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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Nigeria-The “Nigeria” Question:Balkanization,Federalism,Subsidiarity and the Passion of the Village Square

Events in Nigeria,in the last one year,from the near-country-wide bombings to the murderous exertions of the “Boko Haram” in the North,culminating in the orgy of violence in the same North,that greeted the announcement of Goodluck Jonathan as the winner of the 2011 presidential election,have given fresh impetus to the question as to whether the Nigerian people are best served by remaining within a united Nigeria or going their separate ways.On one side are the irredentists,who argue that Nigeria has irredeemably failed,and as such it’s constituent tribes should be allowed to go their different ways.In support of this balkanization option,they cite the progress made during the first republic,when Nigeria practiced regionalism.On the other side,are the nationalists,who hold the view that,apart from the practical difficulties of splitting Nigeria into “compatible” ethnic groups,a united Nigeria has certain advantages in  scale and diversity.

Nigeria’s problem is not so much that Nigeria is not homogeneous.Nigeria’s problem stems from the fact that Nigeria is artificial,a colonial creation.And our people being indigenes at heart,cannot relate to it viscerally.There is no gut-wrenching reaction to anything Nigerian,in the same way we react when our tribes are taunted by outsiders or racist remarks are directed at us.That sense of belonging or ownership that we have with regard to our tribes,is not felt for Nigeria.We are still basically tribesmen: Igbos,Yorubas,Hausas,Ijaws,etc living in a space called Nigeria.But we were not the only people colonized.Much of the Middle-east and Asia suffered colonization too,in one shape or another.The difference is that most of those countries are historic: they were already existing in a state similar to their present form.This  difference is of crucial importance.

In much of the Middle-east and Asia,the template for citizenship did not change with colonialism.The people lived within the same borders and related to each other,as well as the state,much as they had done for thousands of years before colonization.The only difference was that the king or emperor was subject to the influence of the colonial master.After colonization,they did not need any re-indoctrination to become citizens of their country,because nothing had changed.Their kings or emperor simply went back to ruling their “nations”,as they had done for millennia.The people and their kings did not have to get used to a new geographic contraption,no.It was still the same country to which they had paid allegiance for antiquity.Unlike Africa.Where colonialism meant lumping together mutually distrustful and  independent tribes into new,and arbitrary unions,dictated only by imperial politico-economic rivalry.

It is this difference between African and Asian colonial experience,that explains the contrast in the quality of leadership between the two regions.Asian leaderships have a legacy of Nationalism: they can draw from a tradition of leadership,which viewed the entire country as the primary constituency of the king or emperor.You might have noticed that Middle-eastern or Asian dictators generally tend to be benevolent.While they may not have had perfect human rights records,they still developed their countries,unlike African dictators.This is because there existed a tradition of  “national-scale” leadership.This contrasts with our experience,where leaderships,lacking such a legacy of “national-scale” vision,fall back on “tribal-scale” myopia.Our leaders are mere clan-patriarchs at heart,unable to provide the necessary leadership on a national-scale,because their vision cannot seemingly transcend tribe.

It is because the irredentist understands this leadership-limitation,that he advocates balkanization,believing that leadership within tribal enclaves would be fairer and more accountable.Not because of hatred of other tribes.The irredentist’s sovereignist enthusiasm is therefore functional,not necessarily sentimental.It is about living in a space where one feels comfortable not only physically,but developmentally;It is about not being afraid that one would be  stabbed in the back: literally through sectarian violence or metaphorically in the shape of discriminatory government policies.It is about responsive governance,and an engaged citizenry.Understanding that the irredentist’s true craving is for good governance,should give hope to both nationalists and  irredentists,that balkanization of Nigeria need not be inevitable. The question to be asked is this,”can we  secure the same governance and security that the irredentist craves,while retaining the advantages of scale and diversity that come with a united Nigeria?”

We definitely can,like the United States.But to do this would require,like the United States,faithful adherence to the principle of federalism.Although the United States is geographically,numerically and economically several times the size of Nigeria,it is much smaller administratively than Nigeria.This is because the Americans apply the principle of subsidiarity: the idea that things are better done at the lowest competent level of government.Most of the things that matter to Americans are handled locally.In contrast,in Nigeria,you cannot change your electricity meter,without reference to some bureaucrat in Abuja.There is too much power and money concentrated in Abuja.This is what frustrates,and alienates the citizenry.If we want to see a Nigerian citizenry animated by the passion that characterized the typical African village square,we need to bring back the village square.To do this would entail extensive decentralization,true federalism and resource control.

