ETHNIC NATIONALITIES AND THE NIGERIAN STATE: CHALLENGES OF GOVERNANCE IN A PLURAL NIGERIA
General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida
Being a Graduation Lecture to the Participants of Senior Executive Course No 24 at the National Institute for policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru on Friday 22nd November, 2002.
It is always with a mixture of elation and nostalgia coupled with uplifting intellect and experience for me whenever I return to the serenity of my alma mater, the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, either for reason of state responsibilities as in the period, 1985-1993 or for engagements such as the one of today for exchange of views, perspectives and experience with faculty and grad ands. This high-ranking institution is of great symbolic significance for our country. From the point of view of shared experience and the role of ideas in development, NIPSS is a work ever in process. It is our country’s response to the challenges of nation building, and indeed of continental renaissance. I am a proud pioneer alumnus of this citadel of reflection and learning. When NIPSS took off in late 1979, the Kuru location was still being put together; and although the compact class of the pioneer participants stayed in Jos city and commuted between hotel accommodation and Kuru, we nevertheless, got adequate intellectual fulfilment and erected enduring social relations among the participants.
As you all know, about five years after graduating from Kuru, I found myself, by providence, steering the ship of the Nigerian State and also providing the necessary nurture for the development of the National Institute. Between the Senior Pioneer Course or Executive Course No. 1 and the participants of the present Senior Executive Course No24, NIPSS has turned out a good deal of very senior citizens of this country, and they are available not only in the various units of the public sector from the armed forces and the security services to the civil bureaucracy, but also in the various theatres of the private sector from manufacturing, banking and finance, commerce and industry to social services. It was therefore more or less a design rather than an accident that members of the NIPSS Alumni Association have continued to be deeply involved in the affairs of this nation often at the highest levels of responsibility whether or not the alumni are still in active service or in retirement. Indeed, I obtained highly valuable counseling as President particularly in the first two years of the administration which I led, from the Alumni Association. I say all these simply to indicate the value of your participation in the NIPSS programme.
The collegial feeling and experience which you acquire while in Kuru will remain with you all through your life. In several ways, the Kuru experience molds our thoughts and social relations in our contributions to the development of the nation. But before I get carried away by reminiscences about Kuru, I wish to deeply acknowledge the memory of Gen. Joseph N. Garba, the late Director-General of the National Institute. Aside from being my senior in the Nigerian Army, he was a good friend of mine, and, in several ways, we shared the responsibilities of governance of this country at various points in the regimes which we served. It was the late Gen. Garba who invited me for this lecture. While I had looked forward to exchanging our usual banters and expressing my appreciation to him for the invitation, no one except the Almighty Allah knew that he would not be alive at the time this lecture would hold. We have all paid deserving tributes to the value of Gen. Garba’s personality and to his manifold contributions to Nigeria both at home and abroad, and especially at the United Nations as well as to humanity.
We have borne the grief of his untimely death with faith in divine providence. Although today is certainly not and cannot be, another occasion for further funeral oration in honour of the late Gen. Garba, yet I wish to record the expression of my deep condolences to the National Institute and to all of you who started this programme under his institutional leadership. We will all continue to remember him. May his soul rest in perfect peace. Amen
I was invited to speak to the subject matter of “Minority Nationalities and the Nigerian State: The Dynamics and Challenges of Governance in a Plural Nigeria”. I had serious perturbations over any focus on “minority nationalities” as if they alone constitute the core issue or socio-cultural variable in our plural society for which governance should hold out for public policy. Structurally fundamental as they are to the foundation and progress of the Nigerian social formation, all the ethnic nationalities of the country constitute only one major domain of contemporary “plural. Nigeria”. Colonialism and the political economy of the post-colonial state have engendered several dimensions of pluralism, complexity and corporatism in the country. Within social classes which have accelerated in development since the Nigerian civil war in response to public policies on the economy, there are multiple segments of social stratification. There are also pluralism of geo-political zones, of religion and religious sensibilities and organizations, of gender and demography of occupation and professionalism, and even of thought processes and orientations. I have drawn attention to these dimensions of “plural Nigeria” merely to point out the need for an appropriate perspective for this discourse. Within the social anthropology of ethnic nationalities, there are objective difficulties in the country in separating “minority nationalities” from “majority nationalities” for public policy. You can therefore appreciate why I have re-ordered the topic of the lecture around “ethnic nationalities” rather that “minority nationalities”. This is to accommodate a more robust perspective for the dynamics and challenges which the national question, ethnic nationalism or ethnicity pose for governance, and for my idea of the policy framework for responding to, or for dealing with the challenges.
