Nation building is a concept that gained prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s when President Julius Kambarage Nyerere of Tanzania strongly advocated it for fragile post-Colonial African states. The fragility of these states soon became obvious and was exposed in several lights: Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi declared himself President-for-Life; In Lesotho, Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan voided the 1970 election which he had lost; King Sobhuza of Swaziland abolished the Parliament and the Constitution and reinstituted a monarchy. This was also the period when Zambia and Malawi were dissolving the Central African Federation coinciding with the merger of Tanganyika and Zanzibar to form present-day Tanzania. Large number of African States soon fell into Military dictatorship. In Nigeria, series of events led to collapse of democratic institutions in 1966 and subsequently, a bitter Civil War. The price to pay for not building a nation can be very costly!
There is the usual temptation to reduce the meaning (albeit incorrectly) to: national integration, national development, political development, or national consciousness. The term includes all these but to reduce it to any of them is to commit the “reductionist’ fallacy. Simply put, it can mean the systematic process of making a people, who hitherto are from different cultural, ethnic, religious, racial, or national backgrounds, to feel they belong together under a nation. Karl Deutch, in his book Nation Building identifies five stages of achieving this “systematic process”. First, the group exists as a tribe, with its distinct language and proud culture, and will resist any attempt to integrate it with other groups. The next stage is to incorporate them forcefully into other group with the use of naked force. The third stage is for them to minimally accept, often with the use of force or threat of it, the new arrangement by cooperating minimally. At the fourth stage, their level of resistance is reduced to the minimum and their cooperation and obedience have risen astronomically, though they still keep their cultural identities intact. The fifth is when the group becomes almost indistinguishable from other groups within the state. This is when total assimilation is achieved. The last two stage will require minimal use of force. As a post-colonial nation, the first three stages ended with colonialism. The last two have proven difficult either due to deliberate colonial policy or shameless neglect by Nigerian leaders at independence.
It was after the bitter experience of the Civil War, that Nigeria made any serious effort(s) at nation building. This period saw the promulgation of the Reconciliation, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction(3Rs); the introduction of the new currency( the Naira); establishment of the National Youth Service Corps(NYSC); “deregionalisation” of University education where all previous regionally-owned Ife, Nsukka, and Zaria Universities were taken over by the Federal Government; the introduction of Unity Colleges and introduction of National Sports Festival; the introduction of the Federal Character Principle and the powerful office of the President; the introduction of the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board(JAMB) are all immediate (political) responses to the question of nation building after the War. But all these emphasis was only placed on just one aspect of nation building- National Integration leaving the others.
Why is nation building appearing so difficult? In a pluralist society like Nigeria, challenges (pitfalls) of nation building are enormous. We take just a few for constraints of time and space.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is the scourge of tribalism. Tribal sentiments and loyalty is placing emphasis on where you come from as a prerequisite to getting appointments, other than your core capacities, competencies, potentials and abilities. It kills productivity, excellence and merit. The fact that it is even enshrined in our Constitution under the so-called Federal Character principle makes it even more tend to impunity. Though well-intended, the results arising from its abuse by politicians and tribal bigots has been monumental in defacing attempts at nation building.
The next is the lack of strong, patriotic and clear headed leadership. Tanzania has Nyerere and has maintained him in power even in death; China has Mao tse-Tung who provided the ideological focus for them; South Africa has Nelson Mandela who is still been revered even in death; in Zambia there is the legendary Kenneth Kaunda; Singapore will never forget Lee Kwan Yew; Ghana has Kwame Nkurumah; India holds Jawaharlal Nehru in a position of near saint. In the case of Nigeria apart from having tribal lords, whose contributions are only revered by their tribal groups, very little they did outside their tribes, with due respect to their contributions. Well, some may say we have Murtala Muhammed as an embodiment of discipline, prudence, patriotism, and leadership. Could we maintain him in power? Do we even celebrate him even in death?
The divisive tendency, planted by the colonial masters under the so-called “divide and rule” strategy, has deeply filtered through into the ranks of the masses from a deeply divide political leadership. Unfortunately, the political leaders benefiting from a divided populace, did (and doing) nothing to avert this malignant, ugly trend.
The next is the absence of core national values and ideology. that Nigeria has no official working ideology is an open secret and that should be a source of worry to every lovers of Nigeria. The absence of national values is another bizarre note. Though the constitution states our core values to be “unity in diversity enshrined in justice and fair play” is at best on paper just for the records. What is working in the country is the prevalence of regional and ethnic values. This is a major obstacle to nation building. It is like trying to build a house without an architectural design.
