Opinion: Pains in My Heart: Intellectual Obstacles to Nation Building in Nigeria (2); By Dr. John Abhuere


Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo’s intervention is appeal to our collective sense of patriotism, nationalism and moral sense. It is a condemnation of our collective failure especially in leadership, management and governance with roots in poor ideas, unhelpful values and low intellect. The society or Nigeria of his dream though still very far-fetched yet it is realizable if due steps are taken to tackle the human weakness that had held the country down for so long a time now. One of the steps needed to be taken today is the strengthening of the intellectual base of nation-building. Yet in analyzing the Nigerian situation, the human failings arising from their weak intellectual foundation and wrong political orientation are often glossed over to the detriment of the country. Here there has been misfocus, misperception and wrong choice of ideas or their misapplication, poor diagnosis of ailments and ineffective treatment of the nation’s ailment.

In this tradition of poor diagnosis, many factors have been offered for the poverty and disunity in the country. They range from cultural diversity allegedly traceable to the amalgamation of 1914, structural defects, corruption, to poor leadership, etc. Also there had been many falsehoods preached. The situation calls for caution in order not to mix the deadly with the curative. Each of the causative factors may have its harm but they do not carry equal weight.

In all the ineptitude of the governing and managing elite in leadership, management and governance has been the major cause. Here, the wrong ideas and actions, selfish interest and greed of the governing and managing elite, their  mental fuzziness, knack for blaming the wrong quarters or looking at the wrong direction for solution had constituted the greatest  hurdle to the promotion of national unity and development of the country. Their dismal failure makes this exercise necessary. They failed to rise to the challenge of nation building and to do the needful for national unity and development in Nigeria over time.

A close look at the problem of national unity and development in Nigeria reveals much conceptual difficulty that seems to make nation building a much more difficult task in the country. Generally, nation building efforts have been ridden with poor understanding of the meaning of nation building, wrong philosophy of life, bad or unhelpful ideas and values, negative value orientation which tends to retard progress. All these we have decided to call the intellectual obstacles to national unity because they tend to blur the focus of the Nigerian elite, and also because they emanate from human intellect or reasoning faculty.

In the final analysis, the quality of development of any society is a reflection of the quality of the ruling elite defined in terms of vision, attitude and actions of its ruling/managing elite. This is so because as already observed, every society has its  rulers and managers we call here the elite that make and execute decisions  for the welfare or otherwise of the members of the community. Inevitably, their values, vision, attitude, beliefs, approaches, moral and ethical conducts, and discipline, abilities in leadership, management and governance, etc. define the fate of the society and the well being of its members. That is why we blame them for the poverty, disunity and under-development of the country.  Against this background, the first observation is the abandonment of the goal of independence by the Nigerian elites as a result of their perverse values and mental fuzziness.


Elementary management teaches that the genuine pursuit of set objectives and diligent commitment to them by all concerned is the first law or requirement for success. Independence was pursued by the nationalists with some goals and objective. Moved by self interest, they seem to have forgotten the dreams of the nationalists in struggling for independence which was won in 1960. According to Chief Anthony Enahoro one of those jailed for his anti-colonial activities during the struggle for independence, the main goal of independence was to promote national  unity and development understood here as modernization, enjoy freedom and democracy and enhance the welfare of the citizens. The second National Development Plan reflected these when it set national goal to achieve a: 1.”United, strong and self-reliant nation, 2. A great and dynamic economy 3. A land of great and full opportunities for all citizens and a great and democratic society”.
How far and how well did we go with the set goals? It is needless to say that not much was achieved. In the absence of sound national philosophy and ideology and capable hands, it has been easy to observe a mis- focus or the abandonment of the goal and dreams of independence by the governing and managing elite after its attainment in 1960. For selfish political reasons they harp on cultural diversity as a curse rather than a blessing and reason for their failure. But they are quick to agree on doing corruption or to reach  what Gbadegesin calls a ‘consensus to rape the economy for their own benefit” and  to the gloom and unhappiness of majority citizens (The Nation 24-8-2018- A Nation’s Abyss). They are driven by unhelpful form of  “individualism and greed” which the author observed “cuts across ethnicities and nationalities” and religious groups. Generally, the efforts and dividends here have been quite unimpressive and disappointing. While this exercise is a wakeup call on the elite to rise to the challenge of nation building- the promotion of national unity and development  for the well-being and happiness of majority citizens, they have been handicapped by their wrong ideas and philosophy of development, immorality in public life and poor value orientation and negative  attitude to national unity and development. This is a serious setback because  as hinted above, every development on earth starts from  the imagination and ideas and actions   of man. His perception of things, approach and actions  shape ideas into reality including the unity and development of countries. Herein lies the relevance  of  concepts such as nation building,  philosophy, ideas, ideology, morality etc. which though critical to nation- building, yet are not given due attention by the Nigerian elite in Nigeria.


