By Chief Olabode Ibiyinka George
Your Excellencies, Distinguished guests, for the purpose of this very significant interchange of ideas and plural contributions, I am resolved on the scholar’s approach.
I will interrogate, dissect and challenge this theme with convictions that may appear to some as biting, provocative mordant and even scathing.
I will offer no apologies about this approach. For I am not here to cuddle, to lubricate, to eclipse the truth and pretend everything is alright. That would be deceitful and unfair to all of us.
My intervention then on the theme: Nigeria: Foundation, Fundamentals and the Future is to lay it bare not only as I perceive it, but anchor my position simply on the unfailing corroboration of history, both oral and verifiable documentation.
Let me hasten to affirm and assert that Nigeria was not, is not and has never been a nation. This basic reality must first be amplified before we proceed anywhere. For without articulating this very construct, without first acknowledging this essential reality, we will only be circling in aimless, unfruitful exercise.
Before the various intrusions of foreign powers- namely the Portuguese around early 15th century and later the British in the 17th century upon the land mass which was later named as Nigeria, there were and there are still well over 500 different, disparate people who preserved their distinct ways of lives in their different corners of this landmass.
From the Abayon of Cross River to the Abua of Rivers, the Affade of Yobe, the Auyoka of Jigawa, the Babur of Adamawa, the Akweya of Benue, the Bini of Edo, the Bunu of Kogi, the Bakuby of Taraba, the Afizere of Plateau, the Ayu of Kaduna, the Bambora of Bauchi, the Baruba of Niger, the Buduma of Borno, the Yoruba that straddle the South-West, the Igbo of the South-East, the Hausa -Fulani that stretch everywhere across the North-West, North-East and even the North-Central and so many others too numerous to mention but nevertheless still important in the ultimate Nigerian composition- this landmass was a wonderful rainbow of diversity, of cultural pluralities, of variegated origins, of beautiful but varied traditional identifications and rooted ancestral localities well planted thousands of years before the intruders came upon our shores.
It is this vast throng who inhabited a distinct and defined space from the eternal Savanah to the primeval deserts, the swampy mangroves, the depths of the forests, the mountain tops, and the city-states, the growing spread of kingdoms and all manners and forms of various entities, each structured upon peculiar norms and patterns that predated even the ancient kingdoms of old Britannia, Portugal and Spain.
Amid each entity were diverse modes of governance and societal framework. There were monarchies of the heartlands of the Yoruba nation that spread and deepened from Oyo -Ile in the west far into the outposts of Port Novo in the east, stretching into the GA region of Ghana, creating an enormous and incredible empire where the Alaafin reigned with the supremacy of the gods.
There were the Hausa and later the Fulani dominated fiefdoms held with the strict bonds of the native practices, the guidance of the Quran and the inventiveness of traditional determinations. These eventually were wiped out with the Usman dan Fodio’s Caliphate in 1809.
And the Igbo people, woven in republican individualism, steered themselves in the elaborate protocols of the Nri civilization, which was basically a mixed theocracy presided over by a Priest King called Eze Nri. It was a medieval kingdom that covered what is now south-eastern part of Nigeria. It emerged around 13th century and reached its terminus in 18th century.
Thus, the virgin space was an hodgepodge of provincial originality; a flourish of diverse rainbow of people who held tightly and proudly to their own cultures, maintaining their traditions, confined to their ancestral space with primal purity, with contentment, asserting their presence in their unique space on Mother Earth.
Of course, invariably, there were junctions of trade and commercial interactions; there were the necessary welding of entrepreneurial engagement which were often carried out in bartering of goods from cow hide to crafts, horses, gold, palm oil, copper, animal leathers, fabrics, agricultural produce and various objects of commercial interests.
And yet others reposed in rigid reserve, protective of their ancestral cordon, uninterested beyond the confines where nature had rooted their ancestors for thousands of years.
From the terracotta sculptures of the Nok culture of the sub-Sahara, the elegance and the beauty of the pots of the Nri Kingdom of Igboland, the radiant copper mask of Obalufon of the Yoruba empire and the wonderous largeness of the Bini Ivory mask – the Pre -Nigerian space was flowered in scholarship, in originality of craftmanship, in learned literature and organized, novel governance.
For instance, the Oyo empire had a parliament structured upon a rare democratic ingenuity of cabinet of equals; the Oyo-Mesi whose collective power could remove a king or banish any errant power.
And what is the predication of all these? Simple: we were and we are still different people spawned from different civilizations, borne upon a culture so diverse, so massive in gaping hugeness that it is impossible to subsume our individual identities.
We remain different nations, with different cultural disparities forced into a union of convenience and impossible parity of vision and destiny.
The British economic interest that created the artificial union of 1914 which Lord Harcourt pronounced as “a Catholic marriage between…the bachelor of the North and the lady of means of the South” is now being unraveled in its farcical and tragic totality.
The British Royal Niger Company which was the mandated vehicle used to create the Nigerian space was an undisguised mercantilist, mercenary commercial pivot whose sole purpose was to appropriate the resources of the artificial creation, indifferent to the development and the growth of the people of the virginal space.
