Children of the Divide: Nigeria’s Crisis of Identity

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Underneath the orange rays of the sun that was setting, the city looked grim. The view from the top of the rocks was serene. The wind felt calm and the birds chirped fleetingly as they flew up and away and disappeared into the dying light.

Sitting right below the formation of rocks were some boys, none could have been older than 15. Their conversations were rushing in from different angles. The biggest of the four boys hunched his shoulders menacingly and let out an expletive. His peers watched him. He went on a tirade about how the boys in Jos were this and that, (insert a swipe of the major stereotypes you have heard about people from the city of Jos.)

The tirade had a knock on effect on the group. Each of them contrived to hurl back stereotypes that they had learned back at him. It felt befuddling as I listened to the contraption of what a nation truly is.

History is reflective and disconcerting. Looking into it may reveal the worst and best of the past; but more often than not, it reveals to you, the travails of the present. When one decides to investigate the reality of the Nigerian state, what one sees is not what was but what wasn’t and in truth, what it is not today.

Most Nigerians look at history with a distasteful feeling. What they deduce from the revelations of the past is the things that were wrong and are still wrong. It does not mean that there is not a thing to celebrate about the nation when one takes a cursory view of history; it only means that the listlessness far outweighs the beautiful and candid.

Professor Niyi Osundare’s allegorical poem “The Leader and the Led” investigates the fortunes of a nation with the same contraptions as the Nigerian state. In an apt representation of the political quagmire that is Nigeria; Osundare reflects on the state of the nation and aptly represents it with the allegory of the Forest.

The Forest is home to the wild, and the wild is a place that inhabits a collection of the different but beautiful “beast and beauties” of life. Each beauty or beast is fiercely independent and notoriously territorial.

The conflict inherently begins when the Forest inhabitants meet to elect a leader. I find this point interesting because the animals of the forest have possibly waylaid their need for territory, have conformed to the rules that seem unlike the nature of the forest, and are willing to sit and elect a sole leader. The longer one stares at the truth between the lines, the harder it is to identify what led to the meeting. But for a moment, let us depart from that turn of events and chiefly return to the plot of the poem.

When they had gathered, the Lion presents himself as the suitable option to be king of the Forest. There are reservations about his suitability. The lion is naturally a predator; his thrill for the hunt will mean that by his very nature, his suitability will be challenged by the antelope who may feel threatened by the kind of power that the lion has and the ones he will acquire if he is unanimously declared king. The nominations go round and round, every animal that steps forward meets an opposing view. In the end, they are locked in a stalemate.

It is important to look at the above revelation carefully. By nature, the antelope, the lion, the gazelle, the hyena, the zebra, and even the elephant are animals that exist in a cluster of their kind. By nature, they are consumed by the knowledge of their kind. Each raised in the practical expressions of what it means to be what they are, and though, they might exist in a mixed cluster with some other kind, the innate instinct bred into them is quite frankly, favoured to their kind.

Realizing that truth in the lines of the poem was cataclysmic.

The Nigerian state is much like the Forest in Osundare’s poem.

Everywhere you turn, the Nigerian you meet has been invariably been raised in a cluster, he is raised to survive in the primordial nature of the things that favours that cluster. Though by fierce pull of nature and the individuality of the human mind, he can differ from the impressions of the cluster he was raised in. There are still elements of that same society that exist within him at all points.

Returning to the conversation of the boys that were by the rocks, I realized that each one of them had been tailored to believe in the stereotypes that they had about the other. It is the conduit of social life that as we live; we leave impressions of what we are and likely, bigger impressions of what we innately aren’t on the people that we communicate with.

The children of Nigeria are the children of the divide.

Each of them is educated into a fierce capitulation of the most basic identity that exists around.

The socio-political climate that they are raised in has tailored specific arguments of the state into the impressions of their identity.

The past few years have seen a rise in calls for self government by groups that represent the interest of particular ethnic and regional sections.

These calls intensify because history has proven time and time again that the marriage of inconvenience that is Nigeria cannot fully survive because it does not have a fundamental identity, nor has it ever sought to build one. The closest that it had come to finding some sort of succour was the regional governments at the beginning, but even that was beset by the infractions that were found within the structure of the regions. The northern region for example, was lost to a constant conflict with a perceived hegemony.

Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah posit an interesting view of the historical infractions of the hegemony when he made the assertion below

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>“Yet, while being so ecumenical, the descendants of Dan Fodio’s caliphate have never lost sight of their perceived superiority over people over the people whom they consider are, in the final analysis, meant to serve them as junior partners in the pursuit of their ambition. Outsiders therefore are only usable. It is at this level of political competition that these aspects of tolerance begin to collapse as individuals’ angle for power and advantage and find there are no-go areas for them within the political arrangement. The major limitation of this political ecumenism was the fact that in matters of political power, It attached an expiration label on non-Hausa-Fulani Muslims on the one hand, and non-Muslims in general on the other.

Bishop Kukah’s words when put in the context of the history of Northern Nigeria, points to the deeper infractions that exist within its polity.

