BROADCASTING AND NIGERIA’S ETHNO-CULTURAL AND RELIGIOUS DIVIDE: BRIDGING THE GAP
I feel highly honoured to be invited to deliver the 2018 Annual NBC Lecture and I thank the staff and management of National Commission ably led by its Director General, Mallam Modibbo Kawu for thinking it proper to sustain this tradition. And, I am delighted to share with this distinguished audience my thoughts on the topic given to me by the organizers of this event: “Broadcasting and Nigeria’s Ethno-Cultural and Religious Divide: Bridging the Gap” My presentation would of necessity be in the context of the challenges and options essential for stabilizing the polity and enthroning an enduring peace, national unity and inclusive democratic governance in Nigeria.In this regard, my basic premise and starting point in addressing the subject of this lecture is simple. The real divide in Nigeria is not ethnicity, culture or religion; rather they are the mis-use of these elements and the perpetration of inequality along class and regional lines in our country. And the gap must be bridged through conscious national integration efforts aimed at promoting unity and equitable socio-economic development and democratic consolidation.In bridging the gap, new messages of national solidarity and strength in our diversity should be escalated to counter the dubious narratives of ethno-cultural and religious divide being perpetrated especially by politicians close to national election times in order to continue to divide and rule the country.
- I wish to add elements of two other and perhaps more dangerous divide;
(a) Violent extremism and terrorism; just as the perpetrators do not respect or recognize national boundaries, they do not respect religious, ethnic or cultural affinities. Hence, we have to unite against and defeat them by adopting and implementing national, regional, continental and global strategies.
(b) Growing poverty and economic inequality; figures show that in 1980, those living beneath poverty line constitute 6.2% of our population. The estimate now is that they are up to 44.2% of our total population. Of recent,the UK Prime Minister said their number is 87 million, making Nigeria ‘home to more very poor people than any other nation in the world. In recognition of this ugly situation, our VP Prof. Osinbajo said that this Administration has committed N500 billion to poverty alleviation. We can do more of course and adopt comprehensive strategies like India and China where millions of their peoples have been lifted out of poverty.
- Ladies and gentlemen, Nigeria is at a cross-road. Nigeria has never been this divided in the history of her existence and as Abraham Lincoln said, a house divided against itself cannot stand. Worrisome, is the mis-use of our diversity in terms of Ethnicity and Religion, continues to pose grave dangers not only for our socio-economic development, but of the very existence of Nigeria as one strong, united and prosperous nation. This is coming amidst the mounting tensions in the country especially as we approach the 2019 elections. While it is true that doomsday scenarios painted ahead of the 2015 elections did not materialize, thanks to the efforts of some eminent persons, key initiatives and the responsible actions of the top players. There should be no room for complacency. Peaceful and credible 2015 elections were the outcomes of combined efforts of stakeholders, including civil society organizations, individuals and the international community. These forces must again be mobilized once more to build on the gains of the last General Elections. The 2019 elections must be the game changer!
- Meanwhile, hate and inciteful speeches have attained new heights by the day and unless concrete actions are taken to stem this ugly situation, the path to anarchy is being encouraged. I believe the time has come for us to chart a way forward out of this and I am pleased to note that NBC is ready to lead this task of broadcasting peace, unity and finding lasting solutions to our national challenges and help pull the rug from the feet of the perpetrators of the destructive politics of religion and ethnicity. The promotion of constructive dialogue is essential in this regard so as to protect the integrity and unity of our country. Unlike in the immediate past,we must begin to talk to each other rather than talking at each other. I can tell you that my Centre, the Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development has been working hard to provide a platform for such dialogue.
- NIGEERIAN STATE IN RETROSPECT
- In a paper I presented in Washington DC some years ago, which has turned out to be prescient, I talked about The Nigerian State and its Enemies…The inspiration for this came from the famous book by the Australian-British Philosopher, late Professor Karl Popper, titled The Open Society and Its Enemies. Ladies and Gentlemen, these enemies are the ones who are fanning the flames of division, ethnicity, religion, hate and inciteful speeches in the country and we need to put them into their proper place in other to move forward as a nation. Who are they and how can we defeat them?
