Being presentation by Prof Pat Utomi at the 26th University of Lagos Moslem Alumni Association Annual Lecture titled: THOUGH TRIBE AND TONGUE MAY DIFFER: INTERROGATING NATION-BUILDING IN NIGERIA
I want to congratulate the organisers for the choice of theme, Though Tribe and Tongue may differ: Interrogating Nigeria’s Nationhood. To engage on effectively on the subject, it is important to lay down a few caveats. One is that there is no one right path to nationhood. Different societies have travelled different modes of transportation to get to the same destination. So, it is important to have an open mind and a listening ear to process what different people are arguing.
The Americans, the first new nation, chose the melting pot approach. Even if imperfections may be identifiable in the ideals they professed and conduct of their founding fathers, it should be a thing of pride that their founding founders were careful enough to draft a constitution that enshrined individual liberties, states rights, and the protection of minority groups in the making of that document. Many still marvel at the ideals captured in electoral college votes that can give the presidency to a person with several million less popular votes.
The much regarded contemporary British historian, Niall Ferguson, in his book, Civilization, advanced the view that the making of the US constitution is perhaps the greatest effort at Institution building in human history and I must admit that I agree with him to a large extent. But the Europeans travelled a different path. From the Defenestration of Prague in 1618 when the Emissaries of the Holy Roman Emperor were thrown out of the window, triggering the war of European Princes, pretending to be fighting a religious war for 30 years, even though Catholic Princes in France sided often with Protestants against the German Catholic Emperor. These battles for balance of power in Europe largely led all to the table of negotiation which in 1648 changed the dominant order.
The outcome, the Peace of Westphalia enthroned the doctrine of non-interference in internal affairs and inviolability of national boundaries which we keep referring to, when we say; the unity of out country is non-negotiable. Note, however, that the Americans encoded the right to breakaway or secede. Few expect that will be contemplated, but the clause puts the pressure on politicians and state institutions to drive popular culture towards justice, equity, fairness and a system that has integrity. Let us be clear and unequivocal about this, the reason so many groups are saying they want out of Nigeria today is that the country is so badly governed they feel they will be better of outside this. Compared to the benefits of the larger Customs union called Nigeria it should seem absurd but they can do the math and calculate that at this rate they are better of outside it. But are they? Well if being in makes them feel they are slaves anything else would be better than such a loss of dignity.
What Bush path did we journey to 1960 from?
Why and how did Nigeria travel a track in which many in colonial times, built friendships and even political partnership across ethnic lines. The reason a Fulani man was elected Mayor of Enugu and Igbos went to Parliament from Lagos? Understanding these patterns and why things changed has been made difficult by the retreat of rational public conversation in favour of emotional trading of insults and effort to put one spin on history as against another in a suffuse of factual counterpoints.
The trouble with avoiding rational conversation in favour of the emotional trading of insults that characterize the market place of ideas or public square comes out quite clearly in the work of Joshua Greene who combines Psychology, Neuroscience and Philosophy in probing why and how we act, our attitudes and behaviour. His book, Moral Tribes, explains how emotion and reason play in the gap between us and them.
A STRUCTURED APPROACH
To run away from a stream of factual counterpoints in the interpretation of history, I have chosen to examine the nationality question from the horizon of members of society on what determines their goals and how those align with the common good. My favourite frame here is the Greek hierarchy ranking members of society from a base of people who think only of themselves, who they, the Greeks, call idiots, those who think only of their kit and kin, bound by parochial bonds, who they call Tribesmen, and those at the peak of civilized society who recognize man’s shared humanity and are motivated to act based on it. This category they call citizens. The direction of evolution of society ideally should be from Idiots upwards to citizens. I am afraid that my view is that Nigeria is travelling in the wrong direction with a fast and furious race to the bottom and that the primary reasons for this reversal of fortune are the failure of leadership, challenged education and a complicit middle (an educated elite refusing to exercise citizenship to protect their gains, preferring instead to hope to survive bubble and thrive in a cocoon, but sometimes collaborating in the cover of darkness, with the Tribesmen and Idiots, so they can extract rents from the system).
Instead of growing to citizenship we seem to be in a rush to the bottom where idiocy dwells.
As we rush away from our shared humanity towards self love we create a new prism in which sharing trumps production, It is this narcissm that makes politics the domain of legal plunder, the corruption that cripples state institutions and makes poverty, the emblem of extant Nigeria, and challenges elite consensus.
How do we reverse the trend of a rush to the bottom? We must find leaders, educate people and develop paths to elite consensus and just economics.
Leaders: We must find a way of selecting leaders who can lead. Who are leaders and what are their attributes and how do we ensure a pipeline of such in public life?
