No longer at ease

Our differences have become more obvious than subtle and have assumed a frightening dimension these three weeks past. The Constitution or grundnorm for plying our relations inter se is as if suspended or smugly ignored even as a guide to light our path.


Whether we travel around Nigeria or seek enjoyment or education about her in literature, the tabloids, the social media, in opera or at the concert, we are constantly up against allusions to a forlorn legacy in diversity, peculiarity, respective identity, smugness, up-ism, bigotry, shibboleth, etc. Opinions concerning individual or group self-worth or importance are usually at fever pitch. Sometimes, however, they are expressed light-heartedly as innocuous, friendly banters. They are as varied as there are communities in Nigeria.

So also are our exaggerated or unfounded feelings of superiority one above the other. But our weakness to recognise the failure to forge or weld a cacophonous assemblage of groups into a coherent whole as due to our wobbly socio-economic and political arrangement will continue to operate to our detriment whatever addition to our national resources may be found, discovered or invented.

Our differences have become more obvious than subtle and have assumed a frightening dimension these three weeks past. The Constitution or grundnorm for plying our relations inter se is as if suspended or smugly ignored even as a guide to light our path.Its avowed protectors look on visibly aghast or bewildered unable to steer the ship of state away from an impending calamitous drift. Our youths from across the divides are pointing the direction of our annihilation or kamikaze. They have seized the reins of power even from constituted authority as they issue orders, promulgate decrees and give ultimatum in the manner of medieval potentates. The elders on their part have shyly taken on the toga of the proverbial parent or guardian of an errant ward. Their professed embarrassment is not matched by their feeble or tepid denunciation of the cant or of the threats to unleash mayhem come a putative October 1 date.Their verbiage or carriage is patronising or compromising. They have become mealy-mouthed in a matter in which un-equivocal tough talking or decisive action is the better part of valour. They are probably prayerfully invoking the interventionist spirit of deus ex machina so this cup may just pass.

It need however be stated, that the nativist bunkum with which we have been fed in connection with the threat to dismember Nigeria and thereby thwart or make vain “the labours of our heroes past” is mutual, pervasive or existing in all parts of the country. The theoretical underpinnings of the respective political philosophies of the constituent units of Nigeria have found practical elaboration or amplification in the rascality of the young men (and women?) who have grimly taken over the centre stage and are afflicting or tormenting us with the antics of their up-turned sense of history. The main distinguishing character of the youths is their textual or contextual nature as against the socially-affable requirement to play to the gallery or to be politically correct. These ones are saying what everyone else is saying in their closets.

There is a certain strand of opinion which is prepared to say that no radical change is required in our present method of carrying on or, self-assuredly, that there is no cause for alarm because everything will be all right when oil, for instance, is found in all parts of Nigeria or when the controversial oil wells in the Lake Chad basin come on stream or into full production. I am not complaining regarding the economic assumptions upon which these heresies are founded. I am prepared to concede to the assumption that oil in Nigeria will last longer than at present predicted or that advanced technological innovations in other climes like the revolutionary green car or the canny use of clean energy, etc. will have only a tangential consequence regarding our oil resources or the dollar receipts we hope to earn from sales thereof. I am also prepared to assume in our favour that no disruptive force like a civil war or some insurgent belligerence will interfere with our free exploitation of the oil fields.

The official impudence or arrogance encapsulated in the dis-used catechism, “The unity or territorial integrity of Nigeria is not negotiable” has lost its lustre or ardour in the light of the death – inducing jabs which the state has received and will continue to receive in the months ahead even as her alter ego or the guardians of her ethic play the ostrich and do nothing more than make pious preachments or issue threats which they have no plan, intention or political will to enforce. We seem to be inadvertently agreeing to the fabled American prediction of the implosion of Nigeria which occurrence was mythically suggested for 2015. Perhaps only the choice of date was mis-perceived or mis-judged.

What has emerged or what easily is the overwhelming takeaway from the events of the past weeks is the precious truth that no group or side has a monopoly of caustic language or of provocative rhetoric or, even, of violence. Public figures need to be more sensitive to the impact of their words on easily–inflammable people or their gullible constituents. In the meanwhile, we continue to watch with baited breath the unfolding narrative of a nation which natural capacities or endowments ought to entitle her to flourish but which is embroiled in or held down by a war of attrition deriving from an over-arching framework of the great gulf separating man in his primitive condition from man in society.

The identified schisms in the polity evince clear signals that it is necessary or imperative to revisit the idea of true federalism as a matter of urgency. Many discerning people agree that the system of government imposed on the people by the military since 1966 has failed the nation. The evidence is clear that the country has not displayed any known critical indices of growth or of development into modernity associated with a true federal arrangement. Strangely, however, despite the empirical evidence that the absence of true or genuine federalism in the governance of Nigeria has conduced to the arrest of the nation’s growth, the ruling party elected two years ago on the basis of its avowed promise to effect fundamental changes particularly with regard to the political restructuring of the polity, has become weak-kneed or has reneged thereupon even as President Buhari has reportedly shunned the report of the pan–Nigeria 2014 National Constitutional Conference.

This writer has drawn attention to the imperativeness of a return to the practice of true federalism. But the issue is conveniently or mischievously misunderstood to mean a ploy or a disingenuous arrangement by some group to break up the country. We repeat that an honest pursuit and practice of federalism in its undiluted form is beneficial to all Nigerians. The lack of understanding of the drawbacks which the abolition or abrogation of the principles of federalism has foisted on the nation is baffling as the effects of the “unitary federalism” which replaced true federalism are too visible and undeniable. Rapid growth and objective development are more easily fostered under a system where the constituent units are allowed to grow at their own respective pace and capacity.

The raison d’etre for the imperative political restructuring of Nigeria is making itself bare everyday. It cannot be ignored without tell-tale consequences. The Fulani herdsmen brigandage, the Boko Haram scourge, the unbridled militancy in the oil rich states, killings, kidnappings, abductions, assassinations, etc. are mere symptoms of an underlying distortion. They are the visible consequences of a skewed or giddy political contraption. The dubious or insincere association of true federalism with the balkanisation or break up of Nigeria is unfortunate as it is positioned to side-track the real issue and leave as with a non sequitur.

The states (then, Regions) where the majority of the people reside and earn their living were, during the First Republic, the centres of rapid growth, production, healthy competition or rivalry, and of enlightened self-interest. They have under the present distorted “federal” system been regrettably turned into un-viable entities that look up to the centre for succour or even for the performance of their basic covenant responsibilities as, for instance, the statutory payment of the entitlements of their work force.
Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote from Abuja.

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