Nigeria: Perils of a Zero-Sum Society 


On his first visit to the United States after his improbable victory in the March 2015 Presidential election, the Nigerian leader, President Muhammadu Buhari, averred that he would pursue a process of selective development in his country, based on the voting patterns for his party,  by constituent sections of the  Nigerian electorate. While this raised a lot of righteous anger in the land, and surprise in the democratic country that he was visiting, President Buhari was actually being very honest with himself and most Nigerians.

Nigeria is perhaps the only country on this God’s earth, that is obsessively engrossed with the notion of national unity, while living a lie. From the motto in the national crest “Unity and Faith”, the words of the first national anthem “Though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand”, to the slogans of the victorious Nigerian forces during the Great genocidal war of 1966-1970 “To keep Nigeria One is a task that must be done”, the country has always pushed forth its sense of national unity. However, unlike the rest of the world that seemed to care very little about national unity, including some of our neighbours with the same ethnic diversity, the reality is that Nigeria is the most divided and disunited  country on earth.

The seeds of national disunity were sown even before  Independence in 1960, when a British contrived election process ensured that power was kept in the hands of the region that was least developed and  disinterested in Independence, and really had to be assuaged to agree to Nigerian Independence. Further events in 1966 and the unintended consequences of a brutal genocidal conflict, pitting the rest of Nigeria against  a region and ethnicity of the country, put paid to any notion of national unity, even though the conflict ended with the quaint  sloganeering platitude of” No Victor , No Vanquished”; national unity never recovered and events since then have served to further widen the cleavages in the Nigerian society.

The question that has always irked many Nigerians, other Africans and the rest of the world, is that after decades of Independence and great national wealth accumulation through the instrumentality of prodigious oil and gas reserves, the country has not managed its diversity well enough to even attain a semblance of national cohesion in just about any social and economic endeavour.

This is a country where, the wealth that is derived from particular sections of the country is, by virtue of a contrived demography and cynically conjured political hegemony,  mostly spent in parts of the country that contribute virtually nothing to the national purse, which is basically centred on the accrual and circulation of easy oil and gas revenue; easy, because the exploitation of this vital national resource is  an enclave business of the international oil and gas majors, who do not need any local technical or financial inputs to exploit the oil and gas reserves. Because of this legalized injustice, there is a permanent state of violence , distrust and a terrible and absolute lack of any iota of patriotism in most aspects of national life, leading to a descent to zero-sum attitudes to national issues.

 Virtually every national endeavour that is seen to be advantageous to a part of the country is without fail opposed by other parts who do not see an immediate reflection of these advantages on their own sections, as if there could not be an indirect benefit to these opposing entities.

 To be fair to the Nigerian people, there have been several attempts to address this seemingly intractable national zero-sum political, social and economic game that has been played for decades and that has succeeded in making the country a perennial under achiever in all facets of globally recognized  human development indices. From Aburi in 1967 to the national conferences of 2006 and 2014 and the ill conceived Truth and Reconciliation Commission of 2000, efforts have been made to achieve a notion of national consensus on the need to move forward as one nation in an atmosphere of mutual respect, trust and justice. However, the intrinsic zero-sum nature of national political and economic practice always upended these efforts, leading to the apparent descent to anomie, national perdition and the rapid slide to the status of  a failed state.

The current Government of President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress, appear totally indifferent to the perceptions of this Government in certain critical regions of Nigeria, regions that can hamper any economic agenda of government by throwing spanners in the works, so to say. Protests about political and economic marginalization of these crucial centers of the national economy are met with the body language of unbridled  political arrogance.

The irresponsible attitude of Government may have resurrected the militancy that virtually ground oil and gas exploitation to a halt in 2007, prior to the inauguration of the PDP Government of President Umaru Yardua and Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan. Power generation , virtually dependent on the gas resources of the deprived and marginalised ethnicities has virtually ground to a halt, with an unimaginable zero power output recorded across a country of over 150 million for three hours on a very sad and shameful day in April 2016. The apparent sabotage of the oil and gas resources that feed the power plants has been met with a zero-sum militaristic mind-set of threats of Boko Haram treatments in a terrain where the insurgent is able to inflict maximum harm to the national economy at very little material cost.

The win-win political game that saw the revival of the moribund oil sector, through an amnesty and palliative process in 2007, seems to have been discarded or forgotten in the present zero-sum climate.

 For the Government of a country that is in economic doldrums, this absence of a win-win political mentality spells doom for recovery, diversification and the flow of Foreign Direct Investment. It is quite instructive that Government is willing to travel to all corners of the earth in search of investors while ensuring the absence of the political, social and economic environment that will make investment inflow an oxymoron , and for the overall benefit of the Nigerian commonwealth.

 The perils of zero-sum thinking, anchored on the primordial sentiments of nepotism, intolerance, injustice, asphyxiating arrogance, an ignorant and backward mind-set, may yet scupper any prospects of a quick return to business and prosperity in Africa’s largest economy.

Jon West, Enugu