Leaders are people of vision who have the knowledge and the empathy and care for the people that they sacrificially give of themselves in pursuit of the shared goals they seek to advance in the interest of the people of today and tomorrow.
Stephen R Corey, the legendary Personal Effectiveness guru argues that there are two dimensions of leadership which have to be present for effectiveness. These are knowledge and a sense of service. Both dimensions elevate the leader in the direction of moral authority as the American Political Scientist James McGregor Burns would characterize the role of the intellectual in leadership.
Leaders set to tone of culture and culture shapes human progress. When those in positions of authority do not set the appropriate moral tone, society slides. How does a political group that campaigned on an anti-corruption mantra end up being accused by the Secretary General of the Arews community in Delta State, Alhaji Usman as being the most corrupt government since independence? Something is wrong here whether Usman be right or wrong.
That is part of the collapse of culture which impedes nation building because it deepens the trust deficit in the land. As Alhaji Maitama Sule spoke so eloquently in a television interview on the life of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sarduana of Sokoto, people should choose between being Ministers and being businessmen. No one should go to government aiming to get rich, the Sarduana had admonished and Mariana Sule reminded us. But what we have seen is that the incentive has become higher to go into politics where the Governor has an unlimited and unsuperintended slush fund called Security Vote.
Education: Education that expands the mind invariably leads more people to find their shared humanity. Human solidarity in the main, led people away from Tribesmen to Citizens. But who have the highest out of school rate in the world? This failure to set our priorities right with education as can be seen in budget allocation to education. How do we compare the 1957 budget of Eastern Nigeria that triggered a quarrel between the premier, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe , and the Permanent Secretary in Finance, Chief Jerome Udoji with the Premier pushing for more allocation to education after 40 percent had gone there,. In some states today education received paltry sums far less than some security votes.
This means that flows to educate our youth bulge, which could give us a demographic dividend may in our failing to fund appropriately result in young people with little understanding of the issues and nothing to lose. They thus become easy to be recruited to prosecute nihilist agenda in terrorist groups.
Elite Consensus. If there is consensus among the elite, it sure is easier to solve problems that drive people into the embrace of parochial groups. If many of the educated middle class people create private LGAs to solve their personal problems, from water to security etc without engaging the public sphere for more efficient public goods solution conversation how do you build a nation.
If the foregoing be the solution how come people from the 1950s thought for less about ethnicity, and two American academics Robert Melson and Howard Wolpe found it necessary to decry, as ethnocentric, the references by their colleagues to the ethnic clashes of the middle 1960s in Nigeria as tribal, depicting primitivity. They instead explain the divisions of the seasons of the Nigeria Civil War as leaders of ethnic nationality groups competing for who would most bring progress to their people. This competition, competitive communalism, drove development.
When people like me helped found the Concerned Professionals to protect the annulment of the election of the 12th of June 1993 how come it did not occur to me that Chief MKO Abiola was Yoruba and I Igbo? Perhaps it was my exposure, having been born in the North, educated there at the primary level, in Ibadan at the secondary level and Nsukka in the East at the tertiary level for my education. Clearly these are factors that reduce the gap between us and them. But how about people who are much embittered with exactly the same experience because it made them face a pogrom in 1966 in the North and a Civil War.
There are more questions, for now, than answers, the issue is will fragmentation serve us better. For a fact the Amenian genocide, from where the word genocide entered our lexicon, and the Jewish Holocaust under Hitler caused the United Nation to pass the Universal Declaration of Fundamental Human Rights which began to chip away at the principles of non-interference agreed in The Peace of Westphalia, making self-determination a preferred doctrine. This is welcome. But is atomization the answer. Look at what happened when single ethnic States like Imo were carved up with Abia emerging, just as with Ondo and Ekiti. The bitterness and order to pack and go were such that you wonder if break up will bring greater peace of mind. Does every village have to be a state for marginalization to to stop? It is good leadership that can point the people to the fact that what they have in common is more than what they disagree on.
So, if sound economic strategy can be put in place and disciplined leaders who can only emerge from strong electoral process reform that rids the system of the abuse of the electoral process which typically results from state capture, then it should be possible to escape pervasive poverty and build committed citizens who escape being idols of the tribe. Then leaders will seek universal good.
Leaders matter. Building them can reduce the rush to emotion and the gap between us and them widening. Our challenge remains, as Olufemi Taiwo argues in the fact that we refuse to be modern. From his book, Africa Must Be Modern we learn much about the weaknesses of the public sphere in Africa which accentuates the fault lines in our politics.
The duty of liberating us from these shackles is that of citizens.
Prof. Patrick Okedinachi Utomi