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Understanding the Paradigm of Nation-building in Nigeria

Nigerian nation-building endeavour is hampered by her historical antecedence, poor leadership, corruption, and contentious constitutional provisions. However, the creation of dependable institutions and a patriotic demonstration of political will address the challenges of nation-building in the country.

As a normative concept “Nation-building” means different things to different people. Nation-building is the desired outcome is to achieve national integration. Also, nation branding aims at the unification of the people within the state so that it remains politically stable and viable in the long run. Thus, nation-building has been theorized as a structural process intertwined with industrialization, urbanization, social mobilization, etc.Thus, nation-building has been theorized as a structural process intertwined with industrialization, urbanization, social mobilization, etc.

Nationalism emergence as the dominant ideology to legitimate authority and the template of the nation-state as an organizational principle of the international system, state elites have pursued different policies toward the various unassimilated groups within their territorial boundaries with variable consequences; as the result of deliberate state policies that aim at the homogenization of a state along the lines of a specific constitutive story that can and often does change over time and under certain conditions; as the product of top-bottom processes that could originate from forces outside of the boundaries of the relevant state; and as the product of bottom-up processes that do not require any state intervention to come about.

Nation-building is the process whereby a society of people with diverse origins, histories, languages, cultures and religions come together within the boundaries of a sovereign state with a unified constitutional and legal dispensation, a national public education system, an integrated national economy, shared symbols and values, as equals, to work towards eradicating the divisions and injustices of the past; to foster unity; and promote a countrywide conscious sense of being proudly Nigerian, committed to the country and open to the continent and the world. Nigeria is a multi-ethnic society with over 250 ethnic groups. Each of these ethnic groups also have religious and economic issues that separates them from one another. Nigeria’s diversity has been a major obstacle in its drive to become a global and responsible player in the international community.

The historical legacies of colonial rule create some challenges for nation-building in Nigeria. Colonial rule divided Nigeria into North and South with different land tenure systems, local government administration, educational systems, and judicial systems. While large British colonies like India and the Sudan had a single administrative system, Nigeria had two, one for the North and one for the South. It was almost as if these were two separate countries, held together only by a shared currency and transportation system. Many members of the Nigerian elite class in the 1950s and 1960s had their education and world outlook moulded by the regional institutions. Some had little or no understanding of their neighbouring regions. Under these conditions, it was easy for prejudice and fear to thrive. During the period of the decolonization struggle, Nigerian nationalists from different regions fought each other as much as they fought the British colonialists. Nigeria never had a central rallying figure like Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana or Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Instead, each region threw up its own champions.

From this historical legacy, therefore, regionalism has been a major challenge to nation-building in Nigeria. To their credit, however, the founding fathers of our nation tried to deal with this challenge by adopting federalism and advocating a policy of unity-in-diversity. However, the lack of consolidation of Nigerian federalism around commonly shared values and positions means that this challenge of divisive historical legacy continues to undermine our efforts at nation-building. One current manifestation of this historical legacy is the division between ‘indigenes’ and ‘setBritannica

Governor-General, Nigeria (1914-1919). Image: Britannica

On January 1, 1914, Lord Frederick Lugard, the governor of both the Northern Nigeria Protectorate and the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, signed a document consolidating the two, thereby creating the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria without regard for preexisting ethnic, cultural and linguistic divisions, Nigeria has often experienced an uncertain peace. Following decades of ethnic tension in colonial Nigeria, political instability reached a critical mass among independent Nigeria’s three dominant ethnic groups: the Hausa-Fulani in the north, Yoruba in the southwest, and Igbo in the southeast. Consequently, this division has been a source of domestic tension and undermined our efforts at creating a common nationhood. While we should learn from history so as not to repeat its mistakes, we must never see ourselves simply as victims of our history; it is our responsibility to overcome the challenges posed by our history.

