Lack of national citizenship, Africa's major problem

THE PUNCH Newspaper-Gbenga Adeniji

Holistically, what do you think is the main problem of Africa as a continent?

The major problem of the African continent has been the failure to create a national citizenship. National citizenship is not created under colonialism; nobody can expect that the colonial powers will create nations. Nations are created in the struggle for independence. So, if Africa is going to go beyond the colonial period, it must be able to challenge the colonial legacy of creating different tribal authorities which they called native authorities and turn the native authorities into local authorities as constituents part of a nation. That project would have to be done after independence. In my views, most countries in Africa have not succeeded in doing that.

Current happenings in the politics of Africa indicate that some of the continent‘s leaders are still plagued with the sit-tight syndrome. What remedy do you recommend in order to propel Africa to greater heights?

I think the problem is more serious than the problem of leaders. After all, if you look at the problem of leadership, you will discover that even the best people in the opposition, when they become leaders; they start to exhibit the same characteristics. So, at that point you will discover that the problem lies beyond individual leadership. But actually, whoever comes into power is being shaped by institutions which turn them into the kind of people we identify as bad leaders. So, we have to move from the thinking of bad leaders to bad institutions which shape bad leaders.

In my view, one of the key institutions for creating a leadership in Africa which does not respond to national demand but responds to the demands of indigeneity, is identified as tribal. It is a key problem precisely because of the way we have established all our key national institutions around this notion.

Was this why in your lecture delivered at Odia Ofeimun‘s 60th birthday celebration, you frowned at Nigeria‘s federal character principle?

This is what I talked about. Nigeria had a civil war; it came out of it and created a new constitution. The constitution was supposed to be an antidote to the civil war and the provisions in the constitution which were supposed to be the antidote, are what we know as federal character.

Federal character says the key institutions in the Nigerian state reflect the federal character of Nigeria. The key institutions are three; the army, the civil service and the federal universities. Fine, it makes sense. Again, what does it mean to reflect the federal character? The answer is, the enrolment in these institutions must be in proportion to the weight of the population of each state in the federal population. That is also fine. It makes a point. So, if each state is a quarter according to its own population, who can compete for the quarter? That is where the problem comes.

This is because it is only those indigenous to the state that can compete for the quarter. If you ask yourself, who is then indigenous to the state? The answer is, only those who are born in the state or have fathers who are born there. Now think of it, it means any Nigerian who lives in any part of Nigeria where he or she is not born or have a father who was born there, he cannot compete for federal positions from that state. Well, Nigeria is a single country. It means it has a single national market. National market moves people, workers in search for jobs, persons in search of lands, businessmen in search of investment opportunities and professionals in search of jobs. The market moves people. The market dynamizes a person in the loss of a job or lands in a bad way, but still they are forced to move. And in a political system which penalises the persons who move, you have powder cake which is bound to blow up because in time, more and more Nigerians will be non-indigenes where they live. The people have no choice than to move unless you abolish the market system and you can‘t do that except to abolish the indigene system. The federal character system is good provided it is reformed .And the reform I am talking about is that each state should have a representation in the institutions of the Federal Government. It is good that each state should be represented in the Army, the Civil Service and the Federal Universities, but what have to be changed is that it is only those indigenous to the state that can compete. It should be replaced by the idea that whoever lives in the state can compete no matter where they were born. If you are going to create a Nigerian nation, the indigeneity that should count is Nigeria. But if the provision is, there are those who live in a state and were not born in the state, then you are creating entire groups of Nigerians without the right to citizenship. And in my own view that will be in the majority. The intention of federal character is to be inclusive of diversity. What I am saying is that the unintended consequence of federal character is to exclude more and more people. That is a problem. Look at most conflicts in Nigeria; they are more structured around because the people‘s mindset reflects what is in the law. People have become convinced that if you are indigenous you are more right.

They are working out notions of indigeneity which are not even at the state level, but at the village level. So, what kind of political unit is being created if all that you are trying to create is Nigeria?

If that is the focus and objective, then the notion of Nigerian indigeneity should be the overriding notion in which all Nigerians no matter where they live should have a representation not based on where they come from, but where they are.

Political violence in Africa is like a festering sore, in what way(s) do you think the ugly trend could be reversed?

There are two views on political violence in Africa. The first is to identify the perpetrators in order to try and punish them so that they can serve as a deterrent to others. The second, which is my view, is that punishment cannot solve the problem because the violence we see is not just an isolated affair. It is part of an ongoing circle of violence. Yesterday‘s victim has become today‘s perpetrator. And today‘s victim is likely to become tomorrow‘s perpetrator. They are taking the range on each other. So what we have to do is to go beyond the question of punishment to ask what is fuelling the violence. That is the issue, there must be an issue. So, instead of focusing on punishment which will just add fuel to the violence, we need to indentify the issue and focus on reform.

But it is believed that the longing for power at all cost by political gladiators is part of the cause of political violence.

Yes, it is part of it but that is not enough. I can have an ambition to get power but somehow I must be able to convince you who is not in power. Now how do I do that? It is by directing your attention to something else. Something like you are being deprived of your rights by someone else. And if you support me, you will be better off and I try to mobilise you around your rights as an indigene. This is what we see in most of these countries. You see, the mobilisation is around the notion of indigene. The non-indigenes say we live here, we must have rights. That is democracy. The indigenes say we are from here; we must have rights; that is the meaning of custom, culture. One stands with culture, the other with democracy. They are both right. Of course, it is not easy to say who is right or wrong. The point is that we have to change the rules of the game.

According to the rules they are both right because we practice two completely contrary views On the one hand, we tell them that our culture is our indigeneity, that it is ethnic; there is no national culture here. And on the other, we tell them that our democracy is national. So which do we take?

How best do you think the people can deploy political activism to galvanise their aspirations?

Well, political activism is important because ultimately there are only two ways of solving problems. It is either through force or persuasion. Activism is about persuading people, bringing them together and persuading them. It is by countering force with numbers. The force of number is better than force.

What can you say of the perception of Africa‘s history by the international community and what area needs to be improved upon?

You know as well as I do that the image of Africa outside Africa as created by the corporate media is that of violent people and countries; a place where life is cheap and people are killed easily. Africa must put its house in order. We must ensure a politically meaningful Africa. Even before we can create African citizenship, we have to create national citizenship.


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