These are the most trying times for Nigeria’s unity, democracy and efforts to reverse the economic downturn and the accompanying challenges of security, poverty, and unemployment.The PGF particularly notes that the resurgence of ethno-regional identity and the extremist positions being articulated by youth groups from the different geo-political zones has coincided with power alternation at the national level in the 2015 general elections.This coincidence is important for two reasons. On the one hand, it is happening at a critical juncture that the electoral democracy is showing signs of consolidation as the alternation of power represents. On the other hand, these renewed agitations across the country in the aftermath of the elections points to a disturbing concern that activities of these extreme groups may be linked to the outcome of the elections in 2015.
However, at the core of the forces tearing at the fabrics of national unity and coherence is contestation of nationhood, the true meaning of citizenship for many Nigerians and the perception that Nigeria’s federal system has not been fundamentally reformed to assure the constituent elements of “shared” rule and “home” rule.These are genuine cumulative grievances from Nigeria’s colonial and post-colonial history of bad governance and manipulation of differences.These are political problems that need to be confronted with demonstration of political will at the highest level and across the political spectrum.
Despite the deep-seated challenges of the economy and insecurity, which the All Progressives Congress (APC) government inherited and which are being systematically tackled with success, our democracy offers opportunity for addressing other numerous challenges including regional inequality and the distortions in Nigeria’s federal system. Unfortunately, instead of seeking to address these issues using dialogue, negotiations and the progressive reform of the 1999 constitution, reckless and ill-motivated ethnic and regional political organizations and their self-appointed spokespersons are issuing inflammatory and intemperate statements and counter-statements demanding that certain communal groups leave parts of the country they have inhabited for decades as citizens of Nigeria pursing different legitimate activities.
The Progressive Governor’s Forum has watched with consternation and grief, the reckless and bellicose utterances of groups, organizations and individuals fanning the ember of ethnic and regional hate and openly seeking the dismemberment of Nigeria. It is even more regrettable, different groups issuing provocative statements including the various Arewa groups that pose as representatives of northern Nigeria and other groups that issue statements on behalf of other parts of Nigeria lack roots in the communities they claim to represent. It is however conceded that the proliferation of these youth groups in the first place, is a reflection of the failure of the development agenda that has not created a future for its youth population who now turn their energy to unproductive ventures including serving as cannon fodders for politicians out of power.
While the PGF believes that the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable and is here to stay, it is a resolve that must be underlined by the commitment of elected public office holders at all levels to effectively govern and deliver services and promote social justice; make policies and pronouncements sensitive to Nigeria’s ethnic and cultural diversity; and promote the security and welfare of all citizens in their respective jurisdictions irrespective of the ethnicity and religion of individuals and groups.
This statement of PGF reinforces the very bold and nationalistic pronouncements of the Federal Government and several APC governors since the unfortunate ultimatum issued by the so-called umbrella Arewa youth organization to the Igbo community to leave Kaduna and other parts of northern Nigeria.The statement is to remind Nigerians that the highest political ideal, which Nigerians of all political tendencies and persuasions must seek to pursue,is the preservation of Nigeria as a corporate entity within which we can pursue the lingering crisis of development and nation-building.
The Myth of a“Geographical Expression”
Nigerian politicians and elites who are determined to work against Nigeria’s unity and corporate existence often misrepresent the observation once made in 1947 by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo to the effect that Nigeria was a “mere geographical expression”.The essence of this remark, which was apt at the time, was that Nigeria’s progress would be guaranteed by addressing the reality of our differences.
Nigeria of today is not a mere geographical expression.The consequence of our liberal constitutions, which have encouraged Nigerians to live in every part of the country to pursue legitimate activities regardless of ethnicity and place of origin,is that diverse and multi-cultural communities exist in every part of the country.The free movement of people across the length and breadth of Nigeria, which started even before British colonialism, has resulted in trans-regional ethnic and religious ties and truly diverse communities in most parts of Nigeria. Many Nigerians have their life-time investments in regions and states other than the ones they call their own in the Nigerian parlance.The reality today is that these cross-cutting ties have created bonds across ethnic, religious and regional divides around livelihood issues which are more enduring than primordial identities of religion and“tribe”.
There are many successful nations today in terms of having a common purpose and strong national bond that have been created out of multiple ethnic and religious identities.Visionary and purposeful leadership has created such nations, leveraging on strong national institutions, good governance, equity and justice, which enable each group to fulfill its aspirations.After all, a nation is an imagined community of people who share a common aspiration, which is realizable through the principles of justice and the rule of law as enunciated in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The idea of Nigeria being a mere geographical expression is therefore a myth in the light of the present realities.We are convinced as governors elected on the platform of the APC that our party has already articulated a vision of governance and inclusive development can address these challenges in the long-run. However, as we work assiduously to address these challenges with unprecedented political will and determination, the Nigerian nation has to survive as an entity before we can pursue the resolution of these challenges.
PGF will like to draw the attention of Nigerians to the context that produced the on-going tensions characterized by competing demands for ethnic justice, pronounced and silent self-determination agenda, hate politics and extreme demand to dismember Nigeria.Any genuine efforts aimed at finding long-term solution would need to factor in the following context:
1. Failure of Development and Nation-Building
The founding fathers of modern Nigeria found in a federal arrangement a compromise between a larger Nigerian identity and respect for ethnic and communal autonomy.This led them to institute a functional federal system that promoted healthy rivalry and competition among the regions, while fostering development at the same time. However, we know how unbridled ambitions and destructive competition among the regional political elites brought to premature grief, this functional federal arrangement along with the first Republic. Subsequent decades of military rule and the perceived solution to Nigeria’s problems largely informed by the military logic of centralization of power and resources as well as lessons of the Nigerian civil war moved Nigeria away from realizing both development and nation-building. But it is elite politics fuelled by desire to control power and resources that has compounded the crisis of development and nation-building.