Nigeria-President Jonathan and “Fresh air”:Averting a Crisis of Expectations

The 2011 presidential election was a typical Nigerian election,at least in one respect:it was not fought on the basis of any discernible manifesto.In developed democracies,manifestos are key factors in any political contest.Political candidates woo the electorate by publicly declaring the principles and intentions underpinning their candidacy.The electorate responds by choosing the candidates whose manifestos promise the greatest good to the greatest number of people.In contrast,in Nigeria,people prefer candidates for reasons of tribe,zone or religion.People never choose a candidate because of the candidate’s credentials or track record,no.It is always about what tribe,zone,godfather or religion the candidate represents.Every vote is a “balancing-act”,designed to redress zonal,tribal or other  “marginalization”;never about the candidate’s ability to perform in office.

President Goodluck Jonathan won the 2011 presidential election,because many voters wanted an end to the perceived “born-to-rule” mentality of Northern elites or to redress the perceived marginalization of the south in the rulership stakes of the country.I consider the 2011 presidential election a referendum on zoning,and my vote for president Jonathan was a vote against zoning.Zoning is the insidious idea,on the altar of which competence is sacrificed,which facilitates the “peaceful”  rotation political power between Northern and Southern elites.It seeks to bring some sort of “order” to the process of robbing the country blind,the preferred occupation of Nigerian elites.Zoning cuts across all the political parties.It was no coincidence,that of the four major parties,three produced Northerners as their flag-bearers.That tells you there was an understanding among the elites,to “return” power to the North.Thankfully,the masses were having none that,as dramatically demonstrated by South-west voters who rejected the ACN candidate,in favour of Jonathan,thereby reversing the pattern of the parliamentary elections,held a  week earlier.

In all this,there was very little consideration given to what programs president Jonathan had in store for the Nigerian people.You would struggle to find a Jonathan supporter,who voted for him because he was enthused by his proposed programs for the country.Apart from the legend,”i-want-fresh-air-in-Nigeria”,there is really no program of action that one can point to.And for any president,manifestos are important.Massively so.A program of action,with clearly defined items to be executed within strict time-lines,is necessary for the any president to succeed.The president needs such a road-map to motivate not only himself,but his entire team.One of the reasons Nigerian presidents/governors  have always performed poorly,can be attributed to the absence of a program against which,they can judge their progress.A president should have such a program that commits him to certain projects within a certain period,such that the progress made on these projects would act as a proxy,for the progress made by the administration.

Manifestos are also important because they provide the public with a yard-stick against which the president can be judged,realistically.Some may imagine that in the absence of a manifesto,the president gets a free-pass.Wrong.The president still gets judged,only this time,unrealistically.This is where the “crisis of expectation” comes in.The absence of manifestos does not translate into absence of expectation.When there are manifestos,expectations are anchored to the promises made in those manifestos.When there are no manifestos,expectations become “fantastical”: expectations are now unreasonable,unrealistic and in the realm of fantasy.When a party does not govern on the basis of a manifesto,it creates opportunity for members of the public to write their own.Different interest-groups will write different conflicting manifestos to suit their agenda.The inflation of expectations could lead to a crisis.Nigeria has never had a “crisis of expectation”,in this regard.And that is because Nigerians have never really felt betrayed by their presidents.

Nigerians never felt let down by their past  presidents,because they never believed the presidents were their “servants”.Nigerians always felt their presidents were imposed on them.From Shehu Shagari to Umaru Yaradua.As such Nigerians never believed that those guys owed them.Nigerians did not expect much from them,and therefore could not be disappointed by them.It is very different with president Jonathan.For the first time,Nigerians really believe that they,through their votes,put the president in office.And they expect payback.Nigerians,who,as religious people,have discerned God’s hand in Jonathan’s rise to power,expect God’s candidate to perform “miracles”.Otherwise,the president could quickly learn that there is a very thin line between adulation and villification.Infact they are different sides of the same coin.To meet the people’s expectations,the president has to work harder than any president in our history.He can start by publicly declaring a program of action,by which he can benchmark himself,and the public can judge him,realistically.”Fresh air”,being nebulous by nature,tends not to lend itself to definibility.It needs to be ossified,into a measurable road-map.The hard work should start now.Good luck,Mr president.You will need it.

