Project Nigeria revisited

Nigerian children attend independence day celebrations in Lagos in October 1, 2013. PHOTO: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP

Nigerian children attend independence day celebrations in Lagos in October 1, 2013. PHOTO: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP

In reality, Project Nigeria started from October 1, 1960 and it has come a long way through to 2016 which is fifty-six years of age (56 Years).

At 56, a stage at which she should be deemed fully matured, Nigeria is still clamouring for restructuring, equality, peaceful coexistence, freedom, liberty, and justice while corruption, indiscipline, killings, kidnappings, strife, unrest, wars, bigotry, tribalism, ethnic struggles continue to destabilise us as a nation. Going back in time to periods before amalgamation, this project has not been very healthy from its birth and maybe would have been aborted, remained an unborn baby, instead of these various deformities or handicaps.

In explaining some of the handicaps, it is important to cast our minds back to how it all started. It was on that fateful day in 1914 when the British Colonial Masters committed Nigeria to the ‘mess’ called amalgamation which was basically for their economic and administrative convenience. The blunder of putting bananas, apples, mangos, pineapples and oranges together in the same basket is what the Nigeria Project had grappled with since the exit of our British Colonial masters. It was the colossal mistake of that century, which worked as long as Nigeria was under the British control 1914-1960, but became moribund with the exit of the British, our independence in 1960.

How on earth could anyone imagine, as in the fruit analogy above, a successful occupancy of the assorted fruits in the same basket? How long can they remain together before some of the fruits start to get rotten and become inedible? In the context of the nation Nigeria, the variables which is termed diversity are just too many and unwieldy, to be workable. For example, how could anyone imagine bringing as many tribes as 250 under the same umbrella? Unfortunately only the British, as former Slave Drivers and Masters, could have tried that successfully. For short periods, we were also able to imitate the British power-coercive strategy ONLY through the military style of rulership. Experience has shown that the democratic style with extensive tribal differences cannot be successfully operated in a multi-ethnic setting like Nigeria. Our attempts had not been successful as the cries of maginalisation, cheating, oppression, injustice, tribalism, and bigotry rent the air, with every move by a centrally controlled government of Project Nigeria.

On the issue of religion, most nations of the world have just one predominant religion. Other less popular ones do exist but are not prominent enough to cause serious problems to such societies. In the special case of the Nigeria Project, two major religions were brought together to compete for prominence. Christianity and Islamic religions were forced together and hence the continued conflicts of one ruler trying to aid and promote one religion over another. Those Colonial Masters would have done great, by allowing the North to remain Islamic and the South remain Christians predominantly but this was not the case in the Nigerian Project.

It was clear from the inception of the Nigerian State that western education was at different levels of development in the different parts, component and units of the federation. That was understandably because of the varying contact times each component had with the western world and their initial disposition to education as opposed to the Islamic doctrine. Consequently, the discrepancy in the literacy levels of the North and the South was very pronounced. Therefore any form of merger of these two major sections should have been fore-seen as a possible source of future conflict. These glaring educational discrepancies were known but discountenanced, for the convenience of amalgamation. Some writers have even suggested that such action was more deliberate than accidental, perhaps to pave the way for an anticipated return and play the role as an umpire and serve as referee in the fights and disagreements in future, which is now happening to the Nigerian Project.

This explains the reason why our entire education has been lowered in standards to date. For example our admission process into Nigerian universities suffered some blows in standards being lowered. This was to accommodate the less qualified students, at the expense of brighter and more able students from the same admission pool.

Further, Nigeria had naturally been divided into three by the Rivers Niger and Benue. In spite of this natural endowment, the British chose to defy nature and brought us together as one, may be calculated to cause or exacerbate problems in future. Across these rivers were also languages and dialects which were distinctly different. Some have even conjectured that the British deliberately set up the keg of gun powder to ignite and cause discord since tribes and tongues were different! We, as Nigerians, are the ones to liberate ourselves from the mess in which we have found ourselves. The Nigerian Project, therefore, needs a new formula for survival and peaceful co-existence and a peaceful restructuring as a viable solution.

Nigerians then woke up from their slumber to realise that the Union is a farce and unworkable. This explains why the level of unrest in the country is so high with killings, murders, kidnappings and tribal struggles within and across states. It is in this wise that I agree, if only partially, with the words of Festus Tokunbo that Nigeria may be ‘too big to be great’, in view of its diversity seeming unwieldy.

Prof. Akinyemi, is of the Institute of Education, University of Ilorin.Ilorin.

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