Prior to 1914, there was no geographical space called Nigeria or a people known as Nigerians. Nigeria, as we know it today, is the creation of colonial-Britain. Nigeria was not alone in this regard. During the Scramble for Africa, which was formalized at the Conference of Berlin in 1884-1885 — attended by several colonial-European countries and presided over by Germany’s Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck — the continents was carved up, reconfigured and shared. As is the case with slavery, the residual effects of colonization continue to bedevil the continent.
In Nigeria for instance, one could argue that the signs were already there, before and after 1914, indicating that the new nation that was created or about to be created was going to be messy. There were just too many minuses — and not enough pluses or compelling reasons — for amalgamation to take place. By 1960, which was when Nigeria was granted flag-independence, most knew, or suspected that, the chances of overcoming the primordial suspicions, hatred and antagonism, was close to zero. Some have referred to the creation of Nigeria as the mistake of 1914.
There were enclaves which didn’t want to be part of Nigeria, and they said so. Minority groups in the Niger Delta, especially the Ijaw, clearly were afraid and voiced their concerns. They did not trust post-colonial Nigeria to take care of their needs and concerns. Some of their fears and grievances were documented by the Willink Commission Report of 1958. The Middle Belt, the Igbo and the Yoruba also had their misgivings. And what was the North’s position? I would suggest Remi Oyeyemi’s recent treatise as the starting point: Jonathan Goodluck: Vice President in Uthman Dan Fodio’s Estate.
The history of Nigeria, since 1914 until the present time has, therefore, been a history of failures, conflicts, failed promises, shattered hope, endless pain and agony. A country that was once the doyen, the Mecca for the black race and a cathedral of hope and possibilities, has now become a mausoleum of dead hopes, fractured skulls and skeletons. Slavery and colonialism are both horrendous and inhumane. And of course their residual effects can be seen and felt; nonetheless, the carelessness, short-sightedness, and the greed and licentiousness of the elites and their agents have made recovery and nation-building agonizingly difficult, if not impossible.
To be sure, nothing about Nigeria is peculiar. Several countries around the world have had similar or same experiences as Nigeria. But while most other countries deliberately set out to heal and to build, Nigeria, it seems set out to contaminate old wounds, exaggerate differences and to destroy. Ninety-six year since its founding, and fifty years after flag-independence, one can hardly point to extended periods of hope, joy and possibilities: when it is not coups and counter-coups, it is religious and/or ethnic conflicts. Otherwise, it is unhealthy competition over resources and political power. Very little construction, reconstruction or refurbishing goes on.
When we should genuinely get involved in nation-building, institution building, and national-character building, we spend time scheming about how to limit and/or to destroy other groups and their interests. When we should worry about our national security interest, we worry about our personal ambition and private aggrandizements. In the last twenty-five years or so, Nigeria has become, or can be likened to a whore-house. You go there — without emotional attachment, without a sense of humanity or belonging or a sense of guilt — just to screw. You go there for instant gratification. Most of us don’t care about Nigeria. And that is the guilt and the history we are saddled with.
What does the future hold? There are four likely scenarios, four emerging pictures, four actualities: First, there is a strong possibility that twenty-five years from now, Nigeria would not be in existence. For instance, the next sets of “regional” coups and counter coups which results in a prolonged struggle for power, amongst other struggles, would hasten its disintegration. The uprising that is likely to follow such coups would be so devastating that blood may flow from the Creeks to the Sahara. Not the usual silence and jubilation, but a series of big-bangs, are what will likely follow. The Coupists will find their match in several non-state actors.
Second, in the past decade or so, there have been loud and increasing murmurs by secessionist groups in and outside of the nation’s border. For instance, a section of the Yoruba group is claiming they “want to leave.” A vocal section of the Ndiigbo also wants to see Biafra come to life. In addition, there are groups within the Niger Delta who thinks it is time “to go…to leave!” A convergence of several negative and positive forces may make these yearnings a reality. In all these, calls for disengagement are not common in the northern part of the country. Even so, some commentators have opined that the north would “leave if commercial oil is discovered in the north…or…when the oil wells in the Niger Delta dry up.”
Third, it may be that Nigeria may never break up. At least not in the next twenty-five years. What we may see is a country that wobbles and staggers. What we may see is a country that is a skeleton of its once celebrated self: ignored or spit on by supposed friends and allies; ridiculed and disparaged by enemies and by critics. A country destined for greatness, but which suffered rapid decline. Year after years, it marinates in its own fetidity but doesn’t implode, explode or disintegrate. It just lumbers on and on and on.
In spite of the misgivings and the bottom-of-the-cesspool predictions, Nigeria, may yet rise again. Really, could all these be a learning-moment? Could it be that in the not-too-distant future the country will turn the corner and return to the path of commonsense and nation-building? Is it possible that Nigeria’s glory and glorious days are still ahead of her?
What would succeeding or future generations say about Nigeria, about Nigeria of 1960-2010? Or of the 2010 to 2035 era? Current signs do not point to a hopeful and successful future. Even so, one must not lose hope. Time after time, in one culture after another, humans have proven their resiliency; they’ve shown that great things are possible and that human are capable of incredible successes in spite of monumental odds. Nigeria and Nigerians must not be the exception.
Even as we think about and get perplexed and angry about the events of the last three decades, we must not give up hope. It looks bad and ugly; still, we must not despair. We must keep fighting; keep doing the right things for our country. We must do all we can to escape the condemnation and damnation of history and posterity. We cannot be the people and the generation that gave up even as others fought to save their own countries. Nigeria is our country, it is the one we truly own. We must therefore work to save it from all manners of calamity.