One of the fundamental arguments which have driven the political culture of Nigeria has been that of power shift. Although this concept is one that many Nigerian historians have described as a superficial political slogan, it played, and continues to play a crucial role in canvassing for votes in elections held in Nigeria.
The view that Nigerian rulers represent their geographical region has subconsciously shaped or perhaps redirected our concept of Democracy. Hence, when Generals Buhari, Babangida, Abacha and Abubakar were the Heads of state in Nigeria, in the period, 1983-1999, the Hausas, the Fulanis and the Kanuris were perceived to be in power; and when President Olusegun Obasanjo was Head of State, the Yorubas were ideally supposed to be in power. This same perspective was brought to the 2011 elections, and has undoubtedly proven its capacity to affect democracy.
The degree to which our democracy is going to be realized, sustained and nurtured will very much depend on how the question of this perspective is to be solved. It will equally depend on how the nature and relationship between the regional and ethnic democratic polities are grasped and used in political practice. Already this issue has become very explosive; involving violent ethnic conflicts, stresses and tensions all over the country, a discussion of the future direction of this country and its options in the future has to squarely face this question, at a deeper level than as hitherto been done.
This view that when a leader emerges, he is fundamentally a representative of his ethnic or regional orientation can be comfortable when being used in campaign slogans to shape the opinions of voters, but at the extreme what this can result to is a dismantling of existing politically sustaining polities which could lead component nationalities to set up sovereign nation-states on their own, or transform into confederations, or run the risk of sinking into chronic civil wars. Whichever of the three alternatives prevails, such perspective if maintained dictates that the country would be doomed to further economic, cultural and political retardation and to further, and more permanent, subjugation to the large and integrated power blocs.
The existence of the Islamist insurgency Boko Haram which has been moving to undermine the Nigerian government by swallowing up chunks of land in the northeast region, was preceded by a militant group known as MEND which had been kidnapping foreign expatriates on Nigerian soil as part of its tactics to aggressively address the issues of environmental pollution and underdevelopment in the South-South. Perhaps these problems can also largely be seen as one of identity; a desire to forge an identity that allows a people to take their destiny into their own hands.
The political narratives of a power shift following the 2011 elections have largely been disuniting; stronger discussions on ethnicity, religion and region also began to appear in the social terrain as well. In 2012 not long before he passed away, celebrated athor Chinua Achebe finally published his journal of the civil war and detailed the failures of governance leading to the massacre of the Igbo community in the civil war of the 60s, and in the same year, filmmaker Biyi Bandele adapted the works of Chimamanda Adichie to produce a vivid replica of the plight of the Biafran people in the movie ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’.
These selfless acts, as unrelated as they seem to Nigeria’s political sphere suggest a subconscious narrative of ideas that perhaps help redefine what our social identity has become by connecting the past with the present to determine not only our future, but our concepts of what Nigeria truly means. This somewhat retrogressive and destructive narrative is generated and sustained by the idea or perhaps the presence of some documents which suggest that the present regions and ethnic groups in Nigeria have existed for thousands of years, as distinct biological, cultural and political entities with autochthonous, sovereign rights over defined territories; and that they only agreed to give up these rights at independence, to join the new nation-state. Further than that, it is also kept intact by fears of cultural domination.
Yet evidence starting right from the study of the history of Egypt over about the last ten millennia, where the primary historical source material has such incomparable richness and time-depth has shown that not only nations, nationalities and ethnic groups, but even racial groups, are products of the historical process and are formed, unformed and transformed in the course of historical development.
We do not need to travel far back into political history to see if either integrated or independent dynasties have lasted the longest, or ask why at present Europe and North America are moving towards integration and into a more cohesive, broader and powerful political and economic community, for us to get answers as to whether a power shift concept based on ethnic sentiments is a healthy economic tool. At its most basic level a political narrative that threatens the existence of a nation state must never be toyed with, and the concept of power shift, not among political identities, but regional and ethnic groups is as dangerous as it comes.
In order to clearly understand the nature of these forces and processes which are undermining our capacity to take control of our destiny, and be able to promote and defend our well-being and dignity, we have to grasp the nature and the forms of the historical process of the formation of our nations, nationalities, ethnic groups and polities. This is because, many of devastating conflicts, disabling fractures, and debilitating stresses and tensions, are ignited and fuelled by political conceptions and political practices derived from the racio-ethnic conception of nationhood and of the polity.
Article written by Tahir Sherriff, in-house freelance reporter with NewsWireNGR in Abuja
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