some foreign media outlets seem obsessed with the ‘Muslim North, Christian South’ narrative that is not only an oversimplification of a quite nuanced situation, but is outright inaccurate.
As a Nigerian, reading the analysis of the majority of foreign views about Nigeria ranges from amusing to painful. For starters, some foreign media outlets seem obsessed with the ‘Muslim North, Christian South’ narrative that is not only an oversimplification of a quite nuanced situation, but is outright inaccurate. The average household in the South West, regularly having both muslims and christians under the same roof will bear this out. It also ignores the not insignificant number of christians in the north. This kind of narrative ties in perfectly with the view of Nigeria as a drunk man, on a high wire, being remote controlled by a ten year old boy in gale force winds, one muscle twitch away from crashing down to the earth below with the eyes of the world firmly fixed on it.
The country has been this way for years and years, and seems perpetually in crisis. Ten years ago, Karl Maier wrote a book about Nigeria called This House has fallen. John Campbell’s book, Nigeria: Dancing on the brink was published in late 2010. The theme is the same: an oil rich country with a corrupt political leadership that somehow keeps the haphazardly done contraption that is Nigeria together.
These days, however, this contraption seems ever more likely to simply disintegrate. Militancy in the north by way of Boko Haram comes hot on the heels of militancy in the Niger Delta, which has had its edge blunted by a costly amnesty programme with no obvious end game. Nearly 1,000 deaths have taken place due to ever escalating violence in the north, and depending on who you ask, the security agencies are incompetent, compromised, or both.
President Goodluck Jonathan has leadership of the nation at a time in which it enters a perfect storm: endemic corruption and waste at all levels of governance, poor education, and an inability of the state to enforce law and order as well as provide an environment for its citizens to prosper form a deadly mix that require every ounce of courage that he can muster. He doesn’t appear to possess that right now.
The inability of the central government to deal with the crises has led to more calls for a sovereign national conference that will lead to a conversation, a referendum on the continued legitimacy of the Nigerian state, and a new constitution which reflects that. Some, like G. Paschal Zachary writing in the Atlantic, even suggest breaking the country up to save it. Many Nigerians also share this view, and it is understandable. Like a bad marriage, the tendency is to seek a separation due to constant fighting.
Those who do not subscribe to a break-up of Nigeria as a solution, do not do so for sentimental reasons. The first question many ask is: ‘into how many parts will Nigeria break? 3? 10? 20?’ Clashes between communities like Ife-Modakeke, Umuleri-Aguleri, and the seemingly intractable problems in Jos point to a more basic problem of an inability to keep the peace. These communities are neighbours. In the event of a split, do they ‘go their own way’ too?
People from all parts of the country have taken part in bringing Nigeria to this sorry state. In the event of a split, they will go back to their regions to seek office. Will their people be able to reject them at the ballot box? Will a break-up of Nigeria prevent voters from selling their votes for a few hundred naira and foodstuff? Will it reduce the corruption and selfishness shown by the citizens?
It is a fair guess that any agreement to split will eventually lead to even more divisions down the line. The reason is simple: In a country where the benefits of governance are scant, the urge to corner resources in a game of political musical chairs is amplified.
A ‘turn by turn’ mentality will be disastrous, whether Nigeria is one nation, or three nations, or fifteen nations. This is the real problem. We can no longer continue with themes like ‘zoning’, ‘rotation’ and ‘federal character’ if we must truly move forward. We can no longer sacrifice merit and performance on the altar of false equality.
If and when a national conversation starts, the ‘turn by turn’ mentality must be removed from our laws and from our hearts. Close on its heels should be the over-dependence on the centre for resources and leadership that is enshrined in the constitution.
The fuel price increase of January 1st was the trigger for a week-long protest that soon turned into a discussion on the Nigerian state. It seems there has never been a better time to begin this debate on a new foundation for this country. This opportunity must not be allowed to pass.