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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.