- These enemies of the Nigerian State are groups characterized by certain negative tendencies, phenomena and traits, which, taken together, constitute serious impediments to the growth, development, corporate existence and efficient functioning of the Nigerian State which serves the interest of the many rather than the few. In other words, they critically undermine the emergence of a strong, united, vibrant, prosperous and just nation. While the enemies of the Nigerian state, which are identified and discussed here, are by no means exhaustive, they constitute, in my view, severally and collectively, some of the most vicious agents at work to either tear Nigeria apart or at least blunt the full realization of the great potentials, which our nation possesses
- Of all the vices, which have reared their ugly heads in enmity against the Nigerian State, it seems to me, the mis-use of ethnicity and religion and cultural diversity ranks as one of the most dangerous. In my view, no measure can blunt ethnic, cultural and religious jingoism and advance the cause of national unity more than a determined and sustained efforts to isolate the perpetrators while at the same time making honest and manifestly efforts to treat all Nigerians, irrespective of their ethnic origin, equally before the law as well as the promotion of, and respect for, the human rights of all Nigerians. Writing two centuries ago, Uthman Dan Fodio, a great reformer and leader, had this message for us: “One of the swiftest ways of destroying a kingdom (or State) is to give preference to one particularly tribe over another, or to show favour to one group of people rather than another. Justice and respect for the diversity of our nation are the prerequisites for a Republic that is at peace with itself and consolidates its unity and its democracy.
- Any meaningful analysis of the enemies of the Nigerian state is bound to identify national indiscipline and elite greed as factors at work against our society. Indiscipline manifests itself in a general unwillingness to abide by laws and regulations designed to achieve a smooth functioning of society as well as the failure to observe the minimum requirements of etiquette and ethics in official and unofficial interaction. It is said only half that one of the distinguishing features of Nigerians is that we readily devise at least ten ways of circumventing every new law or regulation that is passed. National indiscipline prevents the orderly achievement of national goals as an inordinate amount of time is spent on trying to get people to display the minimum orderly behavior, without which society can only degenerate into the Hobbesian state of nature in which human life would be brutish, nasty and short.
- Elite greed is a phenomenon, which manifests itself in the inordinate ambition to illegally amass wealth in breach of public trust, abuse of public office, and official corruption and the lack of a capacity to distinguish public from private wealth. Greed among the elite has tended to transform competition for public office into a “do or die” affair, in which the winner must take all. Public office is increasingly seen, not as a call to service and public trust, but as an opportunity to despoil the “Commonwealth”. The phenomenon of elite greed is, however, not confined to the public domain, as the elite in the private sector have also developed an insatiable taste to acquire wealth far in excess of their legitimate capacity. The Nigerian State is the worse for it, and the Nigerian people the worst hit, as scarce resources that should otherwise have been used for development are expropriated by a greedy few.
III. THE DYNAMICS OF THE CHALLENGES OF NATIONAL INTEGRATION AND OVERCOMING THEM
- The point must be made, nonetheless, that we are not unique in that quite a number of multicultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious societies constantly have to contend with similar or even aggravated tension and conflict arising from the ramifications and implications of their diversity. Within Africa and especially in Ethiopia/Eretria and South Sudan there is now a sad reality that separation as a solution to addressing the challenges of diversity is an illusion. In all cases, however, preventing state fragility and building national unity and integration require developing a rules-based and values system in a dynamic balancing which keeps the whole together. In other words, preventing things from falling apart so that the center can hold should be the best approach. A classic case is the tragic break-up of the nation of Yugoslavia which, under the iron grip of Josip Broz Tito, founding father of the Non-Aligned Movement, enjoyed a measure of stability for about 48 years – between 1943 and 1991 when the nation began to disintegrate following a series of wars between the federating nationalities.
- Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I would like to make reference to a statement by the late General Murtala Mohammed which appears to me as a most succinct characterization of our political experience as a nation: despite our great human and material resources, we have not been able to fulfill the legitimate expectations of our people. Ethnicity, mis-use of religion, tribal and divisive considerations have denied us of the focus that was the promise at independence to build a respectable democratic and economically vibrant nation deserving the respect of all. Sadly, he could as well have been speaking of today’s Nigeria! After almost 20 years of return to civil democratic governance, our political class is yet to imbibe a proper appreciation of the imperative for a sense of patriotism driven by the principles of fairness, equity and inclusivity in the overarching interest of our nation’s cohesion.
- Instead, they have elevated the spirit of manipulation and exploitation of the cultural diversity and ethnic differences which define our nation – real, imagined or contrived – into an exalted art form. Driven by a manifestation of intellectual laziness and an abysmal lack of faith in the national ethos, these soldiers of fortune seize on any and every narrow, sectional cause to pursue their unbridled quest for power and relevance. In the process, they have succeeded in practically turning the people, “we the people”, of Nigeria into mere onlookers – the veritable sovereign from whom the political class derive their legitimacy and relevance in the first place!
