Nigeria: A Nation in the Making but Without Nation Builders


With Bola A. Akinterinwa; Telephone : 0807-688-2846 e-mail:

Nigeria is currently plagued with many critical problems, ranging from recidivist and elite corruption, infrastructure deficit, bad educational system, unemployment, and terrorism to inability to implement decisions arrived at in various national conferences organised by the Federal Government to address national critical problems. For instance, should Nigeria continue with the current presidential system of government? Should there be a return to regionalism of the 1960s? The current federal system is said not to be a true one. Should there be a confederal system of government or making the current federal system a true one?

As identified on February 7, 2008 by Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, former Under Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary General, in his lecture delivered at the First Year Anniversary of Mustapha Akanbi Foundation in Abuja, there are five main nation-building challenges: the challenges of history, socio-economic inequalities, appropriate constitutional settlement, building institutions for democracy and development, and the challenge of leadership.

In this regard, he asked a fundamental question to which no good answer has been provided even as at today: ‘why has the task of nation-building been so difficult in Nigeria, and the fruits so patchy, despite our enormous human and natural resources?’ In the eyes of Professor Gambari, answers can be found at the level of environmental threats and the challenges posed to nation-building, quality of leadership, and the fragility of political and development institutions.

Professor Gambari cannot be more correct. However, it is important to still ask more questions on the issue of quality of leadership. Are there any nation-builders amongst the present generation of professional politicians? Can we talk about a Tafawa Balewa or an Obafemi Awolowo or an Nnamdi Azikiwe or an Herbert Macaulay in terms of ideology, patriotism or integrity in any of the professional politicians of today? Professor Gambari assumed that there is leadership in matters of nation-building in Nigeria. This is why he talked about quality.

This column does not believe that, in the Nigeria of 2008, and, of course, in the Nigeria of today, we can rightly talk about nation-builders. Those perceived to be nation builders are, at best, purporting to be so. In several seminars and conferences held in Nigeria, most participants always recall that countries like Malaysia took off on the same grade level of development in the 1960s with Nigeria. Reference was always made to cocoa and palm kernels seedlings taken away from Nigeria. While countries which took away the agricultural products are leading in their production, Nigeria, the source of the products, has been relegated to the background, it is argued. Consequently, everyone has been wondering.

In their analysis of the challenges facing Nigeria’s economic development, Lawrence Omorodion and Mary Okpabe (The Nigerian Observer, Friday, 22nd April, 2010) noted at the level of human development challenges that ‘in Nigeria, most of the problems facing the economy are a reflection of the poor quality of human development and management, because education, which plays a critical role in human development and the economic health of the nation, has been neglected for decades.’ They noted further that ‘part of the problems facing Nigeria is that its educational institutions are not designed for the economy. They lack the tools to produce good quality graduates to manage the affairs of the nation.’ In their view, therefore, ‘no nation would make any meaningful socio-economic and political stride without viable educational institution.’

These observations are partly true but do not explain fully the rationales for the existence of the development setbacks. For instance, how many of the poorly-trained graduates from the Nigerian institutions occupy political positions where they can impact directly on the economy? Most of the political and economic power brokers and policy makers have either been trained abroad or have complemented their acquired education in Nigeria with post-graduate studies abroad. In other words, their experience is no longer limited to that acquired in Nigerian institutions. Therefore, the fundamental question remains how to explain and understand the attitudinal disposition of public officials and politicians to Nigeria. It is also about how to explain or reconcile the hostility of 38 years of military rule and 16 years of continuous democracy, characterized by chronic corruption by elected politicians.

Some Critical anti-Nigeria Manifestations
One possible explanation in addition to the foregoing submissions of Professor Gambari and Lawrence Omorodion/Mary Okpape is that, indeed, there are no nation-builders in Nigeria, especially since the end of the 1967-1970 Civil War. There has never been any seriousness of purpose to move beyond the current status of nation-state to that of a sociological nation-building the foundation of which can be built on common culture, common heritage, common language, and, in fact, common patrimony. The lack of seriousness of purpose is traceable to little or no commitment to a Nigerian nation. It also explains why corruption and indiscipline, which began in 1967, became institutionalized in Nigeria. Corruption is a problem but not the main problem militating against national unity, development and nation-building. It is the lackadaisical attitude towards Nigeria as a country of the very people mandated to promote national unity, decency, discipline, patriotism, hard work and honesty of purpose that actually has ensured that these values are destroyed in order to promote self-interest.

