This paper is written about Nigeria in the context of a number of Global crises and movements, notably the warming of the earth’s climate, the correction of which has implications for Nigeria’s deeply oil-based economy, the continued threat to the lives of people across the world, due to diminished life chances as well as extra-judicial murder, who are Black, principally as a result of the long-enduring effects of systematic racism created to mobilise the use of Black Africans as free labour – and the civil rights response to this threat across the world; alongside this is the perpetual sense of crisis engendered by Nigeria’s public discourse, both at home and abroad that implies the foundational social and political settlement as a federation is broadly untenable unless renegotiated – this is balanced against the opportunity represented by the demographic dividend which means a great many young Nigerians are old enough to have some awareness of historical depth of recent experiences, but young enough to have technical confidence, if not social hope, that the country’s existential crises can be fixed, and be fixed primarily because regardless of its ethnic fissures, many believe in the manifest destiny of Nigeria and the wider west African region as a leadership entity for the continent and the world.
The amalgamating units were the kingdoms and their peoples, and the British sovereign; the federating units were the ethnic blocs, their regions, and their political parties; whilst much of the consent to Nigeria’s union was coerced, and such coercion has made its mark on the reflexes of the state and peoples, the social and political reality of it exists – with both merits and demerits. The key merit is the existence of a large, economically viable state in West Africa – and the demerit has been the core struggle for perceived ethnic survival in the face of perceived ethnic domination and the attendant conflict and lack of elite consensus for a Pax Nigeria under which citizens live peaceable and ideally, prosperous lives. This paper, with due acknowledgement that it is a generalized view – proposes some suggestions for moving towards that goal, and the five key reasons for doing so:
- Despite its challenges, Nigeria, or more accurately, the two Nigerias are viable as a cultural region and society, geo-political zone, and global economic power with a strong centre, and stable and dynamic regions
- Despite its viability, there is the strong centrifugal force of ethnic groups that wish to re-organise the state to achieve what is considered a more balanced social and political settlement and the very real possibility of a violently balkanised state a la Yugoslavia, and many other entities
- Nigeria is currently a middle-income country; however, it is a middle-income country with vast wealth inequalities that are more likely to be rooted in the socio-political structure – rather than the economic conditions of the federation – and to maintain its position and shift up the scale in global affairs – it needs a re-negotiated social and political settlement
- The world is in the throes of an environmental and climate emergency, one in which the response of major states, particularly in the Global South need to be robust and geared towards a transformational shift in the world economy and mode of life – Nigeria, already a regional power and a moral authority in the world needs to be better adjusted, with more progressive elite and mass consensus about being a modern, dynamic state with an exemplary socio-economic set up and standard of living with broad-based prosperity
- Many of the old arguments (ethnic division, conservatism vs. socialism, etc. coup plots, ) are boring in the face of the prospect of creating a new economy and in one or two generations providing full education to all people – and being part of the new technological race to space and other frontiers within a country that already possess strong levels of diversity, intellectual, social, financial, and historical capital to be a lynchpin state for the extended African region and the rest of the world
A Global Context
In relation to the Rest of the World, Africa and the first nations, particularly of Oceania and The Americas, have an unlimited moral and arguably, legal claim on reparations and repair following the costs and trauma imposed by the creation of the modern world – for, if the despoilation of Africa began by at least the 1500s with the Atlantic and Trans-Saharan slave trade until the 1990s when the cold war ended – then there should be at least another 500 years in which capital flows in a benevolent direction back to the continent to ensure that it enjoins deepening peace and stability. This does not necessarily mean outright reparations immediately, but that a lot of the world’s relationship and Africa’s articulation of its position is essentially what Martin Luther King said, a cheque that needs to be paid – and happily for the world, we stand for the first time in a position to make it a win-win scenario, especially in relation to solar power, the formal and informal import and export of water and meat, as well as culture and beneficiation of products, particularly luxury goods, alongside the mineral resources that have been both curse and boon; in return those who are Africa’s diaspora, intelligentsia, cognoscenti and bureaucracy have an obligation first to its people and to whoever invests, to use resources as judiciously as possible, allowing for human folly and the necessity of learning to fail and succeed better.
It is commonly said that a house divided against itself cannot stand – and that has often proved to be true – yet a house reasonably dividing itself to manage conflict and resources will always stand and grow. The proposals of this paper are not with the view to eradicating conflict on the presumption that it is possible to build a utopia – no; this is highly unlikely, however, what is likely is a better management of the conflicting push and pulls on the identity of the Nigerian state, and a fairer social and political settlement that also more accurately reflects historical conditions and ethno-social realities.
Problem: Resources: Not the problem
The expression of frustration through dissent against the status quo in Nigeria has taken a number of forms, organised civic political protests against particular parts of the social order; declarations of separatist movements, criminal and criminalised action, religious fervour, as well as exile or emigration; given that Nigeria is a growing economy, fuelled only partially by its oil revenues, the socio-economic challenges are more likely not rooted in an economic struggle, which is to say an economically constrained state – but more in the consensus or agreement at an elite, bureaucratic and mass level that is committed (or entrapped in) to a middlingly effective state with power contested through instability – because of an unresolved agreement on the basis and degree of union, based on reasonable fears and reservations about ethnic annihilation or destruction, either through assimilation (passive or active) domination, and subjugation.
