Position Papers

Project Nigeria Revisited

When a child falls down he looks at the front but when an adult falls, he looks at the back.  At fifty six years of age, Nigeria is ripe enough to start taking stock of her gains and losses.  The time for self-examination is here and it will do us some good, as citizens of Nigeria to reflect candidly and objectively on our past to be able to plan for the future.  Often we hear that optimum care is needed when the ovation is loudest.   The converse is the case with Nigeria today.   Its thumb-down, approval ratings at its lowest, and the cheers have simmered down.  The drum is about to burst and we need to ‘tread softly’ so that we do not mortgage the future of Nigeria only to become part of History of a great nation that never was.  God forbid.

States by  Uwe Dedering at German Wikipedia
States by Uwe Dedering at German Wikipedia

Project Nigeria is a work in progress which translates to a task that has no end, with necessary adjustments from time to time.  If we are to liken ‘Project Nigeria’ to a normal human being, male or female, there are phases he/she must go through during a lifetime.  For the hypothetical and academic exercise of this article, I have chosen to break the stages of ‘Project Mr Nigeria’ to include – Babyhood, Childhood, Adolescence, Young adulthood, Full Adulthood, young Oldman, and the Elderly stages. Each of these seven may again be subdivided, on a discretionary basis, into two or more stages as follows:

  1. Babyhood – From birth to pre-school age
  2. Childhood – Pre-nursery, Nursery, Elementary/Primary, and              Junior/Secondary.
  3. Adolescence – The teenage years
  4. The young Adult – Age twenty one to thirty five
  5. Full Adult – Age thirty six to forty five
  6. Young-Oldman/woman–Forty six to fifty five                        (Daddy/Mummy)
  7. An Elderly Person  – Fifty six and above (Grandpa/Grandma)

These seven stages can be further regrouped as follows:

1-3  as Developmental stages (Immature)

4-5  as Adult stages  (Maturing) and

6-7  as the Stage of Maturity (Matured).

In reality, Project Nigeria started from October 1st 1960 and it has come a long way through to 2016 which is fifty six years of age (56 Years).  If we are to align and accommodate our Project as per the framework provided above on the seven levels above, we can see that Project Nigeria has been severely malnourished and stunted in growth.  In the academic parlance, it may virtually be called a failure!

At fifty six , a stage at which she should be deemed fully matured, Nigeria is still clamouring for restructuring, equality, peaceful coexistence, freedom, liberty, and justice while corruption, indiscipline, killings, kidnappings, strife, unrest, wars, bigotry, tribalism, ethnic struggles continue to destabilise us as a nation.  Going back in time to periods before amalgamation, this project has not been very healthy from its birth and maybe would have been aborted, remained an unborn baby, instead of these various deformities or handicaps.

In explaining some of the handicaps, it is important to cast our minds back to how it all started.  It was on that fateful day in 1914 when the British Colonial Masters committed Nigeria to the ‘mess’ called amalgamation which was basically for their economic and administrative convenience.  The blunder of putting bananas, apples, mangos, pineapples and oranges together in same basket is what the Nigeria Project had grappled with since the exit of our British Colonial masters.  It was the colossal mistake of that century, which worked as long as Nigeria was under the British control 1914- 1960, but became moribund with the exit of the British, our independence in 1960.

How on earth could anyone imagine, as in the fruit analogy above, a successful occupancy of the assorted fruits in the same basket?   How long can they remain together before some of the fruits start to get rotten and become inedible?  In the context of the nation Nigeria, the variables which is termed diversity are just too many and unwieldy, to be workable.  For example, how could anyone imagine bringing as many tribes as two hundred and fifty under the same umbrella?  Unfortunately only the British, as former Slave Drivers and Masters could have tried that successfully.  For short periods, we were also able to imitate the British power-coercive strategy ONLY through the military style of rulership.  Experience has shown that the democratic style with extensive tribal differences cannot be successfully operated in a multi-ethnic setting like Nigeria.  Our attempts had not been successful as the cries of maginalisation, cheating, oppression, injustice, tribalism, and bigotry rent the air, with every move by a centrally controlled government of Project Nigeria.