In the first instance, many forces are currently militating against a united Nigeria. In the lead of this anti-Nigeria struggle is the Boko Haram sect, set up in 2002 in Maiduguri by Mallam Mohammed Yusuf. Many observers run away from the truth by simply describing them as foreigners or as terrorists without seeking deeper understanding of its ultimate objective, which is the destruction of whatever Nigeria stands for. The Boko Haram is against the Constitution of Nigeria, particularly in the area of secularity. It wants to put in place an Islamic State or Caliphate in place by use of force. It is against westernization as a culture, especially in terms of education.

This means that Nigeria is actually in a state of war of survival in which the Boko Haramists have unlimited freedom to disregard the provisions of international humanitarian law and the Federal Government of Nigeria is being internationally encouraged to respect the rights of the Boko Haramists. Some of them have reportedly repented and Government is said to be working on their rehabilitation (ThisDay, April 10, 2016, p.71). The issue of whether they should be granted amnesty is also being considered. But what really is the extent of the penitent boko Haramists? Have they repented in order to spy? Are they now truly renouncing Islamic fundamentalism?

There is also the related case of the Shiites (Islamic Movement in Nigeria) in the North who have constituted themselves into a parallel government in Nigeria. In between 12th and 14th December 2015 the Shiites shot dead a soldier, Corporal Yakubu Dankaduna, ‘with a gun when he alighted from the convoy to disperse the Shiite members. This prompted the Kaduna State Government to ask for maximum penalty in its case against 50 Shiite members before Justice David Wyom. The Zazzau Emirate Development Association has explained how the leader of the Shiites, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his followers have been terrorizing the Emirate in the past 20 years of their existence (The Nation, Tuesday, April 19, 2016, p.43). Again earlier in the year, they blocked the role in order to prevent the Chief of Army staff, General Buratai, from passing in the course of his lawful duties.

And true enough again, some powerful countries of the world appear to have interest in the dismantlement of Nigeria, even if it is not openly discussed or shown. The speculation by some American analysts that Nigeria might disintegrate in 2015 raises the question of motivation: was it was an American wish or an American invitation to caution? Besides, many countries gave support to the Biafran secessionist struggle. It is not clear whether, if the opportunity of a new secession struggle arises, such former supporters would renew their support for the dismantlement of Nigeria. In other words, if we consider that Nigeria is a regional influential and that Nigeria has been taking policy decisions that the developed world has not been quite happy with, can it not be expected that many of the traditional partners may not hesitate in supporting the dismantlement of Nigeria.

For example, Nigeria is providing a wider and good platform for the Chinese to consolidate their active presence in Africa. This development cannot be liked in the western countries. Nigeria led the ECOWAS discussions on the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) with the European Union. All the ECOWAS countries, with the exception of Nigeria and The Gambia have not acceded to the agreement. As a result, the European Union has found it difficult to move forward with the EPA agenda without Nigeria’s involvement. With this development, Nigeria cannot be in the good books of the European Union which cannot but prefer a weak state to deal with in order to sustain its hegemony.

There is also the hostility of some militants against Nigeria. Notable in this context are the proponents of biafranisation: The MASSOB (Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra), and the IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra). There is also the MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta), which is favourable to actualization of self-identity. In all these cases, those required to nip in the bud all anti-Nigeria activities actually behave as if there is no problem. In fact, government has come out to say that the militants or the anti-Nigeria proponents would be crushed like the Boko Haram (The Guardian, Thursday, April 14, 2016). This is most unfortunate because some Northern elders asked PMB to crush the new Biafrans and vandals and by coincidence or otherwise, PMB was reported to have declared ‘we’ll treat pipeline vandals like Boko Haram.” This may give a very wrong impression that PMB is guided by a northern agenda. This is how Nigeria is, day after day, being run aground.