Oil as Spiritual Resource
There is in addition to the material aspect of the state and its resources – a spiritual aspect -which is to say – an aspect that goes beyond politics into the psychic understanding of what resources are; one of the key beliefs may be that the oil that fuels the country is not the result of anyone’s work, so for a society that actually values work – as evidenced by the entrepreneurial spirit of many – it is in essence free money over which the only battle is its distribution and the space in which it was found – however, if we can re-connect the spiritual source of the money with its ownership and use – which we can because beyond the differences in belief lies a fairly universal belief that a divine power exists and part of that divine power’s bounty is the earth, and the process of making the earth, and that oil is part of that bounty – and giving that broadly speaking the earth is life-sustaining – not life negating – it follows that the use of the earth, especially its ‘savings’ or products– which oil must be considered – ought to follow a broadly life-sustaining principle; further, rather than being free money, it is worth considering the oil money a grant from the universe which requires fair use and distribution, including good management of the land and waters on which the oil is found and produced.
Connection & Separation Anxiety: Nigeria’s is an administrative, moral, civil, and human rights problem
Administrative: The utility of a Nigerian union is a historically settled idea (African empires established varying degrees of authority over it, the British managed or mis-managed it, while the management and political class of aristocratic, returnee and newly arisen educated elites have run it with a view to managing and downplaying diversity in government structures in the hopes of emerging with one solid sense of nationhood. The core tension for any state with a great degree of plurality is the anxiety that answering the clamour for secession or independence by one group will inevitably lead to the total fracture and fragmentation of the state; yet it is unlikely that most groups that subsist within the Nigerian state wish to see it fragment – for both national and international reasons – the customs union that is Nigeria is viable as a singular entity in an era of pooled sovereignty and a significantly functional international order under the UN System; the distinction that however is glossed over has been that between Secession – a full withdrawal from being part of a state and rejection of its authority, either peacefully or violently – and Semi-Autonomy, the express acknowledgment that the constituent ethno-nations of a supranational state have a right and are best served if they have a good degree of autonomy in the governance of their affairs, a state of affairs best arrived at through negotiated or legislated constitutional settlement.
Point of federation
A federation provides room for the projection of cultural power and capital, by power we mean the ability to maintain or make change (not domination) – and a federation can exist for the protection of a minority or minoritized group’s rights, as well as the incorporation of progressively better understanding of and implementation of what creates individual and social good, both in terms of positive and negative liberty. A key instance is regarding policing – both informal (moral) and formal (police force) – while it is reasonable to allow for autonomy at the regional and state level, the federal level would be the place for a recourse to justice for persons – particularly minorities of all kinds when subject to abuse of such state and regional power.
Proposition: A union of the Nigerias
The core changes that would move the country towards a better social and political settlement are as follows:
- A renegotiation of the union of the two Nigerian geo-political areas or zones – with the explicit introduction of the role of a sovereign of the two, represented by a person but invested in a national mask and emblem that is social and cultural rather than political through an act of re-amalgamation or an act of union.
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- The delineation of the state as northern and southern territories amalgamated into a sovereign state as a form of marriage with the federal capital territory as the principal spouse to the two territories, six regions and their respective states, along with their constitutional financial obligations to maintaining the centre, and vice-versa
- A restatement of and bolstering of the individual rights element of the constitution, alongside a constitutional review and subsequent law that gives legal force to:
- a rotating presidency between north and south, levels of governorship forums of progressive levels of power ending at the centre with the leader of the regional governors forum as governor-general, as well as a committment to the current 36 states, whilst acknowledging or making provision for future alteration of state formation within their existing regions – in effect, deepening the role of states as a way of managing shifts in population and identity within each region
- The retention of the six regions with a slight effective adjustment to better reflect the need for geo-political balance and historical identities – as follows: South-South, North-North, South-West, South-East, North-West and North-East
Recognising Linguistic Diversity:
The recognition of the majority indigenous language or indigenous lingua-franca for each geo-political region at the federal level, including pidgin English/Nigerian creole, and English, and the creation of robust language academies/programmes for minority languages and languages at threat of extinction.*
- A New S.S.M.P.A
The Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act represents one of the most eggregious acts against the idea of a federation predicated on the supremacy of a constitution that guarantees individually liberty as well as a customs union where for centuries societies either side of the Niger have had varied forms of marriage and social union beyond the strait-jacket of judeo-christian monogamy. As such, it is a law whose status as null and void ought to be confirmed by its being gutted, recycled and renamed as follows the: SSMPA – Social Security, Marriages, Peoples & Population Act to enshrine the following:
The provision of a base level of social security via the provision of a basic income for all citizens
The recognition of the individual as the foundational part of each family, community, culture, state, and region
The legality of marriage and civil partnerships between any two adult persons
The legality of marriage and civil partnerships between five or more people as a limited liability partnership with a principal shareholder
The legality of marriage between two persons for a time-limited period
The modification of the social and sexual age of consent to better reflect social and biological realities (in particular, equalising the provisions on marriage for boys and girls, and raising the age of sexual action, marriage, and consent for girls to thirteen or upwards)
as well as re-affirmation of the core tenets of the constitution anchored in the values of peace, knowledge, equality, and ancestral reverence for the past and preservation of the future for coming generations.
