By Prince Charles Dickson
Chains by any other name would still hurt as much—anonymous
As a person I am a cautious optimist on “project Nigeria”, although it is one that I put my whole heart on, despite the counsel of a statesman who once told me “Nigeria was not worth dying for…you must live for it”.
Nigeria despite very recent efforts, remains a nation that simply does not know where it is headed to, or does not want to face what I term, realistic, reasonable and responsible approach to its diversities.
Let me start this way, did you hear that Mr. Buhari appointed a Department of State Security chief from his village? Are we aware that every time that Mr. Buhari sacks a Yoruba man, he replaces him with a Yoruba, and when he sacks an Igbo man he replaces him with an Hausa man, and if a Fulani man is removed he is replaced by a fellow Fulani brother?
Okay, I am sure we have heard Don Fayose of Ekiti state scream alongside many that the “woman boss” of the Independent National Electoral Commission is the President’s in-law, or that an Igbo Secretary to the federation could not be announced because Tom was still looking for Jerry.
How could we forget all that zoning drama that characterized the emergence of the leadership of the 8th National Assembly? One, which the Egbas, Ijebus, Ijaws, Ikweres and Nupes totally lost out…because Ali Baba has one more thief amongst the original 40.
How could I forget the whole brouhaha of the 97% that voted for me and those 3%? How about the debate that Kachichukwu of oil monopoly giant NNPC being Igbo, or not being really Igbo…
The ethnic conundrum of our existence continues to hunt and haunt us being one of the major obstacles to the existence of the Nigerian state. Beginning with the transition from colonial to neo-colonial dependence, military and back to the current brand democracy. The conflict spiral generated by ethnicity can be seen at all the critical phases in Nigeria, its democracy, the party system, the electoral process and the sharing of the national cake via offices and resources.
Almost all our conflicts, controversies and interests all narrow down to who is from where…? Even the way we are reported: Mr. Buhari from Muslim North, or Mr. Jonathan from predominately Christian South.
The truth is that as much as some form of true federalism or on the extreme confederacy, resource control and largely self determination is desirable, however the complexity of ethnicity in Nigeria can only be properly understood in the context of power struggle among various factions of the ruling class, especially within the context of the lower class’ ignorance through manipulation. The empirical fact being that ethnicity cannot be deconstructed because we have a faulty form of state and a morally bankrupt class in power.
Ethnicity has been also constantly shifting because of a fluid and dynamic nature of changing interests, for example a hitherto unknown South-South (which contextually in English is wrong) or a salient Northeast, then a newspaper Middle Belt, a political one, and also a geographical Middle Belt remain real. It has simply varied as demands change or as the social injustice is perceived, from the rigid North/South and Christian/Muslim divide.
It is difficult to prefix a particular political tendency to the collectivism of an ethnic group because as the Nigerian example suggests, different political tendencies can be expressed within a particular ethnic group, like the differences between the Ohaneze ndi Igbo and MASSOB and that of the Afenifere fon awon Yoruba and the OPC.
It has been recently easy for everyone to have an understanding of the term ethnicity within a narrow conceptualization. This is rather a faulty assumption. For one, there is a tendency to conflate ethnicity with other social phenomena that share similar features especially those that fall within primordial and communal identities like tribalism, favouritism, the Biafran struggle, Resource control, MEND, BOKO HARAM, MASSOB, OPC et al.
There could also be the tendency to see ethnicity as the natural outcome of existence of ethnic groups, which again is wrong, the fact that like any other portmanteau word, it can serve as a euphemistic substitute for other appellations has led to abuse, precisely as it has no independent existence of its own. It has been driven by class interests or the quest for power. In our Nigeria today as always it has taken greater meaning in the competitive situations where available resources are scarce in relation to the interests that grow around them.
The major issue in the ethnic struggle is the phenomenon of politicized ethnicity. More often than not, ethnicity is invoked by interests, which are not necessarily described in ethnic terms.
As Claude Ake once put it, “conflicts arising from the construction of ethnicity to conceal exploitation by building solidarity across class lines, conflicts arise from appeals to ethnic support in the face of varnishing legitimacy, and from the manipulation of ethnicity for obvious political gains and not ethnic problems, but problems of particular dynamics which are pinned on ethnicity”. This is the Nigerian situation.
The contradictory tendencies of ethnicity are obvious today and the need to provide important safeguard against centralization and authoritarian tendencies has once more arisen. The problem we have is that the mobilization of ethnicity as a way out has more often than not been for some few people’s material benefit and this has given rise to the questions of citizenship rights, statism, indigeneship/settler palaver. To an extent this has become a veritable tool that is internalized and used as a crisis generating mechanism and obstacle to democracy.
Deep ethnic fears generated by in-built structures that promote unequal access to power and resources is being exploited, and is part of the government’s dilemma at all levels.
In Plateau, the Beroms were culprits, in Kaduna, it was the rest against the southern Kaduna patriots, in Imo, in Rivers, go to Akwa Ibom or Lagos or Ogun States, it is same difference.
You and I, need to think Nigeria without loosing our identity, we need to be the change we want to see, Nigerians need to become noble in understanding themselves: are we ready—Only time will tell.