has always been in serious contention with nationalism for attention. As the author noted, tribalism is natural to man and thus it has been usual for men to slip from the level of the nation state to the tribal community especially in the face of adversity. Thus good governance including Justice and fair play by the governing and managing elite was the greatest check of tribalism in a multinational setting. Good governance has been very difficult to come by in Nigeria.
In practice, Nigeria became a country of three countries with each having its vision and ideology of development. Henceforth, the joint pursuit of national unity and development with zeal and commitment began to suffer much great set- back. For same reason, there was no great commitment to nation building by the ruling and managing elite after independence. They made no much effort to promote maximum citizenry participation in the development efforts in a way that enhances great faith and deepens strong belief in the country and fosters collective ownership of the estate.
Unhealthy and bitter tribal competition stood heavily in the way of national unity and development. However this was not because of diversity of culture but because of the greed for political power by the elites. At least each of them repudiated nationalism and embraced regionalism and ethnicity and set a vision for regional unity and development. In the regions, competence, ability, knowledge etc were rejected at the altar of tribalism as basis of selecting or recruiting staff. The idea of getting the best hands say from outside the regional boundaries was resisted and where at all such people must remain perpetual casual workers.
Of course each of the major tribes laid messiah-like entitlement to the leadership of their region of origin on ethnic basis. This ensured the exclusion of minority groups from power. Some of the leaders did not want to leave his region for the centre, all laid their right to leadership of a region on tribal/ ethnic grounds. Thus for personal interest either driven by greed for wealth or consideration for political power, the spirit of patriotism and flames of nationalism which led to the formation of the nationalist movement for independence began to sag and to dim in the wake of the Richards Constitution. It was not the right foundation for national unity and development.We may never know whether the British was sincere in its 1946/7 action but we do know some of its consequences including divisions along ethnic and religious lines. For us this was the real beginning of tribal politics in Nigeria and the perpetual disunity of the country even today. This is important point to note because part of the falsehood of the country is that one man -precisely Chief Awolowo introduced tribalism to Nigerian politics. No please.
As can be deduced from our discussion so far, Awo, Zik, Bello were only mere realistic respondents to the political developments of their time as was then being unfolded by the Richards constitution. Rather than being a cause, tribal politics was itself an effect or outcome of the Richards constitution- a realistic move even if for selfish reasons to win votes for political power at regional levels.
The three regional structure created by that constitution was a highly lopsided structure in favor of one region – the northern region which was bigger than the other two regions combined and was so criticized from the beginning. Mentally and indeed physically, the constitution shared political powers, land space to the three major ethnic/ tribal groups- namely the Fulani/ Hausa, the Yoruba and Igbos. Each of these groups held an entitlement mentality or claims to the leadership of the regions. Unwittingly, the Richards Constitution created three countries under one label – Nigeria.
Expectedly the regional was criticized for lopsidedness, and oppression of the minority groups. While one region was bigger than the other two combined and each of the regions enveloped many minority ethnic groups which cried for freedom and liberation from internal colonialism by the dominant big tribes, it was not until 1967 that the regional structure was broken into smaller units known as states which is what we have today- having grown from 12- 36 states to address inherent injustices in the system.The introduction of the state structure was therefore good. At least it doused the fear of minority ethnic groups, ensured or encouraged the dispersal of development efforts from four regional capitals to twelve and lately to thirty -six or more centers.
This made the call today for the return of the once discarded regional structure highly suspicious. Many of the advocates here would agree with Alhaji Femi Okunnu SAN, Elder statesman that if we want to survive as a country we have to restructure go back to the 1963 Constitution” and check corruption by punishing the guilty( Nigeria has not acquitted itself well The Nation October 1 2018p10). To Humphrey Ojiako(2016) that constitution was the road abandoned and so should be returned to.
However, for us, the 1963 constitution is part of the problem of the country because it did not lay the basis for nationalism and patriotism or national sentiment. Like others before it, it was satisfied with projects regional vision and values. In any case if it were that good, why did it crash to the bullets of the military in 1966 which accused rulers of corruption, nepotism mis -governance etc? Poor leadership, mismanagement and bad governance ensured its death.
Largely due to incompetence, corruption and undue intervention by state’s government, the Local governments had not been able to become the development hubs they were envisioned to be under the new state structure. In all the question of revenue generation and sharing has remained a nagging problem. It is important to mention this as a way of showing the inability of the ruling elites to solve problems. Precisely they have not demonstrated the creative ability , productive ideas, appropriate skill, knowledge and understanding necessary to overcoming it. Consequently it has remained a great source of discontent in the country till date.