Perhaps the most inhibiting factor against national unity and development in Nigeria is conceptual difficulty. This presents itself in many ways including wrong policy initiatives, unnecessary arguments, blaming  the wrong quarters for national problems to mention a few example.  Truly poor understanding could lead to wrong action and waste of time and other resources of development. This is a universal observation. For instance, elite’s poor or wrong perception of the role of the state has been serious limitations to our national development efforts in  Nigeria. Thanks to their misperception, the state has been a grossly under-used tool for the promotion of national  unity and development today in Nigeria.

Thus it is always advisable to seek conceptual clarification of some relevant terms in development. According to experts, clarity of purpose is a critical success factor in development efforts. This is so  because wrong definition  of problems could prove very costly. It is for this reason that Writers such as Professor Charles Elliot have harped on the importance of proper definition of concepts and problems in  the pursuit of national development  in order to simplify things and make all parties to  be on the same page for the execution of common task in nation building. According to them, wrong definition and poor perception could lead to wrong answer and unsatisfactory results.
Against this background, it is sad to observe that Nigerian elites display a total disregard for proper definition, diagnosis and analysis of national problems. They show a disdain for national interest. Apart from personal interest that drives the actions of the Nigerian elite, improper definition of terms and goal has been largely responsible for the failure of development efforts in the country.  Related here is their poor value orientation unfortunately laid by the founding father with their emphasis on regionalism.

Experts have drawn attention to the influence of the values and beliefs of the elites on policy making and programmes implementation. According to this school of thought,  the way a man sees, understands and defines  a problem and his underlying values and beliefs largely informs the kind  of solution he proffers for it. Nigerian Elites are known more for profane values and wrong beliefs driven by tribalism and self-interest. While this may explain the tendency of the Nigerian elite to mistaken effect for cause or make the wrong steps towards national unity and development, a related reason for conceptual clarification here is Nigerian elite’s seeming poverty of knowledge especially of nation- building values.

As discussed earlier, Nigerian elite hold a very narrow view of nation building. They see it as  a task for self-aggrandizement only and not for the collective development of the whole. Thus  a great part of the problem of  Nigeria is  with the  narrow view of nation building by  its elite  over the years. This itself is a reflection of the poor definition discussed earlier. As  already hinted,  “nation-building is concerned with constructing or structuring  a national identity using the power of the state” (Wikipedia).

While this has not been properly done in Nigeria, we learn further that its aim is the  “unification of the people within the state so that it remains politically stable and viable in the long run”. In modern times,  it is associated more with “democracy or majority rule”. The author noted that nation building is “narrower than  what Paul James calls nation formation”- the broad process through which nations come into being”. The last sentence is important  to be stressed for the Nigerian elite to take note of for a number of reasons not the least are being the need to correct the mistaken tendency of  collapsing  the two – nation formation and nation building into one or confusing one for the other.

