Huh! I’m neither feeling angst nor anger on the unfolding doomsday scenario for a potentially great nation. I’m not bemoaning but just soliloquizing over the fate that awaits our dear country from our irrational cleavages. Once, a psychiatric doctor was reported to have estimated that about 70% of Nigerians could be identified with one form of psychosis or the other. If not, how else do you explain our collective unreasoning? For all intents and purposes, Nigeria has become a nation of irrational folks on prowl? Aren’t proponents and opponents of this one hell of a leviathan responsible for the state of things? Nigeria, in its most recent postcolonial history, has become an orphan in search of foster parents. The species of human beings that populated our landscape are, as if by chance or design, no less a self-annihilating paradox. We are difficult to fathom; we are also difficult to explain.
It is indeed difficult to rationalize the insanity that grips a nation in decline. But I don’t know whether to enter the fray or resist the temptation to join issues with the hordes of ill-intentioned pretenders of that Descartesian subjectivity of “I think, therefore I am”. In Nigeria, we have ironically mastered the art of survival without thinking. This is particularly so in a postmodern context in which the delicate fault-line that exists in the intersection of subjectivity and objectivity has become totally blurred. As postmodernity erodes all boundaries of exceptionalism, the prognosis of our national malady is blatantly beyond comprehension. Yes, as a human being you can think even if the quality of your thoughts is injurious to the nation-building project that is at the core of the being of Nigeria.
A nation cannot just happen; a nation is always a conscious work in progress, so says Elie Kedourie in his widely acclaimed book Nationalism. There are different perceptions of how and what a nation, any nation for that matter, could be. The how and what of a nation has all along been the object of an intense debate in Nigeria. This has normatively been a settled question in more rational climes. And this is how it ought to be in our Nigeria. We cannot therefore be an exception to that golden rule of the rise, growth and development of nations. Debates on the ideal nationhood is somewhat characterized by a bifurcation between centrifugal and centripetal reasoning in nationhood project. Whatever our stance is in this debate, nations are indeed not natural creations. Nations are a product of history, or rather a product of miscegenation of strong and weak, in the humanity’s march towards its becoming. Thus, no nation evolves without its unique or not so unique historical hiccups, without hitches, without turbulence, without turmoil, without sweat, or even without iron and blood, as Otto von Bismarck would impress it upon the history of modern Europe.
But here we are in a postcolonial Nigeria, both informed and uninformed, contesting for the soul of our nation, as we seek to deconstruct and reconstruct it based on the newfangled notion of an imagined community in our befuddled thought processes. Going by the way we make bizarre claims and counterclaims on appeal or repulsion of an autochthonous nation state, in which a conclave of ethnic irredentists seek to undo the Nigerian project. Perhaps that is good as an idea; but as reality it may be impracticable in the constitution of our contemporary world. That is why actualizing such a dream becomes an anathema. Nonetheless, in Nigeria we are slowly but surely falling into the trap of our own making in treading such a direction. Karl Maier has christened the consequences of Nigeria’s cascading into an abyss of incompetent leadership and social engineering – this house has fallen. Call it a morass of negativities of a failed state for all I care if we allow this house to collapse no one will escape its consequences.
Before we digress in this conversation, I would like to ask: has there been such a contraption called a pristine enclave of pure and undiluted marriage of land and people (nationalism) as its advocates would want to shove it down our throats? I’m not sure. However, what I’m positively certain of is that nations are transnational entities that often transcend the raison-d’état of primordial structuring. Nations like empires have a lifespan, a beginning and an end as well as a process of their rise and fall. It all depends on the pull and push of historical whirlwinds and tides at all times. However, all modern nations are in fact a conflation of diverse ethnicities, peoples and cultures. As we experience them in a historical sense, modern nations are consciously determined pluralities. They are far beyond primordial equations and historical singularities, a negotiated factor in the logic of modernity itself. Success in the complexities of a modern nation largely depends on our ability to navigate ourselves towards a consensus on all problems bedeviling Nigeria through effective communication. Currently, fashionable postmodern subjective discourses that are constitutive of dominant modes of articulation seemed to suggest otherwise.
