Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Crisis of the Nigerian State

The Nigerian nation-state is in crisis. This appears to mimic a trend in other parts of the world since the end of the Cold War where several multi-ethnic states are unravelling. Examples include the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In all cases, ethnic, nationalist, regional and religious
forces have emerged to challenge the state. In the case of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, successor states have emerged from the old state. In Africa, the crisis in the Great Lakes region, particularly the genocide in Rwanda, and the ongoing conflict in the neighbouring Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo and as well as in Côte d’Ivoire all reflect the tensions between the nation and the state. It would appear that the current crisis is tied to the alienation of the post-colonial nation-state from the collective aspirations of the people who have now mobilised themselves along ethnic/national, regional, and religious lines, to challenge the integrative centralised nation-state. Referring to this phenomenon as the curse of the nation-state, Basil Davidson notes that:

the state was not liberating and protective of its citizens, no matter what its propaganda claimed: on the contrary, its gross effect was constricting and exploitative, or else it simply failed to operate in any social sense at all.

This was largely the case with the Nigerian state, which at independence in1960 was still an artificial union of multi-ethnic ‘nations’, which were broadly divided into the North and the South, first by colonial administrative convenience, but also by distrust and rivalry. When the oil boom came in the 1980s,Nigeria was under military rule with its centralist authoritarian character. With the oil largely coming from the oil minorities region of the Niger Delta, the integrative nation-state project came to rely on oil which accounted for over 90percent of Nigeria’s export earnings, and 80 percent of the revenues of the federal government. In political terms, it meant that the hegemonic class had to control the oil in the region, which tended to reproduce the ethnic domination of the region by majority ethnic groups and foreign multi nationals. Secondly, while the oil was taken out of the Niger Delta, and its proceeds used in developing cities in other parts of Nigeria, and also enriching the hegemonic elite, the region itself was impoverished, underdeveloped and polluted. Thus, while there was a zero-sum struggle for power at the federal level between various factions of the ruling elite, the people of the Niger Delta became disillusioned with the nation-state project that alienated them from the benefits of the oil produced from under their lands and waters. It is this that exploded in the 1990safter almost a decade of economic crisis and structural adjustment into a struggle for self-determination in the Niger Delta. Apart from the Niger Delta, there have been inter-, and intra-ethnic struggles over oil in other parts of Nigeria. While some have taken an ethnic colouration, others have been communal, pitching indigenes versus settlers, or neighbour against neighbour. What is rather disturbing is the trend towards the use of violence and the destructiveness of the low intensity conflicts. All attention is focussed on the Centre, which controls all the oil, and on the hegemonic group that has captured the Centre. Demands for change and equity have become very persistent so that access to oil revenues can be redistributed to all. Yet those who control the Centre are not ready to negotiate to their control of oil, and the basis of their power, thus setting the stage for the further escalation of struggles as they seek to hold onto to, and others seek to wrest away, the power of oil.

What flows from the foregoing is that the fundamental issues revolve around the questions: whose State? whose Nation? whose oil? In a context where a homogenising state project cannot mediate the competing claims and demands of the nations within its territorial and jurido-legal space, crisis inevitably erupts. The role of intellectuals in defining claims and demands, or defending such, thus occupies a critical space in the dynamics of nation building in Nigeria. For, ultimately, it is they that produce the ideology of resistance and the language of liberation, with far-reaching implications for the struggles that take place over the definition, content and direction of the national question. It is also important to note that there are intellectuals who produce the ideology of repression and reaction, providing justifications for dictatorship and misrule. Such intellectuals enjoyed a ‘golden age’ during the days of General Ibrahim Babangida as Nigeria’s military President. Some of them, like Professor Oyovbaire, Professor Jinadu, Dr Olagunju and Dr Amuta, produced books that justified the policies of government, and celebrated the General’s leadership qualities, even when it became obvious that his military regime was leading the nation into a crisis. On the other hand, there were intellectuals organised under the Academic Staff Union of Nigeria Universities (ASUU) that struggled against military authoritarianism, and stoutly defended academic freedom in the universities. Yet, there were intellectuals in the social sense of the word, that were immersed in the self deter mi nation struggles of ethnic groups as an interrogation of perceived inequities of the Nigerian nation-state project. It is to this group to whom this paper addresses itself. The choice of the ethnic minorities of the Niger Delta has been guided by the critical position they occupy in the political geography and economy of oil in Nigeria as the goose that lay(s) the golden egg – oil, the lifeblood of the post-civil war nation-state project.

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