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Nigeria’s diamond independence anniversary: The tortuous journey to nation-hood and greatness

Before the British people colonized Nigeria, and introduced representative government to us, the disparate ethnic groups that make up Nigeria had their peculiar systems of government. In the north, the Hausa/Fulani had the emirate system while the Yoruba people in the west operated the Obaship system of government. The Igbo people, whose homeland is in the east, were/are republican in nature, and had no centralised system of government. The pre-colonial Igbo society was acephalous in nature. However, then, during the pre-colonial era, each town in Igbo society had either an Igwe or Eze, who presided over the affairs of the town.

But the coming of the white people to Nigeria disrupted the evolutionary growth of our traditional pre-colonial types of government. So, the African continent was partitioned by European colonialists, and they ruled their colonies based on the precepts of democracy. That’s why, today, some African countries are former French colonies while others are former British colonies. And we have African countries, which are former Belgium and Portuguese colonies, respectively.

In Nigeria, the British imperialists used the policy of association-both direct rule and indirect rule – to administer the territories, which are collectively called Nigeria, now. Sadly, they did not consult the natives, not to talk of getting their consent before amalgamating the northern and southern protectorates of Nigeria. It was Lord Lugard, who coupled the northern and southern protectorates of Nigeria together for administrative reasons, and political expedience and convenience. But was it a judicious deed?

Perhaps, the lumping together of the southern and northern protectorates of Nigeria was one of the causes of our problem of disunity and ethnic hatred. It should be noted that Sudan, which had almost the same colonial experience as Nigeria, had disintegrated with South Sudan emerging from it. This is a grim pointer to the fact that the amalgamation of Nigeria was a fatal error; and that it has contributed in no small way to our problem of ethnicity.

But Nigeria is a cat with nine lives considering the fact that it emerged from countless sectarian conflicts, political troubles, and gratuitous civil war not dismembered. The Nigeria-Biafra civil war, which raged between 1967 and 1970, the cancelled June 12, 1993 Presidential election problem, the Maitatsine religious uprising, and the hijacking of political power by the cabal during President Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’adua’s terminal illness failed to upend Nigeria and cause its disintegration.

So, now, Nigeria has continued to exist as one country against all expectations. And, surprisingly, the American political pundits’ prediction about Nigeria’s imminent doomsday and disintegration failed to materialise. Although Nigeria has not disintegrated, it is still a disunited country. The sad fact is that Nigerians place their selfish and parochial interests and the interests of their ethnic groups above Nigeria’s interests when issues affecting the country crop up. Our problem of disunity becomes obvious and rears up its ugly head when we are to hold general elections to elect the President of Nigeria.

Here, in Nigeria, the factors of religion and ethnicity do determine those who will become our national leaders. However, the numerical strength of the northern electorate, their dominance of the Nigeria military then, and their political sagacity ensured that northern people of Hausa/Fulani extraction, and Islamic religious backgrounds ruled Nigeria for the greater part of its independence years. And all the military rulers we had, save Aguiyi Ironsi, came from the northern part of Nigeria.

But the sad and indisputable fact is this: Since 1960, when Nigeria became a sovereign nation-state, and, until now, it has never been led by its best politicians, who possess probity, fealty, leadership qualities, and political sagacity. We have not forgotten that Alhaji Tafawa Balewa was helped by the departing British overlords to become our Prime Minister in 1960 as the enthronement of northern political hegemony in Nigeria would serve the interests of Great Britain. And, in the second republic, when we shelved the cabinet system of government for presidentialism, a political dark horse, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, was helped to become our executive president in 1979.

More so, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was helped by northern political kingmakers and other power brokers to win the 1999 presidential election so as to placate the indignant Yoruba people over the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election. He was a beneficiary of the unwritten rotational presidency formula adopted by PDP to douse political tension in the country and save Nigeria from disintegrating. His successor, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’adua, died in office and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan fortuitously became our president.

Now, it is evident to us, and bears restating here, that our recruitment processes and political culture do throw up political leaders, who cannot entrench lasting peace and unity in the country and harness our vast human and material resources to transform Nigeria, positively. So, it is imperative for us to re-think and re-jig our political recruitment processes and mechanisms so as to be able to elect political leaders at different governmental levels, who can better our lots in life, and take Nigeria to greater economic and technological heights. But re-thinking and re-jigging our political recruitment processes and mechanisms presuppose that we change our political culture and orientation by socialising the masses into acceptable democratic norms and political culture, and inculcating ennobling and lofty family values into them.

Again, at this political juncture in our national life, instituting political mechanisms and practices in our country to guarantee the political stability of Nigeria has become paramount and necessary. If our leaders fail to do that, Nigeria will, someday, sooner than later, cease to exist as one united country. To avert this scenario, I suggest that we adopt the principle of rotational presidency and incorporate it into our constitution.

Our abiding by the principle of rotational presidency is the antidote to the centrifugal forces pulling Nigeria apart. Each geopolitical zone in Nigeria has politicians, who possess leadership qualities, probity, patriotism, political philosophies, and sense of fairness. Only a politically stable country that is led by a visionary leader can become a developed country.

Incorporating the principle of rotational presidency into our constitution, and rethinking and re-jigging our political recruitment processes and mechanisms are the potent pills that can cure Nigeria of its debilitating maladies.

Okoye is a poet

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