Nigeria-Intelligibility,Education,the Scientist and Enlightened Citizenship

Nigerian School Children

The material universe is intelligible.Intelligible because it can be understood or comprehended.This means the world in which we live,in all it’s aspects,can be known.If the world can be understood,if the world is really knowable,then it can be predicted.If the world is predictable,then it’s behaviour must be driven by certain laws.Whether it is in the area finance,economy,health-care,social harmony,security or politics,there are certain laws at work.The universe is law-ordered.In order to dominate his environment,as is man’s duty and ambition,it is necessary for him to discover these laws and understand their operations.Man is an intelligent being,with the ability to grasp,learn or understand things.Man’s teachability,not only in his ability to learn,but also in his capacity for teaching others,led to the invention of education.

A process for transmitting knowledge,skills and values from one generation to the next,education is man’s great ally,in his task of understanding the world around him.Education is about building predictive capacity.Education is about helping man become scientific:one who believes that the universe can be understood through reason;that it is possible to generate accurate predictions about the world from certain premises and assumptions.Education,through it’s methodology,is designed to promote faith and confidence in the competence of reason.Reason is a faculty that enables man ascribe a causality to physical phenomena,based on his belief that things do not just happen;they are caused.This allows him to describe and understand the world in terms of cause and effect.The ability to exercise reason is a feature of rationality.

Our people(Nigerians) are intelligent,like other human beings.But how rational are we?While intelligence is just a capacity to comprehend,grasp or understand things,rationality goes deeper.Rationality also includes the ability to make decisions on the basis of cost-benefit analysis.This means being able to take decisions that are necessary to achieving goals that are desirable,whether at the individual or group level.The truth is that the Nigeria we have today is no accident.It is the product of the missteps of the yesterday.By the same token,the Nigeria of the future will reflect the decisions we take today, or fail to take.Whether we acknowledge it or not,one plus one will always give two.Facts cannot be changed by denial.A better Nigeria can only result,if we all make good decisions today.We have to learn to plan.There is no free lunch anywhere.As the saying goes,”those who fail to plan,are planning to fail.” Just like houses which deteriorate physically without proper maintenance,nations are subject to the law of entropy: disorder increases with time.This is an idea we have to get hold of.We have to take care of business today,to create a better tomorrow.

In advocating a scientific mindset,i am not saying that everybody should be a rocket scientist.No.I am suggesting that our education system be primed to teach the idea of causality;to emphasize the principle that our interventions today determine our future.At the individual level,we can all be social scientists no matter our profession or discipline.The car driver should understand the connection between car-maintenance and car-breakdowns or accidents.The politician should realize that,by arming unemployed youths  in order to steal an election today,he is creating tomorrow’s class of militants.The policy-maker who helps to create soci-economic conditions that make it “normal”,for school-age children to have to go through early morning wrestling sessions,as they fight to buy water and kerosine daily,before heading to school,should know that he is helping to create a generation of people for whom society is a jungle,where only the fittest survive.

Having had to snatch survival from the jaws of privation,daily,these kids will see society as a continuum of adversarial battles,where you survive only by knocking the other person down.Today’s deprived and abused children will grow up to become tomorrow’s enforcers,thugs,shake-down-artists and robbers,depending on whether they end up in the military,police or “politics” or any of their variants.These are not the people to build a great nation.Only enlightened citizens can do that.Education enhances man’ natural teachability so that he understands why governments exist,why laws are made and why those laws should be obeyed.He also understands that society is an organism,interconnected,and that when one part hurts everybody suffers.This is what we should be seeking to achieve with our education system.The education we are offering our children now is too narrow.Especially for science-inclined students.

Our engineers and technical graduates are some of the most narrow-minded people around,because they never really studied the humanities.When you consider that people with science backgrounds are usually entrusted with running our infrastructure,from power-supply,roads,housing,environment to the health ministry,then you can understand why we are in trouble.Do not misunderstand me.As a developing nation,Nigeria needs all the engineers and technical types she can produce,to build and manage our infrastructure.I am just saying they would do a much better job,if they were sociologically aware.Right now,most of them are sociological illiterates.Education should not only teach how to build “objects”,but also how to build a harmonious society.So that whether we are doctors,engineers,teachers,lawyers or politicians,we understand that it is all about standing together in harmony.This is the sort of education we should aim for.