Is Nigeria Worth Saving?

by Michael Oluwagbemi II

This essay is a follow up to the first in a three series article on Nigeria’s future. In the first essay, “Disintegration & Secession: Cop Out, Not a Solution”, I had sought to test the logic behind the much vaunted thesis of the proponents for the dismantling of Nigeria. In it I had examined their various arguments, put it against the candle test of reason and logic. In short, my ultimate premise was that there is nothing wrong with Nigeria that won’t be wrong with the resulting federations thereof; assuming we don’t even come worse off. Hence, break-up is not a solution but at best a cop-out form real, practical and positive actions to restore our country.

I have however found it necessary to follow up with this essay, seemingly to make a case for Nigeria. This is because it is simply not enough to be against something- it is more worthwhile when you stand for something. In the first part of the series, I have made a case against breaking up Nigeria. Here, I will be making a case for keeping her together. In the follow up to this which will come shortly, I will examine how exactly to do so because I believe that in as much as break up is not a solution, neither is the status quo.

Many have referred to Nigeria as a “geographical expression”. Some have referred to the union of Nigeria as “a forced marriage; one in which no one want to be in but also no party dare break up”. Well, there is some measure of truths to these common wisdoms; however, there is also a gargantuan of exaggerations to them. To those that say Nigeria is a geographical entity and do not define a people, well – pray tell why a phenomenon known as the “Nigerian Factor” exists in our lexicon? It is true that Nigerians as a people have a far way to go to achieve the fluid identity that we associate with the Americans or Russians, but it is also not true that Nigerians have not developed a distinct, common identity in their hundred plus years in one form of union or the other.

When I come across a Nigerian (irrespective of ethnicity), I can tell. Nigerians are not Ghanaians, nor Kenyans or Ethiopians in any bit. Non-Nigerians even know it! Even citizens of countries that surround the immediate borders of Nigeria cannot put up air or make pretence to be Nigerians. Nigerians are unique. We have an attitude. We are a special people. Over hundred years, we have developed an aggressive Type A character that typifies our politics, sociology, music, business enterprise and above all our religion. A Nigerian Christian is vastly different from his Togolese counterpart; so is a Nigerian Muslim woman vastly unlike her Chadian cousins. We bond together with a variant of pidgin English- every region with its unique spin on that flowery contraption. Ingrain in our uniquely socio-political DNA are the ethos of survival at all cost, enterprise, love of life, an ability to smile while suffering and beyond all- a propensity to overcome personal and communal obstacles.

If there is any reason to keep Nigeria as one, I submit it is the Nigerian people – the beauty of our diversity, and the intensity of their collective energy. We are a people of contradictions, yet are a unique one also. The diversity of our country is a virtue that is worth preserving. Indeed, it is my resolute belief that given our history of making comebacks from the brink of disintegration- ours is a marriage and union that can survive only if we work at it: it is our manifest destiny to remain together. Love it or hate, we’d be better off finding ways to co-exist.

Above all things however, the most important reason why Nigeria should remain one is a focus on the bigger picture. The bigger picture is devoid of the distractions or squabbles bordering on sharing the national cake, tribalism and ethno-religious crisis; it is a focus on the external. The brave new world we are about to enter in the 21st Century and beyond will be dominated by multi-polar super nations (read, Longitudes and Attitudes by Thomas Friedman or The World is Flat by the same author). The era of single or dual super powers is over. Hence, the metric by which nation-states will be rise is first numeric size and an ability to leverage their demographic advantage into regional strength, second will be their human capacity development, third will be size of the economy and fourth will be resources (factor land size). This order is an inverse of the 19th century world order (dominated by tiny nations like France and UK) and a sideway flip of the 20th century when size of economy and resources were ahead (with US and USSR at the driver seat).

Imagine the world with USA (300m/9.63m km2), China (1.3 bn/9.63m km2), India (1.1 bn/3.3 m km2), Russia (142m/17m km2) and Brazil (187m /8.5m km2) as the five leading powers. In this world, small but developed countries like the United Kingdom are a lot less relevant not because they don’t have a robust economy, or because their human capacity is under developed; but because they are small (in population and land size). To remain competitive, fragmented Europe must try to consolidate and act through the federated European Union otherwise it stands no chance. To those that have pointed to 19th Century European States divided along ethno-religious lines, I tell them to counterbalance their analysis with a macro movement of those nations towards a more federated European Union. This is the 21st century reality not lost on the European; I wonder why it is lost on some of us.

There are also comparable reasons why Canada, with its huge land (second largest in the world) will not be a super nation; this is because it lacks the population (at 30 million) to do so. This is the reality of the world of the 21st century. In this world, Nigeria as a single political entity of 130 million plus energetic, enterprising people has a better chance of succeeding than fragmented fiefdoms of conflicting interests that will be willing tools in the hands of bigger powers. This is especially true because it is just logistically impossible to obtain purely non-competitive monolithic states from the collage of two hundred and fifty ethnic groups that co-exist albeit uneasily together in Nigeria today.

One need not look far into the future to see early examples of the danger of fragmentation in Sudan. There, China and USA are virtually exploiting the broken union of that beautiful country to exploit her resources- cheaply, while pretending to be antagonists. Well, it did not take more than an Olympic to see who was blowing hot air. Also, in Georgia’s (ex-Soviet Nation) recent costly confrontation with Russia, we see an ominous message in the tea leaves for small countries that will be left to fend for themselves when nuclear armed super powers decide to carve up their lands for domination. Fact is, Georgia was too small to defend itself, and is far too small to cause the Americans to risk a nuclear face off with Russia. Russia’s bellicose stance on its ex-republics and the costly human toll on these confrontations extend also to Ukraine and many other Soviet states that it holds by tentacles to do her bidding.