The delineation of the nation-state as northern and southern territories amalgamated into a sovereign state as a form of marriage with the federal capital territory as the principal spouse to the six regions and their respective states, along with their constitutional financial obligations to maintaining the centre, and vice-versa
The introduction of such a robust act to assert the value of union, ought to also be accompanied by a re-appraisal of citizenship that acknowledge the varying levels of belonging woven into the fabric of such a diverse nation-state through a citizenship act that –
- Makes a distinction between the de facto existence of cultural citizenship ( on the principles of Jus Sanguis, Lingua Alma, Blut und Boden) of a region and the regions and national citizenship of Nigeria as a civic citizenship arising from a cultural identity and relationship to the regions, languages, and territories respectively of North, South and the FCT and migration of all kinds (Civitas and Jus Soli)
- Provides a path for adopting cultural citizenship from region to region for all residents, including immigrants that is graduated and reflects the pre-existing cultural identities on a time-graduated process based on the length of reaching the highest level of a profession (20 years) – or reaching total adult maturity (25 years) – that requires language learning
- Providing limits on ownership of land and territory across the federation by non-regional citizens in a region whilst guaranteeing the security of national citizens across the federations and creating an effective, considerate, and fair policy for divesting of such assets as currently exist
- Provides a path for adopting or confirming cultural citizenship for those of mixed Nigerian heritage or mixed Nigerian and international origin at the age of voting maturity (16) based on individual choice and/or linguistic competence
- Identifies the cultural citizenship of a child as arising from its parents or guardian until the age of voting maturity, and the parent with custody in instances of parental separation
- Recognises all the indigenous ethno-linguistic groups (as far as possible) – of and within the six regions as distinct from one another
- Removes any citizenship distinctions between men and women in both cultural citizenship and national citizenship
- Creates the status of denizens for non-indigenous residents in the respective regions and/or at the territorial level
The population of the Nigerian state, while acknowledge widely to be the largest in Africa is based on census data that is contested – in this area, it might be effective to collect census data in a manner that cuts across the state’s social, political, historical and economic structure – that is the geographic regions covered by data collectors might be divided in either a randomised manner or by cutting across territories rather than within territories, and such data could reasonably be collected without data on ethnicity – and it would be reasonable for such an exercise to be led by a visitor empowered to gather such data and ideally from a country or community without strong religious or cultural affinity with any region in the country – there is ample precedent for such an exercise, most recently Mark Carney’s success as governor of the Bank of England, and any considerations rooted in nationalism should be addressed by the rationale that a more viable national bed of data is most likely conducted in the state’s current dispensation by a foreign and dispassionate lover, and the obvious region to consider for such an exercise are the smaller and more stable states of Asia, in particular, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, perhaps with a chair of impeccable moral status in the vein of Evo Morales or Angela Merkel. Despite the understanding that an awareness of its demographics is core to the functioning of a nation-state, the contentious nature and understandable skepticism over the census has transformed a bureacratic excercise into a delicate dance of numbers that seems to embarass rather than flatter the ship of state – a remedy for the current predicament may be to:
- Legislate for the conduct of a census conducted by an external party and assessing the population via randomised distribution and patterns of areas that contain all the national territory but not the political, ethnic and historical state boundaries; essentially, the country’s territory would be divided by the number of weeks data collection would take (e.g. 26 weeks) which would give roughly 36 collection areas – alongside criteria generated by randomised computer allocation with these proposed parameters: a data collector or team should be assigned to areas that are a.) non-contiguous, b.) not mono-ethnic c.) not in the same region – the data collection ought to be matched by satellite imagery of population etc, as well as economic data on food and health consumption; ideally it should be conducted by two external bodies separately
- At the border between north and south, a land bridge of lines of stone from eastern most point of the border to the centre of the border, and a land bridge of stone from the western most point of the border to the centre of the border with a circle at the centre bearing the preamble of the constitution in one language but different scripts
As implied above, re-negotiating the autonomy of the distinct regions would by necessity require a re-alignment of land rights – in the sense that the ‘cultural/regional citizenships would form the basis for the full ownership of land (irrespective of gender); whilst ownership of land outside of one’s own region would be subject to constraints similar to those Nigeria imposes on foreign ownership of land and property, setting ownership at a percentage – and within that restrictions on contractual ownership that would allow (de facto outsider ownership, e.g. a group from four different regions owning a landholding in another region); it is likely this would discourage ownership of land by purchasers outside of the region and remove land as a commodity of trade outside of the respective regions. This would also allow the federal state to act as a land broker of last resort with an influence different to any other investors in the economy; secondly, while the restriction of ownership of Land to only citizens of that region – might seem to prima facie deprive people of a key part of their constitutional right, it should be observed that this is a right that has likely been observed more in the breach than observance, and also that the principal citizenship as a Nigerian is derived not directly but via the regions (land, identity, language etc), and secondly via the internationalisation of the region within the Nigerian state, as such, land ownership outside of one’s own region of origin represents an investment action rather than an inherent right, which may be regulated via a different form of constitutional arrangement from the one that currently exists.
