PLURAL LOYALTIES & MULTIPLE IDENTITIES IN POST-INDEPENDENCE NIGERIA
Prof. Siyan Oyeweso, FNAL
While it is postulated that colonialism aided the coalescing of, and formation of hitherto desperate peoples into ethnic groups, who then chose to define themselves as a united entity that had no clear linkage with the past of the pre-colonial era, it was much more closely knitted divisions that aided this process; a process which was not exactly identity formation or the creation of tribes. What actually occurred was that the British colonial authorities relying closely on the work of anthropologists and colonial political advisers were to a large extent able to understand the underlying peculiarities of groups as belonging together even if there had not been any prior political centralization among them. Thus, as practised, different but neighbouring groups were often placed together in a single division. Consequently, over the course of the four to six decades of colonialism in which these groups mutually existed together and participated in bonding cultural, educational, religious and administrative activities, these came to identify themselves as single ethnic units, drawing on their pre-colonial origins and their shared geo-administrative history during the colonial and immediate post-colonial periods.[i]
The colonial period was therefore an era of great identity formation for the people of the now sovereign state of Nigeria. From 1914, the people within the territorial borders of Nigeria identified themselves as Nigerians with a variety of documents to attest to this. In relating with each other, and in relating with the international community, the citizenship identity is not quite contested, it is understood as given. What occurred, however, is that Nigerians, apart from being defined as Nigerians, the people of Nigeria are constituted from a multiple variety of sources. This is with reference to the ‘ethnic’, an identity that was in itself strengthened during the colonial phase, even as the Nigerian identity was taking shape. The “ethnic” with the nature of the political processes of the colonial period came to be more closely aligned with the ‘regional’ in opposition to the ‘national’.
The colonial phase was also relevant in the creation alongside the ‘ethnic’, ‘provincial’, ‘regional’ and ‘national’ identities of another allied identity that was based on religion.[ii] Identities based on religion were not exactly a feature that arose with the colonial phase of Nigeria’s history. Priests and the priestly class had often held a position of otherness in their societies and shared authority with more traditional authority figures like elders and chiefs. During the Sokoto Jihad, religious purity was the driving force behind the transformation of the political structure of the Hausa states and greater parts of Northern Nigeria. In more traditional societies such as the Igbo, the Arochukwu priestly clan had limited political authority and also served the interest of the general society and the religious world view of the Igbo communities of which the Arochukwu were a part of, and was one that was shared by the general society.[iii] Division within communities and beyond, with the immediate neighbours was not accentuated by religion.
The context in the North, within the general expanse of the Sokoto Caliphate and its neighbours was, however, different.[iv] While multiple identities did not arise as a result of religion in many parts of Nigeria, this was not the case with the Sokoto Caliphate which was a political state based on Islamic identity. Thus, those without this identity, not within the caliphate, but the neighbours outside it had the classification of otherness. However, the adherents of the traditional religions could retain their religions or convert to Islam. However, the question of multiple identities did not exactly define citizens, but most often than not, adherents of tradition religions were not citizens of the caliphate.[v] During the colonial phase of Nigerian history, or more or less a little earlier, Christian missionary activities within the amalgamated state created another layer of identity that was based on religion.[vi] In this manner, certain groups and regions came to be dominated by either the Islamic or Christian religion, and these religions allied with ethnic identity created the potent ethno-religious identity that has since the 1960s impacted on politics at various levels within the country.
Ethno-religious identity and hence ethno-religious conflicts have tended to feature in the politics of the country, beginning from the 1960s when Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Premier of Northern Nigeria went on a mission to win converts to Islam and was hugely successful in his campaigns of gaining adherents.[vii] Bringing religion and ethno-religious identity into politics has been a rather unfortunate mix in the political trajectory of the country from the Second Republic onward with politico-religious riots witnessed severally in states like Plateau, Kaduna, Kano and other northern states with devastating effects. In the course of electioneering campaigns, fears are stoked, and the unsettling of “otherness” introduced into electoral contests. Thus, the divisions that Christianity and Islam generate in opposition to adherents of either religion nationally when it comes to politics are similar to the ethnic card that the political elite rely on in defining their electorates in opposition to others. Aligning religion and ethnicity, again, illustrates the strength of the ethnic card as a defining identity within Nigeria when the contest involves two or more different groups. Within the group, however, the role of religion is rather quite diminished as shown by the examples of politics in Igala, Yoruba, Edo, Ebira, Nupe and Idoma among others which are multi-religious ethnic groups. These have proven that intra-religious differences have lesser effect on political discord, but that the mix of politics and ethnicity are graver and more dangerous. But by implications, the mix of politics, ethnicity and religion are gravest and most dangerous.
