A nation in search of its soul
The Nigerian nation is in search of its soul. Its soul was lost after cultural and educational priorities were reordered in a haphazard manner, particularly after the military took over from January 1966. There were some mistaken notions of national development then, having been frustrated by what they termed the ‘antics of corrupt politicians’ in the First Republic. Some cynics may even ask whether the nation ever had a soul or whether the nation had not deliberately sold its soul to the Devil himself. It is a difficult question to answer, this. At the core of this cynicism is the very notion of what constitutes the ethos of the Nigerian state, whether it is fully representative of a presumed national consciousness and whether or not it should be preserved. If the nationhood was never really accepted by the constituent parts of the nation could there have been an acceptable soul at any time? are we therefore on a wild goose chase?
The founding fathers tried to give the nation a soul, that is, they tried to forge a notion of national unity. It was unity in diversity, embedded within the doctrine of development at a regional pace. The entire nation was not denominated like a military division that had to move with clocklike precision into a battle field. The heightened differences which were pronounced in the federal parliament gave a sense of cacophonic pandemonium which had to be discarded. Individual or regional differences were part of the national consciousness as the politicians in the First republic saw it. The differences were located in education, educational pace and strategies, religion, commerce and foreign trade. Cultural peculiarities also played a role in defining who emerged on the political scene as leaders and icons. We were still pristine then having slowly crawled out a typically traditional society that still had a modicum of sacred values.
The soul of a nation is made up of its values, moral, cultural, political and otherwise. The first national anthem ‘Though tribe and tongue may differ/In brotherhood we stand’, ‘Our flag shall be our symbol/That truth and justice reign’, and ‘O God of all creation/Grant this our one request/Help us to build a nation/where no man is oppressed’ captured the dream of the founding fathers. The soul of the nation therefore is an agglomeration of shared beliefs and values which are meant to propel development. The Nigerian nation is made up of disparate ethnic groups which grudgingly agreed to live together under a federal arrangement. Living together was predicated on the principles of fairness, justice, and equality before the law.
The different ethnic groups have their identities which they have all sworn to preserve, not to be subsumed under an amorphous federal government that is virtually absent from their daily challenges. They identify more with the state and local governments which respond or ought to respond to their challenges. The gap between the federal and the peoples in the states is further widened when the people see that the federal government is simply a conduit to channel funds generated by the states into federally-favoured
The term which referred to Nigeria as a ‘mere geographical expression’ became more poignant after the military misadventure in governance discarded all federalist principles. The regions were abolished and so were the vestiges of planned development. The central command of the military it was thought would fit the national temperament. How mistaken the military officers were! In an attempt to force a form of unity on the people certain wrong steps were taken in policy directions. This affected education, agriculture, religion, culture, development and the economy.
Globalization has contributed to a further degradation of whatever we had left as part of our soul, our culture, and our mores. We have keyed into a superhighway into which we make little or no contribution because we feel that what we have to offer is inferior, or will not be acceptable. Indeed the international gatekeepers are wary of that which is purely local from the African continent. So we lose our local cultural rhythms to that which is popular at the international level in the name of popular culture. One of the areas which we have shown a degree of confidence is in Nollywood movies. Nollywood had developed in spite of, not because of government. Government did not even create the atmosphere. Nollywood producers and artistes seized the day and have made of it an international brand that has helped shape a cultural perspective.
The political culture which has developed from our experiments has become an albatross. Once we lost the core values of service governance also lost its focus. Instead of the collective the individual became more important, a contradiction of the fundamental way in which we perceived social relations before now. So, politics has become a part of the problem. Perhaps we need an indigenous approach to politics which is hinged on our arcane core values in order to return to the path of moral rectitude. The wealth and power of individuals have not helped the common good.
It is time for action. Apart from government being the engine room for growth in the proper direction there is the need for a cultural reorientation. Self confidence and the beauty of whatever product we have to market is crucial. But we also need to entrench justice and equity as the bedrock of society in order to restore confidence. We also need to return to the old regional arrangement which made development a local issue. From the local we proceed to the national. We must remember that the Yoruba man or the Hausa/Fulani or the Igbo man or the Urhobo man will always be a man of his ethnic group first before becoming a Nigerian. The current identity tag of Nigerian is not sufficient to promote a national culture because the parts view the whole, view the centre with suspicion. Except they are present at the national level, they believe, their interests will not be reckoned with in national planning and implementation.
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