Ethnicity Syndrome and Political Nationalism in Nigeria

In Life Trends

Nigeria, the Giant of Africa, can boast of her salient Political Nationalists. They are sometimes called "Freedomites". Most of our children in schools are constantly reminded of their heroic deeds. But their evil deeds are often neglected. In fact, this article will argue that they all had an Ethnicity Syndrome, through the Tripartition policy of the British. Unfortunately, Nigeria now suffices the consequences and effects of this ethnic syndrome on her political Nationalists. However, to further buttress and pitch clarity to the point we are driving at, it is paramount to give a concise analysis of the very concept of Ethnicity Syndrome.

Ethnicity Syndrome, metaphorically reflecting to a disease diagnosed to those whose actions and judgments are influenced by the feeling of belonging to a particular group. These kind of people often take their group or tribe as an authority, and also claim that their group is the best amongst others. Their actions and judgments are often influenced by this feeling. Thus, in this sense, we can say they have an ethnic syndrome. Given this backdrop, it is expedient to delve into the main course of this article.

Ethnicity (or tribalism) first reared it head during the second World War. This war reduced the leadership efficiency of the Colonial Masters in Nigeria, which in turn led to a period of great famine, inequality, insecurity, and so on. As a result of this, several groups were formed to cater for the needs of their members. Such groups includes; The Egba Society (1918), The Union of Ijebu Young Men (1923), The Yoruba Union (1924), The Ibibio State Union, and so on. As a result of a poor economy, low security, unemployment, and so on, these ethnic groups began to compete against each other in a socio-economic competition. Each ethnic group will fight other ethnic groups, to ensure it caters for the need of its own members. It was at this point ethnicity, made a full-scale insurgency.

Furthermore, the split in the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), which was triggered by an ethnic rift between Nigeria's political Nationalists (Ikoli, Awolowo, Akinsanya and Nnamdi Azikwe), also aided the issue of ethnicity in the country. In anger, Nnamdi Azikwe led his Igbo supporters out of the group, and Obafemi Awolowo did the same. At this point, it is completely safe to say that the educated elite in the Nigerian Youth Movement had an ethnic syndrome, thus leading to the collapse of the movement.

Consequently, the British introduction of the tripartite policy through the Richards constitution of 1943, further exacerbated the issue of ethnicity in the country. Through the Richards constitution, Nigeria was divided into three giant regions; the northern region, the western region and the eastern region, which represented the three major tribes of Nigeria; the Hausa, the Yoruba and the Igbo respectively. In like manner, the numerous ethnic groups that had been formed prior to that time, were also amalgamated to form the Egbe Omo Oduduwa society in london (1945), the Ibo state Union (1944), and the Jamiya Mutanen Arewa. Each also represents the three giant tribes in Nigeria. "A bad situation in a country which was supposed to be united as one" (Jide Olanrewaju). Nonetheless, having being infected with an ethnic syndrome which was further reinforced by the British tripartition policy, the effect of this ethnicity syndrome on Nigeria's political Nationalists, was soon to surface.

Since other African countries had agreed the fight for political independence, it was no surprise that Nigerian educated elites (Awolowo, Azikwe, and so on) began to fight for political independence. This was further aided when the Richards constitution of 1943 legalized the politicization of communal associations. Here, the Egbe Omo Oduduwa society became the Action Group of Nigeria (AG) in 1951 headed by Awolowo, the Igbo state Union became the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroon (NCNC) in 1944 headed by Azikwe, and the Jamiya Mutanen Arewa became the Northern People's Congress (NPC) in 1951 headed by Ahmadu Bello.

Once, Nigeria became an independent nation in 1960, and the first Republic commenced. Unfortunately, the chain of tribal events that ensued before independence, led to the excessive corruption, nepotism and mismanagement of public funds in the first republic. "The North wanted to make sure they remained in power, the South wanted to make sure it tasted power" (Jide Olanrewaju). At this point, the effect of an ethnic syndrome, suffered by Nigeria's political nationalists, began to actualize. Their actions and judgments were clouded. They took greed, corruption and nepotism, as virtues. Obviously they were all under the influence of an ethnicity syndrome. In fact, Nigeria was completely in shambles, during the first Republic. In turn, this shambling atmosphere swept the army into power, and were directly responsible for the first Nigerian Coup. At this point, Nigeria was still redeemable. But that hope was shattered when General Muralta Ramat Muhammad, took power for himself without the consideration of a due process as done with Generals Ironsi and Gowon. In fact, a classified US memorial of August 18, 1975, argued that Muralala's action will lead to other coups and illegitimate take-overs. Unfortunately, the classified US memo was correct. Thus began the downfall of Nigeria.

The political nationalists dealt a serious blow to the first Republic. Being under the influence of an ethnicity syndrome, they were directly responsible for the political tragedy of the first republic. Despite the fact that theyave Nigeria her political independence, they are always betrayed that independence due to their corrupt deeds in the first republic. It is quite unfortunately that we even the faces of these people on the Nigerian Naira currency. The Five Naira note, for instance, has the face of Tafawa Balewa, who was responsible for the corrupt policies, mismanagement of funds and the rigged federal elections of 1964. The Twenty naira note also has the face of Muritala Muhammad, whose action led to the consequent coups and illegitimate counter coups in Nigeria. Thus, plunging Nigeria into several decades of military dictatorship. The One hundred naira note also has the face of Obafemi Awolowo, who was power-thirsty and even became the minister of finance in General Gowon's rule. How would someone who ushered in democratic principals in Nigeria, become a minister of finance in a completely undemocratic regime? That shows how much he wanted to be in power. Furthermore, the Two hundred naira note has the face of sir Ahmadu Bello, a Sarduana of Sokoto, who became the oppressor of the middle belt region in the first republic. Lastly, the Five hundred naira note has the face of Nnamdi Azikwe, who decision to accept and approve the result of the 1964 rigged election, contributed to the political tragedy of the first republic.

My point is, though these educated elites made some positive achievements, their evil deeds, however, out weights their good deeds. It is quite ironic that the same people who were responsible for the collapse of the Nigerian Youth Movement, were also responsible for the collapse of the First Republic. It shows the extent to which these nationalists suffered an ethnicity syndrome. Their actions and judgments were influenced by ethnicity. So, we can say they all had an ethnic syndrome. "The same people who we all praise, are the same people responsible for the woes of Nigeria today" (Elemoro Babatunde Bashir). The first republic in Nigeria was a clear indication that her educated elites, who ushered in democracy, were not what they seemed to portray. They all had an ethnic syndrome. This was the reason why the revolutionary coup of Majors Kaduna Nzeogwu, Emmanuel Ifeajuna and Adewale Ademoyega, was carried out, though they were not successful.

In all, the root-cause of corruption in Nigeria, is ethnicity. Being under the influence of an ethnicity syndrome, Nigeria's political Nationalist was responsible for the corrupt practices that has continued to chew Nigeria till date. Thus, if political development must be attained and corruption must be reduced, Nigerian politicians must be oriented not to fall prey to ethnicity syndrome.

As Crafted on eZine by Wale Giwa