While colonialism created additional layers of identities. It also ended fundamental ones. The identity provided by the formation of the Sokoto Caliphate was lessened as the new Northern Region was not exactly an approximation of the former. The colonial period also brought about attempts by Nigerian groups to reach out from within the group and form alliances beyond one’s ethnic group within the context of a multi-ethnic society in which for mutual progress to occur, groups had to cooperate with one another under the supra-national identity of the Nigerian nation. For instance, the grafting of Ijo origins hypothetically to the Yoruba in the 1940s was seen as the crystallization of Ijo cultural nationalism by the Lagos-based Ijo elites who had associated with the Pan-Yoruba cultural organisation, Egbe Omo Oduduwa as a strategy to forge an alliance with a powerful political group against the Igbo domination in the East.
Similar other such myths have existed among other Nigerian groups. The Tiv historian and political scientist G.N. Hembe, building on the work of Akiga Sai, had noted that the Tiv tradition of origin pointed to Tiv being the son of the creator with a brother who was Uke (meaning other Nigerian groups).[viii] In this tradition, the Tiv and the Fulani are illustrated as forming a cooperative brotherly relationship during the pre-colonial period and equally established joking relationships with them and the Jukun. A relationship and partnership that during the colonial era and the First Republic was more personal and cultural, than political, as both groups were in opposing political parties, the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) for the Tiv and the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) which was dominated by the Hausa/Fulani. Thus, despite the political strains, the relationship or partnership survived the political crises between the UMBC and the NPC in the struggle for political dominance in Tivland, and the former’s quest for the creation of a Middle Belt State.[ix] In the relationship between the Tiv and the Fulani, both saw themselves as Nigerians, it was their relationship to the Nigerian state that differed. The differences in relationship to the Nigerian state by these two groups defined their outlooks. The Hausa/Fulani were happy that the NPC controlled the Northern Regional and Central Governments while the Tiv’s UMBC wanted greater self-determination within the Nigerian federation and requested for administrative restructuring which the NPC rejected.[x] Frustrated by the denial the Tiv revolted and protested, but state power was deployed to restrain them and maintain the status quo.[xi]
Similarly, the minorities of the Niger Delta in much of the post-colonial period in their protests for economic rights and environmental protection due to oil exploration and exploitation in the Niger Delta were often brutally suppressed by government security agencies.[xii] This situation clearly illustrates the challenges of citizenship. Contestations revolve around the vital question of who controls the state, and who gets to decide for “citizens”. In the context of the Tiv and Fulani situation of the colonial and immediate post-colonial periods and the First Republic, it was what in Nigeria is taken as typical of the nature of relationship between the majority and the minority. This fact is buttress by C.B.N. Ogbogbo who, using the experience of federal neglect of the people of the Niger Delta, writes that:
The Niger Delta peoples also recognized that the nonchalant attitude of the federal government was due to their minority status in a deformed Nigerian federation. They were politically voiceless and powerless. Their agitation therefore snowballed into requests for increase in the percentage allotted to the derivation principle, strict adherence to the practice of fiscal federalism and the political restructuring of the Nigerian state.[xiii]
Such issues, however, also throw up the question of alliance building and political strategy in independent Nigeria for groups, especially the minorities, whose rights of citizenship are often more breached than those of the majorities. As such it is important to understand what the constitutional rights of citizenship are and what rights can be negotiated and attained by political expediency and compromises? The United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) for instance in an attempt to achieve greater self-determination within the Nigerian state for the people of the Middle Belt allied itself with the Yoruba Action Group, which was in opposition to the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), of which both parties were engaged in the contest to control the federal government. The NPC would therefore read such political alliances by the UMBC as attempts to erode its political authority and control of the centre. Using another example of First Republican politics, the Mid-Western Region was created from the Western Region based on the recognition of the political elite of the Mid-West that creating such a region required the support of Northern and Eastern politicians in the Federal legislature if the motion for such was to be moved. Accordingly, therefore, they