We also have selfishness and unpatriotic attitudes among our leaders and the people, providing another impediment to nation building. The presence of these vices explains the prevalence of such vices: corruption, nepotism, mediocrity, indiscretion, statism, religious bigotry, impunity, and general breakdown of traditional values and morals in our national life.
Arising from tribalism is religious bigotry. In a country where some people can be more Catholic than the Pope, one must be careful in discussing religion else you are an”anti-Christ” or “insulting the holy Prophet”. This was the case when huge sum of money was being smuggled into South Africa with an aircraft belonging to an influential clergyman in Nigeria. You could almost see the “religiousness” in the argument of the so-called analysts in their sordid defence of this clergyman, if he is no properly so-called. This same people will go to high heavens to seek “justice” if such a plane had belonged to a leader of another religion. In fact some religious leaders get state protection through their godsons holding influential positions in Government. Maybe this also accounts for the recent sudden revitalization of “religious” qualifications in contesting for elective positions in recent times, rather than competence, potentials or abilities.
The solutions to these challenges are fortunately with all of us. In essence all hands must be on deck in our efforts at nation building. The following are few things we should start with.
First, we must inculcate the culture of selfless service, self-reliance, humility, patriotism, and other virtues among our lads particularly those in secondary schools. We must reward merit, competence, excellence and simple patriotic displays among these young ones as a way of new orientation in a new Nigeria which comes out of these lads.
Also, we must as a policy, create positive role models for our lads. This is where our traditional and religious leaders come to play. Our traditional rulers must make sure that titles and honour are given to truly deserving individuals in the society, not necessarily those with fat pockets. The society must go back to its roots where people without integrity, or that have brought same and ignominy to themselves are seen as social miscreants and frowns at such. The practice of rolling out drums to celebrate people who have corruptly enriched themselves must discontinue, and the traditional rulers must see to this. The Churches and Mosques should also ensure that they do not give titles to people whose source of wealth are suspect. When such is given the institution must withdraw forthwith such recognitions and publicly reject their “gifts”(in cash or kind). This will go a long way in creating the correct impressions in the minds of our innocent lads.
We must equally return the schools to their traditional functions of Values Clarification. To do this we must form groups, clubs, and associations that promote positive values in our primary, secondary schools and Colleges. Groups like: Man O’ War, Boys’ Scouts, Girls Guide, War Against Indiscipline(WAI) Brigade, Peace Corps, National Brigade and the likes to instill virtues like: discipline, organization, leadership, responsibility, loyalty, citizenship, patriotism, justice, excellence and others among our youths as parts of efforts at nation building.
As a nation we must start thinking about developing core national values and ideology. Presently, I do not know if we have any. A national ideology will: firstly, serve as a guide to recognize problems, their threats, magnitudes and their correlations; secondly, guide and direct national strategy of behavior of political leadership and the people; thirdly, guide decision making and enhance the process of gathering information to achieve overall national objectives and aspirations. Some might argue that the age of ideology is long past. But I firmly submit that the “end of ideology” debate itself is ideological!
There is also the question of leadership. At all levels, leadership must be about service (which we are recommending as our core national value), not about self-aggrandizement or personal gains. It is on this note that we join our voice with those calling for total demonetization of the political system. Emphasis must be based on selfless service, honour and character. This experiment should start from the Local Government Administrations where the youths can effectively participate.
We are equally lending our support to the agitation for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference, comprising the representatives of all ethnic nationalities, religious and interest groups in Nigeria to discuss among other things the mode of existence and how to forge ahead as a nation.
Finally, I urge the Federal Government to commence the process of actualizing the ideals of Compulsory National Military Service for all Nigerians as enshrined in section 220 of the 1999 Constitution starting from the secondary schools. The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is fantastic, but rather too elitist, exclusive, limiting and incomprehensive in operation. A compulsory military service must be in such a way that it is continuous, and on completion must be a part requirement for admission into any Nigeria University, save for those attending the Nigeria Defence Academy(NDA) or similar institutions. This program will also be beneficial in checking the present insecurity situation in the country. In peace time these Corps, under the National Compulsory Military Scheme will be deployed to teaching, agriculture, construction and other social works specifically in the rural areas as supplements to those that are on ground.
In conclusion, the process of nation building is a more thorough psychological/mental process not just political though it involves this essential ingredient. This cannot be left to the political leadership alone, though large chunk of the job rest on them. My question to you is: What are you contributing to building our nation, Nigeria? Don’t bother to ask for my own answer to this question. This piece you are reading is part of my own contributions to nation building!