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Nigeria-“Who is a Nigerian?”: Identity Politics,Zoning and Compatriotism

Identity politics refers to the sort of politics that is founded ,and limited,to the articulation of self-interest and the perspectives of self-identified groups.The identity may be based on race,religion,ethnicity,class or sexual orientation.For a country like Nigeria,parading more than 250 ethnic groups and boasting over 510 languages,it should not be a surprise,that it’s  politics is hostage to tribalist feeling,as most people identify with,and are loyal to, their ethnic groups,rather than the country.As a result,people are identified by their tribes:you hear,”that is a typical Yoruba man” or “that must be an Igbo woman”,”that ” or “that must be a Fulani” or “that must be a Calabar girl” e.t.c.everybody is first an indigene of an ethnic group,and Nigerian last.

The debate is still ongoing,about “Nigerian-ness”.Who really  is a Nigerian? Make no mistake about it,Nigerians still see Nigeria as a colonial joinery,a mere geographic expression.Unfortunately,this debate about “Nigerian-ness”, is not being conducted with “mere” words,or  intellection.No.Instead,people are using knives,machetes,stones,cudgels,bombs and bullets.Ethnic strifes and sectarian violence,like the recent rival-killings and bombings in Jos and Borno,are expressions of the doubts,and rejection,of the idea of compatriotism,the state of being compatriots,across tribal and religious lines.In other words,people are questioning the idea,that people of different ethnic and religious background can be equal citizens with them.People are still finding it hard to accept other Nigerians as equal citizens and stakeholders,50 years after independence.

This mutual intolerance is paralleled by mutual distrust.Each tribe distrusts the other,believing that if given the opportunity,the other tribe would ride roughshod over it’s claims.Therefore,each tribe strives to outdo the other,in the bid for power or office,in the belief that being in office or power,is the only way to advance and protect it’s interests.Zoning of political offices,the practice whereby offices are rotated among the constituent ethnic groups of the state,is an attempt to resolve or limit this unruly scramble for office,and it’s attendant damages.The idea is that by sharing offices among the various constituent groups or zones,everybody will be given a sense of belonging.Clearly anything,in a multi-ethnic setting,that gives people a sense of belonging,must be a good thing.But at what cost?

Zoning carries too high a cost.Not only because it breeds a culture of entitlement among the general population,as people get used to the idea of aspiring to positions for which they are not personally or professionally qualified,but also,more importantly,it directly hinders development.This is because at the highest levels of government,square pegs are put in round holes, to the detriment of us all.People are given appointments,just because it is their “turn”.No wonder then,that these appointees are not only incompetent,but having been appointed for reasons other than merit,they turn their positions into patronage machines,dispensing favour to associates,friends and family.At the individual level however,every one suffers when a government is inept,including the kinsmen and women of the president,with the exception of  his inner circle of contractors and praise-singers.

In contrast,a competent government,regardless of the provenance of it’s heads,works for the benefit of all,by providing infrastructure and building up the economy.If the government delivers for you,why should you care about the president’s origin? Whether the president is from the North,South or Christian,Muslem or animist should be of no consequence. If we are going to develop as fast as we want,we need to unbundle the governance process into it’s “cake-baking” and “cake-sharing”  parts.And then we should subject the “cake-baking” part to the highest level of meritocracy.We should insist that only the most qualified persons are appointed or elected to the highest offices of government.With an efficient “cake-baking” process in place,there would be  that much more “cake” to go round.

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5 responses to “Nigeria-“Who is a Nigerian?”: Identity Politics,Zoning and Compatriotism

  1. codliveroil February 13, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    One can’t argue with sound logic. I agree with all that you have said. I do have some points though.

    1)Since my parents generation, the old attitudes exist and are passed down from one generation to the next.

    In spite of the NYSC (the national youth service call), hooligans now use ethnic distrust, ethnic paranoia, unemployment, ignorance and cold-blooded wickedness running through their veins , to calmly go about murdering ‘the perceived other(s)’, according to the dictats of ethnic rulers ,local politicians or “religious” clerics. What can be done to break this ugly self-fulfilling cycle? Why are the police and security agencies so lame? I can’t even understand the logic of murdering innocents improves your situation? What happened to all the religion they have been indoctrinated with?They forget about it, when it comes to murdering the innocent.