Inter-regional Regional Indigenes (Nigerian Creoles)
The author of this paper has elsewhere written that Nigeria is a creolised culture, one with cultural tensions but creolised nonetheless, and many people have an admixture of origin (either within their ethnic groups, e.g. an Oyo and Awori mix of Yoruba, or an Nnewi and Enugu mix of Igbo – in these instances where there is no regional cross-over there is no tension in the regional citizenship concept; where there is a prima facie challenge is with people who have ethnicity that crosses regions, e.g. Igbo and Yoruba, Yoruba and Hausa – on a first level, these individuals of course have Nigerian/National citizenship immediately – and in terms of regional citizenship, they should have access to both, especially as considerations of inheritance are at play here – the only area of constraint would be in the arena of land rights and voting rights, which should be subject to the constraint of choice once such persons reach an adult age – they would select which regional citizenship they wish to vote in, and this territory would be the one within which they would automatically have landholding rights within; they should of course be able to renounce or assume the cultural citizenship of either parent or line of descent even after they have chosen previously, but to mitigate the tensions of such persons being used to manipulate social and electoral dynamics, such a change should only be permissible within a long time window, for example every 10, 15, or 20 years, and also be regulated by a federal authority via a randomised system that permits a limited number of changes balanced against the electoral cycle and population figures.
Annual National Union
A further symbolic commitment would be a symbolic treaty marriage between the sovereign and a person of merit from each state at the beginning of each presidential term, who would receive a coin or similar item – which could be used as a device to dissolve a particular administration if all such items are gathered and presented, independently of being requested by the sovereign to the administration.
The current extra-constitutional forum of governors in each state might provide a platform for consolidating government via elected heads of progressively higher forums of governorship; i.e. 36 Governors of 6 regions – have 6 regional governor forums – each region electing a chair for its governship forum; the forum of regional governor-generals might in turn head to the centre and elect 2 heads who become the governor-generals of the south and north respectively and then those governor-generals might form with The President and two vice presidents, Leader of the Senate, and the Speaker of the house a core executive council – with each office rotating constitutionally between north and south -providing 7 officers of state who are: counsellors to the president with the sovereignty of the people.
It goes without saying that the presidency is the most recognisable part of the country’s politics and the one in which all people feel they have some form of input, either before or after the fact – it is one where direct election across the country has proven itself effective – yet it could be deepened with the fielded candidates constitutionally agreed rotationally on an twelve-year period – i.e. – parties must field only candidates from north or south during that period – and would be barred from fielding ‘controlled’ candidates – (i.e. candidates ostensibly from/or representing one region but actually substantially controlled financially by a candidate/group from another division) – the leadership of the area in power could be balanced by two vice-presidents from the ‘abstaining’ area.
Poet Laureate, Baba San – The Masked Sovereign
There is an argument to be made that in a land of many monarchical houses, there is a need for an embodiment of sovereignty beyond the political power that passes from party to party via elections; the obvious argument against is the implied undemocratic nature of such an office in a society that struggled to be free and become a republic – yet there are examples of electoral monarchies, and this could be one – whilst still separating the idea of a sovereign, an embodiment of culture and peoples sovereignty from the effective business of state conducted by officers of state. The role of such a person or persons might be to take on the marking of the year; open the regional and national assemblies, and perhaps chair an endowment fund for arts and sports and represent and/or send representatives for the country to events such as the Olympics, and other significant sporting and other events that bind the world together in friendly competition and association – and they ought to have their budget protected by the constitution or a core form of law. They might also have a right to appoint and caution about laws and have a group of learned people who are a formalised counsel who can advise without binding commitment on the legislature – and who are insulated from the electoral process – perhaps with their appointment linked to leadership of some key professional institutions – e.g., leaders of unions of nurses, teachers, lawyers, and writers – and perhaps other people who can be appointed upon volunteering their services.
The sovereign might be elected by the people through an electoral college based on a cultural activity (language and poetry) – perhaps first by acclamation and subsequently by an electoral college composed of laureates for their respective states in cycles of twelve or more years – including person/s who represents the overseas territories and peoples and perhaps the electoral college would be composed of people who are either over 40, 45, or 50 years of age – and the Baba is wedded to the sovereignty of the people by a symbolic marriage to 73 people each year, representing each state and the diaspora; alternatively, the sovereign can be rather than a person – a mask (by which we mean a full regalia that includes a mask – and it is the mask that is borne as an emblem of sovereignty, which will be in the possession of a particular person for a particular length of time – given its strong association with the development of a distinctly Nigerian sense of identity and agency in the world, it would be reasonable for such a mask to be a variation of the Idia mask, with marks for the six regions, two zones and federal capital territory); The essence of it is to be a repose for the commitment to being a symbol of sovereignty that derives from people, culture and land and existence as one sovereign nation-state; if a person they might observe public silence for the period of their reign – except on constitutionally agreed periods of state (1. Annual Opening of the assembly, 2. Annual dissolving of the assembly, 3. National honour of ancestors and/or the dead, 4. annual marathon or similar national sporting competition 5. The arugba/national cleansing, 6. Annual national dance and theatre competition, and a 7. A national walk of honour for all those who have achieved something extra-ordinary annually meritocratically locally, nationally, and internationally) – and perhaps the sovereignty itself can reflect in reverse the balance of the population (a young sovereign when the country is old, and an older sovereign when the country is young)
The line of succession for such a role ought to be established for the long view of 18 or 36 years – to distinguish it from the radical revolution of democracy – and emphasise the symbolic value of change within a relatively stable system.