courted the dominant parties in the three regions of East, North and West, whose leaders theoretically were in support of the idea of creating additional states/regions, even if like the North and East, such support excluded the consideration of such within their respective regions. It is therefore clear that groups which are politically savvy and who act strategically can achieve results above their numerical strength in the political arena. The general nature of Nigerian politics in negotiating the minefield of multiple identities and interpretation of citizens’ rights have since independence involved careful crafting political alliances by groups, especially the major ethnic groups, whose ultimate goal has been to gain and retain control of central authority as no single group, no matter how dominant can achieve its objective by singular action.[xiv]
In the post-colonial era, the larger question that the period has had to grapple with as regard multiple identities and the question of citizenship relates not to the extent for which the concept of citizenship is contested. Rather it has more to do with the question of the value of citizenship. To what use is citizenship in a multi-ethnic society like Nigeria, where the ethnic groups are of diverse sizes and therefore with varying political clout – all of which relates to the question of the right of citizens and to some extent the states to which they come from in Nigeria. The substance of the matter is also the question of ‘otherness’ within and beyond the group. Although, in nations with multiple identities, it resonates more beyond the group, it also resonates within the group in the case of generating intra-ethnic crises as witnessed among the Aguleri-Umuleri in Igboland and Ife-Modakeke in Yorubaland.
The context of citizenship for Nigerians as is understood, defining citizenship rights etc, actually took off with the dawn of independence in 1960 for Nigerians. This was against the background of the multiple identities that had existed during the period before and after an amalgamated Nigeria. In grappling with developing a spirit of national consciousness, the following have been pertinent questions that the nation’s elite have attempted to find answers for, and these relate to what rules guide and govern the allocation of resources, how were they arrived at, and (1) Are they acceptable to the constituting groups within the nation; (2) Is the nature of their implementation by political actors from “other” groups fair, or perceived as fair to all; (3) And are the political actors beholden to their groups as to jettison the rules of fair play and hence national integration for all citizens?
The political elite and political class who dominate Nigeria have often approached this question gingerly. It has often been seen as a contest between the three major ethnic groups in the country – the Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo over which group gains political ascendancy in the majority-majority contests, even as the struggle over political control hinges on control over resources of government at the state and federal levels. Nigerian governments and political elite have articulated through constitutional and political arrangements frameworks for confronting and managing Nigeria’s multiple identities and the plural loyalties they engender. A multiplicity of political parties is no longer sufficient factor as an election winner, since the First Republic, Nigerians, have recognized that despite political parties, having ethnic strongholds, winning national elections, and thus having a stake at the federal level entails establishing working coalitions with other groups.
The military leadership in Nigeria upon seizing power in 1966 up to 1979 also did a lot towards engineering a national character after fighting a Civil War with the secessionist former Eastern Region to keep the country as one.[xv] After the war, the federal disposition of ‘no victor no vanquished’ in the war of the brothers proceeded to initiate integration policies that would bring together Nigerians of different ethnic backgrounds. In this, they created states to allay the fear of domination of the minorities and grant greater self-determination to Nigerian ethnic groups. They also introduced quota system and the federal character principle, established unity schools and the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme. The military also fostered embracive citizenship by appointing military governors to states other than their states of origin. All of the above was designed in sending Nigerians out and beyond their local confines, to integrate the country and show that Nigeria is one. In the Fourth Republic, state governors often as a show of tokenism have appointed citizens from other states residing in their states into their cabinets, usually in the role of special advisers. In this regard, Lagos State has gone ahead of other states, and its behaviour is not mere tokenism. Qualified Nigerians from states other than Lagos and even beyond the Yorubaland are appointed into strategic positions within the state’s political structure. It is very doubtful whether this gesture is obtainable in other states of the Federation.