While there is time to conceive and give birth and another to nurture the baby to maturity the Nigerian governing and managing elite appear to be oblivious of that dichotomy. Rather, they have demonstrated a narrow view of nation- formation and tendency to believe that nation formation  can only come about through social contract. This is wrong and it may explain their tendency to blame the wrong quarters for our national problems. As I have explained elsewhere, there are many ways through which nations were formed and these include military conquest, social contract, geographical conditioning,  the presence and actions of charismatic leadership etc.

The tendency of the Nigerian elites to believe and behave as though  nation formation is  only a product of social contract has not only been unhelpful, but also  misleading. Largely  it has been the basis of the  wrong attacks on the  country. In other words, the process of becoming  a nation state has largely  been the theoretical basis of most of the criticisms of  the country since before independence. According to critics, the amalgamation of 1914  in their view was bad because it brought people of diverse cultures together to form one country.

But we know that Nigeria is not the only country with such multi- cultural setting. And other countries in similar situation had done far better than Nigeria -for instance Singapore. The difference is  in the ability of the ruling and governing elite especially in leadership, management and governance of  the respective country. Perhaps, what is  more important to stress here is that no matter how a nation came into being, it has to be nurtured  after birth to full growth and maturity in unity for continuous development. And those to do that growing and nurturing task are leaders and managers usually drawn from the elite group.

Unfortunately in Nigeria, the elites have focused more on nation formation than nation building. Their preoccupation with the process of formation rather than with the task of nation building has been diversionary and thus unhelpful  to the promotion of national unity and development. The negative effect of barren or poor philosophy of development and wrong value orientation  has been spotted here.


Generally, philosophies, ideas, creativity, morality, ideology, value- orientation of the ruling elites  are important and relevant to the development  efforts of nations. But in Nigeria these have been observed to be on the negative side or to be wrongly projected or poorly observed by the elites. Philosophy has been defined as “the study of the nature and meaning of the universe and human life “. It has also been defined as “particular set or system of beliefs resulting from a search for knowledge about life and the universe’… 

Unfortunately, there has been acute poverty of knowledge of philosophy and understanding of Nigeria and its problem by the elite.  This may explains the poor quality of development and unity of the country today. As a “set of beliefs or attitude to life that guides somebody’s behavior’, a nation state needs an appropriate philosophical compass to navigate its way to the top level of unity and development and to remain there in peace and harmony. And such philosophy of national life is often fashioned, constructed, laid and directed by the governing/ managing elite. Generally, Nigerian elites have been observed to display a poor knowledge of the country and lack a good philosophical  compass for the country.

Idea can simply be understood as “a plan, thought or suggestion especially about what to do at a particular time, a picture or impression of your mind of what something is about”…For us, while ideas are the foundational granites for development, wrong ones have dominated and driven development efforts to a dismal point in Nigeria. This has been especially so since the 1980s when the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP ) was introduced to the country by the military elite. While planning as an important exercise in nation building can be said to have stopped in Nigeria since the1980s in the belief that the soulless market can take better care of such issues than rational action of men. Generally bad and uncreative ideas made more so by tribalism, nepotism, and selfish interest of the ruling and governing elite have constituted serious setback to the unity and development of the country.

Perhaps the easily most unifying bond of a given group is Ideology which is seen here as “a set of ideas  on which economic or political system is based”. It is also seen as ” a set of beliefs held by a group that influence the way they think and behave”. Against the backdrop of the last sentence, a truism about Nigeria has been the failure by the founding fathers to promote an appropriate strong national ideology to help in driving national unity and development to enviable height after independence. The country lacks an easily identifiable noble national ideology- a set of positive beliefs that influence the way majority citizens ‘think and behave’. The poison of disunity inherent in the 1946/7 Richards’ constitution contributed largely to halting such development. We have used the word ‘noble’ to qualify national ideology here because of the tendency of some people to link the country to the ignoble acts of corruption which they say is the national ideology of the country.

