Nigeria and the Search for Nationhood (I) (

Nationhood is the quality of being a nation. According to Benedict Anderson, an Anglo-Irish social scientist, a nation is a community that is socially constructed and imagined by the people who perceive themselves as being part of the group.

To this writer, however, a nation is essentially a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of common languages, territory, economic life and psychological make-up; which is manifested in a common culture and behavioural patterns.

Nation-building is therefore a deliberate process through which citizens and even inhabitants of any given territory, regardless of their primordial identities and affiliations are made to identify with the symbols and institutions of the state and share a common sense of destiny with others.

It is also the process of constructing or structuring a national identity using the power of the state to create what is called “imagined communities.” A nation is actually imagined because the inhabitants of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow populace, meets them physically or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each person lives the image of a virtual communion with others. That is why an inhabitant of southern Nigeria does not need to travel to the East or North before he appreciates the existence of those other tribes as he can feel their peculiarities and mannerism; maybe just by the ones he physically sees around him. This is virtual acculturation. Therefore, the social, ethnic and religious diversity of Nigerians should not be a barrier to forging a strong and prosperous nation; rather, it should be an abiding strength.

Nations grow when the largest numbers of people look after the common interest of the nation at all times even before personal or sectional interest are pursued. It is in the light of the foregoing that Nigerians who are not of the same ethnic, religious or political affiliations as the leader of the country cannot afford not to wish him well. The leader not only superintends over the common patrimony, his actions or inactions inadvertently determine and arbitrate the social-economic progress of everyone that is related to this geographical entity.

Succinctly put, if the nation is governed by a northern leader and the southerners (Yorubas/Igbos/Niger-Deltans) hopes such an incumbent leader fails, then Nigeria remains a failed project and when the southerner assumes power and the northerners (Hausas/Fulanis/middle-belters) hopes such a leader fails, then Nigeria remains a failed project. Conversely, if Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) man is in power, the All Progressives Congress (APC) sympathisers wish him failure and on the other hand, when the APC man assumes office, the PDP people hope he fails. What this irreverent disposition engenders is that, individuals will rotate power, political parties will rotate power, ethnic nationalities will rotate power but Nigeria will equally rotate on the same developmental trajectory and even decline; such as we are saddled with since the return to democratic governance in 1999.

Clearly, this extreme politicking and ethnic sectionalism has deleterious effects on national growth. While constructive criticism is good for deepening good governance, destructive criticism deepens the schisms that has been responsible for the stunted growth of the Nigerian state. Whereas, politics is the incubator of governance such as is common to any democratic culture, politicians (who are also ethnic protectionist in same vein) exhibit this spasmodic tendency. Therefore, it is appropriate for politicians to save the combustible energy till when the next electoral cycle beckons and then, the foibles of incumbents can be played up to seek favours from the electorate. The task of nation building is never the exclusive preserve of a leader because they do not possess the omnipotent wisdom to do it. They can only craft a vision while the citizenry drives it. The role of political opposition is to constantly test those ideas against democratic best practice and in as much it elevates the welfare of the people and put the Nigerian nation on the path of sustainable development.

It is not that countries that are prosperous and have achieved true nationhood do not have disagreements within its political ranks or do not have ethnic diversities or do not have corruption in their midst – after all, corruption is a subtle part of every capitalism; but national interests have been allowed to flourish over sectional interest. This patriotic demeanour can only be brought about if Nigerians irrespective of allegiances and affiliations embrace a new paradigm whereby the progressive interest of Nigeria becomes paramount to everyone. Nigeria needs to be the larger local community.

Notwithstanding the myriad of challenges and fortuitously though, Nigerians have been able to tag along as one indivisible nation contrary to the predictions of people that felt the fault lines will continue to widen. Despite the evident periods where the tension was palpable and the country tilted to the precipice of implosion, it managed to pull itself together. The recent electoral season was a proof of that irrepressible spirit of the people to remain together.

To be continued.

– Adeniji is a communications consultant.