Nigeria is going through a rather rough patch of time. At the heart of the country’s current political turbulence are the attacks by Boko Haram – a militant Islamic sect whose ferocity of attacks has alarmed the public and caught our security forces both surprised and seemingly unprepared.
The objectives of the sect appear to be as much about causing disaffection between Christians and Muslims as establishing a theocratic Islamic order in the country. Although Boko Haram’s mischief has intensified in the past two years – coinciding with the ascendancy of Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to the presidency – the formation of the group dates back to 2002. The ferocity of the attacks has also increased rather significantly as Nigeria approaches its centenary, with just about 18 months away!
Every so often, when Nigeria has confronted severe political challenges, the fear that the country will fracture is never far away.
The notion that Nigeria will soon break up has become the default position in the thinking of a segment of the public, some politicians and political analysts of various persuasions. Two books published in the past 10 years by foreign analysts of Nigeria well capture that mindset: This House Has Fallen: Nigeria In Crisis by Karl Maier (2002) and Nigeria: Dancing on The Brink (Council on Foreign Relations Books) by John Campbell (2010).
Yet, Nigeria has shown remarkable resilience in the face of adversity in the past. In many important respects, the challenges that Nigeria faces are hardly unique: they are the product of the country’s stage of development and of its cultural, ethnic and religious diversity. But Nigeria cannot be the most diverse country in the world. This raises the question of why have other more diverse nations thrived, while Nigeria is frequently close to the precipice?
The answer lies in our inability to build, nurture and sustain strong, effective and functional governmental institutions to tackle the many challenges of nationhood. The experiences of the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States of America (USA) clearly illustrate this contention.
Germany with a population of almost 82 million people with diverse ethnic, religious, and political groups has remained united, strong and vibrant since its pre and post-second world war unifications brought about by Chancellors Otto Von Bismarck and Helmut Kohl, respectively. Like in Nigeria, the Germans have passed through difficult and turbulent times during the Second World War and its aftermath. But today, Germany is not just the fifth largest economy in the world, it is the leading country in the European Union of 27 member states and one of the world’s most technologically and economically advanced and politically stable countries. It has emerged stronger and more stable.
The US also has had its own fair share of trying challenges during her various stages of national development: the constituent states fought a war over slavery, the country has struggled against institutionalised racism and to build a just and free country where every American would realise the American dream. The 1776 declaration of independence and the constitution of 1789 which form the foundations of the US federal structure are major milestones in the political evolution of that country.
A critical factor in the successful efforts by these two countries to overcome their myriad challenges are effective institutions. Of course, it takes time for institutions to develop and to work for the good of the people. This is why both the US and Germany have fared so well-strong, united and prosperous- after centuries and decades of unification.
But in Nigeria, what do we have? At every point of national tensions occasioned by either ethnic or religious or a combination of both tendencies, we often return again and again to the familiar refrain that the British amalgamation of the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria with the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria to form colonial Nigeria in 1914 was a “grave mistake.” That in my view is backward thinking, retrogressive and timid.
The task besetting this generation and indeed the present Nigerian leadership at all levels of government, is how to build a new Nigeria. It is how to foster the birth of a new Nigeria. When the average American speaks about the American dream, he or she does so with so much conviction, passion and pride. This is why I strongly believe that more than anything else President Goodluck Jonathan deserves support at this critical time in our development. The Jonathan administration has set a direction in the areas of agriculture and electoral reforms coupled with Nigeria’s ascendency to the Presidency of the United Nations (UN) Security Council in 2011. The on-going agricultural reforms if carried through successfully,would have very profound and positive impact on Nigeria’s development economically and politically. And hopefully, in a couple of months, the aircraft would have stabilised considerably to deal with other critical issues of governance and development!
That is why, like what late US President John F. Kennedy or British war-time Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, did for their respective countries, President Jonathan should move a step further in his transformation agenda to create a new vision for the country, a new leadership commitment to achieve such vision and a new way for Nigerians to think about themselves as one people. In short, he should chart a new course for a new Nigeria. He should not be just another Nigerian President! We must begin to be self affirmative as a nation. That is why I am so impressed with the current evangelistic crusade of the Centenary Heritage Foundation (CHF), at the heart of which is to build and sustain the spirit of a new Nigeria rooted in the foundations of love, unity, creativity and industry. Nigeria is not only the most populous country in Africa; it is also one of the major exporters of crude oil products to American and European markets.
Sadly, the endless and endemic violence in parts of the North, occasioned by the Boko Haram insurgency and belligerent stance by some of our political elite over next elections in 2015 clearly underscore how internal political challenges threaten the very unity and cohesiveness of the country. The destructive tendencies of the Boko Haram are profound challenges that the Jonathan administration has to tackle decisively.
But the real crisis is that over the years, especially since the end of our civil war, the country’s dependence on oil has created a political economy of distribution --that is distribution of oil revenue -- rather than of production. The extent of Nigeria’s dependence on oil is reflected in these data: oil and gas accounts for an estimated 95 per cent of Nigeria’s export revenue, 80 per cent of the government revenue and about 33 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
The perils of this heavy dependence on oil and gas have not only been fully grasped by our political elite. These perils manifest themselves in various ways. Major sectors of the economy that should generate employment have been neglected over the years. Acquiring political power is seen as a quick route to gain access directly or indirectly to the revenue from oil. Many states show less commitment to generating their internal revenue -- in a reversal of the ethics of inter-regional competition before oil became a significant factor in our national fiscal arrangement. Closely related to the last point is the tension and agitation over an appropriate revenue allocation formula that can simultaneously address the needs of oil-producing and non-oil states.
Nigeria’s challenges are many. I strongly believe that what we as citizens should do is to pull the country back from the brink and ensure that Nigeria continues to develop into a most coherent and robust community of people with shared values and collective social prosperity. That is what would guarantee the emergence of Nigeria as a vibrant country, especially as she approaches her centenary. This House must Stand!
•Mr Djebah is the Senior Policy Adviser to the Delta State Governor on Foreign Relations.