On the issue of religion, most nations of the world have just one predominant religion.  Other less popular ones do exist but are not prominent enough to cause serious problems to such societies.  In the special case of the Nigeria Project, two major religions were brought together to compete for prominence.  Christianity and Islamic religions were forced together and hence the continued conflicts of one ruler trying to aid and promote one religion over another.  Those Colonial Masters would have done great, by allowing the North to remain Islamic and the South remain Christians predominantly but this was not the case in the Nigerian Project.

It was clear from the inception of the Nigerian state that western education was at different levels of development in the different parts, component and units of the federation.  That was understandably because of the varying contact times each component had with the western world and their initial disposition to education as opposed to the Islamic doctrine.  Consequently, the discrepancy in the literacy levels of the North and the South was very pronounced.  Therefore any form of merger of these two major sections should have been fore-seen as a possible source of future conflict.  This glaring educational discrepancies were known but discountenanced, for the convenience of amalgamation.  Some writers have even suggested that such action was more deliberate than accidental, perhaps to pave the way for an anticipated return and play the role as an umpire and serve as referee in the fights and disagreements in future, which is now happening to the Nigerian Project.

This explains the reason why our entire education has been lowered in standards to date.  For example our admission process into Nigerian Universities suffered some blows in standards being lowered.  This was to accommodate the less qualified students, at the expense of brighter and more able   students from the same admission pool.  The Federal Government evolved a guideline for admissions into Universities as follows:  Merit (45%), Catchment/Locality (35%), and Educationally Less Developed Sates (20%).  Additionally, other proprietors of tertiary institutions such as State Governments, Religious Groups, Private Entities and Individuals also have guidelines for admissions into their tertiary institutions.   One peculiarity of the proprietary/private tertiary institutions is that they are more expensive and reserved for those who can afford the cost and evade the stiff competition in the Federal Universities.

Further, Nigeria had naturally been divided into three by the Rivers Niger and Benue.  In spite of this natural endowment, the British chose to defy nature and brought us together as one, may be calculated to cause or exacerbate problems in future. Across these rivers were also languages and dialects which   were distinctly different.  Some have even conjectured that the British deliberately set up the keg of gun powder to ignite and cause discord since tribes and tongues were different!  We, as Nigerians are the ones to liberate ourselves from the mess in which we have found ourselves.  The Nigerian Project therefore needs a new formula for survival and peaceful co-existence and a peaceful restructure as a viable solution, in our way forward.

Being successfully amalgamated as Northern and Southern protectorates, consisting of the original Eastern, Western and Northern Nigeria, we birthed in the euphoria of One Nigeria, for a short while.  Nigerians then woke up from their slumber to realise that the Union was a farce and at best unworkable.  This explains why the level of unrest in the country is so high with killings, murders, kidnappings and tribal struggles within and across States.  It is in this wise that I agree, if only partially, with the words of Festus Tokunbo that Nigeria may be ‘too big to be great’, in view of its diversity seeming unwieldy.

We all agree that Nigeria is indeed big.  The following facts justify this claim:  her physical size (extensive land area), large population (170M +), high quality human resources (despite the unprecedented brain drain), abundant natural resources (agricultural and mineral), and Diversity (over 250 ethnic groups with different languages and ideologies).  In the normal parlance, all these (diversity) should constitute our strength, pride, and joy.  It is, however, a paradox that these are our very sources of strife and daily struggles for supremacy and superiority, Cheating, marginalization, oppression and suppression which had been the daily cries from the minority tribal and ethnic groups in Nigeria.

The more educated we got as Nigerians, the more our eyes got opened to the wisdom or lack thereof in lumping together the  apples, bananas and oranges called Project Nigeria.  These are the factors that have led to all forms of standard lowering practices such as national character, affirmative action, depressed states, tokenism, etc.  If Regions had been allowed to develop at their different pace, based on their educational development, there would have been proper development and better collaboration and support from one State to another.

