Page last updated at 14:49 GMT, Wednesday, 3 February 2010

African viewpoint: The nation state

Supporters of the Nigerian National football team, The Super eagles, pray a few moments before their Africa Cup of Nations semi-final football match against Ghana at the 11 November stadium in Luanda on 28 January 2010
Nigerians describe themselves as the longest suffering people on earth

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Sola Odunfa considers whether Nigeria can remain one state.

One of the most exasperating experiences of a journalist in my part of the world is that everyone regards them as an authority on every subject and event under the sun.

Nigerians riot and kill fellow underdogs only in the conviction that they will survive

One cannot slip into a bar or a restaurant for a quiet sip or meal without someone or, at times, total strangers walking up to ask for an opinion on matters ranging from serious affairs of state, through to the technical quality of the Super Eagles coach and the latest gossip about Nollywood film stars.

I always wonder why anybody would conclude that I am the best person to inform them of secret political intrigues.

Recently, however, it has been a different experience for me.

Many of the people I met had already made up their mind, they only sought my confirmation.

Demonstrators hold up a banner as they gather in Lagos on 21 January 2010 to protest against the absence of their president
The absence of the president is a subject that is preoccupying most Nigerians

Their question was when, not whether, Nigeria would break up as a political entity in the aftermath of the leadership crisis of the past two months.

I walked away with an indulgent smile from everybody - or nearly everybody.

But one group I could not brush aside just like that was of my mates at a private men-only social club.

I felt comfortable in their midst because they were not seeking my magisterial opinion, they desired to exchange information which could lead, hopefully, to a reasonable conclusion.

Facts of life

Fact No 1, according to my friends, was that President Umaru Yar'Adua, who has spent more than two months in a bed in a Saudi hospital - was not in a position to hand over power to Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan as is being demanded across the country.

Nigerian Vice President Goodluck Jonathan
Some people want the vice president to take over but he is keeping quiet

They said that this was because (assuming he was in good shape medically) he was holding power in trust for the Hausa/Fulani elite of the north and that the group would not allow for any break in tenure, whatever Mr Jonathan the aspiring beneficiary might claim.

What is the guarantee that once installed in power effectively Mr Jonathan, who hails from the south, will honour any agreement he had with the group?

No-one could answer that.

Fact No 2, as pronounced by the discussants, was that First Lady Turai Yar'Adua, being the only person with unimpeded access to her sick husband, was in position to exercise real power and no-one would voluntarily give up such enormous privilege in such a country as Nigeria.

The argument put forward was that she could pass any instruction to Abuja as coming from her husband and no-one would dare seek to cross-check.

Fact No 3, they said, was that financial power in Nigeria was now firmly entrenched in the elite of the north and those of the oil-rich Niger Delta by the grace of President Yar'Adua.

The simple logic of self-interest, my club mates argued, would dictate that everything be done to keep Mr Yar'Adua in power whatever his state and through the trusted first lady rather than take a chance with a Goodluck who was regarded as an outsider.

Nigeria will remain in political turmoil for a long time to come but it will not tip over as long as the ruling elite remain united

Fact No 4 was, again according to those young Turks, that the mainly ethnic Ijaw militants of the Niger Delta were a while ago becoming impatient over the seeming abandonment of the amnesty programme but the political leaders of the region had held them at bay by getting the government to address their "welfare needs" generously.

So oil and gas are flowing to the satisfaction of all interests.

All these "facts" and opinions lead me to the conclusion that Nigeria will remain in political turmoil for a long time to come but it will not tip over as long as the ruling elite remain united and they cultivate the art of allowing more than crumbs to fall from their table.

'Meek lambs'

Average Nigerians describe themselves as the longest suffering people on earth.

courtroom drawing shows Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, (R) charged with attempting to blow up a Detroit-bound US airliner, at his hearing in Detroit federal court on 8 January 2010
Mr Abdulmutallab could face a long jail term

Their religion - whatever it may be - has taught them that leaders are ordained by God and followers must be content with being the meek lamb.

And Nigerians are faithful followers. They pray and pray and pray as instructed.

They rise in protest only when there is disagreement among the elite and they only go as far as they are paid to go.

Also, however strongly average Nigerians may believe in a principle or cause they are not willing to die for it.

They riot and kill fellow underdogs only in the conviction that they will survive.

It is not in the character of Nigerians to commit suicide.

Witness Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian suspected of trying to blow up a US plane on Christmas Day.

He seemed willing to do whatever his Yemeni masters had instructed him in the name of Allah but when the time came he appeared to opt instead for a long jail time in the US.