But if the old three regions gave Nigeria tripartite politics anchored on the basis of the then three regions of East, North and West which was politics dominated by the three regional centres of authority, what nature of politics did the 19-state structure give the country, or the 30-state structure of the aborted Third Republic, and for that matter the 36-state structure of the Fourth Republic? With multiple states, it is therefore possible for state’s interest to have an edge over ethnic interest as the case of the acclaimed victory of Chief M.K.O. Abiola in 1993 attests. Although the two parties of the Third Republic were government creations, the two dominant parties of the Fourth Republic have willingly evolved and drawn support from all ethnic groups as the elite composition of the two parties from within ethnic groups appears to be more evenly balanced than at any prior epoch. Constitutional requirements on party formation from 1979 had meant that parties must be national in orientation and that the leadership of political parties should be drawn from across the country and not limited to a single zone. With this requirement put into effect during the Second Republic and subsequently, Nigerians have come to imbibe and internalize national outlook and attempts to abridge it, through expediency or other means are viewed as going against the accepted norm.
It is probable to assert that had the regional structures been retained, politics would still have been tripodal and based on the regional identity rather than national identity. With the regions, the politicians that emerged and took centre stage were those that were adept at regional politics and the propagation of regional agendas. Consequently, the better you were at generating regional sentiments the further you could advance your political career.[xvi] In the Fourth Republic, such a broad regional stage no longer exists for the populist politician to hold hostage. Equally more profound is the fact that propagating state politics and more limited ideologies will not cause much damage or unite a whole region as it did before in the 1950s and 1960s. Rather, the Nigerian 36 states now play a different role in nation-building. They act more or less as launching pad for politicians, doing so in a more progressive manner. Politicians, especially those who excel in developing their states can be lifted by that acclaim to national office, with the states increasingly acting as feeder ground for the training of the national leadership.
Additional states which the minorities have demanded even before independence have weakened ethnic affiliation and the power of ethnic identity with states now acting as centres of power. The additional layer of state identity, such as the identity of being Lagosians, have more than any other contributed greatly to the idea of a national identity and citizenship. Thus, just like the regions and divisions of the colonial era created identities that were strong and lasting; the states of the post-colonial period have stepped into the identity void that the demise of the regions opened up. It is consequently logical that adherence to a state identity bears close affinity to recognizing and claiming the national identity of Nigerian citizenship. Furthermore, since the state identity does not conflict with national identity, strengthening the states by devolving more powers to them to safeguard security of lives and property and to control vital aspects of their economies will collectively make the ‘national’ stronger and more prosperous.
Plural Loyalties and National Disloyalty in Post-colonial Nigeria: A Brief Exposé
As indicated earlier, loyalty is the heart of all the virtues and the central duty amongst all duties. In studying loyalty, as Paul Robert Wolff argues, we need to recognize that two dimensions are involved, the attitudinal and the behavioural.[xvii] On the one hand, loyalty must be considered as an attitude, that is, a predisposition to identify with the object of loyalty. In this vein, the loyal person is attached to the object of his loyalty – whether it be a family, a church, an idea, or a political institution; the extent of identification and attachment mirrors the degree to which an individual sees the object of his loyalty as being self-expressive of his goals and worthy of continued existence. On the other hand, loyalty needs to be considered as a pattern of behaviour which is intended to be supportive of the object of loyalty. Attitude and behaviour are inexorably tied together; and this forms the basis of plural loyalties. There a varieties of loyalties to the nation but we shall quickly x-ray five which includes military loyalty, political loyalty, economic loyalty, cultural loyalty and religious loyalty
Military Loyalty: The concept of military loyalty is anchored on the theory of total surrender to the wishes of the country and dictates of the constitution. Military loyalty is unique and may require actions that go against one’s own interests or even beliefs, which the service member pledges to do in his support and defense of the Constitution against all enemies. For the military, loyalty is trust and commitment raised to the highest echelon and used to compel actions under the umbrella of government- sanctioned orders.[xviii] A military officer is professional only to the extent to which his loyalty is to the military ideal. Other loyalties are transient and divisive. What appeals politically one day will be forgotten the next. What appeals politically to one man will inspire the hatred of another. Within the military forces only military loyalty to the ideal of professional competence is constant and unifying: The most effective forces and the most competent officer are those which are motivated by these ideals rather than by political or ideological aims. The military plays a crucial role in furthering or hindering democratization and nation building in Africa. Beyond direct intervention through coups, armies more subtly and perniciously condition the political trajectory of states through their loyalty.[xix]