Separately, there could be a competition annually to select a bearer who would symbolically bear things and take them to the river, and it would be ideal if this person or persons are dancers, as the judgement should be made about their bearing in dancing towards this goal and the return from the river/s, such as it were. The roles should be able to be undertaken by a person of either gender, and people who identify as non-binary – in national terms, these arts seem core to a cohesive national unity – and useful containers for a competitive but rule-bound spirit, especially in the areas of Fine Dance, Music, Plastic Arts (Sculpture & Metal) Literature, particularly poetry and the spoken word and Sports – especially wrestling, boxing, and similar individual sports. The model for this/these bearers in my mind is the annual festival that takes place in Osogbo for the spirit of the sweet waters, Osun – and the life-affirming practice of taking the ‘sins’ of the society to the river and returning with a renewed spirit to the country. As you may have guessed, what is being suggested is a type of national symbolic representation of society that is based on artistic merit and longevity and insulated from the heat, partisan nature, and baseness of the electoral process, whist still remaining broadly democratic, republican and constitutional, and lifting the symbolic and ceremonial out of the electoral process whilst creating a sense of honour, dignity, aspiration, pleasure, mystery and mystique, within and about the body politic and its culture.
In terms of electoral politics, there is a lot to be said (for) and against the current system of divided and senatorial government, but it is also already there – and perhaps if it is not all broke don’t fix all of it – the part that doesn’t seem to work is the lack of a constituency link – or effective ability thereof – in that Nigeria has much in common with South Africa, but it may be countered by a more engaged citizenry and more devolved powers to the regions and states – and with much more social clarity about the areas where the federal government maintains responsibility – which in our view should be – the higher functions of law and order, and justice, (i.e. last resort at a national level), regulation and inspection of education, federal maintenance and regulation of the federal capital territory, diaspora and external relations & affairs, higher powers of taxation, Défense and co-management of ports and waterways, sustaining arts & culture, cultivating a national and federal culture, archives and languages and sport, the provision of basic social security and universal income, particularly for the old, the indigent and the young until the age of twenty-five, justice and upholding constitutional union and law, . In terms of a federal capital territory – there should be no votes allocated to this area in national elections – rather it ought to have government as its own unit with a particular election – with a mayor – and a particular relationship to the national assembly that permits a seat in that institution, and a place in the cabinet of the administration, but no audience with the sovereign and their vices; it would also be a great profit to a sovereign state to have a basic trust fund to provide a base level of regular income for all people, even if it is purely nominal initially– like 0.50 Naira per person per year, despite the general conservative fear that free money makes people indolent, there is policy evidence that it does the reverse, particularly in the hands of female heads of households – and such a grant of love annually might be in the gift of the ceremonial sovereign. In terms of the sovereign and other titled persons – you might bring all the titled people – and the council of state into a great hall – that would contain their regalia – and this entity would principally be ‘virtual’ – i.e. would not actually sit – but can be called upon by the sovereign to advice – in much the way that Britain’s privy council works; in essence it would be making visible – and tangible what is already the social culture of the land – and the grand occasion for seeing all these people process might be occasions of national importance – and two or three legislative moments like the opening of the national assembly and the handover from sovereign to sovereign after a national electoral process and conclave – perhaps, borrowing from the way in which the bishop of Rome is currently elected, and the way in which games and arts proved a uniting force for the Greek city states that owed much of their heritage to Africa; whatever is to be said about electoral politics – it is about time that Nigeria’s vast diaspora have an increased voice in that respect.
There are some reasonable arguments for further dividing the states in Nigeria into further states, and the most frequently cited is that many states are not self-sustaining and/or viable economic entities – and secondly that they may not properly reflect ethnic structures; in our view, worthy though these perspectives are – they are not a core structural issue – what should be more effectively accepted as a principle – that the sovereign nation-state, federal in concert with regional – can divide within itself the territory into a number of states for effective administration and social experience, whilst – though for effectiveness the present thirty-six states should be accepted as a fait accompli, whilst more emphasis should be placed on balancing the regions, and the two federating zones.
