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Post-Independence Nigeria: Beyond Ethnicity

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Right from the word GO! Nigeria has been divided along both ethnic and religious fault lines; this has served as a clog in the wheel of national development.

Three regions comprised Nigeria as at independence – the Hausa/Fulani North, the Yoruba West, and the Ibo East, with hundreds of minority tribes scattered across the nation. 

At independence, our founding fathers, carried away by the wild romanticism that greeted the wind of change which blew across Africa at the time, never laid strong foundations that would guarantee national cohesion and speedy development, hence, each of them, realizing the divisions that plagued our nation, and their unpreparedness in tackling the problem, pursued a regional agenda. 

What we received as ‘One Nigeria’ was a boiling point of many vested interests. The division was so much so that the ruling Party during the First Republic – Tafawa Balewa’s party – was Northern People’s Congress (NPC). The three regions soon engaged in a battle for a greater share of the ‘national cake’, in the heat of that battle, hatred was engendered and the fault lines became more obvious. 

Malpractices became common, Nigeria was forgotten and everybody became Ibo, Hausa or Yoruba, the various tribes used derogatory terms on one another. The effects of these divisions were (and still are) far reaching as charlatans with no strategy and leadership acumen ascended to delicate national thrones while Nigerians engaged in divisive debates focusing on all but serious issues.

As we continued our national journey, these ethnic and religious fault lines became deep rooted and a part of our daily lives. As a result, ascendance to positions are no longer on merit, our elections became very easy to predict by merely looking at the names of the contesters, the just concluded elections underscores the fact that Nigerians vote ‘ethnically’. 

As expected, merit was given a back seat in our national vehicle and what mattered more when dealing with an individual is whether he is an Ibrahim, a Segun, or an Ikechukwu. The politicians and pseudo – intellectuals that fill the ranks of our political parties and agencies make matters worse; in an effort to mask their mediocrity, high handedness, and nonperformance, they are quick to remind their followers that they are from a certain region and religion, and if booted out, may spell doom for them. 

This has not allowed the Nigerian people to objectively assess their leaders and demand accountability from them. Instead, each region builds fortresses to protect their sons and daughters no matter how corrupt they may be, forgetting the fact that the absence of roads, electricity, and other amenities is as a result of the doing/undoing of their sons and daughters.

To make sure that everybody is represented at the national dining table, we have introduced a couple of measures, such as Federal Character and the zoning of political offices. Despite these, each region cries foul and complains of marginalization whenever their man is not the First Citizen of Nigeria. With rising inter marriages and increase in knowledge and ICT, one expected that these divisions and fault lines will continue blurring until they become totally non-existent but on the contrary, they have become more pronounced. Ours is not a nation, what we have at best is a thug of war between the different regions and ethnic groups with our national wealth being at that center.

The appointments made by President Muhammadu Buhari since he assumed office has been hotly debated in the Nigerian socio-political space, the president has been accused of pursuing an ethnic agenda as most of the beneficiaries were northerners. The fact that this has drawn much debate shows that we are not telling ourselves the truth. 

If the constitution allows it, by all means, let President Muhammadu Buhari make all appointments from his village, after all, he should appoint people he knows and can work with. Where we should have problems should be if other regions do not benefit from the President’s projects and programs.

When Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, a minority Christian South Southerner was President, the Northerners, who held power for the best part of our 55 year history, complained that they are being marginalized and carried out actions of sabotage against the Government. 

They did not care whatever Jonathan has to offer, despite the fact that the North was the mainstay of Jonathan’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda, despite the fact that he built almajiri schools, despite the fact that he appointed many Northerners to key positions, the bulk of the north wanted him out. 

It is interesting to note that while we can count a few things the north benefited from Jonathan’s administration, the same cannot be said about his geopolitical zone of origin. In fact, it took President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim northerner, to agree to a clean-up of the Ogoni community which has been messed up by oil exploration.

Now, Muhammadu Buhari is President (with South Western coalition) and suddenly, MASSOB has crawled out of the woodwork, establishing a Radio Station and affirming their right to self-governance. Asari Dokubo, a leader of the Niger Delta militants, threatened a ‘return to the creeks’ immediately Muhammadu Buhari was announced winner of the March 28 Presidential elections. 

Less than a hundred days into the current administration, the South East and South South already feel ostracized. What are we doing? Of what importance is it that the President comes from my village if most of us in the village live in abject poverty? Should I rejoice that the President lives just a few blocks from me if the roads leading to my residence are not paved?

What is more annoying is that we have refused to tell ourselves the truth, that the contraption we have is not a true nation, that we are seriously divided, and that unity is only a literary concept here in Nigeria and has no real meaning. If we realize this truth, then we would seek better ways to coexist and all benefit from our commonwealth. 

Over 50 years of independence is enough time for us to have attained maturity, equally making a few appointments from all regions is not all that is needed. While we face serious challenges, the actual indices of good governance should be how the quality of lives of the bulk of Nigerians has improved, how close we are to achieving a stable power supply, how secure our lives and properties are, how high/low our unemployment rate is, and how infrastructurally well placed our country is, these are the indices of good governance and not whether the SGF is David Lawal or Anyim Pius. 

We need to grow beyond ethnicity, only then would we achieve our full potentials as the ‘wealthiest black nation on earth’.

Innocent Okoro is a Student, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; okoroinnocent20@yahoo.com, +2348163600660

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