Micah Stephen:The Challenges of State Building

These times are indeed perilous. It’s coliseum all over again. The battle of “those ones” against “these ones”. We are on the brink of a major historical landslide, no seer could have foreseen. As nationals go against their nation, with no respect for any filial consideration or connection; as elite division and disorientation are shaping up in their ethnic, cultural and regional particularities; as the questions we refused to answer at the laying of the first block of post-colonial Nigeria continues to haunt us; with the edifice established by the inconsiderate political elites caving in; we are urgently to contend with an emerging reality. Of fathers fighting sons, of cousins tearing the tendons of one another, roiling in this apocalyptic slugfest, it’s a clash of all alters, things are already apart – the falcon has grown deaf to the falconer. However, there is hardly anything new about it. The possibilities of the current realities had been made crystal clear when the outstandingly brainy Awolowo described Nigeria as a mere geographical expression. To the thoughtful, that was not a mere rhetoric, it spoke of things – A bunch of things to come.

As a famous columnist once put it with caustic relish, “no matter the prefix to delimit its historical actuality, it is obvious that there is not much difference between colonialism in Nigeria and what has come after it. In reality, “post” is often a marker of barely disguised continuity rather than sharply delineated discontinuity. As an English wit quipped, “there is no point in settling the order of precedence between a flea and a louse. They are both bloodsucking vermin”.

After the departure of the British imperialists, 50 years on, there is arguably nothing we have to show for the independence. However, there is hardly anything divinely preordained about this misadventure. The fact is Nation building (or rather, state building) had never been a tea party for a task. It is not a job for the fainthearted. The challenges are meant to be enormous. You must paddle your own canoe; you must answer to your father’s name. Look at the efforts made at building the United States, the odyssey of wars – both physical and philosophical, culminating to self-identity. Until the debris of misconception of self is cleared, every effort made is going to be for everybody but you.

Post-colonial habitats are especially more bogged at the abyss of confusion to clear a lot of debris of identity crisis after freedom. There is nothing more challenging. For a multi-ethnic entrapment like ours, Independence could be murder in the cathedral, if care is not taken. In order to cure this identity crisis, emerging nations at various times have got to rely on a person or group of persons to lead them out of this psychosocial maelstrom. Every Israel must have a Moses and an Aaron to lead her to the Promised Land. There were the Thomas Jeffersons and George Washingtons for the U.S, Lee Kuan Yew was on hand for Singapore. Even Charles de Gaulle, in the fifth republic France did a yeoman’s job in deconstructing the edifice of identity crisis of the French. These they did by formulating powerful, enduring philosophies, which still stand at the basis of their values and mores.

Knowing that the danger of clustering people of dissimilar cultures and worldview together without a binding philosophy will be nothing but writing a love letter to anomie; the founding fathers of U.S.A had to draw up the Articles of confederation 1777, to complement documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of 1776. They meant business. The nation must first understand herself, before other things. The tragedy that has befallen Nigeria or to a larger extent, Africa was that there were no people as those to lead them to their El Dorado. There is nothing more tragic than when all you have to reel out as leaders are Samuel Doe, Idi Amin, Joseph Kabilla and the likes. In the particular case of Nigeria, instead of sitting down to create a binding philosophy to build on, the founding fathers fanned the embers of political cum ethnic tyranny. We have not recovered since then. After all, Nigeria was not conceived as a nation but as a colonial plantation for the expropriation of indigenous natural resources. It is easy for a colonial plantation to become a banana republic.

Infrastructure must however precede superstructure. You cannot have Nigeria without Nigerians. This was Awo’s concern. The current siege of ethnic chauvinistic hubbubs has added to the many tales to tell since our independence. It is not going to stop anytime soon. The power of disunity cannot be beaten into place by a cudgel of force. National question will always come back to ask you about her. Consensus must be reached. It is the first question to answer. Ethnic consciousness must give way to National spirit, but only when nationals are ready to give nationhood a chance. How this will happen after the event of 1914 – A marriage of inconvenience, someone christened it, is what we do not know. The misfortune more so, is that we are trying to build a nation, hundred years after she was fastened together, and fifty five years after she gained her freedom . We are indeed setting forth at dawn. However, it does not mean that National questions are answered in their finality, it will continue to be asked but it cannot be avoided. If there is any migraine to be had, it is the fact that we are yet to emerge with a generation that will drive us towards state building. We are all being genuine sons of our fathers; holding the toga of ethnicity with unflinching tenacity. Nobody wants to be a bastard.

America is not the one we see, it is the one that led to the one we see. “We the people of the United States of America” is not a mere aphorism, it is a result of a genuine and sober reflection over a philosophy, out of which came a flurry of objectives, a decision to formulate policies, not an unnecessary mouthing of mere soulless words. “A nation without philosophers is without tools to assess its original ideas and institutions. Thus, they are forced to choose between these two options; (a) be a copycat, take policies from abroad or (b) be a guinea pig and apply unassessed or poorly assessed policies”, a certain Imre Chan once quipped.

A nation must necessarily pass through a moment of catharsis, of collective and consensual introspection, of the analysis of their reality, a search for answers to their fundamental national questions. You cannot run away from these. You cannot chase away your shadows, No dibia will conjure terrestrial wonders for such sake. Though the question will always be “where are these architects”? We are so deepened in ethno-religious squalor that we cannot understand anything else. So we look elsewhere for succour. Nothing can be heart-renting than seeing Nigeria warm up to her hitherto imperialists and western nations for solution upon meeting with a problem. They brought us together after all. They must laugh at us. They really have us at the jugular. Interestingly, A nation cannot afford not to dominate her space, nothing to the contrary could be more suicidal, a gory self-immolation. The domination must be in all cadres; intellectually, philosophically, ideologically, idealistically, in fact, spiritually. She must build an agenda of goal setting, myth setting, in order to forge her realities. It is a herculean task, not in any way meant for Hercules but for mere mortals. It is after the building of philosophy that knowledge arises. Knowledge does not need to conform with western ideas or ideals, Lee Kuan Yew made this inescapably clear. It is about how you solve your problems, balancing all competing needs in your society. Knowledge matters and human capital is the driving force behind all societal advances.

First things must always come first. As simply illogical as it always is, we have a penchant for putting the cart before the horse. It is a strange culture of ours to continue to dig our grave. We do not stop, we only dig deeper.

There cannot be an attempt at nation building, without building the “national spirit”. Freidrich Von Savigny called it; Not just constitution. Constitutions will never build a nation. Without a philosophy preceding the making of a constitution, all words therein are almost soulless, just playthings for lawyers and political analysts to juggle around with. Philosophies of a nation must be reflected in a constitution. Constitution will not constitute a nation, a nation constitutes constitution. Before this will ever happen, the nation must heal, the nation must agree. Simply put, the state of the Union depends on the union of the State…


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