There’s a view on Nigeria that says it is a mere geographic expression, that may have been true when it was said by Awolowo, one of the key shapers of the country’s independence, but surely it is less true today – on one hand, the country that was liberated by contract and negotiation has fulfilled all the expectations that were placed upon it when it started its independence within the commonwealth of Nations, by being at the vanguard of African politics especially in relation to ending Apartheid, and participating in the international system through UN missions and other interventions. Nevertheless, like Brazil, it remains the nation of a million tomorrows, a land of grand ambitions that many believe can never be fulfilled. There are certainly many vested interests that may think a less cohesive mega state in West Africa is exactly what the world needs, however, they are sorely mistaken – if Nigeria were ever to go to war again, against itself – it is unlikely to be a conflagration that could be regionally contained – from the global reach and presence of its diaspora, to the ecological and economic implications such a conflict would have on the rest of the region, to the pressure to migrate that war creates, a Nigeria in conflict would most likely in effect create a world war, as happened, albeit fairly unremarked, in the Congo towards the end of the 20th century; yet, if one were to look at a travel advisory map about Nigeria, almost every part of the country would be marked as a conflict or a danger zone – no doubt, for most, much of this is hyperbole – bone that, as some might say. Nevertheless, it seems to me that Nigeria is at a crossroads, and I write this as a British-Nigerian in the diaspora, more and more cognizant of the fact that this actually matters – having spent just over a year living in Nigeria, the detail of which I will gloss over for the moment – it seems evident that Nigeria’s diaspora matters because of the distance of experience and observation we bring, but that Nigerians on the ground matter more to how the next fifty years will pan out– but I believe it is important to articulate my standpoint, which is one of a diaspora that sees an increasingly fractious place that should offer a beacon of opportunity but seems to be in many ways at war with itself; to paraphrase an old saying, Nigeria’s people and regions in the contestation over the country seem like many bald men fighting, not even over a comb, but who gets to buy a comb, without a penny in any of their pockets. It seems evident that the society is stuck in a groove of fighting with old platitudes trotted out – and the words of many young people – arguing for conflict and war, are the words of those who have no inkling of what total war looks like; for many people like me who grew up, as opposed to being born in the 1990s, one of the most enduring images was of the build up to and then the actual fighting of the Yugoslavian conflict. That war resulted, through enormous brutality in the splintering of the country into many parts, some successful states, and some not, but certainly, none with the commanding authority to say it is the land of the slavs; the people of those regions have probably made their peace with that – in Nigeria it is certainly less obvious that any of Nigeria’s elite, aristocratic, middling and rich have thought of what it would mean for there to actually be no Nigeria – no most populous African country, no most diverse nation, no amalgamation of empires, chieftaincies, and fiercely independent proto-republicans; just a fragmented body of peoples who were once part of Africa’s largest country by population, with not a single one of the successor states having any prospect of a real impact on the international stage or the world system. From the perspective of global politics, it’s clear that the world, at least the world most sane people wish to inhabit needs a country like Nigeria; what is less clear, is whether Nigerians need or still want Nigeria – if you asked most people born there, particularly the politically active ones of all shades and persuasions – the singular answer would be no, certainly, no – as it is currently constituted. That is a singularly spectacular achievement of the country’s political and intellectual class that it has created a general consensus that the state is not needed; this is of course, partly a result of national impatience and international delusion – the story of the country, despite all our individual and communal sufferings over the past 20 years, has been in the longue durée of history, amazingly brilliant; culturally, this will be remembered as a shining moment in Nigeria’s history – from Adichie’s works to the artistic brilliance of photographers like Lakin Ogunbanwo, and musicians like Bez, Tiwa Savage, and everyone’s neighbourhood kid done good – Wizkid – the achievements cannot be gainsaid; this is not counting Nollywood, nor the achievements of many Nigerians in multilateral organisations, nor the humble strivings of Nigerians who work in hospitals, schools and the professions all over the world, contributing to those societies and sending remittances that dwarf the money given in aid. It seems undoubtedly clear that even in its dysfunction, Nigeria sparkles as the promise of a prosperous, majority black tomorrow – if South Africa is where the idea of legislated racial superiority was defeated – Nigeria is the place where the racial healing that comes from having state power behind Black African identity, alongside racial and cultural diversity is likely to be most powerfully asserted when it becomes the broad-based prosperous middle-class nation it has the potential to be; that cannot be achieved without slaying the dragons that are at the core of the state – and it has to be said, that no one has all the answers, but it seems to me that the answers are in the mouths of babes – to stretch a metaphor; since the nation’s amalgamation, and independence, the identities – that have now coalesced to some extent around the six geo-political zones – have been the basis of conflict for resources, rightly or wrongly; conflicts that have been managed but only with the sense of an overbearing centre committed to muddling along against weak federating states and strong, enduring ethnic identities; that is not entirely fair, all large entities have their share of battles for power – (note Brexit, The US Civil War, and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire) Yet, it seems folly to deny the clear desire for more regional autonomy, yet there is a note of caution to be sounded, the collapse of the first republic was just as much the result of an overbearing centre as it was of irascible regions or regional leaders; for all effects and purposes, it seems Nigeria ought to be what it really is – a federation of pre-existing national – not cultural identities; underneath the cultural formations that are talked about as tribal, are in fact, long existing, sometimes shifting national identities – and sub-nationalities. It takes expertise to carry such a large body along on the path of modernity, and Nigeria’s leaders and intelligentsia deserve some credit for that – but it seems evident that the country needs a great leap forward; at the centre of its politics has to be a desire not for the resources of the state – but for the regulation of the state and prosperity of its federating zones; minorities that are unlikely to be majorities require protection, particularly in a fragile democracy where too often the majority’s win is interpreted as the majority’s right to bully; in a digital age, there is more opportunity to protect the language and culture of minorities through language academies and nurseries, as well as acknowledge the embedded knowledge and value such cultures have; as for cultural minorities, so for other minorities, sexual, epistemic and migratory – the assertion of national identity cannot be tied to the celebration of discrimination in contravention of human rights and natural justice, especially in its most odious forms against women, vis a vis citizenship and homosexuals (male and female) – as well as atheists, and other minorities; recently, the demand for police reform has risen to the forefront of national and international discussions- many do not see why the police should be run by the federal government – indeed it need not be, but federal oversight offers protection (at least, in theory) to minorities against the arbitrary power of governors and ethnic majorities, which need to be balanced against the palpable sense of armed forces as the brute arm of any government in power, and (sotto voce) – the constituency, ethnic or otherwise they purportedly represent. It is likely that ethnicity will continue to play a large part in Nigeria’s politics for a long time – indeed, in the absence of a battle over ideology – identity politics, however interpreted has been the great force convulsing all major countries in the world into dysfunction and potential collapse (Britain and USA, here’s looking at you) Still, it is likely that this is the generation of politicians, soldiers and citizens that have to find a new way of dancing the old dance; the rotational arrangements that happen on an informal or extra-constitutional basis need integration into the national law and psyche, and all around, pre-existing nationalities need the re-assurance that the federation is not a plan to obliterate their identity but to give Nigerians, Africans and Black Africans especially, a proud and effective voice and arm at the international table; on the regions, from looking at a map, it seems to me that Nigeria could do with reflecting the truth of its centre by splitting it into two, there are six states, three above, and three below the river Niger (if Geography does not fail me) – it would go a long way to redressing the shibboleth of an overly large northern region and better reflect the diversity of those parts of the country.