A number of ethnic groups and states look to the example of Singapore as an effective city-state and consider that some cities and their hinterlands could effectively run as sovereign states – for example Lagos on its own is reported to be the 12th largest economy in Africa; nevertheless, such entities would still need reciprocal relationships with their more powerful neighbours, and as such a union in Nigeria seems to us the most viable, with significant autonomy; since the late 20th century, there has been a resurgence of mayoral power and a demonstration of its effectiveness – both as an administrative form, and a political platform for leaders – it is likely that Nigerian cities including Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu among others would thrive under a devolution of powers to mayors close to the issues of their constituents, and also with strong incentives to address their city problems as global issues alongside their contemporaries in other cities.
Ports & Access
On the face of it, though all parts of the state have airports, the northern part of Nigeria is landlocked and would require access to sea ports for its goods and a new socio-political settlement ought to clarify this through negotiated consensus, the example internationally of leasing sea ports and islands should be applicable to Nigeria on the basis of the territories – (North & South) – in particular, areas of desert that are not reclaimed may become increasingly useful for solar farms, and access to the energy secured here could be swapped for access to or the building of specific sea ports in the south that provide access to goods from and to the north.
Grazing Rights: Sedentary & Nomadic Lifestyles
The distinction between sedentary and nomadic styles of life are expressed most sharply in the areas of grazing rights for cattle herders who are more mobile, and farmers who are more sedentary; the conflict also has an ethno-territorial dimension – in that much settled farmland is in the south, and much of cattle herding is conducted by people of northern origin. The current tension that exists is between the declared interest of the Pan-Nigerian state to have theoretical access for all citizens versus the cultural citizens of the states and regions that express a need for protection from the aggression involved in grazing as well as the destruction or potential destruction of life and property, all underpinned by the declared principle that the regions are part of a sovereign state by agreement that have some difference in expressions of social and economic culture, which though often complimentary also result in conflict. A renewed act of union ought to distinguish between the north and south in relationship to grazing rights, underpinned by an enshrined principle of limited and shared autonomy of the two territories, north and south; this should be coupled with an upskilling of herders to create a skilled base of modern cowboys that can borrow from the best of ranching culture across the globe. The primary duty of a state is the protection of life and property – as such regardless of a final outcome there should be a moratorium on grazing on any existing land used for settled agriculture, whilst also addressing the core pressures for land encroachment, especially climate change by reviving land that has suffered desertification in the north. The relationship between herders and farmers needs management at the state and regional levels as seasonal migration – and at the national level as inter-territorial economic and constitutional issues – and more broadly, the issue should be acknowledged as culturally embedded – rather than purely economic, grazing and herding is a cultural activity alongside farming that needs to be managed with the views to preserving the practice but removing the conflictual elements, in a similar way in which the UK’s good Friday agreement dealt with the Orange protestant march in Northern Ireland through catholic areas. It should also be noted that should Nigeria enter into nation-wide armed conflict, it is likely to be due to large enough infractions and retaliations on the issue of grazing rights and protection of farming and farmers.
The New Nomadism
There is a second aspect to the distinction between Nomadic and Sedentary lifestyle – the emergence particularly of digital economies has made the prospect of a digitally nomadic lifestyle more attractive to the present and likely coming generations – there ought to be a strong effort to encourage mobility within each region (inter-regional mobility only in so far as the security of lives of property seems guaranteed).
Historical Realties & Future Agreements
It is fashionable and accurate to say that Nigeria as its various entities and in its amalgamated form is a product of the imperial greed and administrative fervour of the second British empire, however, it should also be acknowledged that Nigeria is also a territory of historic contestation between at least three expansionist ethno-imperial powers, the Fulani from the north, the Oyo and Edo in the south, all seeking to establish their power as either primus inter pares or as the hegemon. It is clear that the imperial contestation, whether conscious or sub-conscious exists in Nigeria’s body politic and is most clearly expressed in the desire to retain Nigeria as a centralised state (on which there is inter-ethnic elite consensus) in tension with the desire to retain ethnic dominance, autonomy or uniqueness (both a generalised sentiment and a mobilising agenda) in all the viable ethno-national groups – which at its most problematic but necessary is expressed in the requirement of a president from each region, rather than a focus on meritocratic leadership.
Happily, there is already a de facto consensus which should be historically permitted to take its course – Nigeria has had post-military presidents from the following regions (North), North-West (Buhari, Yar’adua), North-Central (Abubakar) South-South (Jonathan), South-West (Obasanjo) but not (North-East) and South-East) – it seems sensible that political actors should seek to satisfy this historic course by fielding presidential candidates from these regions against each other by consensus; that is all parties agree to select a presidential candidate from the region in question to run for one-term respectively until each region has received the satisfaction of the presidency – after the candidacies of the current incumbents and their potential succesors. More realistically, maintaining the de facto rotation of candidacies between north and south for presidential candidates is viable – and ought to be maintained, within the boundaries of competence and merit, and experience of government.