Rather  than a  national ideology  informed by patriotism, the elite in accordance  with the spirits of that Richards constitution, promoted regionalism, ethnicity and the misuse of religion as standard way of life at the expense of patriotism and nationalism. Following the collapse of the USSR in the 1990s, the Nigerian elite can be said to lacked due appreciation and understanding of what ideology is all about as they have been quick to chorus today the false idea of the death and end of ideology – all because of the collapse of the Soviet Union towards the end of the 20th century.  For this and other reasons, they abandoned  a reliable string of unity and  source of collective creative thinking as a way of life and of solving problems.
Morality is about what is right or wrong- where what is right is said to  be moral, and that which is wrong is said to be immoral.

While moral principles are generally believed to be the basis  of  governance of decent  societies,  unfortunately Nigeria has been known  to be a morally bankrupt country over time especially since after independence. The elite’s moral sense of responsibility has been observed to be low. The high pyramids of corruption and related profanity speak volumes here. As Professor Gbadegesin has observed Nigeria is a country in deep “moral abyss” today. Given the high mountains of corruption and injustice in the country, it should be clear why it has been so difficult to forge national unity and development in Nigeria. The governing and managing elite had paid only scant regard to the moral decay problem. Yet the morality issue is a very important ingredient of nation building across the globe- the challenge of subjectivity notwithstanding.

A serious curse in Nigeria is corruption which has been defined simply as “a dishonest way’’ of doing something for personal gains or  “fraudulent conduct  by  those  in power …typically involving bribery- “dishonest dealings”. Or “criminal activity undertaken by a person or organization entrusted with a position of authority…to acquire illicit benefits ‘ (Wikipedia  deceit). It is also about “deceiving someone by concealing or misrepresenting the truth”. As the same source notes “political corruption  has  been “a persistent phenomenon” in Nigeria largely due to “oil and gas” business and greed for political power and illicit wealth.  According to media reports , ‘Africa….loses over $50bn annually to corruption (www.thisdaylive.com).Indeed several Trillions of Naira  have  been reportedly lost to corruption in Nigeria thereby making the pursuit of national development  and unity extremely difficult. While every administration has denounced corruption, it has nonetheless remained thick with the country. The problem is that the battle against corruption has been corruptly waged such that political associates, friends etc. are protected from the law. Generally, the consequence management system has been weak-so weak that it allows the corrupt to go unpunished. In a word there is no justice and fair play or sincerity of purpose in the effort to check corruption in the country. Apart from aiding corruption, injustice does not allow unity and development to thrive in any society. There are allegations of selective approach where those connected to the power are spared of investigation and prosecution even if they are heavily suspected wrong doing in office.

Often ignored in the development circle of Nigeria but very important to nation building is the issue of value especially the place of individual value in policy making. Value has been defined as the “worth of something”,  “usefulness of an item” or that thing that would make you prefer one stuff to the other. “It is also about belief …about what is right or wrong and what is important in life”. While values play important role in the allocation of resources or in the decisions of men there are reasons to argue “that in Nigeria the ruling/ managing elite attach low value- premium to national unity and development” (Abhuere 2015). They display a preference of the tribe and region to the nation- state and show great aversion to the wealth, welfare and happiness of all citizens. They only do development programmes to favour themselves and their close associates.

The country has been known to be heavily weighed  down by serious moral crisis, value- conflicts and poor value orientation. For instance there is conflict between  the values of tribalism and nationalism, national interest and regional and individual  interest to mention a few. As it is well known, Nigerian elite live in a ‘web of deceit’ of fellow citizens and driven largely by profane values. This is a bad phenomenon especially so because it discourages the unity and development of the country. The truth of life is that you do not wallow in ignorance and deceit, yet expect to get things right, or  win  people’s trust. Or you do not do things wrongly or badly and expect good results, or correct outcomes unless by chance. The problem of Nigeria is that her elite have done so much damage to the cause of unity and development of the country over the ages that it has become such a difficult task to fix.

To be continued

Dr. Abhuere is Founder, Director, Centre for Childcare and Youth Development, Abuja.

Author: News Editor

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