About 10 years ago an American research institute predicted the collapse of the Nigerian state in 15 years.

Last week, Mrs Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, issued her own critique which was not less cheering.

I often ask myself: Should Nigeria break up, how many countries will it produce?

I am not aware that any three of its more than 200 ethnic groups sincerely agree so much as to come together in a peaceful independent state.

There is so much distrust that any major national crisis can only lead to civil wars here and there but at the end of the day the leaders will contrive a common interest and settle for a truce.

With time the party will resume.

Thank you for your comments. Please read a selection below:

It's just amazing how we all reasoned on the past and current situation of our dear country. Reading through people's comments here showed me that we absolutely have what it takes to navigate the boat of our nation in the right direction. But folks, what is all these fuss and dusts about? Let's go back to the beginning of it all - individuals, everyone who has commented on this article. We are the solution to our problems. Let's discipline ourselves individually first and see if the current hurricane of corruption that is rocking the boat of our nation will not be silenced. Check yourself, individually and lets not be worried about what other countries are saying. As African, we can live together if we choose to. Our cultural orientation does not corroborate any suggested 'break-up'.
Ayo, UK

If Nigeria is like kola nut, it will be broken one day .If it is a bitter cola it will remain one, but what of the bitter taste we all are made to experience. Sola's write up gives a momentary picture of what he thinks the situation is with Nigeria. Change can be both implosive and explosive. the Abdulmutallab surprise is a tiny red Alert of national leprosy. The Militants have only test run their military 'software' and are more than prepared to do the business proper later. That calls for great caution. If Nigeria is going to break, may it be as peaceful as the kola nut. Mind you, Prayer Remains the Key both, in the 'Court Rooms' and the 'Church Rooms'. I wish the President a Quick and Full recovery. God Bless NIGERIA.
Gbenga Godwin Adeosun, Lagos , Nigeria

Oh Nigerians full of life and deceitful nation. Rat of Africa that remarked himself has a Gigantic Giant. Fela had said it all, I know want Die, Papa dey for house, Mama dey house. Every Nigerians want to enjoy, selfish interest and greediness is running in our blood vessels. Until when we learn to fight for our rights and let the rich paid back in the harder ways. Oh Nigeria my dearest country...
Hammed Bolaji, Dublin, Ireland

It's obvious to note that people's votes never count again and we have being taken 4 a ride for Nigerians to stand up and say no to all this undemocratic behaviour Nigerians must (1) forget sentiments (2) always make sure they seek for justice anytime their rights is being infringed (3) have it in mind that this country belongs to us all.
Gbenga, Nigeria

I support Sola's views. The innocent masses have suffered enough. I strongly believe that what the nation needs is continuous prayers for Gods intervention.
Ejiogu,Ozioma Judith, Awka, Nigeria

Sola's write up is revealing ....i am one those who believes in peace, progress and good governance. These can only be achieved if we take the initiative to break up is the time! Nigerians will be better off, wherever they find themselves after the break up, north, south, east or west. because as it is now we are divided...we have always been divided! we only pretend to like each other, but we dont. There is no basis for us stay as one entity...its just NOT working!
Terfa, abuja, Nigeria

I agree with sola, the centre can no longer hold, therefore the question now is for how long are we going to continue deceiving ourselves, the only best thing for the best interest Nigeria for anyone that cares to listen is to divide now in peace or we will be divided in pieces.
Andrew Oranwa, Durban South Africa

Let not the resilience of an average Nigerian be seen as an act of cowardice. Bravery in these hard times is being expressed through patience and prayer. A break-up of the Nigerian state won't solve our problems. Pakistanis and Indians will readily agree to this.
Ademola Adelekan, Lagos

In my opinion, Dora Akunluyi has taken the first step to redeeming her image. When the Federal high court gave the Federal Executive Council a fortnight to affirm or otherwise Yar'Adua's fitness to rule, I thought it was clear leeway for the council to do the honourable thing, boot the sick chappie out. but alas, no! Their avarice, their greed gave them the effrontery to state, unashamedly that he is capable. At last someone has had enough and has chosen to prevaricate no more!
Bayo 'O'Femi, Lagos, Nigeria

Wetin you take break up Nigeria? Na axe you go use? My broda the axe go just bend and everything go still dey kampe.
Festus, USA

It is a good analysis of the situation in Nigeria. I will like each and everyone to read John 13 verse 17. Those clamouring for changes will do worse when they acquire power.
Adekunle adeniran, Dallas, TX

I honestly think social education and awareness is important for generations to come. The civil war era mentality still persists, spiced up with an addiction to religion. My hope is for the younger generations to gain an awareness of world politics and how if might affect local politics. This, I hope, would engineer the national pride that is now lost as a result of greed, corruption, ignorance and the propensity to be manipulated by the elite and religion.

