National Question is a phrase that appears simple but is heavily loaded with meanings. While some interpret it as a nebulous term being fancied by a vocal minority not privileged to be a part of the establishment, others insist it is the euphemism for critical issues surrounding the inability of Nigeria to rise from being a snoring elephant to a roaring lion in the league of developed nations of the world. For Professor Osisioma Nwolise there are two schools of thought, the objective and the subjective schools, when we talk of the definition of a nation. To the former, a nation is a group of people with a common language, religion, ancestry and common worldview. The latter sees the subject matter as a diverse conglomeration of people who, despite the diversity, see one another as members of the same group. In the past couple of decades, and more evidently since the dawn of independence in the 1960s Nigeria has been driven by numerous crises that have tended to exacerbate the fault-lines of the nature of union as a plural, multi-ethnic society in which diverse groups were violently yoked together by the erstwhile colonial overlords, the British, for their own administrative, and largely pecuniary, interest.
Hence many of the issues and concerns that have come to assume the status of the National Question and which are burning at the centre of national consciousness are traceable to the structural deficits and imbalances evolving from the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria to form a unified colony by the colonial Governor-General, Lord Lugard in 1914. These imbalances have deepened and become more like a skewed ontology enabling certain groups within the emergent state to persistently thrive and incur benefits from what ought to be a national communion to the exclusion of others, even when these groups do not necessarily possess the material base to justify such privileged advantage.
While the state that was constructed and handed-down by the colonial powers to the people of Nigeria has been variously pointed out as being ‘artificial’ or ‘illegitimate’ in order, its manifestation in the post-independence period has emphasized an heightened state of intolerance, insecurity and strife, routinely assuming religious and ethnic expression, as actors within the different groups struggled to access the privileges of the State at the expense of others. Other notable opinions have equally added the dimension that the National Question essentially evinces a class character, attendant upon the desperate attempts by the colonial and post colonial power elites in Nigeria to distort and manipulate the structure of the State in the effort to perpetrate their own material advantages.
Yet, from its originating instance, the choice of the federal option as a platform for sharing power across the divergent national entities boded by the British was never an altruistic one, as unique political expediencies shaped the consensus of the 1954 constitutional process between the colonial state functionaries and the “nationalists” in agreeing to toe the line of a federal arrangement. Thus while the colonial operatives considered this as a system that would reassure their allies within the Northern oligarchy of continuity in progressing at their own pace, the Southerners, who were basically at the vortex of the anti-colonial struggle regarded federalism as a means of attaining sovereign independence.
From the forgoing, multiethnic power relations between ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ groups (whether constituted on the basis of population or the crude trapping of power) became a critical feature of what has consequently been articulated as the National Question, expressed in terms of disaffection with what is perceived as marginalization and exploitation within the Nigerian State. And, this Question has and continues to sponsor conflicts over identity, self determination and autonomy.
The Framework of the National Question
The issue of national question has gained much prominent in Nigeria as it is frequently referred to in discourses pertaining to the erosion of the state and its failure to meet the needs of citizens, which are posed in terms of exclusion, marginalization, and general injustice in securing and protecting the lives and welfare of the various groups inhabiting the national space. Some of the sub-categories of this Question include: to what extent do citizens and groups feel a sense of identity with the Nigerian State? Does the state protect their interest? Is justice and fairness preserved in the manner in which the state relates to every section of the citizenry? To what extent is justice dispensed in the extraction and distribution of the proceeds of resources extracted in certain territories of the State?
Regionalism and the National Question
A theoretical mode of validating regional political, social and economic expression as a vital attempt at solving the troubling National Question, or subset of questions, in Nigeria locates within the framework of federalism, which essentially offers a structure for diverse groups and constituencies to co-exist, realize their potentials and thrive as a plural society.
As a political theory of need, federalism is hinged upon the recognition of unevenness in the natural or ‘historical’ composition of social formations across the world, and it is a fairly given fact that most of the constituent units of a federation are incapable of being at par , wither in terms of resources or geography. A regional approach to the resolution of the National Question in Nigeria evolves from the consideration of a federal state as basically a work-in-progress, which is still seeking the best structural path to make its uniqueness enhance the welfare and empowerment of its diverse people. It is an approach to the federal project in the country from a federalizing rather than ethnic perspective, which promotes the coalition of a group of federating states that are culturally contiguous – historically, geographically and economically, and which are bound by shared mythologies and ancestors, to attain the vanguard of a cohesive sub-national unit re-invented for economic development and progress. It is about enacting shared objectives and cooperation for growth by a team of state actors on another federating level.
National Question and Agitation
Nigeria is replete with associations founded by ethnic nationalities dating back to the era of military rule. A lot of them were formed under the varying circumstances and at different times. While some sprang up professing to complement efforts at securing lives and property, a legion of them had the primary motive of guaranteeing the wellbeing in their immediate domains. Rather than diminish their ranks and number, the ethno-religious and cultural organizations multiplied in number gaining wide public acceptance, ostensibly among the people who felt the Nigerian system had failed the country and shortchanged their ethnic nationalities.
Beyond the official plan to ban ethnic militia groups was the intention to castrate other organizations that paraded some eminent politicians across the country. These groups included the pan-Yoruba organization Afenifere, that of the igbo Ohanaeze Ndigbo, and the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), because the authorities felt they were promoting regional activism and other tendencies at variance to national cohesion and integration. Some groups took a preemptive step by heading for court to stop the ban and the bill was eventually sent to the archives.
The list of other groupings that have joined in the battle to unravel the national question has since elongated. Some of them are the Chicoco Movement: Movement for Ijaw Ethnic Nationality (MOSIEN), Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities, Igbo National Congress, Yoruba Council of Elders Itshekiri National Patriots, Ibibio Elders Union etc.
FACTORS AFFECTING NATIONAL INTEGRATION IN NIGERIA
Ethnic Mobilization in Nigerian Politics
Ethno-genesis which refers to how and why ethnic consciousness is mobilized is central to the study of Africa. In Nigeria, the class dimensions of ethnic mobilization in terms of how ethnicity is manipulated by the elite have been emphasized. But this does make ethnicity, as a political resource, the preserve of the elite. The other thing about ethnic mobilization is that it tends to be propelled by several other cleavage-based mobilizations, notably, in the case of Nigeria, religion and regionalism. This is why, as several studies have found out, ethnicity does not exist in a pure form.
Effect of Ethnic Politics and Ethnic Nationalism in Nigeria
Ethnic and inter-communal conflicts have become so pervasive that there is hardly does any month pass without some form of civil disturbances have become a defining characteristics of the return to civil rule. Since May 1999, it is now generally understood that Nigeria is grapping with a rising wave of ethnic bloodshed in which well over 2000 people have died since military rule ended in 1999. Another effect of ethnicity on the Nigerian polity is that it has heightened political competition in electoral contest. Most ethnic group insisted on winning elections by duress especially in their regions. No wonder, in the First Republic, Northern People’s Congress (NPC) had to return some candidates unopposed even before the elections were begun.
Ethnic nationalism has had a lot of negative consequences for the nation’s movement towards democratization to the extent that it remains an enduring threat to institutionalization of democracy in Nigeria. Among its resultant negative consequences as observed by Babangida (2002), are wastage of human and material resources in ethnically inspired violence, clashes and even battles, heightening of fragility of the economy and political process, threat to security of life and property and disinvestments of local and foreign components with continuous capital flighty and loss of confidence in the economy, and increasing gaps in social relations among ethnic nationalities including structural suspicious and hate for one another. Ethnic nationalism is equally responsible for uprising of ethnic militias across the country; the Odua People’s Congress of the South West, the Arewa People’s Congress and Egbesu in the East among others.
Whether we need a federal or confederal system, what is really lacking is transparency. The will to bring the people together is not there. The challenge facing Nigeria, therefore, is how to forge a system in which there is a real aggregation of the world views of all of the people, under the just and equitable condition. That is the fundament on which Nigeria prosperity can be built. Also important is that for a holistic notion of development to become the raison d’être of the Nigerian state, there is need for a fundamental reform of the faulty legal architecture of the country through a constitutional process that will deal with powers and how they are shared across the various levels of government. Crucial constitutional reform issues that will facilitate such state-of-being include the devolution of more powers to the states and lower authorities by the re-composition of the Exclusive, Concurrent and residual Legislative lists in the Nigerian constitution. States and local councils should be given the powers to legislate and act in basic areas that impact more on the lives of people, including education, health, water resources, etc. while the federal government can retain its powers on defense, currency policy, customs etc. the revenue formula should also reflect proper derivation to resource producing regions, while provisions should be made for a buffer fund that would assist less resources endowed areas in the spirit of federalism. There should also be a call for a sovereign national conference to air the views of the various ethnic groupings that make up the federation.
Conclusion and Recommendation
With the following structures put in place and policies implemented, Nigerian can attain proper development, an equitable and just society, where power is equally shared among all. Despite her diversity, the Nigerian people will see each other as belonging to a single larger and wider political grouping that is void of biases and ethnic prejudice in interaction with one another. This will help build a true feeling of national consciousness and a stronger bond of oneness and common heritage.
• http://ekitistate.gov.ng/2012/12/towards-the-resolution-of-the-national-question-in-Nigeria-a-regioal-response/ (Assessed 07/02/2014)
• http://tribune.com.ng/news2013/index.php/en/politics/item/25542-the-national-question.html (Assessed 08/02/2014)
• http://www.thenationonlineng.net/2011/index.php/editorial/7122-towards-may-29-the-national-question-1.html (Assessed 08/02/2014)
• Eghosa, E. Osaghe et al, Ethnic Groups And Conflicts in Nigeria, the Lords Creation, 2001,
• http://eujournal.org/index.php/esj/article/viewFile/1165/1182 (assessed 23/02/14)
• http://www.academicjournals.org/article/article1380017920_Salawu and Hassan.pdf (assessed 27/02/14)