Accord of Past & Present
The existing federal government, and the formerly most powerful and/or most populous and territorially expansive ethno-imperial states and their allies ought to strike a symbolic accord affirming the re-creation of the Nigerias as a federation based on shared economic objectives, pan-African principles and objectives, and democratic values and the sustenance of cultural and linguistic knowledge and heritage of Africans – in our view the ethno-imperial identities and their allies that this applies to – are: the O/Yoruba, the Hausa-Fulani, the Igbo, the Edo especially, alongside a representative of all ethnic groups; it should be clear that such symbolic actions are not a suggestion that these states are culturally superior, rather that they are the historic legatees of the extant empires that constitute the living Nigerian state; such symbolic affirmation ought to be strengthened with a commitment to broad consensus at the territorial level, broad autonomy at the regional level, and effective, life sustaining government at the state and local level that strengthens a well-fortified and supportive central power with an effective monopoly on the use of violence.
Two things to mention here – there ought to be a monument perhaps at the crossroads of the two territories to both known and unknown ancestors, in the same manner that other countries have unknown soldiers, and it might make a useful focus for national actors to perform an act of remembrance each year in which all members of the nation can participate; such a memorial should include the monumental masonry, but also elements of nature, in particular water, metal, stones and trees.
For security, as with census – the units of assessment ought to be different from the territorial and regional distinction – and based on the topographical structure of regions and an equitable distribution of capacity for defence across the territories and in the sea and air.
The Registering & Regulating State
One of the keyways that the federal state, which is to say the Sovereign government of Nigeria does to some extent and should emphasise more is its service to the regions in the many areas that are not necessarily bounded or constrained by the fact of regional or national population.**
- Justice & civil rights
- External defence
- External relations
- Cultural diplomacy
- Cultural investment
- Funds management and trust management
- Electoral monitoring
- Corporate and charitable regulation –
- Federal offences
- Educational standards
- International research
- Economic investment
- Territorial border regulation
- Federal, national, and cultural archives
- Endowment of arts and archives
- War graves, shrines, and memorials
- Pilgrimage lotteries – both secular and non-secular
- Digital infrastructure – particularly satellite and space based
- Ports & Airways
- Treaty relationships
- Geographic data collection
- Language academies and linguistic growth and preservation
- Legal assent for international contracts and investment
- Continental and diaspora integration
- Regulation of regional and state autonomy
- National parks and natural beauty
- Resource investment, reinvestment, intensification and subsidies, and influence
- National and international standards and benchmarks
- National prayers, acts of remembrance, mourning and celebration
- National honours
- Regulation of gender equality and other protected characteristics (race, disability, minority ethnicities, sexuality, sexual orientation, pregnancy)
- National monuments
- Archaeological excavation and historical research
- Regulation of alimentation, particularly of young people until the age of twenty-six
Exodus or Conflict
There is every reason to have an optimistic perspective on the Nigerian possibility for transforming the state into a more happy equilibrium between its centrifugal and centripetal socio-economic and political forces, however, if this is not the case, and more pointedly, if the elites of the society alongside their electorates and cultural constituencies are not able to proceed toward a managed consent and consensus built on a re-negotiated and united federation – then the following political and social realities are possible.
Unilateral Declarations of Independence
The first scenario is that with sufficient elite and mass consensus, the various federating regions, ethnie and nations within the state might make unilateral declarations of independence, which will meet either defensive force from the federating centre and government (and/or remaining regions) – as happened in a similar manner during the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War, or as happened to the Boers following the declaration of the Orange Free State leading to the Boer War; alternately, such an action by one or more regions with enough of elite and mass consensus as well as armed power, could precipitate a state dissolution a la USSR following the actions of Poland, Latvia, and the other Baltic states, or a velvet divorce as happened in Czechoslovakia resulting in the two states of Czech Republic and Slovakia – or lastly the scenario of Yugoslavia, in which national independence by ethnic groups was followed by conflict and war.
Conflict & War
A lot of the society already negotiates its identity via conflict – both passive and aggressive – i.e. kidnappings, sabotage, and terrorism, as a way of making political claims on the state and negotiating more power; it is possible that as the memory of Nigeria as a very functional entity fades from living memory (the generation of the 1900s +) more people will question the fundamental basis of a state that albeit globally powerful is not effective for its citizens – and where this ineffectiveness is coupled with a perceived subjugation in an unwanted political arrangement versus cultural autonomy – they will increasingly see a call and a marshalling for armed conflict as a viable option, and it is likely that this will be clearly drawn along the ethnic fault-lines baked into the state, complicated by the substantial minority nations; this complexity is likely to lead to conflict that is shifting and deeply drawn out because of two factors – the likelihood of warlordism as happened in Somalia, and the likelihood of shifting alliances given the region’s ethnic diversity and the possibility of deep but exclusionary economic opportunity available in war zones, as happened in the Democratic Republic of Congo; while conflict is not a position we actively advocate – it is clear that any well organised and principle leadership of cohesive social groups that consider themselves a nation, within an arrangement in which they believe themselves not only oppressed but also short-changed would be hard-pressed not to be ready to undertake acts of war to free themselves. It is more than likely however, that such a conflict, in a region such as Nigeria and West Africa would be unequivocally disastrous for the world.
