Can Africa’s most populous nation stay united?

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Schoolchildren in cultural costumes with a flag of Nigeria at the 55th anniversary celebrations - Kaduna, Nigeria, 1 October 2015
Schoolchildren in cultural costumes with a flag of Nigeria on the fifty fifth anniversary celebrations – Kaduna, Nigeria, 1 October 2015

In our sequence of letters from African journalists, novelist and journalist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani considers the best problem dealing with Nigeria as Africa’s most populous nation marks 60 years of independence from the UK.

Short presentational grey line
Brief presentational gray line

How one can maintain a large number of ethnic teams united and glad? This was the best hurdle Nigeria confronted within the first decade of its independence – and continues to be the case 60 years later.

Heated nationwide conversations often revolve round which ethnic group will get what, when, and the way. Or how pretty an individual from one group was handled in comparison with one from one other.

A significant coverage to advertise systemic equality was launched by the Nigerian authorities nearly 4 a long time in the past, nevertheless it has led to additional balkanisation and bitterness.

Nigeria is residence to greater than 300 ethnic teams and three dominant ones: the Igbo within the south-east, the Yoruba within the south-west, and the Hausa within the north.

These teams had been separate entities earlier than the British merged them into one nation that as we speak function as a federal system – with energy concentrated on the centre and distributed among the many 36 states and the capital, Abuja.

Struggles for energy on the centre or issues about unfair remedy have at completely different instances led to pogroms, protests and violent battle, together with the civil struggle of 1967 to 1970, sparked by an try by the Igbo to secede and type a brand new nation referred to as Biafra.

To foster inclusion, the “federal character precept” was enshrined in Nigeria’s 1979 structure.

It features a provision for public establishments to replicate the “linguistic, ethnic, spiritual and geographic range of Nigeria”.

At first, this appeared to appease all sections of the nation.

Instructional divide

However, as we speak, it is without doubt one of the most contentious authorities insurance policies, with many Nigerians complaining that it has carried out extra harm to our nation than good.

Native newspapers frequently characteristic headlines corresponding to: “Federal Character a curse to Nigeria” or “Group requires an finish to Federal Character”.

Map showing ethnic breakdown in the country
Map exhibiting ethnic breakdown within the nation

For starters, “federal character” was not accompanied by any technique to finish the huge instructional inequality that has all the time existed between Nigeria’s majority Muslim north and primarily Christian south.

This disparity is the results of a posh mixture of things, corresponding to faith, tradition, previous colonial insurance policies and, extra not too long ago, the Islamist militant Boko Haram insurgency.

Nigeria has 13 million out-of-school kids, the highest in the world, according to Unicef, and greater than 69% of them are within the north.

Consequently, the area has Nigeria’s lowest literacy charges, with some states recording simply 8%.

But, this similar area should nonetheless fill its quota in public establishments – fairly an enormous chunk because it has a inhabitants of 90 million out of Nigeria’s 200 million, and 19 of 36 states, plus Abuja, totalling 20.

“Regrettably, ‘federal character’ has change into a euphemism for recruiting unqualified individuals into the general public service,” mentioned Ike Ekweremadu, a former deputy president of Nigeria’s senate.

“These staff lower productiveness, weaken our public service, and in the end render it inefficient.”

These unqualified can simply rise above their extra certified colleagues, as “federal character” can be utilized when filling senior positions in public establishments.

As well as, rivalry between ethnic teams usually leads individuals to carry as a lot of their kinsmen as they’ll as soon as they discover themselves ready to take action.

Northerners have dominated the nation for 38 out of Nigeria’s 60 years of independence, largely by way of navy coups.

I’ve listened to many Nigerians inform bitter tales of working arduous with out reward whereas some colleagues merely lounged their strategy to promotion as a result of their kinsman was in energy.

Because of “federal character”, ethnic solidarity and striving to be in positions of authority are likely to take pre-eminence over self-improvement and excellence.

"Many of Nigeria's best brains never get the opportunity to move their country forward with their knowledge and skill, ignored because there's a large pool of talent in their state"", Source: Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, Source description: Journalist, Image: Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
“Lots of Nigeria’s greatest brains by no means get the chance to maneuver their nation ahead with their information and ability, ignored as a result of there’s a big pool of expertise of their state””, Supply: Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, Supply description: Journalist, Picture: Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

Nearly yearly, furious social media posts, newspaper columns and parliamentary debates comply with the publication of cut-off marks for the exams which decide who will get into Nigeria’s prime government-run secondary faculties.

College students from some states in northern Nigeria generally require scores as little as two out of 200 to be admitted, in comparison with college students from states within the south who want scores of not less than 139.

