“Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no ‘Nigerians’ in the same sense as there are ‘English’, ‘Welsh’ or ‘French.’ The word ‘Nigerian’ is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria and those who do not.” (Path to Nigerian Freedom by Chief Obafemi Awolowo)
Nation-building refers to the process of constructing or structuring a national identity using the power of the state. This process aims at the unification of the people or peoples within the state so that it remains politically stable and viable in the long run. Nation-building can involve the use of propaganda or major infrastructure development to foster social harmony and economic growth (Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia)
Originally, nation-building referred to the efforts of newly-independent nations, notably the nations of Africa, to reshape colonial territories that had been carved out by colonial powers without regard to ethnic or other boundaries. These reformed states would then become viable and coherent national entities.
Nation-building included the creation of superficial national paraphernalia such as flags, anthems, national days, national stadiums, national airlines, national languages, and national myths. At a deeper level, national identity needed to be deliberately constructed by moulding different groups into a nation, especially since colonialism had used divide and rule tactics to maintain its domination.
However, many new states were plagued by “tribalism”, rivalry between ethnic groups within the nation. This sometimes resulted in their near-disintegration, such as the attempt by Biafra to secede from Nigeria in 1970, or the continuing demand of the Somali people in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia for complete independence.
To understand the notion of nation-building, one needs to have some definition of what a nation is. According to Carolyn Stephenson (2005), early conceptions of nation defined it as a group or race of people who shared history, traditions, and culture, sometimes religion, and usually language. Thus the United Kingdom comprises four nations, the English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh. The people of a nation generally share a common national identity, and part of nation-building is the building of that common identity.
Today the word nation is often used synonymously with state, as in the United Nations. But a state is more properly the governmental apparatus by which a nation rules itself.
For the evolution of nation-building, Almond and Coleman (1960) defined input functions as:
1. Political socialisation and recruitment.
2. Interest articulation.
3. Interest aggregation.
4. Political communication.
Output functions were:
2. Rule application.
3. Rule adjudication
Lucian Pye identified multiple meanings of political development with, among them:
• as prerequisite to economic development,
• as politics typical of industrial societies,
• as political modernization,
• as administrative and legal development,
• as mass mobilization and participation,
• as the building of democracy, and
• as stability and orderly change.
He identified equality as one of the basic themes running through all of these. While nation-building after 9/11 still incorporates many of these meanings of political development, equality does not seem to play a major role in practice.
Nation-building that will likely contribute to stable international peace will need to emphasize the democratic participation of people within the nation to demand rights. It will need to build the society, economy, and polity which will meet the basic needs of the people, so that they are not driven by poverty, inequality and unemployment, on the one hand, or by a desire to compete for resources and power either internally or in the international system. This does means not only producing the formal institutions of democracy, but the underlying culture which recognizes respect for the identities and needs of others both within and outside. It means development of human rights– political, civil, economic and social, and the rule of law. But it also means development of sewer systems, and roads, and jobs. Perhaps most important, it means the development of education. Nation-building must allow the participation of civil society, and develop democratic state institutions that promote welfare. Democratic state-building is an important part of that. This is a multi-faceted process that will proceed differently in each local context.
Many commentators on Nigeria’s history and development are always fond of saying Nigeria that is, the country, is an artificial creation of a colonial power, Britain. Let us agree this is true. But is Nigeria the only artificial creation in Africa, or indeed the whole world? Many countries in the world as we have them today are artificial creations. Even the greatest country in the world, The United States of America was not created by God naturally. It was the ability of men of vision and wisdom and sufferings. Most African counties fall into this artificial creation phenomenon.
So, why is Nigeria deemed as unique? Is it because we have 250 or so tribes? Is this an insurmountable problem, if indeed it is a problem?
It all began with our past heroes and leaders. Look at the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s statement above and you will understand the problem. The late sage, as much as we venerated and adored and believed in him, never believed in one Nigeria, it would appear, from the very beginning, but he tagged along with the other then regional leaders and the colonial masters, Britain to form the country, Nigeria, even though his heart and instinct were against the idea. It seems rather unfortunate. But it was this singular statement and action – and perhaps many more – that has, till the end of time, labelled him as a “tribal leader” and which as we know, denied him from ever leading Nigeria.
Please, do not get me wrong. I am an unrepentant Awoist, and proud of it too. And I know what I committed to the late sage’s UPN in 1979 when I was just graduating from the university. But with the benefit of hind-sight and truth, we now know why Awolowo never ruled this country, to our eternal regret. Even his political foes have acknowledged that after his death. That was his mistake and he should rue it, even in death. Yet, many of us are sure that the whole of Nigeria would have been better off under his Presidency or leadership.