Birthed in 1879, the constituents of the Royal Niger company came as conquerors, in gunboats, wielding bayonets, the Gatling gun, the Musketry, the Colt Revolver, the Puckle gun, the Matchlock, the Flintlock, the howling Canons and various weaponry of violence to enforce the will of the new colonial masters and to deliberately enhance divisions among the conquered natives.
The colonial overlords were masters of duplicitous contentions, instinctively pitting one group against the other, encouraging divisions, promoting suspicions, intrigues, sowing imbalance in the infant state.
Ab initio, the new country could never graduate into a nation even in the best of circumstances. The British knew it. All the constituents of the country knew it. Everyone merely rambled along in a show of largely symbolical theatricality. There were few believers in the new creation.
Whereas Sir George Taubman Goldie ceded the control of the Royal Niger Company to Britain on January 1st, 1900 for 865,000 pounds, creating the Northern and Southern Protectorates which in effect made Nigeria a captive vassal extension of the British empire, only six Nigerians out of the 28 signatories signed the articles of the forced creation. And they were Sir Kitoyi Ajasa, a renown lawyer, HRH, Maiturare, Sarkin Musulumi, the Sultan of Sokoto, , Usuman dan Maye who later became the Emir of Kano, HRH Oladigbolu, the Alaafin of Ọyọ, HRH R Henshaw, the Obong of Calabar and Abubakar Shehu of Borno. All the others were British.
Note that there were more northern signatories than southerners. Equally note that there is no Igbo signatories at all despite their powerful monarchies. The reality is that majority of the southern elites rejected the artificial entity. They fought against the 1914 amalgamation.
And at the Lugardian creation of 1914 and the eventual agitations for an independent sovereign nation which the inimitable Olayinka Herbert Samuel Heelas Macaulay shepherded, Azikiwe was 10 years old. Awolowo and Sardauna were both 5 years old, all too young to be at the barricades at that time. Macaulay who was then 50 years old and effectively the leader of the nationalist movement was naturally against the amalgamation and therefore couldn’t be a signatory to the Lugardian agenda.
Though the wranglings and the eventual consensus of the subsequent matured nationalists like the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo eventually succeeded in driving away the colonial overlords and graduated into the fruition of an independent state on October 1st, 1960 – it was still an anomalous entity stripped of the crucial ingredients that constitute a nation-state.
For a nation is not a mere conglomeration of a space and a people. It is more. A nation is about agreed destiny and collective vision; a nation is about shared values with well hewn cultivated ideals; the effortless summation of a common dream, of common truth, of common objectives, of agreed realities.
A nation is the spontaneous voiding of parochial limitations. It is the deliberate eclipsing of ethnic or sectarian articulations. It is to reside in a unifying universe where growth is measured by hardwork and merit, where human enhancement is predicated on demonstrated rallying virtues of leadership, of strength of character, of dedication to duty and repose in honour.
A nation is about equity, the fairness, doctrine, loyalty far beyond the pale of selfish recourse and of ethical balance in the affairs of the state.
It is about the accommodation and the embrace of knowledge, the promotion of plural contributions, the necessary engagement of alternative positions without the fear of retribution from the subsisting power.
A nation in genuine purity and sustenance is not about the narrow withdrawal into nepotistic fiefdom. It is not about ethnic or sectarian triumphalism. No. A nation is indeed a space and a people sworn to an eternal bond of common beginnings, defined by an agreed unifying journey, sustained by fundamental virtues of patriotic underpinnings that no differences can shred or shatter.
Of course, a nation is never a conclusive arrival. It is a continuous journey of re-evaluation of new truths, of overhauling and perhaps discarding some ingredients of early beginnings that are no longer relevant in modern realities. Thus, a nation never stops growing in contributory wisdom, in the enhancement of enlightenment and in the fine-tuning of its ideals and vision.
Pray, where do we now stand? Alas, we are wrapped in growing mutual suspicions and distrust. Extremist characters across the spatial divide are perpetrating the terrible seeds of discord, pitting groups against each other, provoking malicious venom everywhere.
We are drifting into a fissiparous hugeness. The widening of sectarian violence, the loose , callous banditry, the seeming ethnic cleansing, the ravaging of villages, the murderous goon-squad on the highways and the endless eruptions of the Boko-Haram asymmetry warfare are indeed pushing everyone, regardless of one’s ancestral space in this country, into paranoia, panic, fear and the grip of virtual uncertainties.
Surely, we cannot continue like this. We must re-assess and boldly confront what is wrong with the national architecture. We must work together to identify and rectify the variegated ills and the wrongs presently subsisting.
This naturally brings me to the future. But the future is largely about the present. It is a graduation from a discredited and skewed, imbalance structures of the moment to a consensual, redeeming possibilities.
It is generally agreed everywhere that the Nigerian federation is woven in gaping aberrations. It is a federation only in name. it is basically aggregated, composed, constituted in unitary, monolithic organ.
The center is too powerful, too suffused with too many responsibilities that must and should be delegated to the states.