Nigeria from the beginning was never one country until 1914 when the British join the north and south serve their interest. I have many point why Nigeria must divide:

An IGBO man will never see an Hausa/Fulani as his brother or fellow country man, the Yorubas betrayed us during the WAR so we still call them betrayers till today.

How can Nigeria survive as a nation? Could you believe that when America bomb Afghanistan in 2001 the Muslims attacked the Christians. Do you think they see Christians as their fellow country man? then, why should you attack him because of some thing American did?

A Danish news paper cartooned Mohamed and Muslims in Nigeria attacked Christians. Why?

Since the IGBOs lost the WAR no IGBO person have rule Nigeria or even get to a certain position why?

There are many thousands point I have but I don't know if this page can contain them.
Kumbaboy, Abidjan

Very many Nigerians would like the country to remain as one. One the reasons is that Nigerians enjoy diversity. The northerners want to live in the south and the southerners want to live in the north. If Nigeria breaks up, the world should be prepared for another war because "Nigeria Taliban" would spring up from the north. As a southerner myself I believe we are paying this price for the peace of the world. The way forward is not a break up. We should start with building very strong educational systems in the Northern Nigeria. Many educated Northerners are not happy to see Northerners in power because they know that there is no record of any success. Imagine if all the young "almajiris" became graduates, environment for radicalisation would be gone because it is that environment that breeds radicalism. Also, we should institute electronic voting system, we would be amazed to see that even the northerners would vote anyone just like June 12. Electronic voting would bring credibility to our elections.
Olugbenga Oladejo, Edinburgh

"And Nigerians are faithful followers. They pray and pray and pray as instructed." This is such a true statement that I feel ashamed and joyous at the same time that it's being written for the whole world to read. Thanks Sola Odunfa.
Young Ya Bhoy, London, UK

Nigeria should but will never break up. Endemic corruption is the reason. The elite feed on the fat of the land and will never let any break up get in the way. The rest of the masses patiently wait for their turn at the table. They hope to get something, either directly or through their bloodline(brother, father, uncle, village man etc etc). Most wait in vain , but they wait nevertheless. So don't just blame the elite. We are in this mess together. If the masses should suddenly have an epiphany moment and rise against the leadership, Nigeria will be transformed in ways unimaginable . But who will throw the first stone?
kenuzo oka, manchester, uk

It is obvious to every one that oil is what kept us together as one Nigerians and once it dries up that part of Nigeria that claims to love the country more than other part will be the first to want to pull out. I advocate for one Nigeria that has value for human life, one Nigeria where everybody / group will have equal right, one Nigeria that people will be punished for a crime against humanity irrespective of their ethnic / religious background and above all one Nigeria whereby all the federating units will be allowed to develop as they wish not one Nigeria where a tribe will hide under the umbrella of so called Federal government to manipulate and advance the course of their tribe at the detriment of others tribes.
Donald Uzoma, Lagos-Nigeria

Nigerians talk too much, and never acts on it, if we stay united or divide into different Nations the problems will still remain, we're very selfish, self-centred, and corrupt to the bone, splitting the country will not change these, but rather change of principle (Revolution of the Mind). I hope one day we'll all learn this and do the right thing, not just for ourselves but the generation behind us, long live Nigeria, if Nigeria break Africa is in trouble so the rest of the World.
Ade Adejumo, Frankfurt, Germany

God help me. The Bible says heavenly help those who help themselves, in the case of my dear country Nigeria, truly we believe in God, yes of course we pray and hope for a change but unfortunately we are not acting for a change. If we truly want a change in Nigeria the time has come for us to start acting on our prayers that has long time being answered but has been held by the prince of Persia. Those prince of Persia have been ruling us for a very long time. In as much as we continue to pray without no action I am afraid things we remain the same for a very long period. Remember what God says, my hand are not short to reach you neither my ears too heavy to hear you. Our prayers has been answered but we need to act on it, else we will continue to waste our effort praying. Prayers without work is dead. May God Bless Nigeria.
Tayo Idowu, London, UK

Nigerians are very forgiving people, No Light No Problem. No Roads No Problems. No Hospitals No Problems. No Security No Problems. No President No Problems.
Abdulqadir Abdulhameed, Abuja, Nigeria