Instead of fragmenting, Nigeria should be leading the charge to consolidate Africa into viable super states. Building a super-state around a vision no less grand than the “manifest destiny” the early founders of the American spoke of and strove for; expanding from the heartland of Africa to the Mid-Atlantic. Speaking of resources (which factors in land size), in this bold new world, they will be important but not be the most important. Resources will rank behind population size, human capacity development (education and enterprising nation of population), and economy. Indeed, while a future Oodua or Biafran or Niger Delta republic might be competitive in terms of human capacity development it will be sorely lacking in land size, population and gross size of economy.

In simple economic parlance, a per capita of 1 dollar in India as low as it is, need to be matched by 3 dollars by the old US of A, if the later want to be competitive. Hence, the current fretting ongoing in USA as three billion people from Brazil, Russia, India, and China (BRIC countries) leverage the power of numbers to zoom past the former super powers into economic prosperity. It is called the power of the enormous mob versus the minuscule Today, USA stands a chance against China and India, not because of her already developed economy but because of the focus of the early founders on contiguous geographical expansion cloaked in “manifest destiny”, and her insistence to be a country of immigrants to populate these lands; size and population matters.

Indeed, resources speaking (quality/quantity terms) Nigeria is more endowed than most countries put together. How we are placed on the most valuable piece of real estate in Africa, I still cannot fathom. The size of Nigeria can afford her a specialization of regions, which will play well in ensuring resource optimization. The North can farm, and irrigate countless hectares of desert land and the East can industrialize. The West can commercialize and serve as gateway to the world, while the South can become a vast powerhouse of technology, petroleum & maritime and the heartlands can become a vast land to mine the precious wealth hidden beneath the bowels of our land. The key will be turning our focus to resource management instead of our propensity to focus on resource allocation. Managing our resources will mean designing a political structure that discourages waste and enhances efficiency.

To those having wonderland dreams as to how the mini-states resulting from Nigeria will fare, I ask them to ponder this reality. If Sudan as large as they are can be undermined by super powers of the world, what makes you think your tiny fiefdom will even have a fighting chance? If Eritrea and Ethiopia antagonism and misery is not solved by their break-up what makes you think secession is the answer? The problem of Africa is not just leadership, but also a structural one where the second largest continent is made up of fragmented political entities that can barely survive not to talk of developing. Breaking up Nigeria will only make a situation that is already bad, worse. The sooner Africa move towards a super-state model, the better off the continent will be. But moving into reverse gear by breaking up what is already together is hardly the viable second option.

Lastly, I consider directing our energy at breaking up extremely unproductive. Wars have been fought, crisis has beset us- yet this union has survived. I am hard-pressed to see a future where any state in the current Nigeria is a standalone considering the investments, interactions and strong vested interests (social, family, financial and political) to keeping her together. Beyond these strong headwinds however, history shows us that whenever the issue of secession is tabled before true representatives of ordinary Nigerians, it always never wins the day. A recent example was the PRONACO conference. There, agitators for secession flat out lost even in the most benign assembly of hotter heads when their ideas were put to vote!

Speaking unabashedly, and gauging the political temperature of the country- I perceive that only two of Nigeria’s six geo-political region will vote for dismantling Nigeria if put to secret ballot in a fair vote. It is also fair to say that the two geopolitical regions that may support leaving the union are also the two that perceive they have a stronger chance to succeed outside the union. These two happen to be monolithic, have a greater chance to survive external and internal aggression, and have considerable natural and human resources as well as maritime access to guarantee economic prosperity post-breakup. Hence, it is not surprising that many from these regions vocally advocate secession in self-interest. In contrast however, four out of the six geopolitical zones are very likely to support a fundamental restructuring of the country to a more equitable and just union. The paradox to this riddle is that the four that will oppose secession, do not necessarily correlate to the four that will support restructuring! Well go figure. One thing figures however: the possibility that Nigeria will restructure in your lifetime is greater than a dismantling of the union as you know it since 1912. Why don’t we then focus our energy on what is achievable?

Speaking of Africa, it is my submission that an eye on the larger picture will reveal that for the sake of the black race, for the benefit of Africa- Nigeria must remain one. I am absolutely convinced that the last hope of the black race is Nigeria. But this is no propaganda, but a premise grounded in logic. Every other African country or majority black one is either too weak to act, too small to be effective or simply not authentic enough to be regarded as truly African. Any future progress South Africa or Egypt makes will never be credited to the Negro! We must accept this bitter reality. Only in Nigeria, is the black man in a laboratory all by himself. It is in this laboratory he can prove himself to be worthy of his independence and humanity. It is in this laboratory he or she can counter the claims of the ex-colonial powers who sneered that the black man/woman is not capable of governing himself or developing without outside aid.

Nigeria is uniquely positioned to undermine this prevailing thought: the elephant in the room. If only we will keep our eyes on the ball: steady, without being distracted with wasteful anger that arises from injustice of the past. At the end, we are brothers. Even if we break up, we will still be neighbors. It is a duty that we work to make this union better, not to undermine it- with our words or actions. If we do, we shall not be forgiven not only by the next generation of Nigerians, but of Africans, of Negroes and of mankind; who will look back, and say we blew the chance to prove that one of three races of mankind is not a waste of God’s creativity. We can prove that we are equally capable; only if we try!

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