The project for the construction of Nigeria’s nationhood commenced with the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorates of the Niger in 1914 and ended with Nigeria’s Independence in 1960. As in all cases of nations across the globe, the challenge has not been one of constituting the nation, but of preserving and sustaining what, in the case of Nigeria, could be said to have been established, fait accompli. Invariably, all nations possess unique challenges in sustaining their nationhood. Some survived, while others could not pass the litmus test. For instance, the United States had to go through a bloody civil war from 1861 – 1865. However, India broke away after its independence of 1947. The issue of Bangladesh is a case in history. The most recent example is what happened or is rather happening to Sudan. Certainly, “it is one thing to construct and secure a nation; it is another to sustain it”, as one scholar recently noted.
The historic amalgamation of Nigeria has often been attributed as the foundation of the rancorous relationship between the two regions of Nigeria: Northern Nigeria consisting of three geopolitical zones with largely Muslim population. It was the centre of a pre-colonial Islamic Empire – the Sokoto Caliphate and its vast Muslim population. Heirs to the Caliphate are inspired by the wider Muslim world, in terms of religious, socio-political and cultural values.
The South, an ethnically diverse region, also having three geopolitical zones, is largely Christian. The major socio-political inclination is towards western culture and traditional African heritage. Each of the two Regions have ethnic and religious minority, harbouring their own grievances. These grievances are often expressed through bitter politicking, or sectarian crisis, more or less pauperized by political jobbers and negative media rhetoric.
History has also amply demonstrated that prior to independence, Nigerian nationalist leaders fully discussed all issues relating to the transition to self-rule. Similarly, there were also interactions after independence on the effect of what is regarded as the arbitrary colonial unification and necessary strategies designed to reconcile differences in aspirations, priorities and vision. However, there were deep and, in some instances, subsisting sentiments because some people saw Nigeria as “the mistake of 1914”, whereas others considered it as “a mere geographic expression”. There were also fears, hopes and anxieties from a wide spectrum of groups in the two regions, even if exaggerated. For instance, Christians do express concerns that “politically dominant Muslims could Islamise national institutions and impose Shari’ah on non-Muslims. Muslims, on the other hand, have the fear of what they regarded as “unbridled westernisation that is antagonising the Islamic belief system”, according to one commentator. The issue, however, is whether the amalgamation was an act of colonial convenience; or even that it was a “mistake”. The reality on the ground is that, for better or for worse, Nigeria is a political entity bounded by a common destiny. So, we need to focus on the fundamental task of nation building.
Nation building is, in itself, a complex task that requires the fixing of many inter-woven issues. With the attainment of independence, more than five decades ago, the expectation was that Nigeria would emerge as a strong nation, commanding respect among the comity of nations. However, the soaring rise of poverty, unemployment, ethno-religious crisis, poor infrastructure, environmental hazards, insecurity, as well as leadership deficit have conspired to deny the country the advantage to reach the benchmark of development in the 21st century. The phenomena of ethno-religious conflict has plagued and threatened the very existence of the nation owing to the aforementioned factors.
Mismanagement of our resources and misrule by the elites from all corners of the country have been the other major factors, which impoverished and denied opportunities for growth to many Nigerians. Indeed, religious rhetoric blaming members of other religious groups has been appealing among the masses owing largely to their relatively low level of education and awareness. The quest for a religious utopia has given some opportunistic political gladiators the excuse to seek legitimacy by hoodwinking the citizenry via false religious pretentions. Since independence, religious and ethnic rhetoric has leveraged claims to political representation and opportunities. On the other hand, corruption and incompetent leadership have added another dimension to the ugly phenomena in not only preventing equitable distribution of resources and opportunities but also in making the politics of religious and ethnic exclusivity more appealing. The nation, therefore, needs to evolve a system of leadership selection and accountability, which produces the sort of leaders that can confront the challenges associated with our history, socioeconomic inequality, and the establishment of strong institutions for democracy and good governance.
The pertinent questions to ask at this point are: Why is the task of nation building so difficult in Nigeria despite our enormous human and natural resources? What are the challenges and threats associated with nation building? To what extent has leadership confronted these challenges? How do we identify weak political and development institutions with a view to strengthening them?
I share the view of some scholars that the negative effect of colonialism on the development of a nation has been exaggerated. The success of many Asian countries supports this viewpoint. In fact, many of these countries had industrialised and attained enviable levels of development, despite colonial experiences. What Nigerian need is the willpower and determination to succeed in addressing the challenges of the day. In this way, we can aspire to build an illustrious future. Imagine, Malaysia is a major exporter of oil palm and it is from Nigeria that it imports its palm kernels! Haba!!
Ethno-religious conflicts and disharmony
With over 400 ethnic groups belonging to several religious sects, Nigeria since independence has remained a multi-ethnic nation State, grappling with the problems of ethno-religious conflicts. Ethnicity and religious intolerance have led to the recurrence of ethno-religious conflicts. Major motivations behind most religious conflicts are economic and political, for, as one scholar puts it: “in the struggle for political power to retain the monopoly of economic control… the political class instigates the ordinary citizen into mutual suspicions resulting in conflicts”.
This is not to underplay other factors, such as ways of propagating religions, mistrust and suspicion between followers of various religions and ethnic groups, selfishness and illiteracy. Religion can indeed serve as an instrument of social cohesion, but it can also spur adherents towards violent acts; hence its description as a “double-edged sword” by some public policy analysts.
The fact is that colonialism did not cause the primordial conditions that generated conflicts between Christians and Muslims, but it made them worse. Indeed, colonialism established the basis for using identity politics as a means of accessing political and economic resources. Consequently, religious differences come to worsen political crisis. From the early 1980s, religion has been making increasing in-road into the political development of Nigeria, in spite of the official legal status of the country as a secular state. This is a status accepted by the majority of Nigerians, and it is clearly laid down in the constitution.
Nigeria is at the moment experiencing major challenges. It is one of the fastest growing nations with a population that doubles every two and a half decades. Access to higher education and healthcare is limited. Poor infrastructure and weak leadership have also conspired to impede the development of the country.
Notwithstanding this perception, it is important to attempt an objective assessment of the role of religion in the task of nation building in such a way that it will be a unifying factor rather than a divisive one. The spate and magnitude of the crises caused by religious disharmony has been captured by NEMA in its 2015 Annual Report, thus:
In 2014, insurgency, communal clashes, floods, windstorms and fire were primarily the main causes of people’s displacement, physical damages and loss of lives in the country. The Northeast and North Central parts of the country had more human induced emergency situations than any other part. The others experienced more of natural causes. Insurgency caused more havoc that affected more population and obstructed the normal functioning of local economic activities in the affected areas.
Obviously, religious intolerance in itself is the outcome of the way and manner that religious education is taught in various religious groups. This is especially glaring in terms of insurgency, which is, for the most part, caused by poor education or the lack of it and religious bigotry. However, all factors as mentioned have been amplified by Nation’s conspicuous challenges to do with unemployment, poverty, and leadership deficit.
It is pertinent to state that the Nigerian Constitution has evidently created a balance of power between all religions, so as to make it difficult for any religion to realise the dream of becoming dominant. There is, therefore, the need to cultivate tolerance and co-operation that will promote peaceful co-existence. However, the balance tends to provoke tendencies for confrontation leading to religious conflicts capable of derailing our democratic culture and unity of the country. Causes of disharmony or conflicts amongst religious groups in the country, as variously propounded include:
. Conflicts or misunderstanding fuelled by socio-political, economic and governance factors.
To be continued…