Nigerians are the most tolerant people on earth; Nigeria doesn't need rebranding as flagged by the present government. Nigeria has millions of arable land and billions of cubic litres of water, yet it cant feed its people. As a result, government spends a billion dollars importing rice and another US$2 billion to import Milk. PHCN can remain 24 hours without distributing a mega watt, yet bills will be posted at the middle of the month with 30 days consumption charges. Nigerians have never raised a strong eye brow. Anyway, who doesn't know our representatives at the 2 houses; Some of them were involved in fraudulent scam, they were investigated and remained surprisingly on seat and unpunished. What a country. We have internal crisis and are busy in other international missions to settle other peoples crisis, we have petrol and refineries, yet we import petrol. This country is full of dictators and unless Nigerians rise up to the challenge, we will remain impoverished.
Aliyu Mohammed, Sokoto, Nigeria

......And Allah will certainly be the judge of us all. May we all be guided to the right path and protected from harm.
Usman S Bello, Lagos

Nigeria we hail thee - any reason why we cant go back to understanding our first national anthem before switching to the new one. In there our answer lay in waiting...........

Nigeria we hail thee,
Our own dear native land,
Though tribe and tongue may differ,
In brotherhood we stand,
Nigerians all are proud to serve
Our sovereign Motherland.
Our flag shall be a symbol
That truth and justice reign,
In peace or battle honour'd,
And this we count as gain,
To hand on to our children
A banner without stain.
O God of all creation,
Grant this our one request,
Help us to build a nation
Where no man is oppressed,
And so with peace and plenty
Nigeria may be blessed.
tunde okubadejo, south east/UK

MY only concern is that some of the Western countries will provide a save haven for our fleeing leaders, their families and cronies when the Revolution, War, Break-up and or Revolution starts in Nigeria. We need them around to answer to their grave misdeeds to average Nigerian.
Fola Balogun, Hamilton, NJ-USA

We have too many daft punks as leaders. Plus we Nigerians are all mouth and no action. If we are to divide, then there will be wars across our motherland.
Buife Aboh, London, UK

I disagree with the author of this article. I think it's getting to a point where people are becoming fed up of the government. They just can not take anymore. Even corrupt leaders and their gangs are losing power and control over Nigerian people.
Damilola, norfolk USA

Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a reproach to any people.(Prov. 14:34, NKJV).
1 "Woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees, Who write misfortune, Which they have prescribed
2 To rob the needy of justice, And to take what is right from the poor of My people, That widows may be their prey, And that they may rob the fatherless.
3 What will you do in the day of punishment, And in the desolation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help?And where will you leave your glory?
EvenEzra, Edo, Nigeria.

Mr Odunfa's take on contemporary Nigeria is precise and engaging, but I am not sure I agree with "when and not if" Nigeria will fall apart. I believe the bridge to the if could not be crossed when Biafra surrendered in Jan 1970. The reason for that surrender (Odunfa discovers) was that even though the Biafran leadership had made big rhetoric of fighting to the last man, yet when the chips were down, escape was the only choice. The capacity of the South West of Nigeria to engineer a break up of Nigeria was tested during the June 12 crisis, again despite the rhetoric of Abiola and his men, the bridge was yonder. Even Abiola's death didn't change that. The capacity of the Muslim north to dismember the country was tested during the sharia proclamations of the OBJ era and by their numerous continuing religious uprisings. Again, the bridge seems too far, as sharia could not even stone a woman in adultery or cut off Shugaba's hand! Now the sharia leaders themselves face corruption probe. This is an amazing country, it is actually more united now (not just amongst the ruling elite) than it has ever been before. Unity fostered by a common deterrent knowledge that break up will be unsuccessful and current gains (both personal and group) will be lost!
Bruce Uba, Tampa, United States

Reading such write-up's as sola's always make my heart pounds. For few men to hold the future of more than 150 million people under ransom, because of their self interest is what i see as an act of wickedness in the highest order. On the side of the masses i see it as an act of cowardice.

Just as Sola said, Nigerians prefer fasting and praying for God's rescue, to standing up to their right. As i always tell some folks, God placed us as his ambassadors here on earth and he shall never come down to handle a situation that is within our ability.