In a true federation the constituent states are largely independent organs, self-governing, self-expressed in economic and territorial identities.
They define the pace of their development. They engage in inter-state economic cooperation. They have their state police. They have their city police. They have their community police. They have their county police. They even have policemen restricted to the University Campuses. And they have their state legislatures defined in various local identities
Take California on the Western rim of the continental United States. It is the Sixth largest economy in the world even if you remove it from the United States
The Californian economy is a burgeoning wonder of diversifications and creativity. Its agricultural fields are flourishing with Avocados, Grapes, Cabbage, Tomatoes, Lettuce and the endless fields of the sweet fruits of the wine country all of which are produced in incredible abundance both for local consumption and exports.
The Silicon Valley which is located in the Southern Bay of San Francisco in Northern California is a dream world of competitive talent and ingenuity where the emblems of creativity are constantly churning out innovative technological novelties that are mastered even in people’s backyards and garages and then exported across the world.
The California University conglomerate popularly called the University of California system which is made of individual campuses of ten distinct academic communities , has been described as the best public University system anywhere in the world. The system attracts the best and the brightest brains from all corners of the globe, indifferent to race, colour or creed.
Because of this singular distinction of scouting for talents wherever they may be, the University endowment and investments alone are worth more than $150 billion. That is far more than the Nigerian foreign reserve.
My point here is that the riches of California are consciously planted and grown by leaders with vision who use all spheres of human endeavors to make their state viable, livable, comfortable, extremely rich through hard-work and a vision that is not restricted by any narrow biases.
It is very instructive to note that collectively all the 10 campuses of the University of California from UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Merced, UC Riverside, UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and UC San Francisco – have 65 Nobel Laureates! Yes, 65 Nobel Laureates.
That is just one University system! Alas, Nigeria which is the most populous country in Africa has just one Nobel Laureate. You will agree with me that a great deal is wrong with this collectivity called a country.
We envy each other. We easily resort to suspicion, ethnic and sectarian bashing. We even resolve in some foolish sectional triumphalism, dragging down others with contempt.
We must change our ways. We must reproof the darkness of the past and the present, then situate ourselves upon a brighter tomorrow.
To move forward, to recreate a new Nigerian space, power must be devolved to the states. The center must be stripped of its overbearing, crushing responsibilities. Let the states look within their localities and define their paths, cultivating their resources to be self-reliant rather than waiting for monthly handouts from the center. To be sure, we are running a country predicated on charity, encouraging laziness, discouraging hard-work and creative enterprise.
Again, in a true federation, the states are the arbiters of their own fortunes. They must create wealth by looking within their environment to exploit their natural resources to grow their economies.
Japan is largely a nation floating on various islands, stripped of any natural resources. But the gift of the nation is the vast human resources of its people. Japan imports raw materials from all over the world and turn them into various products for exports, widening their fields of entrepreneurial edge, ranking the Island nation effectively number three most developed economy in the world.
The Chinese industrial revolution of the 21st Century has broken many grounds in commerce, in technology, in medicine, in construction, in aviation and virtually in all fields of human enterprise. In less than two decades. it has removed more than 200 million people from the poverty roll.
China boasts of the fastest super-train, the longest bridge constructed in record, unbelievable time. And her prompt reaction in containing the novel coronavirus is striking and enviable. After cordoning the affected population, China boasted it would build a brand-new hospital with beddings, fittings and all ancillary necessities in 19 days. China nullified her own estimation by constructing the hospital in 12 days !
That is dedication. That is a rare national will predicated on a common pivot to excel, to enhance itself, to strengthen entrepreneurial largeness and shore up the field of creativity with total commitment.
It is this illustrated future Nigeria must commit herself to without the dark abyss of an over-powering center which is holding everyone down to stagnancy and gradual withering into destruction.
The South Western Security Initiative known as Amotekun, the Northern Security outfit known as Shege Faka Sai and all the sundry security outfits emanating from the South-South and South-East are necessary complimentary Community Policing agencies to enhance the effectiveness of the federal organ. As the Yoruba people say “A kii mo ogba ju ologba lo.” Simply, “you cannot know my backyard better than I do.”
In conclusion, the overwhelming, unwieldy center must restrict itself to national defense against external aggression, the printing of currency and international diplomacy. Let the other powers be devolved to the states like in true federation.
Let the states aggregate their natural and human resources to benefit their people. Let them structure their governments according to their needs. If a state wants 1,000 local governments let them create it as long as they are paying for it. If a state can afford a bicameral legislature, that is their prerogative.
Development, growth, creativity, industriousness can never be decreed. They are fruits of hard-work, conscious and deliberate vision; The fixity on excellence, the progressive idealism to make life more comfortable, more livable, more humane and more redeeming.
Finally, If we are genuinely committed to make Nigeria work. Let us start now on these predications on selfless patriotism, on the resolve to cultivate equity, truth, honour and justice in the renewal of the Nigerian journey. There is no other way. Lest we sink deeper into the murky, uncertain waters. I thank you for listening.
*Chief George, the Atona Oodua of Yorubaland, is a former National Deputy Chairman, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.