There have been several constitutions in the making of independent Nigeria prior to that of 1946. But this was defining in that it was that which actually dictated to a larger extent the workability or otherwise of nation building of the Nigerian State bearing on the undeniable the Nigerian State is made up of nations historical truth. This new constitution divided Nigeria into three regions, each with a separate House of Representatives and a separate executive council. The NCNC opposed the constitution and sent a delegation to England to protest about it. The delegation failed and the NCNC lost some support. In 1951 new parties were founded: the Action Group (AG) formed by the Yoruba and the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) by the Hausa/Fulani elements. From that time on, politics in Nigeria is to be run on an ethnic basis.

In May 1953, riots broke out in the ancient city of Kano, the largest city in Northern Nigeria. Kano, a predominantly Islamic urban centre, was conquered by the British in 1903. Since then, the city has experienced diverse social, economic and political changes. Economically, Kano’s pre-colonial influence, as the entreport of the trans-Saharan trade from North Africa waned with the arrival of the British. In colonial times, imported goods, mostly from Britain and Europe, came through the southern Nigerian seaports of Lagos, Port-Harcourt, and Calabar. The trade in imported and foreign goods led to significant south-north migrations in Nigeria, with many southern Nigerian immigrants settling in Kano. The nature of the riot were clashes between Northerners who were opposed to Nigeria’s Independence and Southerners made up of mainly the Yorubas and the Igbos who supported immediate independence for Nigeria. The riot that lasted for four days claimed many lives of the Southerners and Northerners and many others were wounded.

This strained relationship started with a 1953 motion for self-government for Nigeria.On March 31, 1953, a prominent member of the Action Group – a prominent political party established in Ibadan in 1951, Chief Anthony Enahoro, moved the motion that Nigeria should become independent by 1956 at the federal parliament in Lagos. Other members of the AG supported this motion including majority of the members of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, another political party at the time. The leader of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), Sir Ahmadu Bello, moved a counter motion. He proposed an amendment that self government should be granted “as soon as practicable”. Another Northern member of the House moved a motion for adjournment, a motion which Southern members of AG and the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) viewed as a delay tactics.

This led to disagreements over the motion and equally resulted in a strained relationship between the Northern and Southern leaders. All the AG and NCNC members in the house walked out as a result of the adjournment motion. The defeat of the motion angered the Lagos crowd and they reacted against the Northern political leaders by booing and jeering them in Lagos after the adjornment on March 31,1953.Members of the Northern delegation were embittered and in their “Eight Point Program” in the Northern Regional Legislative House, they sought for secession. As a result of the failure of the self-government motion, a delegation of the Action Group and National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) led by Samuel Ladoke Akintola went on a tour to the north to campaign for self-government. This was the last straw that broke the camel’s back, as the tour that was organized to explain the importance of self-government to the northerners which was misconstrued by the latter as an invasion of their territory. It sparked off a chain of disorder that culminated in the riot.

The riot started at the Colonial Hotel on May 16, 1953, which was the supposed meeting point of the Action Group led by Samuel Ladoke Akintola.Prior to the meeting, the Kano Native Authority withdrew its permission to grant the meeting. A mob gathered outside of the hotel and started stoning people close to the hotel. The riot took place at Sabon Gari an area predominantly occupied by southern Nigerians.Shops in the Sabon Gari market were looted and violent attacks took place; as a result the Native Authority Police and the army were called upon to prevent further degeneration and on Monday 18th May 1953, the colonial government declared a state of emergency in northern Nigeria and troops were deployed to Kano. The riot resulted in the death of about 46 people, mostly northerners and Igbos died during the clash, several properties burnt and looted over 200 people were injured before the calm was restored.

Another new constitution gave internal self-government to the East and West in 1957. A Northerner, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, became Federal Prime Minister. He formed a coalition government with ministers from the three political parties. In 1957, there was a general election and each of the parties tried to win national support. However, the result shows that each party was supported within its own ethnic region. The NPC had the majority. It therefore formed a coalition government with the NCNC under Sir Tafawa Balewa as the Prime Minister. AG formed the opposition. Thus on October 1, 1960 Nigeria became independent with Nnamdi Azikiwe (an Igbo) as its first President.