Am surprised some folks here are still talking about when being pushed to the limit. We have been pushed beyond the limit by the cabals, and it is time every Nigerian, home and abroad should wake up from their slumber. It is time for us to stand up, for our right, and the future of our unborn children, if not the next generation will never forgive us for this foolishness we have put on in the name of patient(suffering and smiling).
Okeke Kevin, Macau (China)

Before the US research group wrote on disintegration of Nigeria, the then Nigerian Colonel Gowon had said that the basis for Nigeria Unity does not exist. Obasanjo offered Nigerian the chance to choose their fate which they did with creation of Sharia states, with that Nigeria broke into different parts on religious line. What Nigeria has today in common is an army and police that serve tribal interests. Things has fallen Apart and the centre can no longer hold as Achebe predicted. There is nothing tragic about Nigeria breaking into many nations. India broke into Bangladesh, Pakistan and present India on religious line, Yugoslavia the same and the Soviets also. If Nigeria breaks on religious line, there is simply two nations for any part to freely join and the Kaduna and continuous Jos riots will cease forever.
Sunny Ekwenugo, Berlin, Germany

Here lies the Conundrum. Mr Sola is right in some respects to wit, Nigerians are no cowards, they like life and merry making too much to want to die; they abhor violence and violent demonstrations if that may lead to their own death. That is why we have not had a civilian led violent over throw of the successive lousy and corrupt governments we have had in years. such was the case in eastern europe and elsewhere; So to that extent, Mr Sola is right about Nigerians. Regarding the issue of whether the country will break, once again he is right, the ruling elite cannot afford to break the country even if the masses wanted them to; to the ruling elite agreeing to a break up into its ethno-geographic constituents will be like turkey voting for Christmas because that will reduce their sphere of influence and their ability to en-rich themselves as usual. Without the agreement of the ruling elite, the country can never break up even though the only solution to our problem is to break the country into three or two parts north for northerners and south for southerners or East, west and north.
PJ F Ozor, United Kingdom

This aptly describes the ordinary Nigerian citizen who will rather buy a small generator (I better pass my neighbour) instead of protest against the state of PHCN and power production. They will rather save their skins than fight for justice. They will rather make babies instead of resist oppression and glaring marginalization. We have to stand up and save our nation from these useless traducers.
Afam Baldy, Benin

Since the Elites know very well that what ever they do do not affect them or their children,(their children live abroad on our looted moneys)they will stop at nothing to protect their selfish interest. But One day Allah will judge all.
John J, Warri, Nigeria

I agree with sola, the average Nigerian never wants to take personal responsibility for his existence let alone stake his neck for the country. We seem to think change will come if the next citizen changes. Ours is not long suffering but selfishness and cowardice. This impasse will continue until the same clique of elite that created it, settle for a truce that is beneficial to their pockets. As for Nigeria breaking up, I don't see how this can happen.
Omo Egbe, Nigeria

Turbulently precarious as it may be for a vastly multi-ethnic and heterogeneous country as Nigeria to remain a unified entity, one common factor always triumphs. CORRUPTION!!!. The ruling oligarchy in the PDP largely comprised of ex-generals and treasury looters has a strangle-hold on power that will never be relinquished. Perhaps when the country runs out of oil and gas, the different ethnicities may part.
Layi Alatise, Manchester

It's most certainly a case of 'when' and not 'if' the Nigerian federation as we know it will break-up. Much as the Northern ruling class and their Southern 'errand boys' wish for things to not fall apart in Nigeria, the tide of education, awareness and demands for Human Rights that is flowing across Africa from the West will wash away all opposition before it. Witness the recent conciliatory change in tone of the Sudanese ruling class towards the clamour for Southern independence and the gay rights movement sweeping across Malawi and the rest of Africa. In this internet age, artificial countries like Nigeria will have no choice but to give in to the clamour of its nation-states constituents for independence without a drop of blood being shed.

So many things has been said and written about the corruption in Nigeria. but I believe that with a sustained international outcry on corrupt practices of our Rulers, there will be a change. The BBC will be a key to this exposure! I quite agree with Sola, Nigerians are a very patient people, but there will always be a limit.
Felix Evans, Lagos, Nigeria

Sola's write up may portray the political challenges facing Nigeria and the selfish motives of the leaders to remain together in order to continue reaping from the corrupt system. But one cannot but appreciate the resilience of ordinary Nigerians in the face of most traumatic leadership challenges. My prayer is that we wont be pushed too far to take up arms against one another.
Obi Ozonzeadi, London, UK

Print Sponsor

British National Party leader Nick Griffin (left) talks to local resident Suzan Olivacchi (right) as her daughters look on during a campaign tour in Dagenham Migrant amnesty?
And other reasons why UK election matters to Africa
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific