It is far-fetched for anyone to think that Nigeria will just wake up one day to become like Singapore, one of the world’s most successful societies since human history began or even to frog jump to the level of the United Arab Emirates, UAE, a country that has achieved mastery over natural barriers to emerge as a model of social cohesion, creative innovation and a cultural melting pot to the rest of the world. Both societies by sheer planning and commitment to process have within a generation scaled over the basic needs of human existence, such as food, shelter, healthcare, education and employment. Each of these countries functioning well under carefully foundated template. And so, the leaders now have set their eyes on the future.
In contrast, Nigeria that started her journey of nationhood at about the same time with Singapore and a decade after the UAE’s union, has floundered and groped without clarity. In fact, there is no clear path to what constitutes nationhood in Nigeria when the levers upon which rests her foundations are fragmented. Successive leaderships have failed woefully to steer the people on the path of passionate, motivated engagement. Tension is tearing and tugging at the seams and hardly is there a basis of unified aggregation. The things that divide us are more attractive even to those in leadership than the humbling virtues that ought to mould the people together. Each group is beating a path away from what ought to be the common ground.
If there is, then, I have not seen a Nigerian leader in my lifetime that has done well in unifying an evidently dominantly polyethnic society. Nationality, which supposed to bring citizens’ together towards developing a commonwealth with common aspirations, and strengthen a bond that will be increasingly tied to the advantages of a social policy is absent in Nigeria. Which makes many to refer to the country as a mere geographical expression that have been able to hold itself together by divine providence rather than a concerted, self-conscious effort by leaders to leave behind a legacy.
Nigeria’s problems are so numerous. The same applies to other nations. But the problems that have divided Nigerians the most are grave, including marginalisation, inequalities and nepotism. All characteristics of our being that ought to lift our diversity have become a source of anguish and suffering. The three major ethnic groups, namely Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba have assimilated hundreds of other ethnic groups in the country. For example, I am from Borno state in the North East of Nigeria, yet, I am neither Kanuri nor Hausa, two dominant ethnic groups in my state and in the north respectively. Sadly, I can hardly boast of equal treatment when competing with these powerful ethnic groups in that region.
So many people from the South East and South South will contest being all labelled as Igbos as people in Kano or Lagos will refer to them. The third ethnic majority group, the Yoruba, is like the others made up of numerous smaller collections of people amid those who consider themselves as bona fide Yorubas. Arising from these most of the minority voices have been eclipsed into the generalization of the ‘WaZoBia’ frame. Clearly, this hinders any advancement of any strong national identity that is based on citizens’ rights and responsibilities in Nigeria.
Same thing applies when it comes to the two officially recognised religions; Christianity and Islam. Within Christianity there are those that don’t consider certain denominations or beliefs as Christian enough or Christian at all. Amongst Muslims, sectarianism is rife, where dozens of Sects do not see eye to eye. Yet, a growing population that are not Christians or Muslims feel marginalised in a so-called secular state like Nigeria.
President Muhammadu Buhari, though may not possess the credentials to unite a highly polyethnic society, however, he still stands a chance to make history by developing three critical national agendas for Nigeria, which include: social cohesion, anti - corruption and save the ailing economy. If he can focus on these three areas, conflicts, unemployment and poverty will reduce dramatically.
A quick lesson from the UAE for Nigeria is, the population of expatriates or non citizens stood at over 8 million, accounting for nearly 90 per cent of the country’s total population, with over 250 nationalities and dozens of religions that are free to worship, yet the UAE has been ranked the leader in government efficiency and social cohesion, and the eighth most competitive nation in the world as adjudged by the Swiss International Institute of Management Development. How did such a diverse population succeed in achieving this feat? The answer is simple, the country has reduced disparities in wealth and opportunity. Citizens and residents like me in the UAE are given a sense of belonging that makes everyone see themselves as members of a shared community.
There is nothing like a Nigerian being called a settler in his or her country when coming from another state within Nigeria or, citizens feeling unwanted or insecure if they choose to be resident out of their native states or region. Living in the UAE, as a Nigerian resident, I have seen how a mere email to the Dubai police got an instant reply, and an officer was assigned to help me deal with the complaint I initiated. Laws are respected and can catch up with even the locals if they run afoul.
The UAE is also a living example of how social cohesion is a bond that holds a group together, even if individuals within that group or its seven emirates have differences and the people have diverse backgrounds and belief systems, unlike the case in Nigeria. This level of cohesion can only be managed and sustained by a firm, selfless and visionary leader who does not tilt the lever of official privilege to the advantage of one against another. A leader in Nigeria has nothing to lose if he or she imbibes such virtues as seen in other fast developing countries.
Sadly, the change mantra that ushered in the current government has not enthroned the much anticipated accountability, transparency, due process and the rule of law, which are the key drivers that will make any society not only to function, but excel. We do not focus on building institutions, we are carried away by a personality cult. We hear about how well meaning the intentions of our leader are. But we nevertheless forget how vastly history’s graveyard is littered with failed leaders who had the best of intentions. We forget that the leader is not omnipresent and relies on individuals who were active bedfellows with corruption the night before. We imagine that men and women who are unable to even truthfully declare their assets are drivers of anti-corruption campaign today. These are individuals who thrive on impunity and have made a public show of it.
Nigeria is really in dire need of enthroning inclusive institutions where the citizens is king and the king is accountable to the citizens. For all of our problematic foundations Nigeria’s case can only pass as an exemplary case of extractive institutions where a few number of elites control government.