It was on the nature of the caliphate that the colonial power decided to institute the infamous indirect rule. While historically, the caliphate proved that it was unwilling to bow to any power, the sophistication of the colonizer’s war machines and the presentation of new frontiers that had once proved problematic, proved too big a lure to avoid and so, the hegemony in the north, saw an opening through which the ambitions of the caliphate could be fulfilled under the umbrella of the British colonizer. It saw in indirect rule, an indirect way to further their reach. This point of view is largely the educated standpoint of the northern anti-hegemony.

The northern divide in Nigeria, is chaotic in the sense that it portrays one idea to the outside but from the inside, the truth seems so different from what one sees.

In Nigeria, the tendency by the people is to lump the identity of the hegemony on the perceived minorities that exist within that region. So, in context, a man from Plateau State may be wrongly identified by a person from the southwest as “Hausa/Fulani”.

Of course, the plateau man will have reservations about being identified as the hegemony. This is because he has grown to understand that the ideation of the region is meant to provide a bigger political space for the hegemony when in earnest, he enjoys none of the spoils or the benefits that comes with being perceived as a northerner. Rather, indiscreetly, what he faces is a perceived persecution of his people.

It is why the oppositions of the animals in Osundare’s poem become important to the understanding of Nigeria.

The Antelope scuffs at the lion because he lives within the hunted space of the lion. He understands the lion in a way that the other animals may not understand. And so he proceeds to not be in agreement with the choice of the lion as a suitable leader.

Northern Nigeria’s point of division has always been the place of its perceived hegemony. The combined independent ethnic groups have a fierce sense of individuality that is both a catalyst to the hegemony’s success and also endemic to the growth of each independent group. Kukah’s analysis is part of the larger narrative that opens the cracks of the northern question.

The north has remained the astute political juggernaut of the Nigerian state. Its strength lies in its understanding of the political vulnerabilities of the nation but also in being able to call upon a greater population and land mass. But within its walls are the cracks. The hegemony is inherently self serving. Kukah narrates the words of a political activist identified as Mrs. Ladi Shehu. She asserts:

“People from the upper North were okay, they were proper northerners, and if you are a Muslim, well, that improves your position, but if you were from the middle belt, you are another class of northerner.”

Her words bring light to a conversation that crept in about the only Nigerian Head of State that was from the middle belt. In the conversation, the commentator had first of all insisted that when the northern elite talk about unity in the north, it usually meant a subjugation of the ethnic dispositions that were not Hausa-Fulani, nor Muslim. The point of view was exacerbated by the question that the next voice brought. The question was simple but not without its strong feelings. It was a question that defiantly asked if the northern elite would offer an ethnic northern Christian man or woman as the focal point of its campaign to spearhead the nation. The apologist in the conversation pointed out Gowon and the reply was thus.

“If there were a more northern officer, more senior than Gowon, he would not have been a choice for the northern people. His choice was borne out of the available convenience and not what was desired at that point.”

The echo of that point of view is at the core of what Nigeria is.

Nigeria is a cluster of nationalities hanging on to an idea proposed over a hundred years ago. Since that proposal, there hasn’t been any genuine effort to understand the dire intricacies and individuality of each region and every of the people that make up the constituent.

Furthermore, political opportunists have arisen out of the shells of these divisions, pushing the angst of the people into overdrive. We want to love Nigeria, but has it ever really existed?

The South-East pushes on defiantly for the establishment of Biafra, the South-West pushes on for the establishment of Oduduwa Republic. The North hangs on out of sheer will to hone in a power that is as deadly as the burning sun in the lands. The Middle Belt sits alone, desolate, a convolution of different identities all pushing for a personal sense of freedom. Each fighting within, above, and beyond to maintain a form of accepted balance. The South-South is just as intense.

Each ethnic nation basking in the euphoria of their perceived independence.

This is a nation where the children are divided. Caught in a web of intricate details that hides the identity of what the nation truly is. Each region and ethnicity is fiercely independent. And much like the animals in the Forest, the nation stands in a stalemate.

To talk about solutions is to talk about the difficult steps.

Should Nigeria remain a nation?

The answer is yes. But to be a nation, it has to come to terms with its individuality. There is too much of a central power that pushes higher hegemonies to seek to control other competing factors around.

It is important that we realize that the division in itself can be harnessed as a tool. Where each separate arm improves itself and in effect, improves the nation.

We cannot hide from the truth that the idea of freedom within the region and ethnic divide has always been here. The elites ignore it because they are faced with the question of their personal interest and the interest of the people.

Just maybe, decentralization may lead to accountability. If the figure in power is closer, there is an easier access to checks and balances.

A view of the ethnic system portrays an interesting solution to the Nigerian system.

You cannot use the politics of the European to solve the problems that are inherently very Nigerian in nature. And so, the uncomfortable nature of the leaders we have can be explained by the system we adorn them with. A system that is as strange as the origins they came from.

Decentralization forces the adoption of the town hall like nature of the traditional African society.

We are all children of the divide.

Looking on from our blocked views, understanding our parts of the story and engaging our biases while struggling to live within a Nigeria that is still not clear.

Our divided nature is not our undoing.

Refusing to find the silver lining in that nature is……..

Please, I look forward to reading your comments on the children of the divide. Tell me what side of the divide you find yourself. How that divide has educated you and what you feel is the way forward for all of us stuck in this divide?

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