Nigeria Beyond Boko Haram
The current violence being perpetrated by the group “Boko Haram” is testing the strength and resolve of the union of Nigeria. Some international experts are predicting that Nigeria will not remain as one entity beyond 2015, and within the country those calling for a Sovereign National Conference are simply looking for a diplomatic way of dissolving the union.
Nigeria is a unique and complex country. Similar or even lesser stringent issues have broken so many countries but it will take more than Boko Haram and MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) to dissolve Nigeria. What started out as a group looking to end western education within the Islamic community of northern Nigeria has turned into anarchy, bombing of churches and insisting on a northern president in 2015?
The problem with most African countries in post-colonial era is the fundamental issue of citizenship definition: Who is a citizen? What are rights of a citizen within the context of ethnic diversity and cultural pluralism? What is equality and limit of ambition among ethnic groups? All are the citizens equal before the law? What should they expect from fellow citizens and from their leaders?
Although, all these questions may sound simplistic, but the inability to properly define them is what is manifesting itself in the forms of different separatist groups. In Nigeria’s case, groups such as MEND, Boko Haram, MASSOB, and Oduduwa have become interest groups at the expense of citizenship.
In Nigeria, every political zone wants to produce a president. Such a mind set automatically denies any other group of their full citizenship rights and especially, the right to aspire to whatever office they desire to. It also changes the basis for election of our leaders in democracy from competence and meritocracy, to ethno-religious allegiances and bias.
Instead of Nigeria focusing on electing a competent leader that will build the country and deliver the dividends of democracy comes 2015, instead every region is thinking on how to install “their own” which have proven to produce an inept government.
This issue does not only play out at the national level, but is also present on the state level where the majority ethnic group insists on governing. Even without producing little or no positive results, they continue to have the support of their constituencies simply because they are from the same tribe. The result is a clamour by the minority groups for their own states, just as on the national level the groups that feel marginalized continue to agitate for a separate country.
The Way Forward
At some point, Nigeria has to undertake a true nation building exercise and inventory. The Way Forward is for Nigeria to accept its diversity beyond the three major tribes and allow democracy and federalism to thrive. This will enable religious tolerance and tribal harmony to take root in our diversify nation.
The simplistic framework of post colonial Nigeria that reflects: 3 major languages, 2 major religions and other limited interpretations were instituted by colonialist. The grouping of Nigeria into such simple blocks was important for the British to make colonization and administration easy.
However, a post-colonial Nigeria should open her eyes to her diversity and see it as strength.
We cannot continue to have two separate legal systems – the penal code in north and civil law in the south. What determines a crime should not be based on where you are, what religion you belong to or your social status. A sense of justice has to be implanted into the fiber of the society. Oppression must be recognized independent of the religion, tribe or affiliation of the oppressor.
The union called Nigeria will remain beyond Boko Haram and 2015. However, the fundamental issue of electing leaders must be addressed: Are we going to remain on the path of rotating our leadership until every village rules and we find ourselves in a never ending worsening situation or do we make the tough choices necessary to grow up?
Gideon Nyan is a resident writer for Afripol.