At independence, Nigeria was on a democratic path of nation building. Before the fledgling democracy could gain control of the situation, it was characterized by crises and eventually accepted assistance from the only organization believed to be capable of governing in Nigeria. How could these patriotic officers sit idly by and watch politicians vie for control and ethnic domination while tearing their nation apart? The army could have been a saviour, but its involvement in politics changed the institution and the ethnic undertones and political aspirations of the officers turned the army into the tormentor of the nation.[xx] Since then, the loyalty to the army has been characterized by loyalty first to ethnicity before loyalty to the nation. It is instructive to state that the main planners of the first coups were Igbo officers, and in 1965, the Igbo commanded three out of five battalions of the Nigerian army.[xxi] This perhaps explains why the secessionist movement led by Ojukwu could challenge the nation leading to the Civil War of 1967 – 1970. In the 58 years of independence in Nigeria, the military has cumulatively ruled the country for about 30 years. The circumstantial involvement of the men of the armed profession in the political life of the country changed its trajectory. The successive truncation of the civilian rule by different military juntas simply demobilized the democratic norms leading to the erosion of the democratic values as the soldiers hijacked the political space and distorted national vision and ethos. This political strangulation trapped Nigeria in the unmitigated influence of military men who played prominent role in the political process. They have become wealthy by appropriating power and resources and created contingent structures to keep hold of power even after they retired. After being subjected to this anomalies’ Nigeria’s democracy at different points suffered set-backs and may never enjoyed complete independence from the influence of the military except something fundamental is done.
Political Loyalty: Political loyalty is devotion to, and identification with, a political cause or a political community, its institutions, basic laws, major political ideas, and general policy objectives. The nature and content of political loyalty has varied greatly through the ages. In Greek political thought the principle of unity in life tended to preclude the possibility that a variety of important loyalties might lay claim to the individual and alienate him from the polis, the city-state. Aristotle’s famous dictum that man is by nature a political animal stated well the conviction that man could realize his aspirations only by active participation in the affairs of the city-state, which was the highest of all communities because it aimed at a more comprehensive good than any other, and at the highest good, the perfection of human development. Individuals were expected to be loyal to the city-state and to no one else.[xxii] Loyalty is the most overrated virtue in politics. As a matter of fact, it is almost impossible to talk about the history of Nigeria political parties without the mention of ‘carpet crossing’, a term used to connote the disloyalty of a politician to his party thereby making him change party. This is because the movement of politicians from one party to another was first showcased by the First Republic politicians. It is important to state here that the First Republic was the republican government of Nigeria between 1963 and 1966, governed by the first republican constitution. But the first political parties that constituted the First Republic were formed, four years before Nigeria became a republic. It was shortly before the country’s independence in 1959. And they include the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), and the Action Group (AG). The newly formed political parties were led by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Chief Obafemi Awolowo respectively. When the 1959 elections were held, none of the three political parties was able to win the majority. And this led to an agreement which resulted in the merger of the NPC and the NCNC to form the national government.
In the Second Republic, high profile carpet crossing was also witnessed. And prominent among them included that of Chief Akin Omoboriowo from the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) led by Chief Awolowo to the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), that of Chief Fagbamigbe also from UPN to NPN, both from Ondo State.[xxiii] Since 1999 till date, the number of registered political parties in Nigeria has been outrageous. With the return to democratic rule in 1999, the political parties became too numerous for citizens to keep count, and the Nigerian political system which was already bad footed as a result selfish and regional interest became crippled and bastardized. The political parties were found wanting in ideology, ethics and ideals. Hence, there was no permanent loyalty and this made it easy for politicians to carpet cross from here to there and there to here and back to here with a willingness to move again if the fulfilments of their desires are cut short. There’s no arguing the fact that the list would be endless if we choose to write the names of Fourth Republic politicians who have carpet crossed from one party to another in order to fulfill their political aspiration.
But notable among them is Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Vice President from 1999 to 2007. He walked away from PDP’s umbrella for the first time in 2006 and joined the Action Congress (AC) after what is believed to be years of internal strife between him and President Obasanjo. He defected to the AC to pick the ticket of the party to run for the office of the president in the 2007 elections. Although he did lose the elections to Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Atiku Abubakar remained in AC from 2006 to 2009 but crossed from AC to PDP after disagreements with Senator Bola Tinubu who was one of the leaders of AC. Again, he joined the merger of parties that led to the formation of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2014 and he recently returned to the PDP. From the foregoing, Nigerian politicians defect from one political party to the other only to have better access to political power and spoils of office, to escape political persecution, to gain popularity and score political points or gains and not for any political ideology or principled stand.
