Nigeria without Nigerians and EndSARS: The Epicentre and Concentric Circles of Nigeria’s Problems


By Bola A. Akinterinwa

The EndSARS protesters believe that there is Nigeria, and therefore, not only want an end to police brutality in Nigeria, but also want a Nigeria that will be completely free from political chicanery and from socio-economic irrationalities, by kneeling down at the Lekki toll plaza with Nigeria’s National Flag in their hands and singing Nigeria’s National Anthem. Most unfortunately, however, the EndSARS protesters were still brutally killed by the military and are no more. It is their shadows that remain. The National Flag was tainted with the blood of the innocent. The National Anthem was corrupted with rounds of live ammunitions. And Nigeria was killed more than softly. The soul and freedom of protest, the spirit and freedom of the press was bastardised with reckless abandon. With this, there is no Nigeria, and if there still is, it is a Nigeria without Nigerians.

Even though international law enables the existence of ‘Nigerians’ by virtue of the requirement of population, along with an effective government and territory as constitutive elements of a modern state in international relations, there is nothing to suggest that in Nigeria, as presently constituted, there are Nigerians in terms of belief in, and commitment to Nigeria, hence our caption, ‘Nigeria without Nigerians.’ In this regard, if there is Nigeria but there are no Nigerians, how do we still explain the citizenship of Nigeria as provided for in Chapter III of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution as amended?

The Constitution defines a Nigerian by various factors: duties to Nigeria, blood descent, time and place of birth, registration, naturalisation, etc. For example, Section 24 (a) says ‘it shall be the duty of every citizen to abide by this Constitution, respect its ideals and its institutions, the National Flag, the National Anthem, the National Pledge, and legitimate authorities.” Put differently, every citizen, to be so recognised, must accept the Constitution by respecting its provisions. Any disregard for the National Flag or the National Pledge does not make one a citizen, and if one is, probably the citizen is not a good or a law-abiding citizen. In this regard, what type of citizens are the military officers who shot at holders of Nigeria’s National Flag and singing the National Anthem?

For instance, the factor of blood descent (principle of ius sanguinis) and the factor of place of birth (principle of jus soli), in international law, confers Nigeria’s citizenship on whoever meets the required qualifications for it. The same is true of those (foreigners), who, in the eyes of the President of Nigeria, have good character, or want to be domiciled in Nigeria and also take the Oath of Allegiance to Nigeria. The critical point of interest here is the issue of Oath of Allegiance which cuts across all categories of citizenship. For us, what truly defines a Nigerian is the extent of patriotism and commitment that an individual has towards Nigeria, whether under an oath or not.

Nigeria without People’s Commitment
In 1953, Northern Nigerians considered breaking away from amalgamated Nigeria. The Kano riot of 1953 was a manifestation of the breakaway agitation. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe responded to the northern agitation for secession on May 12, 1953 at a meeting of the caucus of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC). He told the caucus meeting that ‘the Northerners are perfectly entitled to consider whether or not they should secede from the indissoluble union which nature has formed between it and the South, but it would be calamitous to the corporate existence of the North should the clamour for secession prevail.’ He counselled ‘Northern leaders to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of secession before embarking upon this dangerous course.”

Additionally, in the eyes of Dr. Azikiwe, ‘it would be a capital political blunder if the North should break away from the South’ for seven different reasons. First, secession could lead to internal convulsion in the North. Second, it could lead to economic nationalism in the Eastern Region, ‘which can pursue a policy of blockade of the North.’ Third, the richness in mineral resources of the North does not mean that the North would be capable of ‘growing sufficient food crops… to feed its teeming millions, unlike the East and the West.’ Fourth, there could be war because of possible dispute over the right of flight over the territory of the Eastern or Western Region. Fifth, even though such a dispute could be addressed diplomatically, ‘if civil war should become inevitable…, security considerations must be borne in mind by those who are charged with the responsibility of government of the North and South… If that is not to be the case, any of the regions can obtain military aid from certain interested powers.’

Sixth, and perhaps more important, if the British left Nigeria to its fate and the Northerners were to continue their uninterrupted march to the sea… the Easterners will defend themselves gallantly, if and when they are invaded. Seventh, and above all, considering that the North and South had been ‘indissolubly united in a political, social and economic marriage of convenience’ Dr. Azikiwe said ”there is no sense in the North breaking away or the East or the West breaking away. It would be better if all the regions would address themselves to the task of crystallising common nationality, irrespective of the extraneous influences at work. What history has joined, let no man put asunder. But history is a strange mistress which can cause strange things to happen.’