So who builds a nation? Past notable examples of nation builders include Otto von Bismarck (the Iron Chancellor), who united Germany; Kemal Attaturk, who defeated the Ottoman Empire and founded and united present day Turkey. Even, there are the Kwame Nkrumahs, Leopold Senghors, Jomo Kenyattas, Julius Nyereres, Fidel Castros, Mahatma Ghandis of this world. What can be done about nation-building is the question (if it should be done) or who should do it, and who CAN effectively do it. The literature is divided over these issues:
Individual statesmen and women: Where are they in Nigeria? Over the past 50 years, what we have seen are nation-destroyers, not nation-builders. We have been extremely unlucky with our leaders, as well as the followers, at any rate. So, the blame does not lay wholly on the type of leaders our society threw up.
In Nigeria, it has been very difficult to name even one of those people we love to refer to as our Founding Fathers (like the American Pilgrim Fathers) as nation building statesmen. It is really difficult, and this is simply because their mission then wa
s not to build a nation but rather to build power bases and usurp power by whatever means; and mostly serving sectional or tribal interests, if not their pockets.
Intergovernmental organisations (IGOs), States or Nongovernmental organisations, (NGOs): Here, the issue is not so much which agency, but how the agency functions. Does it simply throw money at the problem? Does it exacerbate tensions by providing money or projects unevenly across ethnic groups or regions in such a way as to generate competition or, worse, security fears? Is its presence so big that it overwhelms the local or national governing structures it is trying to nurture? Is it culturally knowledgeable and sensitive?
Military or Civilian: The military must prepare leaders for nation building, by providing training in “culture; basic law and civics; city planning and public administration; economics; and ethics,” as well as language, and “how a free, democratic government is supposed to work”. Has this happened in Nigeria? The military incursion into government set Nigeria back a hundred years. They have no vision, no purpose, are largely opportunistic and corrupt, and hence had no idea what nation-building is. In fact, the military further polarised an already fractious Nigerians.
Thus, the civilians have not fared better either. Catch-22 situation, isn’t it? And unfortunately for us, it is same set of people, under a democratic dispensation, who are supposed to build the nation better, under peaceful, free and relaxed atmosphere, than under usually draconian military rules.
“The democratic approach to nation building refers to cases in which elected governments operate under inclusive institutions and the leaders behave in ways that strengthen democracy. This approach has the greatest potential for creating a stable multiethnic nation. Unfortunately, Nigerians have not yet successfully pursued this path” (Abu Bakarr, 2004)
Indigenous or exogenous actors: Nation-building is an evolutionary process. It takes a long time. One of the problems with outside actors is that they come and they go, but they are still necessary; arguing for the importance of indigenous nation-building does not mean that outside actors should ignore the process.
Role of youth in nation building: The saying goes that “youths are not only leaders of tomorrow, but partners of today” Maybe its time to start planting in them for tomorrow’s harvest. During this past US election, The Republicans underestimated the role of youth in politics, something the Democrats used to their advantage. The government and society at large have equal responsibility to provide the youth with an environment that is conducive to bringing about a mature and responsible youth population for the coming generation to lead a better life.
As nation builders, let us focus on brain drain of the thousands of graduates leaving the country for greener pastures. This issue of migration has a negative impact on our nation. Nations are build out of human intellect, migration of our many graduates has a serious implication on us.This means that a nation cannot be built without the recognition and the collective efforts of such graduates. (Abiola Saba)
Professor Ibrahim Gambari, in 2006, said “Today, as a nation, we face more challenges than we have known hitherto. Our population has ballooned from 55 million at independence to nearly 130 million. Yet, in our country, children still go to bed hungry and most families subsist on less than one dollar a day. It will, therefore, not be glib to state that in every household, community and state in this nation, where the top hierarchies of human needs are not being met, we certainly have a problem. In a world awash with affluence, yet mired in poverty and hunger we cannot escape our culpability. This is more so in Nigeria, which once boasted of having agriculture as its primary industry.
Most Nigerians will readily admit that what affects us the most, is poverty and underdevelopment, which are now buffeted by perennial bad governance and debilitating corruption. Likewise, those who are outside Nigeria looking in, will say the same thing, albeit, with a qualifier; to them Nigeria’s myriad of problems is self-induced. This often the argument advanced by those who were opposed to any debt forgiveness for Nigeria. They refuse to accept that a nation with so much wealth could be so indigent. To them, our country and the challenges it faces, presents a unique paradox”.