I have further come up with a thesis that it may be in the process of Nigeria being forced together, that corruption crept in, took its roots and grew so phenomenally, to the level of becoming as pervasive as it is today.  Everybody now wants to scoop its own from the treasury, for selfish and tribal ends. Everybody now wants his/her own piece of the pie. The wealth of the commonwealth has become the personal, tribal or sectional wealth until the nation got looted dry, to the state of recession, as the treasury has been depleted.

The buzz word in Nigeria now is ‘restructuring’ and one is not sure everybody is on the same page on the real meaning of the word.  To the best of intents, it does not mean breakage or fragmentation of Project Nigeria.  It simply means a redefinition of our model of democracy, a rearrangement or realignment of the vital components of the Nigerian Project. Such re-arrangement may involve the physical, fiscal, political, geographical adjustment which are mutually agreeable to all parties – tribal, ethnic, religious, political, judicial, and administrative etc.  This to me seem to be the magic solution to Nigeria’s problem before we destroy or allow agitators to destroy themselves and destroy us all.  Let us NOT allow Project Nigeria to die or suffer irreparable damage or destruction.

We are all stakeholders in this Project called Nigeria and it is incumbent upon us to invest in the success of the Project, to which we all belong. The good news is that progress is possible only when we make some serious commitments.  God can reform the deformities we have suffered so far, as God will pacify all those who have suffered or experienced one type of loss or another, during the fifty six years of the Nigerian Project.

Nigeria will be great again and remain an indivisible whole, even as we restructure. That name Nigeria should never be wiped off through whatever restructure or rearrangement. God forbid fragmentation or breakage.  The Nigerian Project shall never be destroyed.  The Project will be revisited, reformed and reshaped from time to time for the benefit of all.  Reason must and will prevail as we proffer solutions to the Nigeria Project, a confirmation that it is indeed a work in progress.  We all love and cherish that name Nigeria and will not want to drop it for any reason, so let us tread softly and work out our differences to keep Nigeria one after the restructure.

It is easy to see how we, as Nigerians, have developed the high level of resilience and endurance to suffer and smile.  A usual mantra of an avid Nigerian academic Ibeabuchi  “the adaptive Nigerian personality” is a personality trait which enables a typical Nigerian to adapt to any adverse situations he/she finds him/her self.  We have the unusual ability to “cope with all weathers” without making any fuss.  A major negative side of the coping mechanism is that it has made the Nigerian society to grow progressively individualistic with a tendency to focus more on self-survival rather than the collective good.

It is this selfish way of thinking that has affected our sense of right and wrong.  Ibeabuchi thus conjectured that in Nigeria, there is no objective yardstick of measuring right and wrong.  The phenomenon of right and wrong is defined by how the situation affects the individual and not the community or society at large.  It remains purely a matter of personal perspective.  This is this very trait that has affected us as Nigerians and made us to be exploited by our political leaders and public office holders for so long and made us to be enslaved to our leaders.

This is the genesis of the monumental corruption, indiscipline and looting in Nigeria.  Now we have become wiser as our eyes have been opened up to pervasive corruption and looting of our treasury.  In a place where accountability has not been required it is free-for-all stealing and looting, a ‘superior tribe’ can enslave another and the stronger can over-power the weaker because nobody can question peoples’ audacity to trample on the less privileged ones.  The colonial masters are gone.  The military regime is over and our eyes have opened and this is the genesis of the ongoing unrest, wars and clarion calls for restructuring of a forced union by Lord Luggard in 1914.  It is imperative for us as Nigerian to make the best of the bad situation created for us by the colonial masters.  This is now the essence of our rethinking the new way forward.

