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.