- The path to greater Nigeria, must lie in our collective efforts to ensure the evolution of a truly nationalistic political process which is capable of democratically throwing up the ideal national leader who must profess absolute faith in a Federal, secular, sovereign and independent Nigeria; possess the virtues of honesty, truth, decency and zero-tolerance for corruption in all its ramifications; possess the highest level of disposition to the defence and promotion of the Constitution and the Laws of the Federation; possess consistent cognitive leadership capabilities especially in strategic policy formulation; unwavering believe in the rule of law; must be transparently de-tribalised; and possess good command of the art, ethics and strategies of statecraft and diplomacy especially as we live in an increasing globalized world.
IV.ADDRESSING THE REAL DIVIDES IN NIGERIA
- In my opening remarks, I argued that there are real divides in Nigeria and they are not cultural, religious or ethnicity. The question then is what are they? In my view, there are two main ones.
(a). Socio-Economic Inequalities
- The obstacles to building of a common citizenship and common commitment to Nigeria, an important aspect of our nation-building are growing socio-economic inequalities. How can we have a common citizenship when the person in Ilorin has a radically different quality of life from the person in Yenagoa? Or when the woman in Daura is more likely to die in childbirth than the woman in Ibadan? It is through the development of the economy and equal opportunities for all, or through the development of social welfare safety nets, mature nations try to establish a base-line of social and economic rights which all members of the national community must enjoy. Secondly, socio-economic inequalities across the country fuel fears and suspicions which keep our people divided and easy to manipulate for destructive political purposes.
- Let me draw your attention to some of these socio-economic inequalities. If we take the level of immunization of children against dangerous childhood diseases, we note that while the South-East has 44.6% immunization coverage, the North-West has 3.7% and North-East 3.6%. If you take the education of the girl-child as indicator, you see a similar pattern of inequality with the South-East having an enrolment rate of 85%, South-West 89%, South-South 75%, North-East 20%, and North-West 25%. Only 25% of pregnant women in the North-West use maternity clinics, while 85% of the women in the South-East also do. It is not surprising that 39% more women die in child-birth in the North-East, compared to the South-West. Education and poverty levels are also important dimensions of inequalities across Nigeria. If we take admissions into Nigerian universities in the academic year 2000/1, we see that the North-West had only 5% of the admissions, while the South-East had 39%.
- These inequalities pose two related challenges. Firstly, high levels of socio-economic inequalities mean that different Nigerians live different lives in different parts of the country. Your chances of surviving child-birth, of surviving childhood, of receiving education and skills, all vary across the country. If different parts of Nigeria were separate countries, some parts will be middle income countries, while others will be poorer than the poorest countries in the world! A common nationhood cannot be achieved while citizens are living such parallel lives. Inequalities are a threat to a common citizenship. Secondly, even in those parts of the country that are relatively better off, the level of social provision and protection is still low by world standards. The 20% that are poor and unemployed in Bayelsa State are still excluded from common citizenship benefits. We therefore need a Social Contract between the people on the one hand, and the state and nation on the other. The state and nation must put meeting the needs of the disadvantaged as a key objective of public policy. Such an approach can make possible a common experience of life by Nigerians living in different parts of the country and elicit their commitment to the nation. Instead of resorting to the divisive politics of indigene against settler as a means of accessing resources, a generalized commitment to social citizenship will create a civic structure of rights that will unite people around shared rights and goals.
(b) Poor Governance. In one of his visits to the African continent while in office, former US President Barrack Obama, said what Africa needs is not strong men (leaders) but strong institutions. This is half-truth, for Africans need both and they need good governance. Among the many characteristics of democracy is good governance. Good governance is about inclusiveness and the rule of law amongst others. These two speak to our topic and worry about the dangers of divide along fault lines. (To be continued
BEING A TEXT OF NBC ANNUAL LECTURE BY PROFESSOR (AMB) IBRAHIM A. GAMBARI, CFR, OCRT FORMER FOREIGN MINISTER OF NIGERIA, FORMER AMBASSADOR OF NIGERIA TO THE UNITED NATIONS AND FORMER UN UNDER-SECRETARY GENERAL, AND FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN, SAVANNAH CENTRE FOR DIPLOMACY, DEMOCRACY AND DEVELOPMENT (SCDDD), ABUJA, NIGERIA