The Resurgence of Ethnic Nationalism in the Nigerian State
One basic feature of the Nigerian State is its composition by multi-ethnic nationalities or multi-ethnic groups. Interestingly though, both scholarship and experience have not come to terms with the exact number of Nigeria’s multi-ethnic groups. We speak often of the ethnic tripod consisting of the Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo; and the others generally referred to as minority ethnic groups constitute a. Sometimes too, in political terms, the minority ethnic groups are referred to together, as the Fourth Force or Fourth Dimension. It is also generally claimed that the minority ethnic groups constitute a dominant majority if it were possible for them to assert political power together outside and beyond the territorial enclave of each minority ethnic group.
In the absence of an agreed actual number of the component ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, people often resort to describing the country as being made up of “over 250 ethnic groups” or “about 300 ethnic groups”. This vagueness or imprecision about the number of ethnic components of the Nigerian State is not caused by absence of academic or intellectual research. On the contrary, the phenomenon of ethnic nationality in the post-colonial social formation tends to defy precision on definitional elements. The best application of five characteristics of ethnic nationality derived from a combination of political sociology and social anthropology that lam aware of, comes from a distinguished scholar at the University of lbadan, Prof. Onigu Otite. The five characteristics are:
- Shared culture, identity, language, history and kingship; this element is also conveyed in the literature as “complementarity of communication”;
- There is the action of the full range of demographic division of age and a network of economic, political and social institutions;
- There is, within a nationality, a differentiation in wealth, status and power, that is, social stratification;
- There is the element of homeland or home territory for an ethnic group;
- Members of an ethnic nationality share co-existence with other groups outside the homeland in the post-colonial State system.
The computation of Nigerian ethnic nationalities by using the above five characteristics have provided a total number of 389 ethnic groups in the country. Interestingly, the majority ethnic groups predominate in only three core areas namely: the North-West and part of North-East zones, the South-West and South-East zones. The ethnographic survey has, thus, assigned as many as 80 nationalities to Adamawa state, 50 to Bauchi state, 52 to Plateau state, 39 to Taraba, 32 to Kaduna state, 30 to Cross-River state, 25 to Nassarawa state, 22 to-Niger state, 23 to Borno state and 19 to Kebbi state. The other states range between 4 in Kwara and Bayelsa, and 17 in Gombe.
The existence of multiple ethnic nationalities does not by itself constitute a problem or an issue with political consequences. It is in the process of social change or modernization that the interest of ethnic groups becomes elevated to the political realm. In fact, contemporary development in Nigeria appears to have elevated ethnic nationalities into the corner stone of social and political organisations. Contrary to an earlier proposition in scholarship of social change and modernisation destroying or weakening ethnic nationalism, these processes have in fact reinforced ethnic nationalism or ethnicity, and created the condition for growth of increasing new ethnic groups or sub-groups. We have experienced more consciousness and activism of ethnic nationalities as well as the emergence of new groups or sub-groups along with modernising public policy framework.
Let me explore a little further the politics of social change as it creates and nurtures ethnicity or ethnic nationalism, I will return later in this presentation to the matter especially to the extent that it informed the approach which I developed for dealing with the challenges of this phenomenon in the second half of the 1980s when I was president of this country.
Theories of modernisation and liberalism have generally taken the view that as mankind moves from pre-capitalist and tribal stages of social organisation towards large-scale industrialisation and commerce within the modern nation system, the various primordial ties of religion, kinship, language and ethnic solidarity would gradually lose their hold on a people or community and they would disappear. It was assumed that the forces of trade and industry would break internal barriers of ancient customs, traditions and ethnic legitimation. The expansion of modern capitalism on a world scale was assumed to induce and sustain nationalist and universal values which are incompatible with ethnic nationality. In fact, the new forces of globalisation which have grown from technological revolution would expand communication and mass tourism across the nation and indeed across the world.
In political terms, liberal thoughts assumed that ethnicity and sub-nationalism would disappear in the currency of modernisation. In a paper which I delivered in 1998 entitled “Africa and Globalisation: The Challenges of Co-operation and linkage in the 21st Century” under the auspices of the Institute of Governance and Social Research based here in Jos, I dwelt on the aspects of globalisation which touch on the assumed reasoning in the relationship between the post-colonial state system and ethno-nationalities in Africa. Simply put, the assumptions have not and could not be proven. Indeed, we have observed generally on the continent and in Nigeria in particular that inter-group conflicts among ethno-nationalities have tended to increase as the social horizons of various ethnic nationalities increased in response to the process of modernizations. Conflicts, which arise in the process tend to be defined in ethnic or communal terms. Similarly, the different rates of social mobilization among the ethnic nationalities in the country have tended to exacerbate social cleavages. Some scholarly observers of the Nigerian development process referred to the consequences of social change and modernization on ethnic nationalism and activism many years age as “competitive communalism”.
The value of this perspective is not limited to Nigeria or Africa. What happened in the defunct Soviet Union during the second half of the 1980s when its economy and society completely broke up was a product of the opening up and restructuring of the economy and political spaces. Under the administration of Mr. Mikhail Gorbachev, the two strategies of perestroika and glasnost (economic reforms and political liberalisation) were formulated and implemented. Within five years, the Soviet empire had collapsed with its East European allies, and among other consequences, the collapse gave rise to renewed assertiveness by the various ethnic nationalities of that empire.
Today, the old empire has reduced to the main State of Russia and a large number of other independent States each with full membership of United Nations. The only one still struggling for its independence is the Chenchen ethnic nationality. The point in all this is to emphasize the social and economic foundations and processes of ethic resurgence or revivalism across the world, including Nigeria.
Ethnicity or ethnic nationalism has historically been part and parcel of the political process, economy and statecraft of Nigeria. In the 1950s, it gave rise to the colonial investigatory committee usually referred to the Willink Commission which became the precursor of the multiple creation of sub-system states in the country between 1963 and 1996. In the mid-1960s, ethnic tensions contributed in no small measure to the environment of the military coup of January 1966. There is evidence to link the Nigerian civil war to the consequences of ethnic nationalism.
The phenomenon, of ethnic nationalism appeared to have been subdues by the Federalist victory in the civil war. The national policies and programmes of reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction in the post-1970 period also appeared to have hastened the cause and course of unity and national integration. The original federalist credo of “diversity in unity” was increasingly replaced by “unity in diversity”. Indeed, the replacement of the old Nigerian national anthem by the post-civil war anthem, currently in use, stood the reality of ethnic nationalism upon its head. The old national anthem had appropriately postulated, “though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood, we stand”, whereas the new anthem attempts to play down the multi-ethnic composition of the country.
It should, however, be acknowledged that there was positive experience arising from the major post-civil war policies and programmes of both the federal and state governments. The national development plans, the gradual retreat in the salience of regionalism, increased concentration of power at the federal/national level coupled with the new political order of centralisation of resources and responsibilities, the build-up to the making of the 1979 constitution, the many social exchange programmes in human resources and culture by the state governments through the unique characteristics and consequences of military rule. All of these and many more areas of public policy provided a seemingly accelerated unification of the structures of the Nigerian nation-state. Although there were still a variety of experiences of ethnicism and ethnic tensions, they were largely de-emphasized or suppressed by prolonged military rule. Indeed, in the elections to local and state governments preparatory to the return to civil rule between 1987 and 1991 under the regime in which I was President, Nigerians freely contested and won elections in various parts of the country outside their states or local governments of origin. Examples of the states where this phenomenon was experienced include: Lagos, Kaduna, Kano and Plateau where non-indigenes were elected into office. It was an experience largely historically unknown to previous regimes, military and civil-cum-constitutional. The situation has unfortunately become worse in the past three years of the present leadership of the 4th Republic.
There was, obviously, an appearance of a lull in the salience of ethnic nationalism as a fundamental factor in the political process. However, the aftermath of the annulment of the presidential election of June 1993 and the unique excesses of the military regime under Sani Abacha nurtured a resurgence of ethnic nationalism reminiscent of the crises leading to the civil war. By May 1999 when the military exited from the governance of the country and was replaced by the 5th Republic, the normally liberal environment provided by democracy for the exercise of freedom and liberty engendered an unprecedented wave of ethnic activism and political tension across the country. There has been undue intensification of ethno-regional nationalism since 1999 demanding a re-negotiation of the federalist foundations of the Nigerian State. Foundational issues which I had justifiable reasons to describe in 1987/88 as “No Go Areas” in the constitution making process of the late 1980s appear to have been worrisomely re-invented in recent times.
In the period up to 1966, ethnicity and regionalism acquired structure and an ideology of legitimation for ethnic nationalities. As a consequence, the legitimacy of the Nigerian nation-state was contested by ethnic nationalities. One of the many explanatory variables for the collapse of the First Republic and implosion of military rule in Nigeria was the ideological supremacy of ethnic nationalities over the Nigerian State. As a contrast, in the period of the post-civil war, and particularly after the second coming of military rule following the collapse of the Second Republic, the Nigerian State acquired greater legitimation over and above ethnic nationalities. The resurgence and intensification of contemporary ethnicity is, therefore, a reversal of legitimation for ethnic nationalities as opposed to the Nation-State.
Ethnicity is currently a huge social movement and human investment across the country. It is not only nurtured around the structure and ideology of ethnic nationalities, it is also increasingly becoming a preferred mode of loyalty by Nigerians as opposed to loyalty to the Nation-State. It is therefore an important subset of the national question in Nigeria. Legitimation of ethnic nationalism involves a system of social insurance and first line or prime loyalty for ethnic nationalities. For the first time since the civil war, the Nigerian Nation-State is increasingly being characterised by social ingredients of retreat and doubtful legitimation. There has been, even, an underground articulation and subtle organisation by the champions of ethnic nationalism for a dismantling of the federation or secession from Nigeria. Certain ethnic nationalities are known or alleged to articulate and to establish institutions and symbols of autonomy, including flags, coasts of arms and even armed militias for defence of their ethnic territories, and for offence against other nationalities.
Explaining ethno-nationalism appears no longer as difficult as resolving its challenges and manifestations. Ethnic nationalism is rooted in the colonial social formation of the country. The phenomenon is, thus, embodied in the disarticulated economy of the society by colonialism. The primary source of the phenomenon is the nature and character of the Nigerian State. It can also be argued with confidence that in multiple ways, civilian and military regimes in the post-independence period had themselves increased the variety and complexity of the phenomenon.
When ethnic tensions resurged with menace in the new democratic order since 1999, the initial reaction was that it was the product of previously bottled-up disenchantment or dissatisfaction of various ethnic nationalities. But by now in 2002, this initial perspective appears quite thin in content. In fact some manifestations of ethnic nationalism are the reactive excesses of the government elected in 1999; and others are the product of selective injustice meted out to certain ethnic nationalities by the governments.
The overall consequences of contemporary ethnic nationalism consist of the following, among others:
- agitation for self-determination with the rationalisation for a national conference or sovereign conference of ethnic nationalities to re-negotiate the foundations of the Nigerian national project;
- wastage of enormous human and material resources in ethnically inspired violent encounters, clashes and even battles;
- increasing gaps in social relations among ethnic nationalities including structural suspicions and hate for one another;
- the ever shifting arena of ethnic nationalism spanning regions and zones, communities and neighbourhoods, reactive vengeful reprisals in locations outside the ethnic territories;
- threat to security of life and property and disinvestments of local and foreign companies with continuous capital flight and loss of confidence in the economy;
- the heightening of fragility of the economy and political process;
- the exacerbation of violence together with erosion of legitimacy and also disinvestments in the political process;
- frustrations in “competitive communalism” for the ingredients of power, authority and status in the political economy including activities in the private sector;
- poverty of leadership behaviour at various levels of government in attempts to respond to the escalating ethnic nationalism across the country. There is an ethnic trap in the country’s political economy. As indicated previously, the mere existence of multiple ethnic nationalities in a social formation or modern state system does not automatically translate into ethno-nationalism. Ethnocentrism normally arises and thrives in stress or distress, and in situations of competition. When differences of interests and objectives coincide with pervasive or concrete deprivation, marginalisation or injustice, it is then that ethnic based conflicts begin to acquire destabilising dimensions. In such situations, ethnic nationalism becomes a structural and ideological weapon in the hands of ethnic leaders.
The Nigerian experience, as I had previously inferred in the preceding paragraphs, is rooted in the political economy of the country from 1950s. It is in order to transcend or resolve the challenges of the problem that the phenomenon was elevated from being not only a social force but also a constitutional and legal anchor.
Before 1979 the principle of quota system was employed to address the inequality of access by ethnic groups to the bureaucratic institutions. It appeared not to have worked satisfactorily, hence the concept and principle of “federal character” was instituted in the chapter of the 1979 Constitution which deals with “fundamental objectives and directive principle of the State policy”. This principle or instrument has remained in our constitutional documents since 1979, although, it is observed much more in the breach than in compliance, and thereby worsening the problem.
The constitutional provision for federal character is a clear acknowledgement of socio-cultural differences, and of the responsibilities of government to deal with the differences. Accordingly, the constitutional processes are ordered to take due account of ethnic nationalities, yet they are equally and paradoxically ordered to transcend ethnic nationalities so as to re-constitute the Nigerian State on the basis of wholesome citizenship. This is the trap which ethnic nationalism has posed for governance in the country. The paradoxes of ethnic nationalism are many. They range from a Nigerian being resident or being born in a locality, yet considered as being alien or non-indigenous to that locality. It includes being a Nigerian of a settler community, yet confronted by the stark forces of indigeneity. It also includes being married across ethnic divides with offspring being fully Nigerian citizens, yet they can be caught up in the structures of the politics of ethnic nationalism. Even in competing for power or office, the trap makes it difficult to exercise full electoral rights. You can vote but in reality you cannot be voted for. The ethnic trap includes discrimination by states and local authorities in access to health facilities, business opportunities and acquisition of landed properties. With the trap of ethnic nationalism, it has become extremely difficult for loyalty and obedience to the norms, conventions and rules of being a Nigerian, to override loyalty and obedience to one’s traditional community or ethnic nationality. The trap of ethnic nationalism nurtures structural alienation, and negative motivations and attitudes.
Dealing with the Challenges of Ethnic Nationalities in Governance
I believe in the unity and indivisibility of Nigeria. I believe in the framework of the federation subject to a conscious reformation of Nigerian federalism. I also believe that the future stability of the country rests on the sustenance of democracy. The country should continue to sustain and deepen its republicanism.
There are three areas of social reality in the country’s social formation which the beliefs I have stated above and which the challenges of ethnic nationalities pose for governance. The first is Nigeria consisting of the people’s attitudes towards traditionalism and traditional institutions including attachment to ethnic homelands. With all the manifestations of modernity, and of the effects of globalisation, the Nigerian Sate still is heavily traditional in structure, thought processes and perspectives. Our experiences to date suggest that rather than traditionalism being eliminated in the course of social change and modernisation, our inherited social formations have tended to preserve large elements of traditional values, orientations and structures. Nigerians are engrossed in the pursuit of modernity yet respectful of traditionalism. The second area of social reality which ethnic nationalism manifest is in the retention by Nigerians of “double homes” and even “multiple homes”. The Nigerian citizen is at once at home in his place of residence and occupation as he is in his ethnic nationality or locality of origin. No matter the number of years of residence by the Nigerian in a different part of the country or even abroad, he willingly upholds and discharge responsibilities and obligations in his ethnic nationality. In fact in recent times, depending on available wealth and capacity for mobility, the Nigerian can conveniently retain “homes” and discharge obligations in London or Manchester, Paris, New York or Dallas just as he does the same in Nigeria in more than one location. This experience contrasts with the typical American citizen who, once he relocates from one district or state to another and he remains in the new location for a specified period, cuts off filial attachment to, let alone discharging obligations and responsibilities in his previous place of abode. The typical American is not as attached as the Nigerian, to his family place of birth, or traditional locality. The third area of social reality is that of the federal character principle which the country has elevated from being only a social structure, to a constitutional imperative.
For me, by mid-1980s, I had developed a fair perspective about the challenges posed by ethnic nationality for governance. I was conscious of, and convinced long before the wind of social change in defunct Soviet Union and Eastern Europe about the necessity for thorough-going and systematic reforms of our economy, society and political process in order to assist in creating a better space for the multiple nationalities of the country. For us, the challenge was to create a trans-national society without wiping off the identities of our constituent nationalities. This was the basis of the economic reforms and democratisation of the political process which the regime that I led, undertook between 1985 and 1993.
The regime may not have fully succeeded in its self-imposed reform programmes, yet I believe that Nigerian ethnic nationalities, in order for them to be productive and comfortable in the political system require to be involved in an environment in which they can be made to participate in productive activities by themselves rather being reliant upon State-driven activities. They should also be able to participate in all levels of statecraft. It is not easy to compartmentalize the application of my views here. I wish however to draw attention to some of the critical ones because l believe that a sustained leadership commitment to elements of structural reform would go a long way to reduce ethnic nationalism even if ethnic nationalities will continue to be part of the pillars of the Nigerian federation.
The 1999 Constitution as a variant of 1979 and 1989 constitutions, was design to sustain the post-civil war order, which is now generally acknowledged to contain numerous imperfections. The general complaint is that the political order has become top heavy and should therefore be re-examined. The entire constitutional order should be reviewed so as to further empower the states, local governments and communities. In fact what has been happening since 1999 by way of implementing that constitution is, to say the least, quite disappointing and perfunctory. This is the reason why not much attention has been devoted to the review of the Constitution handed down by the retreating military regime to the 4th Republic so as to make it consonant with the processes and expectations of democracy.
I am not an admirer or advocacy of sovereign national conference of ethnic nationalities. Yet it is obvious that the national consensus over the contemporary political and constitutional order as being over-concentrated at the federal level should be re-examined for the reason that I have just indicated above. We need in this country more space for individual and nationality participation in the affairs of the nation and of the various communities. If a national conference of ethnic nationalities, properly thought out and organised can do so, so be it.
The Federal Character Commission is by itself not bad. But like other government efforts or commissions in the country such as the Code of Conduct Bureau, it is not being properly empowered to carry out its responsibility of injecting social justice, equity, integrity and merit in the composition of the decision-making status in the country, in the states, and even in the localities.
As in the above observation about the Federal Character Commission, it is sad that the acclaimed noble objectives of the National Youth Service Corps scheme and unity colleges have virtually collapsed or been eroded in the country. Government needs to return to the drawing board on these schemes so that appropriate reforms can be undertaken.
The Nigerian State is, through its formation, part and parcel of the challenges of ethnic nationalism. As a power site, the State is neither neutral, objective nor just in organisation and the discharge of its responsibilities. It may sound difficult particularly for those who are in authority yet there is need to re-examine how to re-constitute the Nigerian State so as to endow it with a modicum of neutrality, objectivity and justice in its operation. I confess to the fact that although this matter was examined by a Presidential Committee which I empanelled in 1986/87 to provide policy directions on the national question, unfortunately, the report of that Committee which worked under the leadership of AVM. Ishaya Shekari (Rtd.) as well as the recommendations of the Political Bureau on this matter were not implemented before we exited from office
I believe the country should examine the need to adopt the policy of residency rights for citizens. In doing so however, the phenomenon of multiple homes or double homes, which I pointed out earlier, will need to be tackled. This is important because the country could easily and unwittingly enact a process in which some Nigerians would enjoy more citizenship rights than others. In fact, there is currently an exercise of political gerrymandering in which women married outside their states of origin rather than going into politics in constituencies of the communities or states into which they are married are also being prompted to return to their parents’ communities or states of origin to contest elections.
I believe too that dealing with ethnicity can be tackled from the political process with particular reference to the political party system. Although we have gone beyond the experiments of the two party system which I inaugurated as President in 1989, there is no doubt in my mind that multi-ethnicism feeds upon multi-party system. This is the image, rightly or wrongly, that comes out in the present Alliance for Democracy (AD) which is wholly located in the home land of an ethnic nationality. A multi-party democracy creates a greater democratic space but it also creates a leverage for an intensified multi-ethnic nationalism. The two party system was intended to reduce the role or inter-ethnic squabbles in the body politic, and reshape the polity for greater and deeper national integration.
I drew attention earlier in this paper to the poverty of leadership. It may be debatable whether Nigerians have experienced good leadership since 1999 in terms of forging national integration among the multiple ethnic nationalities in the country. I know that there are observers who would argue strongly that the nation today has grown worse in terms of inter group relationship than in the period before 1999. I believe that the quality, content, profile and temper of political leadership can go a long way either in undermining multiple ethnic nationalism or on promoting national integration.
The most fundamental and underlying forces which propel ethnic nationalism in Nigeria are those of pervasive poverty, mass unemployment, underdevelopment of productive forces and a largely non-productive of economy. The absence of developed productive forces constrains the transformation of the structure of the economy and society. Mass poverty and unemployment creates alienation and insecurity which in turn encourage Nigerians to experience and prefer accommodation within the social insurance system of ethnic nationalities. In this regard, people are easily excited about acts of injustice by other groups against their own groups. Poverty also creates frustration and divisiveness. At the level of government it makes the control of the State and its enormous power apparatus very vicious. Accordingly, it is necessary that within the limitation of global market forces, the State and the political class must face up to the challenges of a collapsing economy on poverty, and their consequences for the salience of ethnic nationalism in the country.
Government should create employment; but I am not advocating the past practice of government being the dominant employer of labour. There must be a conducive and enabling environment for the private sector to expand and deepen. Here too, I must say that I have more confidence in private sector in which Nigerians predominate in basic areas of small medium and strategic enterprises. What I have in mind here is, if you do not mind the illustration, some of the things which I inaugurated when I was President such as the Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI), empowerment of women and of the youths through skills acquisition by the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) and such other programmes that can empower generations of craftsmen, designers and tailors, fish producers and sellers, small scale farmers and so on.
I have drawn attention to the pervasiveness of ethnic nationalism in our political process and economy. Social change and modernisation cannot destroy and eradicate the phenomenon, particularly in a multi-ethnic Nigerian State which also exhibits huge an embarrassing level of poverty. Purposeful leadership however, can tackle the challenges which ethnic nationalism poses for governance. In fact, we need to appreciate that our cultural and social diversity constitutes an asset rather that a liability. The task before leadership at the level of governance is to use which government apparatus and public resources are ordered around public policy in order to reduce the destabilizing dimensions of multi-ethnic nationalism, and the forgoing of a wholesome Nigerian State within the context of a federation.
I thank you for your patience in listening.