A key challenge, therefore, is the way we manage our affairs. The question for Nigerians is how to realize the principles outlined in the constitutions and thereby promote a stable multi-ethnic nation. Ehiedu Iweriebor (1990) identified six criteria for measuring the progress of the nation building process. These are: leadership, transportation and communication networks, economic development, national education, pedagogical nationalism, and civil society. Though his study outlines the successes and failures of the various Nigerian governments, it fails to explain why a particular type of government might fail or succeed in promoting nation building.
As stated in Article 14 of the 1979 Constitution: “The composition of the government of the federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such manner as to reflect the Federal Character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or a few ethnic or other sectional groups in the government or in any of its agencies.” Furthermore, “the composition of the government of a state, a local government council, or any of the agencies of such government or council, and the conduct of the affairs of the government or council or such agencies shall be carried out in such manner as to recognize the diversity of the peoples within its area of authority and the need to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the peoples of the federation.”
A democratic approach is the best path to nation building in a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria. As we have seen in the Nigerian experience with nation building, it is difficult to pursue a non-democratic means of reform without aggravating internal unrest and international censure. Sadly, the lack of a democratic mandate, poor institutional design, and bad leadership has all made it nearly impossible for successive Nigerian governments to pursue a democratic approach. Many Nigerians are not satisfied with the 1999 Constitution because it failed to address the structural imbalance of the federation (Abu Bakarr, 2004).
Even of more concern is the lack of accountability, the massive corruption scandals of successive governments, the poor state of the economy, and the fraud that characterized both the 2003 and 2007 elections. “If we continue to have these same levels of corruption and the economy is mismanaged, then the sustainability of democracy will be reduced. The country’s survival will be endangered.” (Suberu, 1999) Even though the emerging domestic and international political environment has minimized the possibility of a return to military rule, there is a real danger of democratic decay in Nigeria. As we have seen over the past decades, democratic decay is a recipe for chaos and military intervention.
All in all, I will posit, successful nation building is no mean task. The problem with our pseudo-leaders is that they have never taken nation-building, management of resources and people, leadership, seriously. In fact they do no
t know what it means to be leaders. They are essentially ignorant though educated (even this is questionable)
Nation-building and the associated developmental issues require men and women of deep vision; sincerity of purpose; selflessness; genuine love for their country and their people; hardworking; of conscience, integrity, credibility, trustworthiness, honesty, reliable and able; people who do not think of stealing or embezzling; people who do not misuse the authority and power conferred on them, by God or Man; people who do not think that getting to positions of authority is a “do-or-die” affair; people who understand the meaning of nation building, leadership, good governance, rule of law, political emancipation, equality, human and civic rights, civility, freedom of speech, rule of law, diversity and religious tolerance,; people who will shun and will not tolerate tribalism, corruption and nepotism.
These are the people who can build nations.
To my people, how are we building this nation? It is time for all Nigerians to collectively do their part in being nation builders and stop being nation destroyers.
Almond, Gabriel A. and James S. Coleman (eds.) The Politics of the Developing Areas. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960.
Bah, Abu Bakarr “Approaches To Nation Building In Post-Colonial Nigeria”. Journal of Political and Military Sociology. Http://Findarticles.Com/P/Articles/Mi_Qa3719/Is_200407/Ai_N9435086
Caroline Stephenson, “Nation Building”, 2005, http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/nation_building/
Iweriebor, Ehiedu, 1990 “Nigerian Nation Building Since Independence.” Nigerian Journal of Policy and Strategy, Volume 5, Numbers 1 & 2. JACON.
Ibrahim A. Gambari, “Nigeria – The challenge of nation building and external relations” The Ado Bayero Lecture Series, Centre For Democratic Research ad Training, Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria, 8 February 2006
Pye, Lucian W. Aspects of Political Development. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1966
Suberu, R T. 1999 “Public Policy and National Unity in Nigeria”. Ibadan: Development Policy Center
Wikipedia, “Nation building”.
Thanks to my erudite sister, Abiola Saba (Timeless Impact) of Mantua, NJ who contributed in no small measure to this article.
About Akintokunbo A Adejumo
Akintokunbo Adejumo, a social and political commentator on Nigerian issues, lives and works in London, UK. He is a graduate of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria (1979) and University of Manitoba, Canada (1985). He also writes on topical issues for Nigerians In America and other newspapers and internet media including Nigeriaworld, Nigeria Today Online, Washington Nigerian Times, Wise News Today, etc. He coordinates Champions for Nigeria.