Nigeria, a mere geographical expression (as opposed to a historical expression) according to Chief Obafemi Awolowo, is in a quagmire of its own atavism. We are a nation frozen by our blindness of the geopolitical realities of a brave new world, a post-truth era in which geostrategic interests define how you see things from your vantage position, and how you are being seen by others from their own vantage positions. Nigeria is indeed at war with itself. Yes, in an attempt to attend to nation-building project gone sour, we have invented the concept of six geopolitical zones to redress perceived hegemonic dominance of a section of the country, so to speak. But so far, this has not in any significant manner ameliorated the acute threats to a nation drowning from the weight of its sins of commission and omission. Our problems essentially emanated from our failure to coherently design our existential trajectories.
Thus, no matter the degree of our political sagacity through such contraptions as national conferences, calls for restructuring of the polity or its total balkanization, there cannot be, and will never ever be for the foreseeable future, the much coveted stability for the progress and development of any section of the nation without honesty, sincerity, social justice, sense of equity and respect amongst our quisling tribes of restive and noisy individuals and groups. The spirit of Nigeria, whether abhorred for its being a product of colonial enterprise and other less clear reasons or not, demands nothing less than prudence whenever we are addressing our existential predicament. The experience of the new nation of South Sudan suffice for those who are inclined to source solutions to the myriad problems faced by Nigeria through its dismemberment along ethno-religious principalities.
You cannot, for whatever reason, seek to advance your cause based on intrigues, falsehood, intimidation and misrepresentation of facts and reality. Any section of Nigeria that chooses this path of ignominy is bound to fail, and the consequences are definitely going to be fatal. The assumption that your wellbeing largely depends on the annihilation of your enemy is not going to take you anywhere outside perdition. Mark my words: we have tried this before, and it ended up in a disastrous inhuman civil war. As if we are a people with minds of imbeciles, we do not seem to have learnt anything from the tragedy of our postcolonial past. We tend to forget too soon, and too easily. I’m definitely not surprised that in Nigeria of our generation recklessness has become the rule rather than the exception. The actions of significant proportion of us leaned more towards destroying the nation.
Basically, as the bad students of history that we are, we are in a sulfurous fashion precipitating the downfall of our nation through our negative actions and inactions. With the way we are going, the nation is gradually angling to repeat another, perhaps costlier, historical mistake. We are hacking down all the values that glued us together as a nation nurtured by our founding fathers. Our common values would have indeed transformed us into a great nation. Nevertheless, we are going about dismantling the building blocks of nationhood as if we have absolute guarantees for survival as a constellation of warring ethno-religious configurations. Are we really sure we would have it our own way, the way we think it through, as we push the country in the direction we are pushing it? In the event of another round of pogrom that we are eager to unleash unto ourselves, if I must repeat myself, what guarantee is there that everything will go well with our unbridled machinations against our nation?
Irrational hatred and bigotry is killing Nigeria. A destructive instinct has taken over the better side of us. Communities are blaming others outside their comfort zones for their woes. We are now thinking that the other, who happened to be located outside where we are, is our main problem. The enemy within is no enemy at all; the enemy without is the real enemy. That is the new dictum in Nigeria. But where is this country going with this irrational mindset? I can’t tell. I don’t know. Anyway, whatever is the outcome of this mindboggling obscenity, it is going to be pretty ugly for all of us, and for future generations. That is, in case we don’t know. That much I can say. No nation, nay, no country survives on the diet of bigotry and irrationality. At least, the cumulative experiences of other nations that have passed through similar historical trajectory can be instructive enough. As the saying goes, a stitch in time saves nine.
Mr Liman is professor of Comparative Literature and Popular Culture at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Nigeria