Some points are noteworthy from the seven reasons given as to why it was not advisable for the North to seek secession. First, the would-be Nigerians in a united Nigeria were, ab initio, divided against themselves. This was the first main foundation and manifestation of non-commitment to Nigeria of Nigerians. Second, the position of Dr. Azikiwe could be explained by the factor of his place of birth: Zungeru in the North. He strongly believed that Northern secession would be more detrimental to the interest of the North than it would be to the South. He was both a Northerner and a Southerner, meaning that he had to protect the interests of both sides. Third, one other major reason for Dr. Azikiwe’s discouragement of Northern secession was the fear of Northern invasion and inevitability of war whenever the North became landlocked. Fourth, Dr. Azikiwe believed that the North and the South are indissolubly united politically, socially and economically to which no one should put asunder.

The aspect of indissolubility of Nigeria is quite arguable. If Dr. Azikiwe were to be correct, there would not have been the 1953 Kano riot and there would not have been any good justification for his plea against the secession of the North. If, admittedly, history truly joined the North and South together, it must also be admitted that the same history has also put asunder to the marriage, because, as Azikiwe himself rightly put it, ‘history is a strange mistress which can cause strange thing to happen.’

Without any scintilla of gainsaying, Nigeria of today is a terra cognita where strange things always happen. For examples, it is quite a strange thing for the statue of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, a chief apostle of national unity, of non-secession, to be set on fire and destroyed in Port Harcourt by hoodlums within the framework of the EndSARS protests. Such destruction is simply to suggest that Dr. Azikiwe was wrong for promoting national unity and for eventually preventing the Igbo people from breaking away.

In the same vein, it is also a strange thing for anyone to remove the pair of glasses on the statue of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in Ikeja. The removal of the glasses is again an abuse of efforts of the founding fathers to build a Nigeria where no man is oppressed and where there is fairness and justice. Most unfortunately, such objective of building a truly Nigerian nation has been to no avail in spite of the agreement reached and foundation laid to enable Nigeria achieve her independence on October 1, 1960. It is useful at this juncture to recall the conditions agreed to by the nationalists in order to enable Nigeria’s independence. Without the agreement, there would not have been a united Nigeria of Nigerians that would be eligible for political independence in 1960.

As explained by Chief Olu Falae, Nigeria’s Independence Constitution was specially negotiated among the then three regions of the country: Northern, Western and Eastern. The three regions were, to a great extent, autonomous. Every region not only collected its own revenue, but also contributed the agreed proportion to the central government. Each region had its own Constitution and also accredited its own ambassador to London. For instance, while Chief (Dr) M.T. Mbu was Nigeria’s High Commissioner to London, it was Mr. Jonah Chinyere Achara, Mr. Omolodun and Alhaji Abdul Malik who were Principal Representatives of the Eastern, Western, and Northern Regions respectively. Thus, the three regions operated as Federating Units and not as Federating Regions as we have it today.

As further recalled by Chief Olu Falae, When Chief Obafemi Awolowo wanted to introduce free education in the Western Region, the other two regions were not ready for reasons of affordability, and Chief Awolowo went ahead with his free education programme, and for that matter, very successfully. Again, Chief Awolowo came up with the policy of a Minimum Wage of five shillings per day, as against the policy of two or three shillings in other regions. The other regions again were not solvent enough to adopt the policy of five shillings. And more interestingly, the Constitution of the Western Region provided for both the House of Assembly and the House of Chiefs, while the Eastern Region made it clear that it did not need any of them. It was on the basis of this policy of regionalisation and substantial autonomy that was agreed to during the negotiations for Nigeria’s independence in the late 1950s that enabled the country’s independence in 1960.
However, the way it was planned before independence did not go along that direction after independence. The 1962 crisis in the Western Region lends much credence to this observation. In fact, the military intervention of January 15, 1966 threw to the dustbin of history the regional arrangements and replaced them with unitary and centralised constitution. General Yakubu Gowon restructured the three regions into 12 States and thus began not only agitations against it and quests for self-determination, but also the genesis of Nigeria’s problems to which no enduring solutions have been found, and which, largely explain the protests of the EndSARS Movement or the October 8 Anti-Police Brutality Movement.

The Problems: Epicentre and Concentric Manifestations
Nigeria’s problems vary according to schools of thought. Some observers identify the problems from the perspectives of governance, and therefore talk about poor leadership, bad governance, bad followership, institutional corruption, social injustice, etc. Some others consider sustainable indices of governance, such as economic resources, impact of national and international environment, implications of mono-cultural economy or excessive dependence on crude oil as foreign exchange earner. Many observers also held the civil and public service responsible for poor service delivery. The proponents of ethnic chauvinism are also there. In fact, there was the Yakubu Gowon main school of thought which argued shortly after the end of the civil war in January 1970 that Nigeria’s problem was not money but how to spend it.