The British might have been the evil serpent that tempted or misled Adam and Evenof Nigeria In a way this is what the Richards constitution could be said to be in effect. But the Nigerian political elites have their own blame and that is their inability to resist the temptation of tribalism in politics and to project a national image. Rather than evolve policies that could tame or blunt the sharp edges of tribalism or make a resort to it unnecessary, they promoted it as a way of political life in Nigeria.
Ever since things have never been well with patriotism, nationalism, national unity and development in Nigeria. Their unclean and unholy methods, styles, values, political orientations have dominated the scene and directed the way things should go in Nigeria till date. Had they been more national in outlook and more caring about the whole country than their regions, the country would have been far better off in terms of unity and development. But thanks to the strong influence of the early political leaders many Nigerians till date do not think or act national. Rather they have been ethnic and regional in both thoughts and actions
In retrospect before the poison of 1946/7 was injected into the system, Nigerian elites were once honorable, patriotic, nationalistic and they basked and waxed in unity propelled by nationalism and patriotism before politics of regionalism, tribalism, religion, hatred and bitterness emerged on the development scene. Though today the stench of decay of Nigeria seems to ooze from all corners, the country was once beautiful. As the well known writer Achebe has noted there was once a country where love, peace and trust reigned, where tribalism and religious differences though in existence played second fiddle in the affairs of the country. The decay of today is a reflection of human weakness over time in Nigeria. But with hard work the stinky trend can be reversed say through self healing and correction.
Essentially, the greed of men for political power and economic wealth which was fueled and deepened by the poison of the 1946/7 Richards constitution changed the course of history from good to bad. This was through the derailment of the Nigerian political elite from the path of honor, patriotism, nationalism, national unity and development to the narrow one of regionalism and tribalism and religious antagonism. Henceforth, national interest became subordinated to personal interest of the governing and managing elite. Other constitutions made before 1966 including the 1963’s followed the bad example of the Richard’s constitution of promoting regionalism with its hermetic ways and tribal and religious biases.
The trouble today is that the entrenched negative trend sowed since the advent of the Richards constitution has been difficult to change till date. Largely due to the mental laziness and insincere actions of the Nigerian governing and managing elites, most Nigerians who were once united became alienated, frustrated, disunited, disappointed with the march of independence. The sad and disappointing developments including injustice, insecurity created a strong group feeling of alienation and insecurity, or strong desire in some people for separation from the Union or a wish to go their different ways.
In the face of some recent argument for restructuring based on the process of becoming a nation state, it might be helpful to remark here that the desires for separate existence had been expressed across the country as a result of poor governance and not because such people were brought together by the British in 1914. In a word, resentment and desire to leave the Union by some groups grew out of series of elite’s failures and disappointments in governance. The many acts of disappointment by the elite as exemplified by poverty, under- development, injustice, insecurity of life and property of some citizens, oppression and domination of fellow citizens, marginalization, neglect and poor dividends of governance, management and leadership especially since independence in 1960 led to heightened agitation for freedom, better deal and outright calls for separation from the union.
A great part of the problem today in analyzing the Nigerian situation has been the tendency to ignore the human failings in governance and instead focus on structures. More often than not, we tend to forget or simply ignore this point of human weakness and elite failure in leadership, management and governance in our discussions of the country’s fortunes over the years. And without much historical and empirical evidence, we conveniently blame the wrong quarters for the country ‘s hard times – say on the 1914 amalgamation after over a hundred years of coexistence. Or simply heap blames on so called poor structure in spite of many reforms over the years or cultural diversity- even as experts tell us that the latter is in fact a gold mine of sort- a reliable source of wealth through tourism.
However, this has been wrong -headed especially as it diverts attention away from the real culprits- “the harmful worms within the kola”. Unwittingly perhaps, we have paid little or no attention to the cause of most of the nation’s ailments- the huge elite’s failures in leadership, management and governance which had kept the nation down and poor and disunited perpetually since independence. We forget or simply ignore the fact that It is men’s ideas and actions that build and make societies great or otherwise. Here in terms of ability, performance and contributions to nation building, we have had more Lilliputians than giants in philosophy of development, visioning, leadership, management and governance in Nigeria over time.

(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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