One might in specific terms, ask what actually went wrong in Nigeria?  What went wrong with Nigeria?  And how did things get so bad for such a long time?  Answers to these questions can be summarized as follows – too much wealth, urbanization, lack of accountability, uncontrolled indiscipline, propensity to cut corners, greedy and corrupt leadership, carelessness, corrupt and impoverished followership, tribalism, bigotry, misapplied Democratic principles, constitutional inconsistencies and misinterpretations, love of leisure/pleasure, and false affluence etc.  All of these have become endemic and pervasive as part of the Nigerian DNA!  No wonder why Pa Ayo Fasanmi reported that ‘it is unfortunate that Nigeria is being referred to as the Federal Republic of Corruption’!

Is Nigeria redeemable or irredeemable?  As Christians will say, on an optimistic note, ‘with God all things are possible’.  It is in this light that I want to identify with the new slogan and Buhari’s campaign that the change must start from the inside of all Nigerians as individuals, families, groups and States and Nation at large. Let us all learn to say no to corruption and indiscipline as we inculcate these into our children.  It must be our new indoctrination and national culture or re-acculturation from homes, schools and workplaces.  It is in this light that I am optimistic that Nigeria is redeemable.  On the contrary, any failure or inability to achieve this will mean that Nigeria will be forever doomed or at best irredeemable.  The choice is thus clear and up to us as Nigerians restructure or rearranges.  A thorough cleanup, redemption and incorruptibility status is sine qua non to a rebirthed Nigeria.  Our current status quo must change.

To be or not to be, that is the question.  The answer to these myriads of problems plaguing us, lies in our ‘will’ to change as individuals and as a nation.  We need to realise that it is time to reassess our status and see the need for some readjustments to fit the new global era.  Modernisation has brought with it civilization and sophistication and no one wants to be left behind.  The whole world which we saw as being so large has become shrunk into a small global village.  We as Nigerians, want to be reckoned with among the comity of nations.  We must restructure to be able to occupy our rightful position in the world and reclaim our status not only as the giant of Africa but also as a world power.   A rearranged Nigerian Project is the hope for Africa and pride to us as Nigerian citizens at home and abroad.

Restructuring is a major step for Nigeria and it cannot go without some problems.    I will like to highlight some of these problems as questions needing answers:

  1. How do people come to a full understanding of the correct meaning of the word ‘Restructuring’?
  2. Is restructuring a rearrangement, ‘fragmentation’ or reorganization?
  3. Is there an available restructuring template?
  4. What are the merits of restructuring?
  5. What are the demerits of restructuring?
  6. Is restructuring a tribal or ethnic necessity?
  7. Is it a religious expediency or necessity?
  8. Who will be the umpire(s)?
  9. How will the umpires be selected?
  10. What are the attributes/characteristics of the umpires?
  11. How do you craft the restructure parameters/variables?
  12. How do you ensure fairness and equitable restructure?
  13. How can you guarantee compromise and consensus?
  14. What should are the logistics for crafting Nigerian Project?

No individual can enumerate all problems or solutions to the enormous task of restructuring of Nigeria.  It should be a collective assignment which has to enlist the contributions of all the stakeholders in the Nigerian project.   Only the collective efforts of the able and capable men and women of wisdom, who are objective and not selfish in their vision for a new Nigeria will suffice and Nigeria is blessed with people like these.

Stronger States or Weaker Center?  These will remain the most obnoxious component of it all, which may be calling for a reform.  I am convinced that we can work it out, together as ONE NIGERIA, without resorting to force in whatever form.  With friendliness, love and gentleness, we shall work it out peacefully by the special grace of God.  That magical name Nigeria is so precious to all Nigerians that it may be very difficult to jettison or disclaim it, as long as Nigerians can learn to behave themselves anytime, anywhere and everywhere.  We must learn to be good ambassadors wherever we go and in whatever capacity we find ourselves.  The Project called Nigeria is here to stay till the end of lifetime, with minor or major adjustments, restructure, reorganization or modifications, which can bring comfort, joy and peace to all the components, and the entire citizenry.  Long live Nigeria!

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