Friday, 18 May 2012

Conceptual Issues in the Crisis of Nation-Statism in Nigeria

The crisis of Nation-statism, which currently raises the spectre of the possible disintegration of Nigeria, is the culmination of historical factors and the deepening contradictions in Nigeria’s oil political economy. In an analysis of the minority rights issue under Nigeria’s federal structure, it was noted that:

The tension between Nigeria’s federal centre and its constituent units has persisted since colonial times. It has frequently assumed genocidal proportions, thus constantly calling into serious question the philosophical and practical bases of the Nigerian federal system.

The foregoing point is further under scored with instances of conflicts between the federal government and various minorities, such as the Tiv riots of 1959,1960, 1964, the Nigerian civil war of 1967-70, the militarisation of the Niger Delta, and religious strife.

The roots of the present crisis lie in the historiography of nationalism. In the earliest phase of ‘modern’ nationalism which was linked to Pan Africanism in the late 19th century, there was basically no fundamental disagreement with the colonial state structure imposed on African social formations. Rather, the protests were against racial discrimination and oppressive colonial laws, and the non-involvement of the western-trained African elite in the higher rungs of the colonial administration. This can be gleaned from the demands of organisations such as the Nationalist Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA), and the West African Students Union (WASU), the Nigerian Youth Movement, and the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP). These groups in the1920s, 1930s and early 1940s made up the first wave of nationalist agitation with strong connections with the Pan-African movement. Indeed, some of the actors in these organisations had studied in the United States of America and Britain, and had been involved in the Pan-African movement. Some of them who participated in the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Ghana in 1945 included Dr. James Aggrey, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. Mbonu Ojike, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, George Padmore, S.L. Akintola, Magnus Williams and Wallace Johnson. These Pan-Africanists propagated macro-nationalism along African and West African lines, but after the end of the Second World War, and with the decolonisation process in top gear, the second wave of nationalism took over, this time directed at the individual nation-state. From Pan-Africanism they turned their focus to their respective nation-states, setting up national parties in readiness to contest national power, but in some cases using ethnicity and religion and other primordial sentiments to mobilise the peasants and workers to support their political ambitions. Thus, in the new wave of nationalism, not only was the focus on the nation-state, but also on those parts or regions of the nation-state that could deliver power.

As has been noted in relation to Nigeria:
When it was clear that constitutional changes would transfer power to Nigerians, ambitious politicians dropped the ideals of Pan Africanism and even of national consciousness and created strong regional political parties... Such parties rested on strong ethnic feelings– indeed, the formation of such parties was preceded by cultural unions, which revived the ideology of the ethnos and manipulated local traditions for effectiveness and mobilization.

How then, can the change in the direction of nationalism be under stood? This can be discerned from the link between the nationalists and a class project. It would appear that based on their exposure to western education and culture, the emergent Nigerian elite saw themselves as the natural successors to the colonialists, that is, as a ruling class-in-waiting. Although in their writings, speeches and polemics they were anti-colonialist, their politics was accommodationist in orientation. Three issues are very critical. First, most of the nationalist elite were not against capitalism, even though they flirted with various forms social democracy, or Fabian socialism. They were aware of their class identity and project even as they formed alliances with the masses based on ethnicity and the need to overthrow a ‘common enemy’. Second, they did not interrogate the structure of the colonial state that was basically an exploitative and oppressive in nature, even if some, like Obafemi Awolowo, had referred to Nigeria as a ‘mere geographical expression’, and advocated a federation of ethnic states, as the best political arrangement for managing Nigeria’s diversity. Third, based on the ethnic under pinning of their nationalism, the political parties they formed broadly represented ethno-sectional interests: Northern People’s Congress – North (Hausa-Fulani), Action Group – West(Yoruba), National Council of Nigerian Citizens – East (Igbo). Apart from ethnic difference – and the exclusion of the ‘other’ from power and resources –the demographic factor became coterminous with power, with the majority with the obvious advantage, and the minority at a disadvantage. In this way the(ethnic) nationalists sowed the seeds for future discord and crisis in the Nigerian nation-state.

The outcome of the foregoing was that there was no fundamental break in the character of the nationalism of the Nigerian elite, safe for a ‘shrinking’ in its focus over time. After its formation of a broad alliance with the masses in order to use their anger as a tool for negotiating the transfer of power, or what was really the indigenisation of the colonial state, the alliance was consumed in its own contradictions. After independence, this broad alliance began to breakdown under the new ideologies of national development and national unity which sought to homogenise the nation-state project, but led to regional rivalry, the manipulation of the electoral process in Western Nigeria, crisis and coup d’├ętat, and civil war.

The civil war provided yet another opportunity to rally the masses around a national unity project, and to make an example of what could happen to those who attempted to secede. At the same time oil, which was concentrated in the ethnic minority areas of the Niger Delta, had become the unifying locus of the Nigerian post-war centralised nation-state project. It is the breakdown of the post-civil war ‘social contract’ between the political (military) elite and the masses that is at the heart of the current crisis that threatens the existence of the Nigerian nation-state.

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