Tribal tensions in 1967 increased after a military coup in January 15, 1966 which resulted in General Aguiyi-Ironsi, an Igbo, taking power as President. This was followed by a northerner-led counter coup a few months later. Aguiyi-Ironsi was killed and widespread reprisals were unleashed against the Igbo. The Igbos doubted that Nigeria’s oppressive military government would allow them to develop, or even survive, so on May 30, 1967, Lieutenant Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu and other non-Igbo representatives of the area established the Republic of Biafra, comprising several states of Nigeria.

The war began with the secession of the southeastern region of the nation on May 30, 1967, when it declared itself the independent Republic of Biafra. The Nigerian government declared war and after 30 months of fighting, Biafra surrendered.On 15 January 1970, the conflict officially ended. The ensuing battles and well-publicized human suffering prompted international outrage and intervention.

In November 1993, three months into Interim President, Chief Ernest Shonekan administration was overthrown in a palace coup by Defence Minister, General Sani Abacha who headed the Nigerian Armed Forces.Since then, the country had suffered irreparable damages from the eventuality. Public affairs analysts noted that between 1966 and 1999, the army held power in Nigeria without interruption apart from a short-lived return to democracy between 1979 and 1983. Out of the four presidents the country has had since 1999, two were former military rulers. Since military rule is antithetical to the rule of law, building a nation, where citizens can realise their dreams has been very difficult. Today, Nigeria is a complex society with a rapid growing population of over 200 million people.

The oi-rich Niger Delta has been badly affected by instability. Photo: AFP

Decades of oil spills and gas flaring have transformed the Niger Delta into one of the most polluted places on Earth. About 300 oil spills occur in the region each year and in 2011, a spill at Shell’s Bonga oil fields released 40,000 barrels. Over 350 farming communities were affected, and 30,000 fishermen were forced to abandon their livelihoods.

Faced with increasingly desperate prospects, many young men in the Niger Delta have turned to militant violence. Between 2006 and 2009, after the decline of the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF), the most active militant group was the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). MEND is an umbrella organisation whose political objectives have focused on demanding local control over oil resources and development of the region. The atmosphere of insecurity occasioned by the kidnapping of foreign oil company officials eventually led to the relocation of the oil companies out of the area to Lagos.

In 2009, Nigerian government granted unconditional amnesty to thousands of insurgents. This provided a clean slate for peace-building measures and were meant to safeguard the communities to which the insurgents would be returning and build capacity for peace, security and development in the oil region.From 2009 to 2019, the Nigerian government committed billions of dollars to the peace-building programme. This was to cover the stipends, education, training and entrepreneurship development costs for 30,000 participants.The programme included the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of the insurgents. The federal government gave them a monthly stipend of 65,000 Naira (US$200) in temporary assistance.

Demonstrators march and carry banner to protest bloody clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the vast central region that has claimed dozens of lives during a rally in Abuja, Nigeria, March 14, 2018.

For centuries, pastoralists drove their cattle east and west across the Sahel, the semi-arid zone south of the Sahara Desert that includes Nigeria’s far northern belt. Struggle over grazing land and scarce resources have over the years resulted in perennial and growing violent conflicts in terms of frequency, intensity and geographic scope. Propelled by desertification, insecurity and the loss of grazing land to expanding settlements, the southward migration of Nigeria’s herders is causing violent competition over land with local farmers. In the early 20th century, some herders started shifting their migratory routes farther south, pushed by a series of droughts in the far north, but also attracted by heightened security in central and southern Nigeria and by better control of parasitic diseases (such as trypanomiasis or sleeping sickness) in the central and southern zones. Amnesty International reports indicated that in January 2018 alone, indicate that 168 people were killed as a result of herdsmen-farmer clashes.

Another cause of herdsmen/farmers clash in the last few years seems to be the fear of Fulani herdsmen to accept the unworkability of the old system of roaming with cattle across states and the fear of adopting new modes of cattle raising. Others have proffered that foreign Fulani herders in West Africa, especially those averse to sedentary life and are characterized as people who are by tradition not constrained by borders in the practice of their occupation have aggravated the tension between farmers and herders in Nigeria.Against this backdrop, recently Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, noted that the only solution to the herdsmen and farmers crisis is the establishment of ranches in the states. Consequently, the six South-west states Governors and the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) agreed to ban night and underage grazing in the region of the country.