Religious Loyalty: In his speech when he visited Cairo in 2009, Barack Obama said the “cycle of suspicion and discord” between the United States and the Muslim world must end. The speech explored the relationship between the state and religious belief. The challenge is to find a theory of peaceful co-existence between the state and its call for loyalty and religion’s call for loyalty to itself. It’s an age-old problem of course: in many ancient cultures heads of state often claimed to be God themselves. So when someone started saying that the head of state was not God and, furthermore, that there was no higher authority than God, the ruler was going to see it as a challenge to his authority.[xxiv] The same problem exists today, albeit in an altered form. We don’t have a head of state who claims to be God, but there are some voices in the public square that are deeply suspicious of people of faith – particularly, Christians and Muslims. In the Nigerian state, there are some Christians who are actively seeking to implement their interpretation of the Bible and of Mosaic Law. At the same time, there is very visible evidence that the goal of Islamic governance is being actively pursued by some Muslims.
Ethnic Loyalty: Nigeria is a multi-ethnic nation with cultural differences among its component ethnic groups. From the north to the coast, the range in types of social system, dress, diet and languages far exceeds that to be found elsewhere in the world. Before and after independence in Nigeria, Nigerians prefer to be identified first and foremost with their ethnic identity before being identified as Nigerians. As a result, loyalty to one’s ethnicity has continued to play a dominant role in the Nigerian state. As a matter of fact, Ethnicity has been considered to be the cause of the 1967-1970 Civil War in Nigeria, elections which have been rigged and those which have failed can be blamed on ethnicity, the manipulation of census figures can only be understood from the ethnic dimension.
Economic Loyalty: This literally can be said to be the loyalty to money and material wealth. Money has become a dominant, determinant factor in Nigeria’s politics. The poor are likely to be victimized by vote buying because their limited resources makes them susceptible to material inducements, including offers of basic commodities or modest amount of money. Vote buying, in its literal sense, is a simple economic exchange – candidates ‘buy’ and electorates ‘sell’ votes, as they buy and sell goods and services. In vote buying transactions in Nigeria, voters are usually offered money, commodities such as food or clothing, and jobs. A good reflection of economic loyalty is stomach infrastructure; a new vocabulary that quietly crept into our political dictionary in this dispensation. The vocabulary crept into Nigeria’s political lexicon after the Ekiti governorship election of 2014 when voters were given gifts of bags of rice and other foodstuffs to vote in certain directions. However, distributing foodstuff during campaigns in Nigeria did not start with the Ekiti State’s election, it has been happening in many parts of the country but it was heightened during the Ekiti elections of 2014. Advocates of stomach infrastructure believe that government cannot be investing heavily on infrastructure when the stomach is empty. To them, both development and stomach upgrade could be done side by side. Coincidentally, four years after stomach infrastructure crept in from Ekiti, another vocabulary known as ‘see and buy’ has been the new word associated with the recently conducted gubernatorial elections in Ekiti held on the 14th of July, 2018. ‘See and Buy’ means during voting, voters will show who they voted for to the party agent after which the voter will be compensated with a sum of money. The essence of showing the political party agent is for confirmation before payment could be made. As a result, one can state that economic loyalty has displaced free and fair elections and this is not the first time such will be done in Nigeria. In the 2015 elections, the two major parties in Nigeria, the APC and the PDP were involved in this unfortunate act.