The problem of militancy of the Fulani nomadic herdsmen should begin to also raise much concern in light of the manner and intensity of their attacks. The expected objective of the herdsmen is grazing and ensuring the survival of their cattle. If there is destruction of farm lands and produce without destruction of life, there may not be any need to raise eye brows, but when herdsmen consciously carry sophisticated weapons, and not only rape people but also kill those who opposed the destruction of their land, I want to believe that Nigeria is gradually being killed softly.

Already, the intention of Barrister Femi Falana, SAN, to refer the problem of the herdsmen ‘in a case of genocide and ethnic cleansing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Hague, Netherland, and the ECOWAS Court against the Fulani herdsmen for their alleged massacre of the innocent people and farmers in Jukunland of Southern and Central Taraba State,’ has been reported (ThisDay, Thursday, April 21, 2016). Thus, hostility of the host community of where the Fulani herdsmen may be living and perpetrating their aggression cannot but increase. As the notion of ‘a Nigerian’ only exists on paper and not in practice, inter-community or inter-ethnic hostilities may not be ruled out in the foreseeable future.
From various reported cases of hostilities by the herdsmen, it can be rightly argued that the herdsmen are instruments of boko haramism. The herdsmen are simply being used to destabilize the country, particularly the southern states, in order to make it ungovernable and disunited.

If this observation is not valid, why should the herdsmen carry AK 47 rifles? If they need guns for self-protection while grazing, how do we explain the raping and killing of people who resist their aggression? Sooner than letter, because we consider the attacks by the herdsmen as part and parcel of boko haramism and because the tempo of the Boko Haram attacks appears to be on the decline, the herdsmen cannot but be required to increase their deliberate attacks. If this happens, it is very likely that hostility against the herdsmen will also rise as the victims of aggression are not likely to fold their hands. Ultimately, the long term implication can only be to the detriment of national unity.

Perhaps most interesting but disturbing is the attitude of Nigerians put in public positions. They generally behave in a manner that fuels anti-Nigerian sentiments. For instance, last Thursday in Abuja, a female federal legislator overtook a convoy of about 20 prison vehicles in Abuja and the legislator, for daring to overtake the vehicles, was assaulted in the process.

The House of Representatives reacted quickly and decided to deal with the Controller of Prisons who led the convoy. The first issue is the extent of constitutionality of non-overtaking of a convoy. If any ordinary Nigeria is in a coma and is being rushed to hospital for urgent care, why should the right of a Controller of Prison override that of another law abiding citizen? In the same vein, is it not because the legislator is thinking that she has a superior status that she also quickly got her other colleagues to intervene? Without doubt, it is animalistic for any law enforcement agents to assault anyone in the absence of provocation. The best that could be done is to make lawful arrest. The point being made from the foregoing is that the perception of the agents of government is not helpful to nation-building.

Put differently, how do we explain the disagreement between PMB and the National Assembly on the issue of the 2016 N6.06 trillion Budget? Who really is protecting the National Interest: is it PMB or the National Assembly? Can we talk about nation-builders with the unending cases of reckless corruption charges being unfolded on daily basis by the EFCC? What about the case of the Nigerians allegedly involved in the Panama Papers saga? Civil and public servants are said to be owed several months of salaries but Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are to be given each, a Toyota Land Cruiser Sports Utility Vehicle at a cost of about N35 million per vehicle. How do we explain this contradiction within the context of nation-building?

The Way Foward
The future of Nigeria cannot be bright in terms of national unity and nation-building with the current generation of political elite in the country. It has therefore become necessary to engage in self-reappraisal exercises in order to prevent national self-destruction. In this regard, there is the need to breed a generation of nation-builders. Government should ensure that at each level of government office, the Chief Executive should be made to provide exemplary leadership on the basis of Public Service Regulations, unflinching patriotism and fear of God. The purpose is to lay the foundation for building strong individual leaders and institutions. This should be carried to the secondary and tertiary colleges as well.

In addition, as suggested by the President of the Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote, President Muhammadu Buhari should continue to prioritize anti-unemployment, increased power generation and anti-corruption as the enduring solutions to Nigeria’s myriad of problems.