The Unprecedented Level of Insecurity in Nigeria

The farmer-herder violence is putting further pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari, who is battling insurgency by the Boko Haram terrorist group in the northeast. Boko Haram launched a bloody insurgency in 2009 in northeastern Nigeria but later spread its atrocities to neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a military response.The group has killed at least 36,000 people and forced millions from their homes over the past decade, striking most often near its stronghold in the Lake Chad Basin. But it has cells throughout Nigeria’s rural north, which are known to have forged relationships with criminal gangs, analysts say.

A collection of student footwear was left behind after gunmen abducted students from the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, in northwestern Katsina State, Nigeria on December 13, 2020 [File: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters]
Bulama Bukarti, a sub-Saharan Africa researcher from northeastern Nigeria at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change in London said: “The line between Boko Haram and the bandits is getting more and more blurred.” “More broadly, this is another demonstration of the deteriorating insecurity in Nigeria,” he added.

Nigeria has suddenly plunged into waves of kidnapping and other heinous crimes such as armed robbery and banditry. The phenomenon has escalated and led to numerous lives lost, which also crippled socio-economic activities. Generally, as enshrined in chapter 2, section 14(2b) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, the security of lives and property is one of the primary responsibility of the state.

In 2014, Boko Haram abducted over 270 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok. Around 100 remain missing. Similarly, in December 2020, an armed group abducted 344 schoolboys from Government Science Secondary School Kankara, in Katsina. They were released shortly after the kidnapping and returned to their families. To curtail these crimes, Nigerian Islamic scholar, Sheikh Ahmed Gumi, has advised the government to extend amnesty to bandits as it was done to militants. Similarly, the Zamfara caucus of the National Assembly called on the federal government to grant amnesty to repentant bandits in the country. Amnesty, they said, is a peace initiative that allows repentant bandits to voluntarily surrender their arms and ammunition in return for government patronages such as stipends, vocational training and job opportunities.

Establishing Hope in Nigerian Democracy

Nation building strategies can, however, also have domestic effects, because they can be employed by governments to enhance pride in the nation and thus promote social cohesion. Seen from a more negative angle, nation branding can be used by governments to stifle domestic criticism and undermine political opponents. By explicitly linking government policies to national identities and interests, political adversaries can be brushed aside as outsiders who supposedly do not have the nation’s best interest at heart.

Understanding that most nations have their unique circumstances and each one, throughout history, has built and developed itself around certain distinguishing core features:

  • Conscious cultivation of a national identity, the sense of belonging, based on shared values, tradition, history and aspirations. National identity is the foundation of social cohesion.
  • Establishment of institutions and laws of governance which formalise the relationship between the leaders and citizens, and their expectation of service delivery.
  • Participation of citizens in the governance process by choosing a system that serves them best, selecting their leaders and playing an active role in decision making.
  • Economic transformation – it is only right for the people to expect a qualitative improvement in their lives. Part of nation-building, therefore, includes establishing the climate and mechanisms for economic development for the whole nation.

It is worth mentioning that the process of nation-building can only be internally generated and led; it cannot be achieved from the outside, however well meaning. This does not mean that we can’t learn from outside or that we do not appreciate support for our initiatives.

Experienced nation-builders say that, in addition to sufficient financial resources, international political will, and time, the priorities are:

  • Security: guaranteeing citizens a safe environment.
  • Political reform: building a civil society, developing strong local and provincial governments, and ensuring freedom of the press and other civil liberties.
  • Economic reconstruction: restoring economic infrastructure by establishing lines of credit for business, restarting industry, and creating jobs, especially in the agricultural sector, which accounts for most of developing countries’ gross domestic product.
  • Strengthening legal institutions: ensuring a functional and independent judiciary.

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