‘Finest staff fielded’

Benefit and excellence are sometimes sacrificed for range when appointing heads of presidency ministries, as “federal character” additionally makes it obligatory for every state to have a consultant within the president’s cupboard.

Lots of Nigeria’s greatest brains by no means get the chance to maneuver their nation ahead with their information and ability ignored as a result of there’s a giant pool of expertise of their state.

Some pointed out Nigeria's winning U-17 World Cup team in 2015 lacked diversity
Some identified Nigeria’s profitable U-17 World Cup staff in 2015 lacked range

When Nigeria gained the U-17 World Cup for the fifth time in 2015, critics of “federal character” had been fast to level out the shortage of range within the nationwide staff.

Nigeria merely went to the event together with her greatest.

Previous to the match, the nationwide coach, Emmanuel Amuneke, was criticised for apparently populating the staff with gamers from his south-east area.

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He was pressured to elucidate that he had merely chosen what he thought of the most effective, with out being attentive to their homeland.

Some Nigerians argue that “federal character” is indispensable to nationwide unity and easily wants some tweaking to work.

"I believe we should have Nigerians from all over the country in public office. But all those Nigerians must be people that are competent"", Source: Lamido Sanusi, Source description: Ex-emir of Kano and a former central bank governor, Image:
“I consider we should always have Nigerians from everywhere in the nation in public workplace. However all these Nigerians have to be individuals which are competent””, Supply: Lamido Sanusi, Supply description: Ex-emir of Kano and a former central financial institution governor, Picture:

Certified individuals exist in each area and simply must be searched out.

In spite of everything, a few of Nigeria’s globally acknowledged prime brains in lots of fields are from the educationally deprived north.

“I consider we should always have Nigerians from everywhere in the nation in public workplace,” mentioned Lamido Sanusi, a former central financial institution governor and emir of Kano within the north, who in March was deposed by his state government under controversial circumstances.

“However all these Nigerians have to be individuals which are competent. There have to be a benefit check, a competence check.”

Energy politics in Nigeria:

  • I October 1960: Nigeria positive aspects independence, adopted by two coups in 1966

  • 1967: Three jap states secede, sparking three-year Biafra civil struggle

  • 1979: Elections convey to energy Shehu Shagari, who was ousted after 4 years – and a sequence of coups and navy governments adopted

  • 1993: The navy annuls elections when preliminary outcomes present victory for Moshood Abiola

  • 1999: Democracy returns a yr after the loss of life of navy ruler Gen Sani Abacha

  • 2015: Muhammadu Buhari turns into first opposition determine to win a presidential election since 1960

Nigeria’s timeline

President Muhammadu Buhari has been regularly vilified even by opponents of “federal character”, for showing to desert this coverage.

“I haven’t got an issue with any a part of Nigeria however I’ve an issue with the best way authorities is directing its appointments,” mentioned Mr Ekweremadu throughout a fiery session in parliament in 2018.

At current, 17 out of Nigeria’s 20 service chiefs appointed by Mr Buhari are from his northern area, whereas 16 are Muslim like him.

And 15 out of 21 serving assistant inspectors common of police are from the north, whereas 16 are Muslim.

In defence of his boss, presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu instructed me: “Are you going to present your command positions within the navy to individuals you do not belief?”

Ex-President Obsanjo (L) from the south-west and President Buhari (R) from the north have both been accused of favouring their regions
Ex-President Obsanjo (L) from the south-west and President Buhari (R) from the north have each been accused of favouring their areas

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, as soon as a supporter of Mr Buhari, not too long ago accused him of “mismanaging range” and being accountable for a Nigeria that’s as we speak extra divided than at any earlier time within the nation’s historical past.

Nobel laureate and author Wole Soyinka shared an analogous view final month, making reference to “a tradition of sectarian privilege and can to dominate”.

Nonetheless, Mr Buhari’s spokesperson identified that earlier administrations additionally confronted the identical accusation.

“When you find yourself not on seat [in office], you all the time see the wrongdoing of others,” Mr Shehu mentioned.

“When Obasanjo was in place, he was additionally accused of appointing individuals from the south-west.”

Some radical teams within the south now consider that the one answer is for Nigeria to separate, with every main ethnic area turning into a rustic of its personal.

Some politicians and pundits choose “restructuring” with every area having extra autonomy, which might maintain Nigeria united however considerably cut back energy on the centre.

No matter decision Nigeria ultimately takes because it enters its seventieth decade of independence, one factor is definite: the nation’s future is determined by how efficiently coming governments can preserve unity in range.

Extra Letters from Africa:

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