| by Osita Ebiem
( October 12, 2013, New York City, Sri Lanka Guardian) Leaders in any society or country such as Nigeria are produced by and from the people. The people’s conduct or attitude in turn is the product or living examples of their society’s cultural system. The people’s or society’s value, belief or worldview system – Cultural system, is formed and entrenched in them by their (the people’s) many years of continuous common experiences, interactions and collective deliberate choices and decisions. So, the overall performance of the leader in the society is mostly predetermined by the sum of these actions and decisions that the society or people had taken over the years which cumulated to form the base or framework of their customs and culture – their way of life. The true leader’s decisions or choices, when in the position of authority, become in actual fact the accumulated collective decisions and choices of preceding generations of his people.
Since culture, way of life or worldview is the most important agent that determines the ultimate destiny of a society or country it is expected to be the primary consideration and the overriding factor whenever a country’s map is drawn. Unfortunately, as we shall see, this was not the case at the inception of the Nigerian union. And this is principally why the Nigerian project failed. And as all objective analysts have always concluded; Nigeria will remain a failed state until the issue of incongruent cultural mix in its boundary demarcations is dispassionately, honestly and sincerely resolved.
Nigeria’s population is estimated at 160 to 170 million of 250 different ethnicities with languages and cultures that are distinct and unique to each group. Though there are 250 different ethnic peoples but there are clear distinct cultural cohesive cross-ethnic blocks – regional peoples whose cultural systems and worldviews have, over hundreds of years, grown to become similar, tolerant and respectful of one another. Outside these blocks inter-relationships become volatile and highly intolerant resulting from deep rooted mutual suspicion and hatred and these result in unnecessary constant internecine conflicts, death and destruction.
Broadly speaking there are the Eastern Block, the Western Block, the Northern Block and the Middle Belt Block. Majority of the peoples in the Eastern Block are Christians and Animists. In the Western Block the peoples are divided among Christians, Muslims and Animists but the overriding ethnic culture there is Yoruba. The Northern Block is predominantly Muslims with a considerable number of Christians as well Animists. Hausa language serves as the lingua franca and further unifies the diverse peoples in the Northern Block. Middle Belt Block has majority Christians, some Muslims and Animists.
But one hundred years ago, in January, 1914 these various antagonistic cultural blocks were amalgamated into what is today known as Nigeria by the British colonial government. This supposedly temporary arrangement was done solely for colonial administrative convenience. Its only purpose at the beginning was to aid the colonial power to centrally administer the area for their maximum commercial profit. However, when the British granted the locals political independence in 1960 this structure was left as what is known today as Nigeria. Expectedly, this arrangement has remained the source of all the problems of the indigenous peoples whose consents were neither sought for nor their sensitive cultural differences taken into consideration when the national boundary was drawn. This is a case of a foreign other choosing and deciding the fate and destiny of another. In the light of today’s democratic scheme of things the forced union of one Nigeria is regarded by most critics as the height of injustice to the indigenous peoples that must be reversed. It is increasingly being advocated by people from the different constituent blocks that since the Nigerian experiment has failed by all standards that the different ethnicities should be allowed to take their destiny in their hands and go their separate ways. Let each group choose how they want to live their lives, administer their societies and those they wish to associate with as fellow citizens of the same country.
As an indigenously administered independent country it did not take long to prove how dangerous and impossible a united Nigerian arrangement is. Within six years of the British departure the first pogrom/genocide of the peoples from the Eastern Block, with Igbo ethnic people being in majority, had taken place all over the other parts of Nigeria. By 1967 the ethnic cleansing of the Easterners which began in mid-1966 eventually degenerated into a full-fledged war when the Eastern Block in an act of self-preservation declared an independent republic of Biafra. The war lasted till 1970 and resulted in the death of over 3.1 million civilian Biafrans.
After the bitter war of three years the ethnic/cultural conflicts in a united Nigerian country rather than abate have increased. Today, nearly fifty years after the Biafra war ethnic/religious killings still continue on a regular basis and hundreds of children and adults are killed by rival groups every month. With the endemic mortal ethnic/religious conflicts, there cannot be a better way to show that it is unfeasible for Nigeria to remain as a united country and still function successfully. These deadly conflicts have led all objective analysts (not sentimentalists or dishonest ones) who understand the all-important influence of cultural congruence and harmonized worldviews on a society to conclude that the only solution to Nigeria is to divide it along the existing cultural blocks. The distinction and division existing among these blocks, as experience has shown, is simply irreconcilable and unbridgeable through any legislative decrees or enactments. The conflicting cultural/religious views in one Nigeria have produced such extreme and very deadly jihadist groups like the current Boko Haram which is fighting to establish an Islamic state in the Northern Block.
Therefore if Nigeria or any other society in Africa South of the Sahara has failed then it is actually more the issue of failure to evolve any collective unifying cultural system than anything else. With that as the case, there is only one real way to genuinely, honestly and sincerely fix the problem of why Nigeria and other failed African countries failed. What Nigeria and the other countries require is culture fix or culture remapping. There are very deep divides among the cultural value systems of the various ethnic societies or countries within the region, what we call “cultural disarray or cultural confusion”. What is needed is cultural re-arrangement or realigning to decisively and permanently end the seemingly endless culture clash and permanent social dysfunction.
This obviously only sensible solution to Nigeria is not based on any sentiments or simplistic reasons. If it sounds simple then it should be understood in the light that all profound truths and solutions are always simple. The emphasis here is on proving that there is “genuine, honest and sincere” desire on the sides of all concerned to fix permanently the problem of Nigeria.
Some analysts including the venerable Chinua Achebe have pointed out that the biggest problem of Nigeria is leadership. But leadership and leaders can only emerge from an existing social structure. The society is like the farmer’s soil; it can only produce the type of plant from the type of seed it had received. In this case the society is the soil and culture is the seed. So, talking about fixing Nigeria’s leadership problem without fixing first the prevailing cultural confusion is like putting the horse before the cart. So long as Nigeria remains a united country, expecting a different kind of leadership from what it is getting will continue to validate the Einsteinian idiomatic stupidity in such a fantasy. A familiar local equivalent can be found in the singer Majek Fashek’s successful hit; “Send Down the Rain” where he says that no one sows cassava and expect to reap up cocoyam.
The social or value system – the culture that is prevalent in a place, defines, identifies and influences all aspects of the lives of the people that live there. So when one talks about Nigerians for instance, they mean to be talking about the people who talk and act like Nigerians. The leader in a society even when it is not a democracy is usually in more aspects than one an actual example or representative of the people; who they are as in their character as well as their collective aspirations. An indigenous leader (unless the one imposed from outside, like a colonial ruler) will hardly look much different in terms of character and attitude from the followers since they would have all gone through the nurture of the same cultural ethos and customary institutions. All honest analysts will agree at all times that Nigeria as a union has constantly failed to produce any successful leaders because it failed to produce any uniform Nigerian culture.
Often you hear people repeat such phrases like (in the case of Nigeria very meaningless and inappropriate) “unity in diversity”. There are about three categories of people who use this asinine and inapplicable phrase in reference to Nigeria: 1. the non-thinking, 2. the timid and 3. the dishonest and insincere. The people in the first group are unable, unwilling or lazy to be creative and critical in their thought so they merely repeat whatever that sounds attractive and in vogue at any given time.
The second group may know everything that is wrong with the phrase in reference to Nigeria but are too afraid and or rather would prefer that things remain as they are and would not make effort at changing it. Such people hardly know any alternative difference. They even sometimes discourage and oppose those that try to change the status quo.
People in the last group consciously encourage and promote the retrogressive idea of a united Nigeria. Their intentions are clearly defined and they are conscious of their deliberate deceptive manipulations from the onset. For the sake of the temporary benefits they reap from the dysfunctional and retrogressive situation of things they start out defending the preservation of one Nigeria because it serves their selfish/parochial private interests well.
There cannot be any peace and unity in a society where divergent cultures are in a permanent competition for supremacy. So long as a one Nigerian arrangement is preserved its fate will remain that of a society in a permanent state of flux where the masses of the people bear the loss and pain. There will not be any peaceful and stable condition for any considerable period of time that will enable a secured society, good leadership and the flourishing of mutual trust, creativity and prosperity in such one Nigeria.
As we have said, leaders are never much different from the people. Perhaps, the only noticeable fundamental difference between the leader and the people is the ability of the leader to have an above average clear insight or working knowledge of their society’s set of values or cultural traditions. Then such leader must be able to interpret this knowledge and insight in the context of everyday events in the society. He or she must also be gifted to wisely direct the people’s collective choices and decisions in these events to conform to what the society or social system had previously agreed to over many years of sustained social engineering. It is in this regard that a good or bad leader is mostly defined within the context of the local setting.
Let me explain further; the society through family, school and other learning institutions elect to see and explain the world from their own unique perspective based on their unique experiences and circumstances. When a society can establish what can be considered as an effective or successful social engineering systems or learning institutions then it would have succeeded in making the job for any emerging leaders easy. The actions and decision of these leaders become some sort of pre-programmed actions of merely striving to creatively conform to the established traditions or cultures of the people within the context of modern times. Leaders emerging from such societies become true interpreters of the people’s norms who gently and patiently but very strictly guide the people into conforming to the collectively established and accepted teachings of the society. An effective or successful social system is that which has all the necessary ingredients and actually inculcate in the inhabitants the true cultural goals of the society. It helps the people to incorporate and translate this knowledge into solving their everyday challenges starting from the smallest to the biggest.
For those who are genuinely anxious to see changes for the better in the Nigerian ill-fated existence, we urge you to honestly and boldly press for the quick dissolution of the Nigerian union. When the various ethnic blocks in Nigeria are separated into independent sovereign countries then each will work out their own social values which will conform to their age old cultures and traditions. And from within themselves each new country will evolve genuine and successful leadership that the people can identify with and rally to. Leadership success or failure in this instance will be measured within each group’s set parameters. It is a given that good leaders will emerge from each independent sovereign society after Nigeria’s disintegration because as we said earlier “a good or bad leader” is always within the context of a given society or community.
We have argued here and in various places and at various times that Nigeria’s problem is not leadership but a faulty sociopolitical structure – a badly drawn state map. Events and most honest analysts have also come to accept the truth of this conclusion. But it seems like a few others are still bent on repeating a thoughtless line contrived to deceive an unwary public. They repeat like broken records the jaded line that says that Nigeria’s problem is leadership. We can only answer them back by reminding them of this truth; that a falsehood is repeated several times over does not change the fact.
After all said and done, there are an overwhelming number of pragmatic, sincere and honest genuine critics of a united Nigeria whose interest is to find real and lasting solution to the problem. The number of these honest individuals and groups is actually in the majority though the very minority opposition may be the ones that have access to the country’s vast amount of money and power to temporarily lobby and buy time and influence to prolong one Nigeria. Yet, those of us who are bent on seeing real solution applied do not believe that Nigeria just has problems of leadership, poverty, corruption, insecurity and religious terrorism. We believe without a shred of doubt, and circumstantial events and conditions are constantly vindicating our objectively considered position, that one Nigeria is the problem that must be solved. It is based on this belief that we have always known and consistently advocated that to solve Nigeria, no sincere interest groups can honestly overlook this only credible, reasonable and inevitable solution of Nigerian union dissolution.
As we come to the close of this discussion we will conclude by generously, albeit briefly, indulge the opposing critics. Okay, let’s assume for the sake of argument that Nigeria’s problem is leadership. In that vein, we will accept as it is logical that there can only be progress when the right leaders can emerge to mobilize the people and direct their energy and creativity in the right direction. But, even at the risk of repeating ourselves, the truth is that it is impossible for such leaders to emerge in Nigeria as it is. The other truth is that there is “no” Nigeria, there is no Nigerian society, there is no Nigerian nation, all because there is no Nigerian culture and as such there are no Nigerian people. In the present scheme of things there is no uniform standard so when a “leader” is elected or imposed on the society, they are confused and in effort become relevant they engage in political nepotism and perform far below their potential.
Though, there is no Nigerian collective existence but there is such a thing as Igbo society for example, Igbo people, Igbo culture and so, an Igbo country or nation in the East. In the same sense we have Yoruba society for example, Yoruba people, Yoruba culture and so, a Yoruba country or nation in the West. The same logic applies to the Hausa/Fulani people in the North and the Middle Belt. Therefore there can only be an Igbo leader or leadership, a Yoruba leader or leadership and a Hausa/Fulani leader or leadership. There cannot be a universal Nigerian leader or leadership.
It is therefore on this roundabout way that we do accept that bad leadership and leaders are the problems of Nigeria and that because there is no Nigeria so it cannot produce any successful leaders or leadership. A society or country must first of all develop the capacity to produce leaders or leadership before we can discuss about the quality of those leaders or leadership; that is whether the leaders and their leadership apparatchik are good or bad.
The aim of all debates engaged in by grown up people and in this case the Nigerian debate should be to find and apply reasonable and feasible solutions to problems under consideration. The question will always be, why waste everybody’s time if from the beginning no one is willing to apply the findings and recommendations of honest, sincere and reasonable debaters?
The urgency of the Nigerian situation can be illustrated by reflecting on this truth: No true father for instance will postpone removing their family from harm’s way while they can. In this instance Igbo leaders, Yoruba leaders, Hausa/Fulani leaders are the fathers of these different peoples that they represent. They must meet and take a conscientious action to take their various peoples out of harm’s way. One Nigeria remains very dangerous and harmful arrangement for the masses of the peoples who are unfortunately and inadvertently roped into it. The various ethnic peoples must urgently be taken out of this harm’s way.
It is because there is one Nigeria that we have poverty, none or bad leaders and leadership, corruption in government and on the streets and homes, ethnic/religious cleansings and genocides. There can be nothing more dangerous and harmful to the peoples than an integrated Nigeria. Several people and groups are calling for what they term sovereign national conference. It is believed that the conference will discuss the basis on which the various ethnic nations will continue to either exist collectively or separately. It is along that line that some people are talking about “true federalism” and other such fanciful but empty terms. Our emphasis here is on finding and applying practical and enduring solutions to problems rather than engaging in endless debates. Let’s divide Nigeria along the existing lines of functional ethnic blocks so that we can solve the seemingly endemic Nigeria’s problems of poverty, Islamic religious intolerance and terrorism, genocides, bad leadership, corruption, hopelessness and insecurity.
Osita Ebiem is a Biafran citizen and the Sri Lanka Guardian's special correspondent on Nigeria. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org