Nigeria and the challenge of nation-building.

Author:Adibe, Patrick

The greatest mistake President Obasanjo will make is to allow vengeance or stubbornness to drive his political actions -- as he appears to be doing currently.

Nation building anywhere in the world, but particularly in Africa, is a very tasking project. Though political theorists continue to disagree sharply over the precise meaning of a nation, one generally acceptable working definition is that a nation is a group of people who are one or feel that they ought to be one.

Most of the states in the Western world were first nations, which later acquired the legal status of states during the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. In Africa and many parts of the so-called developing world on the other hand, states were imposed on an aggregation of nationalities.

The critical challenge for these states, therefore, is to fashion out a sense of oneness or rather to make the imposed state a corporate entity in which the constituent nationalities will feel they have an equal stake in.

It is for this reason that some political thinkers have called African states "state-nations" to emphasise that initially the only thing the aggregated nationalities seemed to have in common was the externally imposed state.

In these states, despite the common experiences of colonialism and underdevelopment, the basis for oneness remains contested while the procedures for reconciling conflicts are neither routinised nor widely acceptable.

In addition, few institutions and personalities have sufficient national charisma and legitimacy to mediate the conflicts arising from the interaction among the different constituent nationalities. One of the greatest challenges facing "state-nations" is how to equitably share power and the fruits of the economy among the constituent nationalities.

In Nigeria, a popular pastime is to demonise the North for politically dominating the rest of the country in the past and for trying to subvert the current dispensation. In fact General Obasanjo's regime is a concession to the imperatives of "power shift".

However, as the case of Liberia under Doe vividly illustrated, and as Obasanjo's presidency currently suggests, while it is unacceptable for any nationality to politically dominate others in "state-nations", power shift does not necessarily guarantee that things will be better.

In "state-nations", low level of literacy and the ideologisation of ethnicity mean that national debates and discussions hardly provide any fresh insights or solutions...

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