    2) Nigeria is an expression, which African country isn’t an expression?Ghana is an expression, South Africa is an expression, Zimbabwe is an expression, yet they have all learned to manage their differences. What makes Nigerians so incapable, that they only way they can sort out their differences is division and in many cases mutual destruction. People have to grow up and see the bigger picture. People will now want to use South Sudan as an example. South Sudan is almost as big as Nigeria, with fertile land and a relatively low population, ie it is feasible for them to split. Sudan undivided is 3 times the size of Nigeria. The proposed division of Nigeria, will not result in 1 or 2 states but many tiny unsustainable ‘states’.

    3) Nigerians are resident in nearly every country in the world except for a few like North Korea, Somalia etc. They waste no time in ‘naturalising’ and enjoying the same rights as the host population? You find Nigerians in the US, Kenya, South Africa, Russia, India etc. Why are they so blind, that this same courtesy can’t be extended to those who live within Nigeria? Why such hypocrisy? Why such double standards?

    4) How will merit and honesty, defeat corruption, cheating (political vote) rigging, chauvinism and ignorance that rule the minds of many Nigerians? We can talk of what would be good, but how can this be made to work in Nigeria?

    Without answers to these questions, we can’t expect the present unhealthy situation to change. Ultimately, if not corrected Nigeria will become one of those countries that “never made it”, just a sad case of ineptitude on a grand scale, waiting to be misused by some outside power to do their bidding.

    Thank you

  2. Mena February 15, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Nigerians don’t love Nigeria. Corruption, tribalism, religious violence, inept leadership, passive citizenship, infrastructural decay are simply the symptoms of the fundamental malady: we really don’t care much for the country. We think we do, we insist we do. But we mistake the anger and frustration our national discomfort ignites in us for real passion for the national cause.

    However what we have is self interest! Patriotism is FUNDAMENTALLY tied to SELF INTEREST.
    Man is essentially selfish. Take away self interest and we cant relate with phenomena. All the countries that have hoisted their flags on the moon did so out of self interest. The research going on in Mars is tied to self interest.
    Self interest explains why Mandela, a ‘world citizen’ will be more inclined to spend 20+yrs in prison for south africa, but wont even bat an eyelid about rwanda, biafra/nigeria or ugandans slaughtering themselves.

    My latest offering: http://efemenaoreoluwa.blogspot.com/2011/02/tale-of-driver-millionaire-and.html

  3. henryik2009 February 15, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    Hi Codliveroil,
    Thanks for your comment.I think Nigeria differs from Ghana,Zimbabwe and South Africa in having three large opposed and equal ethnic groups.Because these groups are equally matched in size,it is impossible for any of them to,not only dominate everybody else,but more importantly,be confident of it’s hegemony.This lack of confidence,in a setting of mutual distrust and suspicion,is responsible for the ethnic aggression on display.As you know,attack is considered by many,as the best form of defence.

    In a context where one group is dominant,say 60% of the population,it means that,not only will the leadership be in their hands,but no one can sneeze without their permission.Confident in their position,these people will not be so susceptible to ethnic jingoism.After all if one “brother” is removed from power,he/she will likely be replaced by another “brother”.Imagine if the “Igbo” or “Yoruba” or “Hausa” had 60% of the population of Nigeria.They would be so confident of their hegemony,they would not need to be president,to prove that they are in charge.

    The problems we have in Nigeria are symptoms of a dysfunctional state,engendered by the adversarial rivalry between these groups,nervous about the security of their privileged positions.Add to the mix,the existence of a pot Gold,in the shape of the oil found in an area which by it’s minority status,is believed to be unable to defend it’s wealth;what you get is the free-all that passes for Nigeria.That is why resource control is so key to righting Nigeria.

  4. henryik2009 February 15, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Hi Mena,
    Thanks for your comment.You are right,man inherently selfish.But there are two kinds of selfishness:enlightened and primitive.The whole idea of enlightened self-interest,as opposed to the primitive variety,is that by making life better for those around you,you make life better for yourself as well,because the environment is that much better,as a result of your efforts.
    As a patriot,if you work for your country,both you and your progeny benefit.It is primitive selfishness to amass all the wealth in the world,and then find you cannot sleep at night because,poor people,unable to sleep for empty bellies,are patrolling through night keeping you awake.Nigerians do not really love Nigeria,because they have not been given a reason to.But that can change.
    Mena,check out the old posts on “resource control”,”feudalism”.

  5. interesting facts April 21, 2011 at 3:01 am

    elite blog! I’ve bookmarked it and I’ll beback to read more in the future.

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