Why Nigeria stagnates as a nation-state -By Rees Chikwendu

Filed under: National Issues |

Rees Chikwendu


To some people it may seem that I am a bit obsessed with Nigeria, considering how often I intrude in the discussions of its disturbing issues. Well, maybe I am, because the country has remained a troubled state. Most times it behaves waywardly and violently – reasons to be concerned. And those who still have some affection for it are not relenting in participating in the discussions of its problems, and maybe, in order to offer possible solutions. But is Nigeria really capable of change? What factors have ossified its evolution into a sustainable nation-state? And why has Nigeria remained a troubled state?

Those who really understand Nigeria would know that it is capable of extraordinary (or certain) positive changes. Think of its micro-nations, and then imagine all their manifest and latent potentials. Think of the possible ways of those potentials could combine to unleash to speed the development of the country. Think, too, of how various Nigerian ethnic groups could form the building blocks of a true nation if they ‘collide’ or compete healthily with another. The strength of Nigeria multiethnic society can only be achieved in a well-structured state, where each ethnic group can be used as the building cells of the body of a Nigerian nation-state. The quality of the foundation of a Nigerian state is in the robustness and resilience of each of its ethnic groups. From Nigeria’s East to West, South to North, the potentials are innumerable. There is no Nigerian ethnic group that has not been blessed with natural and human resources capable of contributing to the extraordinary change of development that the country needs.

However, at the moment, Nigeria’s south is the country’s economic mainstay as a result of its large reserves of oil and gas. Oil wealth has become detrimental to Nigeria’s desperately needed development due to over-dependence on it and neglect of other potentials. The country’s oil wealth curses its institutions through poor governance, promoting high government spending and corruption. In other words, Nigeria’s wealth through oil rent has weakened its state institutions and has a contingent effect of mismanagement. This effect has made economic detritus of other great potentials that could catapult the country into fastest developing nation in Africa.

Like in many extractive nations cursed by abundant resources, Nigeria is so blind to its numerous other potentials across its regions and people. This is especially in the human resources sector. In addition, politics of ethnicity, hate and bigotry have undermined obvious abundant potentials across the regions of the country. How to jigger Nigeria’s potentials together to hurtle its development still remains the challenge of its elites and leaders. This challenge can be attributed to their lack of vision and their mental laziness. Although in some ways, it seems to be a deliberate effort to keep marginalizing some regions and ethnic groups of the country. This strategy has obviously worked against Nigeria.

For example, apart from oil and gas resources, Nigeria’s south-south has the potential to be additional hub of commerce, but it is deliberately being marginalized through politics of ethnicity. This region has been denied the opportunity to be major commerce hub to serve trade needs within Nigeria and West Africa. The seaports of these regions were liquidated and abandoned as part of Nigerian government anti-Igbo policies – as instrument of economic and political deadlocking. We all know that Lagos is the only state with a functional seaport in a big country like Nigeria. We also know that it is the government ‘thank you’ gift to the Yoruba ethnic group for the support it gave (and still gives) Nigeria against Igbo cessation. But this policy and its economic recklessness is greatly hurting the entire country.

Now, imagine a new approach and the economic opportunities: An approach that makes southwest and south-south Nigeria’s commerce hubs. This can be achieved by reactivating the seaports in the south-south region, and it would not only boost trade in Nigeria but also in West Africa. It would create more Lagos states in the south-south and southeast regions. That is, states that would be economically viable. Such move will grow the size of Nigerian cities and speed the country’s urban metabolism, spilling over to rural areas. It would cause the emergence of metropolis and urban employment for youths of these regions, keeping them busy from being willing tools of anarchy in the country. Moreover, it would reduce the current burden on Lagos state and decongests it of its socio-economic clogging. Then imagine, too, making the southeast region the industrial hub of Nigeria, since Igbo people are talented in this area. This would lead to an emergence of another Japan in Africa, creating exponential entrepreneurs in the spirit of the Igbos as industrious and entrepreneurial. This is about the south and the non-oil and gas potentials of its three regions. What about the north? Is the future bleak for the north?

Nigeria’s north could serve the agro-economic exigencies of Nigeria and Africa. It is a region blessed with arable lands that could position it as the food basket of Africa. During my recent visit to Nigeria, I came to realize that Nigeria is not poor country. Nigeria is only a country of waste. The north grows so much food that they are being wasted due to lack of modern ways of processing and preservation. It is also because of the lack of electricity or its surge that most perishable foods grown in northern Nigeria get wasted. Now, imagine combining the agricultural potential of the north with its solid minerals. What an economic powerhouse this region would become to Nigeria and Africa, instead of the stigma it suffers today as the poorest, most illiterate, disease ravaged, and terror-stricken region of Nigeria.

Unfortunately, Nigeria has not allowed positive thinking to shape its environment therefore its environment has not returned any favor. Nigerian elites and policymakers have refused to put economic interests ahead of politics of ethnicity, and the country is paying the ultimate price. This is why the country bleeds – economically, socially, and politically. Nigeria is an environment that squelches its potentials. And it should not surprise you why the country is in a dire economic situation today and effortlessly breeding crime and terrorism.

Also, Nigeria’s inability to produce a social contract of existence and preservation of its ethnic groups is incendiary bombs to the country’s existence. The fact that it has not allowed its ethnic groups to voluntarily cede power to it as a sovereign state that would represent their collective interests has made it a troubled state. This is because Nigerian people have not been given the opportunity to decide on their own to enter into a political society through process of contract making, in this case, to produce a people-oriented constitution and to restructure the country according to the aspirations of the people. As it is today, Nigerians have not agreed (yet) to give power to a Nigerian absolute authority. The power that the Nigerian state exercises today is a stolen and coercive power. It’s bereft of the people’s consent. Besides, the Nigerian state has never acted as if it is there to protect the collective interests of the people or the constituent ethnic groups. It has failed to transform itself into a society of free people where all are equal citizens dedicated to a common cause and acting collectively. Instead it remains a state of the slaves and the masters. It is for these reasons, speaking metonymically, that country acts violently. This is why there are so many agitations and insecurities that ossify the development of Nigeria.

In the Hebrew Scriptures even God gave the Israelites the opportunity to voluntarily enter into a covenant with Him. He did not coerce them into obedience despite being their creator. Why can’t Nigeria take a leaf from God’s own book?

In conclusion, for Nigeria to succeed, it must learn to cobble together the adjacent possibilities of each of its ethnic groups to create an economic strength. The country needs to play a bit of God by exploring other boundaries, usher new possibilities of economic and social opportunities, draw a clear map of all the ways it can reinvent itself, be permissive to even odd ideas, and open doors to all to a place they could call home. It should allow ideas that originate from the east to connect, fuse, and recombine with ideas from the west, south, or north, and vice versa. There is no need to keep creating borders, to keep stifling good ideas because of the ethnicity of the people the ideas come from. It doesn’t grow a nation but disintegrates. Nigerians must learn to compete and to complete each other. Each ethnic group within Nigeria must learn to see another as an element or that initial molecule that needs to combine to create super compounds.