From the foregoing, plural loyalties have continued to manifest in all facets of life of the Nigerian nation state since the time of colonial administration and after the attainment of independence, the crises that characterized the nation in its first decade of existence as an independent nation were all manifestations of plural loyalties. The first index of plural loyalty is ethnic loyalty. An average Nigerian is first loyal to his or her village, community, ethnic group, state before loyalty to the nation. By this, an average Nigerian fights for the interest of the ‘local’ before the interest of the ‘national’. The first post-independence crisis that engulfed the Nigerian state which was the 1962 census crisis was a manifestation of ethnic loyalty. The 1962 census was not the first in Nigeria to become embroiled in suspicion and controversy. Previous attempts to count the Nigerian population had met with popular distrust and resistance, accusations of regional bias and favouritism, and widespread suspicion of the results. These had all been sharply reflected in the most recent and professional census to date, that conducted in 1952 and 1953. Widely suspected as a ploy to increase the tax burden or to spy on families and their property, the 1952 – 53 census was avoided by many Nigerians, and became engulfed in political controversy when the results, showing a majority of Nigerians in the Northern Region and were used to justify the assignment of half the seats in the Federal legislature to the North. Southern politicians alleged that the British administrators had inflated the Northern figures ‘to ensure that political power in the country remained with the northern politicians’.[xxv]
The 2006 census was not an exception of the characteristics of previous censuses conducted in Nigeria. Just like the earlier ones, it was also a conflict between the ‘local’ against the ‘national’ which invariably means the interest of the ethnic group comes first before national interest. During the 2014 National Conference, a delegate from Edo State, Mr. Chris Agbonwanegbe on Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at the National Conference reopened the controversy over the unreliability of Nigeria’s census figures. Agbonwanegbe attributed the high population figures being credited to certain northern states to manipulation. He also condemned the lopsided creation of local governments’ areas which he saw as skewed in favour of some northern states. He made a specific reference to Kano State in which the military created 44 local government areas and contrasted it with Lagos State in which 20 local government areas were created in spite of the fact that the two states are at par in terms of the questionable official population figures.[xxvi] What this means invariably is that even at the National Conference that was called for the nation, where all delegates were expected to exhibit a high level of loyalty for the nation, their loyalties were rather for their ethnic groups and localities.
Shades of Citizens Disloyalty to the Nation
There is no such thing as a man without loyalties. As I have discussed above, there are varieties of loyalties. Loyalties sustain and are sustained by mutual rights and duties, common beliefs and mutual obligations. One is loyal to the groups that provide gratifications because what serves the group serves the self. In the Nigerian context, over time there has been no gratification from the nation that serves the self. Since the attainment of independence, most challenges that have confronted the nation can be summed as displeasures or disloyalty against the nation. What makes national loyalty so strong? The whole social structure tends to promote the relationship, binding human satisfaction to national welfare.[xxvii] The Former Military Governor of defunct Mid-Western Region, Bridagier-General Godwin Alabi-Isama, attributed the myriad of socio-economic and political problems plaguing Nigeria to disloyalty and not corruption as many believe. According to him, the massive and debilitating graft prevailing in the country is an off-shoot of citizens’ disloyalty to the nation.[xxviii] Alabi-Isama, author of the book: “The Tragedy of Victory: On the Spot Account of the Nigeria-Biafra War in the Atlantic Theatre,” and former Chief of Staff of the 3 Marine Commando Division of the Nigerian Army that took the instrument of surrender from Biafra after the civil war, said that contrary to comments that Igbo lost the war, it was Biafra or the former Eastern Region, which includes today’s South-East geo-political zone, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Bayelsa states that lost the war and that the war was a war of loyalty against disloyalty.
Diversities, Multiple Identities, Plural Loyalties and Challenges of Nation Building in Nigeria
As a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state, Nigeria has a long history of multiple identities and plural loyalties dating back to the era of colonial foundation of the country as shown above. Indeed, it is due to the diverse nature of Nigeria that it is recognised as one of the most famous divided societies in the world.[xxix] Since the colonial period, particularly during the decolonisation era, multiple identities and plural loyalties have constituted strong stumbling blocks to nation building and national development in all areas of Nigeria’s national life – politics, elections, state creations, revenue allocation, census, citizenship, delimitation of constituencies, federal appointments, admissions, etc. This is in spite of several policies and programmes of national integration which have been introduced and implemented over the years such as the promotion of the principle of unity in diversity, adoption of the federal system of government, the use of the federal character and quota system, the NYSC scheme, creation of more states and so on. All these are in addition to the creation of national paraphernalia such as the national flag, national anthems, national days and other national symbols. More than fifty decades after independence in 1960, Nigeria nationhood is still a mirage as national identity and loyalty are elusive in spite of the efforts of the governments at all levels since independence to addressing the issue of nation building, not much has been achieved as so many Nigerians still have multiple identities and have plural loyalties to their ethnic groups, religions and sections/regions. Then, we can ask ourselves, what are the problems of nation building in modern Nigeria?