Exodus & Diaspora
While this scenario may seem far-fectched, it is also a possibility that some or all ethnic groups might concede their attachment to their homelands (or concede to coercion) – and undertake a wholesale exodus from the territory of Nigeria and establish themselves entirely as diasporas; there are already clear possibilities for ethnic dispersal across the world. The affinity of much of the Islamic north of the country with states such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Maghreb, or Niger and Mali closer to home make these regions a possible location for wholesale cultural exile of e.g. the Hausa-Fulani; the Yoruba affinity with England in particular, and the United Kingdom and the British Isles would make it not only a possible location for wholesale cultural exile, but also for some form of active political and social union, similarly, Igbo-Nigerians have both a recent and a former connection to North America, and the United States in particular, as regions of social and political affinity that could very effectively absorb the population of a whole ethnic group; such diasporic dispersals are not unforeseeable – in ancient history, we have the example of Israel and the Jewish-Hebrew dispersal across the world for 3, 000 years, and in more recent years; the forced dispersal of the people of Diego Garcia; the evacuation of the people of Montserrat; the guarantee of British Citizenship to Hong Kong residents, the boat people of Vietnam, and more recently, Germany’s open arm policy for Syrian refugees, though prima facie politically unpalatable, it is possible that large enough nations could absorb over 34 million Nigerians in an acceleration of the country’s existing exodus, with respect to Britain and Israel -there are strong moral and social claims that could be activated by all or some ethnies in the Nigerian territory – in terms of the United Kingdom, following the second world war in 1948 it joined the United Nations, adopting its charter and endorsed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including article 15 regarding the right to nationality, during which time all commonwealth people were British, there is the possible argument that the UK’s introduction of a nationality law from 1948 onwards deprived many people and their heirs without consultation of their right to retain British nationality – such a claim could be made by any Nigerian, or indeed former commonwealth citizen (apart from Rwanda and Mozambique) – similarly, ad absurdum, a Nigerian might also sue the Nigerian state for the loss of citizenship as a result of independence; in the case of Israel, there has been recently continuous if still romantic exploration of the possibility that Igbo-Nigerians are an offshoot or ur-root of Hebrew-Jewish people, and if such claims are culturally established, they would have a claim on Israel’s right of return.
Hybrid The third doomsday scenario is a hybrid of the two scenarios, which is generally the outcome of state failure; alternatively, a peaceful dissolution to the current state might occur via the different regions alliances with other nation-states with cultural affinity (The North and The Gulf, The South-West and England, South-East and Israel) – though, as articulated above, this seems unlikely.
The picture of Nigeria as a successful society, if able to balance all the issues at hand in this generation is one in which conflict will still exist, not least, which region produces the best food and the best beautiful specimens of humanity – however, this would be a state which will likely be effectively managed, a leader on the world stage, with a broad democratic dispensation and broad-based prosperity. It is likely such a state would resemble a hybrid of the USSR and the United Kingdom, with insurance by the state the principal means of securing life and providing a safety, particularly in the areas of health. It is likely to be a state which will have well developed regional economies with slightly varied approaches to their tax base, with a likelihood of high taxation and strong state provision in the South West, Central and South South, and laissez-faire preferences in the South East, and North of the country. It is also likely to be a society with differing attitudes to social mores, with the conservatism of the northern region balanced by the liberalism of the southern region, and both regions invested in building relationships with multi-lateral organisations with which they have cultural affinity. It is likely that in such a state, land rights will likely assume more salience within the regions rather than across regions, particularly where gender differences make this an issue, and where landholdings are often aristocratically held; as regards violence, such a state will be internally peacefully in all of its regions, with violence strongly constrained, and utilised under appropriate contexts – e.g. war games, the prevention of crime, training of armed forces. Lastly, such a state would be viewed and perform a role effectively as a guarantor of the liberty, safety and strength of the significant number of Nigerians in the diaspora, as well as the wider Black African diaspora, as well as its own migrant and indigenous minorities – and above all be a supranational state in which such a diasporan, particularly, a female traveller might arrive and travel the length and breadth of the country, with a sense of security in doing so across all of its regions.
- *(The argument that to do so marginalises small ethnic groups is balanced by the fact that it reflects to some respect facts on the ground; language shift need not mean language death, in fact, our adoption of English was the biggest language shift in the past 2,000 years of Nigerian history and has only enriched each culture, and it is likely with enough nurturing and resources that this will be a net boon to the country socially, economically, and politically).
- ** It is of course not entirely separate from the issue of population size, as every action of a state is to an extent conditioned by its population size, nevertheless, these areas are broadly to do with the state’s capacity as a regulator rather than the size of the population being regulated.
***It should also be said that regardless of any constitutional re-arrangement, the key requirement of basic trust in the state is the most important element and such a basic trust goes a long way to eradicating ethnic discomfort, a case in point is the United Kingdom under the 1992 Labour government; though it was publicly remarked that it was a Scots dominated government, this observation had little impact of the sense of the governed about their relationship to the state, which was more conditioned by the delivery of state action, and perception of the UK, particularly abroad i.e. “Cool Britannia”.
****This is a rush draft of this publication, and we will likely publish a more finely annotated copy should time and the public response permit.
Dele Meiji Fatunla, London, 2021