Commentary: Before Nigeria Goes to Ruins…
In spite of the result, the 2015 Presidential election has exposed once again the fault lines in the Nigerian state. Coming months after the conclusion of the National Conference, the election brought to the fore some of the issues raised at the conference, which as it appears now, need to be addressed most comprehensively.
Whereas Nigerians preach the oneness of the nation and the need for citizens to internalize the ideals of nationhood, it has become too obvious that issues of religion and ethnicity, especially, define the people’s ideals more than just being called a people under one nation called Nigeria.
The two most popular candidates in the election, the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the South, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim from the North, of the All Progressives Congress (APC) by design or default polarized the polity along two prominently defined lines: ethnicity and religion. The feisty manner their supporters conducted themselves gave out the fragile and tenuous nature of the ligaments that bind the nation together.
Attempts by both candidates to paper it over by reaching out to persons of the opposite faith did not help matters. Instead, it magnified the influence of the other issue of ethnicity. More frightening is the viciousness exhibited by their supporters with supporters of Buhari displaying more intolerance than anyone else. Yes, I concur, politics is a matter of interest, but such interest no matter how noble ought not to subsume national interest; such interest, no matter how idealistic , should not and must not subjugate national interest in the manner the Nigerian nation is witnessing at this time.
Though the people may try to live in denial, but the country is walking the path of perdition firmly propped up on the stilts of religion and ethnic sentiments. The social media did not help matters either. It helped to thoroughly expose not just the opiating nature of the twin devils of religion and ethnicity but also the low level of knowledge among Nigerians. If religion is the opium of the masses, as Karl Marx postulated, then ethnicity is the stimulant of the rabble.
The Nigerian masses more than indented these maxims. Religion and ethnicity opiated the people, blinding them to the real issues that ought to engage the attention of the politicians. It did not matter to his followers the antecedents of Buhari, a man largely perceived as a tyrant, ethnic bigot and religious irredentist. Neither did the antecedents of Jonathan matter to his supporters, a president seen as lacking the political will to tame the orgy of terror and the moral will to fight corruption. Surprisingly, those on the frontline showcasing ethnicity and religion as articles of trade were otherwise well-schooled political elite including serving governors, lawmakers et al. It is a show of shame that in the 21st Century when citizens of the Western world are busy exploring space, innovating a better tomorrow and reflating their economies, all that could be invented within the Nigerian space is political chicanery, sophistry, tomfoolery and raw violence. The allure of political office must possess some magical charm that no one but the seekers and occupiers of such office know.
This is the only rationale for the brute force they deploy just to cleave to office or unseat the incumbent. In the Nigerian episode, the mantra is ‘grab the lever of power and every other thing follows’. This quest for power is so potent and blinding such that the lettered and the unlettered do not see the difference in their intellectual colouration. Once they are bound by reason of belonging to the same religion or ethnic stock, they lose sight of other critical factors of leadership. Wrong logic!
When a nation promotes religion and ethnicity and elevates both to state policy, almost, it digs its own grave. The Nigerian government since Independence has been promoting religion by sponsoring pilgrimages and even donating for the building of worship centres. Matters of faith ought to be personal and government, any responsible government, should take its eyes off it. When a government promotes federal character as a sine qua non for filling positions in public office, and relegates merit, it sends a message to its subject that merit matters not; that hard work is irrelevant. When government promotes a policy in which two persons, one from the north and the other from the south, are admitted into a federal institution of learning using two different standards, the government sends a clear message that we are not one.
These and many more contradictions negate every genuine effort to forge a true nation state. It is worse when issues of religion and ethnic nationality are elevated as emblems and totems of the people’s existence. A Nigerian is not a Nigerian because he is Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa or any of the variegated ethnic groups agitating for relevance in the polity, a Nigerian is Nigerian because he is Nigerian, either by birth, marriage or naturalization.
The 2015 presidential election must be seen for what it is: a context between religion and ethnicity on one hand and the people on the other. It ought not so to be. Nigerian must begin to wean themselves of these primordial, medieval traits. But for them to get it right, government must stop forthwith the matter of sponsoring religious pilgrimages. We must keep personal things personal.