2. Regional Inequality
Partly as a result of the failure of development, is the reality of inequality between different ethnic and regional homelands in terms of development outcomes. It may not be necessary to identify the underlying causes of disparities between the different regions and geo-political zones here, but differential access of citizens to basic needs and benefits of modernization across the length and breadth of Nigeria fuels a sense of anger and rebellion which manifest in the forms of insurgency, ethnic self-determination, ethnic hate and other forms of extremism.
The manifestations of horizontal inequalities are widely reported by credible sources including the World Bank and the Federal Government-owned National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).The available data conform the relative backwardness of the northern region in terms of access of the majority of the people to basic human needs and other benefits of modernization linked to failure of the ruling elites to make substantial investment in education and other critical sectors.Unfortunately,youth groups in the north and other parts of the country fail in their politics and agitation to focus on actions and inactions of state and local governments while narrowing the issues to the Federal Government in Abuja. Being a federal state, mal-governance at states and local governments, which in a federal system have responsibilities to citizens in terms of development and welfare, contributes to the present challenges of development and nation-building.
3. Failure of Democratic Governance
Massive citizen anger and a sense of helplessness arising from the failure of democratic governance to address the problem of human insecurity is the centre of the extremism in all parts of Nigeria.After decades of military rule and systematic suppression of communities and denial of space for dialogue among Nigerians, the return to democracy in 1999 heralded hope. Matters were not helped by sixteen years of mal-governance and corruption under successive PDP administrations at the national level and in most of the states of the federation.
4. Dangerous Manipulation of Difference
Although exploitation of our communal differences for cheap political and electoral purposes has become the hallmark of our politics, recent patterns of ethnic agitation and push for self-determination in the aftermath of the 2015 general elections has elevated this manipulation to new and disturbing heights. But there has to be a nation first. Rather than cultivating our diversity to build a mass movement of Nigerians behind credible elections and effective governance, some politicians have chosen the path of making a political capital out of our differences,and,by so doing,turning our strength into a weakness.
The PGF offers,in terms of going forward,the following:
1. ReformingNigeria’sFederalSystem:Itappearsthatdemandsframed by different groups in terms of political restructuring or “true federalism” can be met through adjustment in Nigeria’s federal system.Although such adjustment will not on its own address the root and branch of Nigeria’s challenges, it is worth pursuing in order to meet the demands of various Nigerian groups.The focus of this restructuring is to restore the principle of non-centralization of power in the country’s federal arrangement being the defining element of a federal polity.
There are options to consider in this regard. First, by reviewing the long exclusive list in the 1999 constitution and putting several items on the concurrent legislative list to enable states which are the nodal points of development to legislate on them. To achieve the desired effect, such decentralization of power will necessitate a further review of the sharing formula between the federal and state governments. However, this should strike a balance between greater allocation of federal revenue to the states, while ensuring that federal allocations are enough considering its responsibilities for maintaining stable macro-economic environment and guaranteeing the minimum national standards for states that may fall below acceptable national standards.
However, alongside the imperative of political and fiscal decentralization, contiguous states can pool resources to address common development challenges and embark on projects that can have maximum effect and efficiency through endeavors.Where possible and agreed upon, a regional approach to development issues that take cognizance of existing comparative advantages within the existing regions as the initiatives in the south-west has demonstrated.
2. Reinforce National Cohesion and Unity: Nigeria needs statesmen and people-centred organizations that should lend voices to reinforce national unity and cohesion. It is not necessarily for the reason that we should take for granted Nigeria’s unity and corporate existence.Rather,it is to create a stable national platform to address the numerous challenges of governance and development.True patriots and generations of Nigerians who witnessed the civil war should share experience of humanitarian crisis associated with war and with the new generations who romanticize war, perhaps on accounts of some narrow and self-serving representations of civil war experience captured in textbooks and journalistic accounts.
3. Governance and Political Accountability: Alongside addressing the issues of structure in the Nigerian federalism and the mode of allocation of resources among the constituent elements, there is need to address deficits in governance and political accountability. PGF challenges ethnic agitators and militant groups to demand good governance and effective service delivery at all levels where the Nigerian state system exists with endowed constitutional responsibilities. We charge genuine youth organizations to seek truly empowering programmes targeted at the youth population at all levels to demonstrate their commitment to a Nigerian nation that makes inclusive growth and development possible.
Like other nations, Nigeria is not a natural creation. Like many successful nations, Nigeria is a nation built on multiple and diverse identities that requires purposeful and visionary leadership which APC offers, and can fulfill its manifest destiny as Africa’s regional power and the black race with a leadership that provides a rallying point in good governance, justice, equity and the rule of law. No separate Igbo,Yoruba, Hausa,Tiv or any individual ethnic group can fulfill the aspirations of its members nor stand the test of times. Democratic governance offers Nigeria the rare opportunity to reconfigure the Nigerian state to become a truly federal democracy that meets the aspirations of our citizens in which fiscal and political autonomy at sub-national level co-exists without tension with a strong national government capable of being a mirror for its constituent elements. But this is only possible if the Nigerian nation is allowed to exist.