The answers to this poser may not be far-fetched. They are rooted in the ways and manners the country has been managed and has continued to be managed since independence. The following are some of the major challenges of nation building in contemporary Nigeria:
The Burden of History: Beyond Nigeria’s natural diversities, the problem with the Nigerian nation is a problem of its historical foundations and manipulations by the rulers. Professor Ibrahim Gambari, a one-time Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General, puts this in proper perspective:
The historical legacies of colonial rule create some challenges for nation-building in Nigeria. Colonial rule divided Nigeria into North and South with different land tenure systems, local government administration, educational systems, and judicial systems. While large British colonies like India and the Sudan had a single administrative system, Nigeria had two, one for the North and one for the South. It was almost as if these were two separate countries, held together only by a shared currency and transportation system. Many members of the Nigerian elite class in the 1950s and 1960s had their education and world outlook moulded by the regional institutions. Some had little or no understanding of their neighbouring regions. Under these conditions, it was easy for prejudice and fear to thrive. During the period of the decolonization struggle, Nigerian nationalists from different regions fought each other as much as they fought the British colonialists. Nigeria never had a central rallying figure like Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana or Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Instead, each region threw up its own champions.[xxx]
To be concluded Monday August 20, 2018.
[i] Olayemi Akinwumi, “Before We Set the House Ablaze”.
[vii] For a detailed analysis of the NPC’s Northernisation Policy under Sir Ahmadu Bello, see I.O. Albert, “Federalism, Inter-Ethnic Conflicts and the Northernisation Policy of the 1950s and 1960s” in Kunle Amuwo, et al. (eds.), Federalism and Political Restructuring in Nigeria (Ibadan: Spectrum and IFRA, 1998).
[xi] Ibid. See also G.A. Vaaseh and O.M. Ehinmore, “Ethnic Politics and Conflicts in Nigeria’s First Republic: The Misuse of Native Administrative Police Forces (NAPFS) and the Tiv Riots of Central Nigeria, 1960-1964” Canadian Social Science, Vol. 7, No. 3 (2011).
[xii] C.B.N. Ogbogbo, “Towards Understanding the Niger Delta Question: A Review of Osadolor’s ‘The Niger Delta Question: Background to Constitutional Reform’” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, Vol. 16, (2005/2006), p.84.
[xv] For some information on the Nigerian Civil War, see among others: Olusegun Obasanjo, My Command (Ibadan/London/Nairobi: Heinemann, 1980); Isawa J. Elaigwu, Gowon: The Biography of Soldier Statesman (Ibadan: West Books Publisher Ltd., 1986); Abubakar A. Atofarati, The Nigerian Civil War, Causes, Strategies, and Lessons Learnt (Washington, DC.: US Marine Command & Staff College, 1992); Audrey Chapman, Civil War in Nigeria Midstream, United Kingdom, 1988); and Frederick Forsyth, Biafra Story (Leo Cooper, 2001).
[xx] Fredrick C. Dummar,The history of the Nigerian army and the Implications for the future of Nigeria A thesis presented to the Faculty of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.
[xxi] Richard Akinnola, Fellow Countrymen…: The Story of Coup D’etats in Nigeria (Ikeja: Rich Consult, 2000),
[xxii] Accessed via www.britanica.com
[xxiv] Sean Oliver-Dee, “State Vs Religious Loyalty: Must they Conflict” The Guardian, 5/6/2009).
[xxv] Larry Diamond, “The Census Crisis: 1963–64” in Larry Damond (ed.), Class, Ethnicity and Democracy in Nigeria (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1988).
[xxvi] Nigerian Tribune, July 9, 2014
[xxvii] Morton Grodzins, The Loyal & the Disloyal: Social Boundaries of Patriotism and Treason (Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1996)
[xxviii] Vanguard Newspaper, August 27, 2013
[xxix] ‘Divided societies’ are also known as ‘plural societies’, ‘communal societies’ and ‘bi-communal societies’. See John D. Brewer, “Policing in Divided Societies: Theorising a Type of Policing” Policing and Society: An International Journal of Research and Policy, Vol. 1 (1991), pp.179-191