Put differently, there is a general acknowledgement that Nigeria is faced with many challenges but no one has a good idea of the root causes. We have observed in this column in the past that Nigeria’s main problem is that Nigerians do not really know what their main problem is all about. Is it really about leadership? Is it lack of capacity to manage economic resources? Nigeria is, more often than not, compared with the Asian Tigers in terms of their efforts at economic transformation. People believe that good leadership and good governance was largely responsible for the economic breakthrough of the Asian Tigers.

True enough, the Asian Tigers exist more as a sociological nation-state than Nigeria. The Chinese believe in China. Singaporeans believe in Singapore. Taiwanese believe in Taiwan. South Koreans believe in South Korea. Malaysians are Malaysians. Indonesians are always Indonesians. But where are the Nigerians who believe in Nigeria? Chief Obafemi Awolowo is on record to have described Nigeria simply as a geographical expression. This observation has remained incontrovertible.

Indeed, Nigeria’s main problem is beyond the mismanagement of need, feed, greed and deeds, and de-emphasis on social justice, equity and nation-building. It is more profound. Put differently, what does an individual need to feed his or her nuclear family? What are the deeds of the individual in the feeding efforts? Are the deeds lawful? In which way do the feeding efforts enable nation-building, and not detrimental to social justice, fairness and equity?

Why it is difficult to manage needs in relationship to feed and greed and why governance in Nigeria has been largely predicated on injustice, unfairness and reckless abandon is simply because Nigeria has not been made to be a living reality. As noted by the Convener of the Save Nigeria Group, Pastor Tunde Bakare, in his ”Nigeria and Challenges of Reconciliation and Reintegration,” published in The Nation of Tuesday, October 27, 2020, page 14, there are four ‘IDs’ of Nigeria’s nationhood: Nigerian identity, the Nigerian idiosyncrasy, the Nigerian idiocy, and the Nigerian ideal. On the issue of Nigerian identity, which concerns us here, he said it is yet to be addressed. As he explained it, ‘to address the current issues plaguing our nation and to make meaningful progress towards the Nigeria of our dreams, we must resolve certain unanswered questions that border on the Nigerian identity. Who is a Nigerian? What is the irreducible minimum standard of decency below which no Nigerian must fall? For the answers, he recommended the reading of the Nigerian Charter for National Reconciliation and Integration which was unanimously passed by delegates to the 2014 National Conference.
Perhaps more important is his view on national intra-structure or the National Question. In his words, ‘the intra-structure question is what, for years, has been referred to as the National Question. It is the quest for how to coexist as a nation, irrespective of our differences and diversities. The intra-structure question has remained unanswered since the era of our founding fathers, and it explains the various conflicts that define our nation, including inter-ethnic, inter-religious, partisan, and, especially now, inter-generational conflicts.

The point being made with the foregoing quotation is that there is yet to be a Nigerian nation and all efforts to build one have been to no avail. In fact, the report of the 2014 National Conference to which Pastor Bakare referred is currently gathering dust in the drawers of President Muhammadu Buhari, to borrow the words of the President himself. He is not interested in the report. Thus, the non-preparedness to address the National Question is at the epicentre of all the challenges with which Nigeria is faced. This is why there is Nigeria without Nigerians.

Without any gainsaying, it cannot but be quite difficult to have Nigeria of Nigerians, especially with the fears of Fulanisation or Fulani domination of Southern Nigeria, which is another pillar at the epicentre of Nigeria’s problems. Many Southerners consider, rightly or wrongly, the RUGA Settlement Policy as a major threat to national unity. Ruga, a Fulani word for human settlement, but as a policy, meaning Rural Grazing Area, was adopted to address the conflicts between the nomadic Fulani herdsmen and the sedentary farmers. As a result of the critical national controversy generated by the policy, the AREWA Youths, acting nder the aegis of the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) gave Southern leaders a 30-day ultimatum anisation.

And, perhaps most importantly, there is the aspect of the national controversy over Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, before and after amendment The fears necessarily explain the lack of trust in Government. Some have argued it is not a people’s driven Constitution. It is military-driven. Some others have pointed to many conflicting sections in the Constitution. For instance, the Constitution enables the President of Nigeria to appoint his principal officers. There are also some regulatory principles of political governance, such as the Federal Character Principle. President Buhari has been appointing more of his kinsmen without any due regard to the rule of Federal Character. He is openly criticised of deliberate nepotism but he never bothers, a development that has served as a catalytic agent in the struggle for self-determination in the country. This is the third epicentre of Nigeria’s problems. In other words, at the epicentre of Nigeria’s main problems are the National Question, the fears of Fulanisation and disagreement over Nigeria’s Constitution. This is precisely why we currently have Nigeria without Nigerians and it is against this background that the emergence and importance of the #EndSARS should be located.