Excerpt from the Lecture and Symposium in Honor of the Late Chief Theophilus Adeleke Akinyele, OON, the Bobajiro of Ibadanland, November16, 2021
Is Nigeria on the brink? This is one of such questions that open up the doors for a comprehensive dialogue on the state of the Nigerian nation and issues of great concern. What brink, many people will ask? Considering the recent happenings in the country and how they relate to the wholesomeness and development of Nigeria as a nation, it is expedient to ask if Nigeria is on the precipice of an abyss. Should we be afraid for Nigeria? And is it the fear that Nigeria is on the brink of state collapse that makes people push for a quest out of the Nigerian condition? This then brings us to the question, what is the Nigerian condition?
The Nigerian condition is a collection of how we view ourselves as Nigerians and how this affects virtually all aspects of our lives and socialization, thereby leading to a redundancy in the growth and progress of the Nigerian state. Corruption, a dissociated sense of belonging and identity, agitations for disengagement from the Nigerian state, insecurity, brazen nepotism, kidnappings, banditry, unscrupulous headlines germinating from unheard-of utterances of public officials – there seems to be an endless link of the debris that Nigeria is fast becoming.
Endemic to the Nigerian state is a problem of internal division. This internal division has been manifesting since the amalgamation of the two protectorates in 1914, and it still manifests to date. There is what could be called the conflict of identity and affiliation in Nigeria. As a nation, we are not doing enough to consciously teach ourselves – both the old and the young – how to be Nigerian. Or, perhaps, what does it mean to be Nigerian? The term “Nigerian” is viewed in a summation of bad perspectives, so much so that people would rather claim their ethnicities than claim Nigerianness. The Igbo are industrious people. The Yoruba people are learned. The Hausa are brave people. But what do we say of Nigerians?
A country that has no way of defining its citizens will have outsiders define them however they wish to, and this is the current state of things with us. Attitudes prevalent in Nigeria’s early days have been passed down through generations. Religious and ethnic differences are at the forefront of every political discussion. In Southern markets and communities, Northerners are glared at with suspicion, and in the North, a minor mistake by an “outsider” is enough to spark city-wide violence. In Nigeria, Nigerians are strangers if they are not in their hometowns. How then can we have comprehensive and concerted efforts towards change?
There is no denying that we need solutions to Nigeria’s problems. However, does the solution lie in the many propositions that have been made? Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu have proposed secession. Omoyele Sowore believes revolution is the solution. There are proponents of restructuring, as well as people clamoring for fiscal federalism and state police. Looking at all these proposed fixes, one would see that they only scrape the top of the problem, and if at all they would save Nigeria from the mouth of the precipice, it will only be by a few inches.
Back to the opening question of this speech: is Nigeria on the brink? In answering, I will say yes. Nigeria is on the brink. In fact, Nigeria has been on the brink for some time now. However, the closeness of the state to the frictionless edge of the precipice increases as the days go by. The state has been on the verge of decline for some time, but it is getting closer to the brink of the brink, and this is the time to act to prevent a fall. The fact that we are approaching the brink of the brink at a snail’s speed will no longer be a point to our advantage, since in the end, snail-paced or cheetah-paced, the approaching state will one day reach its destination.
Our concerted efforts should shift from debating whether or not Nigeria is on the brink to developing concrete ways to pull Nigeria back from the mouth of the precipice in a messiah-like manner. To continually debate the state of the nation is to waste the time that could be used to salvage the situation. No well-meaning Nigerian will dispute the country’s worsening situation. And according to the elderly, one of the steps towards curing a mad man of his insanity is by helping him reach a stage of awareness – where he realizes that he is mad. Only then will the mad man be receptive to the strategies and medications that will cure him of his sickness. We cannot be in denial forever; if we deceive ourselves and deny the state of Nigeria, our optimistic belief will not metamorphose into a solution. Therefore, Nigeria is on the brink; yes, it is! And I am calling on us all – the elected leaders, technocrats, academics, political analysts, the youth, developmental policymakers, all stakeholders – to focus our energy on saving this nation from the brink of collapse.
To do this, we must lay aside or subsume personal or ethnic interests under the greater interests of the Nigerian state. It comes across as nearly impossible when we discuss issues such as the need for change in Nigeria, yet countries such as South Korea, Japan, China, Singapore, but to mention a few, have experienced radical change after going through challenges that could well be termed as worse than Nigeria’s. Yet, these countries have risen from the ashes of their suffering and now rank among the most profitable and growth-inclined countries of the world. How have these countries managed their change in less than a century? The answer is simple: it started with a visionary roadmap and the collective commitment to it at the expense of personal interests.
In the end, Nigeria’s case is like that of a man who travels all the way down to Sokoto, while that which he seeks is in the pocket of his sokoto! One might wonder why he would embark on a trip like that. The reason is simple: self-deceit. Knowing the solution to his problem, yet believing that answers only come through a stressful search. There is also the refusal to accept the reality. How can the solution to my problem be this simple; in my pocket and within reach? That cannot be the solution. He believes solutions must be distant and sought for, not easily reachable.
As is with the man, so is it with the Nigerian state. The solution to our problems – the surest way of saving Nigeria from the brink of collapse – lies with the people, the elected, and the electorate. And even if the elected were to be slow to act, a union of the electorate – one larger than has ever been seen, one that truly knows the problems and is ready to face them head-on and solve them – will bring about the desired solution to Nigeria’s problems. The problem is from us; the solution also lies with us. Will we ever let go of our denial, allow the scales to fall, and do the needful?