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The Political, Social & Economic Imperative Of A Sovereign National Conference—Lack Of A Dominant Culture—The Bane Of The Nigerian Polity

Source: Chime Iheke, Ph.D. Arkansas
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Nigeria is in a crisis of governance in all of its connotation and has been in this state since independence. This crisis, the result of its mode of partition is endemic to, and pervades all African nations created by the 1885 Berlin Conference partition of Africa by European powers.

This dysfunctional state in which African countries are in, can be traced back to that Berlin Conference of 1884-85. At that conference, European powers partitioned Africa as colonies amongst themselves disregarding the dynamics at play within the newly unified group of nation states in their respective spheres of influence.

This amalgamation of disparate peoples which resulted after independence into arbitrary nation states without clearly defined dominant cultures within the individual states, has been the bane of nation states in Africa with its attendant invidious problems, and will continue to plague the continent Africans muster the political will to reverse the damages done in that berlin conference.

f the colonizers had paid heed to irredentism guided as it is by glottochronology, we would not be mired in this muck that we find ourselves.

In essence, if they had pursued a policy of fashioning nation states directed by the incorporation of irredentas within boundaries of their historically or ethnically related political units, and in the absence of established political units, guided by glottochronology; a linguistic method that makes use of the rate of vocabulary displacement in order to estimate the rate of divergence of distinct but genetically related language's, these nations would have a dominant culture based on shared cultural affinity ------ a key element in establishing a viable nation state.

Having had experience in colonizing other parts of the world especially in Asia, their actions was nothing short of a pernicious and insidious act, an invidious gallimaufry of disparate peoples designed to fail. To continue with the status quo, will translate as it is already turning in to, a Sisyphean task at nation building.

That approach to nation building without a dominant culture was fraught with peril and destined to fail because of the absences of a dominant culture as the fulcrum of societal structures. All viable nation states have one essential theme in common ---- a dominant culture though not necessarily the largest that propels the country. This is always present in all viable nation states and lacking in impuissant states.

It has been noted by Sociologist like Gabriel Almond that “the development of clear and unambiguous sense of identity is more than a facilitating factor in the creation of a nation, it is in some sense the major constituting factor in a new nation. Thus nation building—the creation of a set of political structures called a nation state—proceeds very often by the institutionalization of commitment of common political symbols, It is not that the symbols represent the nation, but that the creation of the symbol is coterminous with the creation of the nation and flows from the Dominant culture”. This is what Nigeria lacks and most African countries.

Countries that resulted from the 1884-95 partition like Nigeria without dominant cultures (Nigeria was the result of the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorate in 1914 of the British sphere of influence) and none the fulcrum on which societal structures is build, are bound to fail because of the invidious nature of this arrangement, and also because there is no dominant culture, on whose ethos and dogmas, the country is built and propelled.

In a nutshell, the genesis of our societal ills and its metastasis cannot be divorced from the partition of the nation with its lack of identifiable dominant culture, because a state cannot be divorced from its dominant culture. A dominant culture translates to an identification with, and a sense of belonging to the state. This is what is lacking in Nigeria.

And what is worse, this absence of oneness is transmutating slowly from the federal level all the way to the local level into “Amoral Familism” in our communities ----- defined as the inability of the people to act together for the common good, or indeed, for any good transcending the immediate material interest of the nuclear family. A natural reaction to the stress being exerted by the nihilistic superstructure at the center devoid of any traditional values and beliefs emanating from the nation states of the polity.


There is something intrinsically innate in human nature, almost congenital, that will compel a man to behave differently when he has a sense of belonging. The citizenry and the whole country flourishes when there is a dominant culture that the people can identify with.

Consequently, the perennial clamoring for a Sovereign National Conference is a valid and legitimate call that needs to be addressed, not for the obvious reasons of resource control and equitable representation in public offices, but rather because the present configuration of the polity is the root cause of our societal ills.

All the underlying ills of this nation, from under-development, inspite of the enormous human and natural resources, to inscouciancy and venality in the body polity, to ineffectual leadership, stems from a lack of a dominant culture and an absence of any identification with the nation. The people feel alienated from state since its policies are based upon alien structural dogmas inimical to their goals and aspirations; albeit, superimposed from an extrinsic super-structures manned by our people.

If we are serious about securing the benefits that accrue to viable nation states for our people, nothing short of a national conference will suffice, in order to break the fetters of cultural and ideological paralysis that bind us in this wallowing stagnant mass, and build an enabling environment that will unleash the inherent potential imbued in our people.

Our action will serve as an example to the rest of Africa yoked and bogged down in this same quagmire. Having found ourselves, we can then created a continental order base on non-violent shared sovereignty.

For true independence, if defined as self-determination, and the control of one's destiny, will only be achieved by reversing the damages done in the Berlin Conference partition, thereby restoring some pride and dignity to our ancestors, that they may finally turn around in their graves, and with generation yet unborn hope and smile at the sun.

We may finally be able to aver Marya Manne's 1959 poem, which aptly described a trite sanguinary image of the eventual outcome of partition:

Borders are scrateced across
The hearts of men
By Strangers with a clam, judicial
And when the borders bleed we
Watch with dread
The lines of ink across the map
Turn Red
A “Mantanza” waiting to happen that will make the Rwandan genocide look like Child's play.

The problem is not about living together, No one is advocating the dissolution of Nigeria but rather the delineation of parameters involved in living together and allowing the different nation states to contribute to the articles of the union so that everyone can claim ownership and have a stake in the nation.

Veritable Panaea
Historically, a dominant culture results from conquest and subsequent assimilation or by mutual association within clearly defined parameters spelled out in the articles and consituion of unification by the disparate groups. An identifiable dominant culture as the paradigm on which structures are built, imparts a sense of belonging since it defines the ethos on which political, social and economic policies are made resulting in an enabling environment that is gered toward the dictates of the cultural dogmas of the people.

If the truth be told, no one in Nigeria, in all honesty, has a sense of belonging. Therein lies the root cause of our societal ills. The lack of identification with the state explains why most people who will embezzle funds from the government (the “nestbeschmutzern”, people who dirty their own nest) will not misappropriate the funds entrusted to them by their village or tribal union. In the first instance, ther is no sense of belonging, but in the second instance, there is an identification with the home town or tribe, “ a sense of belonging and pride in membership”. In the same vein, most judges who will suborn justice on the bench will be called upon and revered in their hometowns as paragons of rectitude. As my people say ( Nnunnu anaghi aru uru na akwu ya). “ A bird does not defecate in its own nest.” How many people do we know, charged with the security of their village, will collude with armed robber? Why does it happens in the larger society the only plausible answer is that the latter case there is no sense of belonging.

That a sense of belonging is so vital to the viability of a nation state was made clear by A.J. Balfour, one time Prime Minister of Britain when he said “Our alternating cabinets, though belonging to different parties have never differed about the foundation of society. And it is evident that our whole political machinery presupposes a people so fundamentally at one that they can afford to bicker, and so sure of their own moderation that they are not dangerously disturbed by the never ending din of political conflicts. May it be so “ Quoted in Melvin J. Laskay “ The English Ideology” Encounter Magazine, December (1972) pg. 25

Can anyone be so intellectually dishonest as to argue that Nigeria in its present configuration can ever attain the condition that Balfour described?

On what foundation will this ever happen? Who can, like the Roman poet Horace, say to the Youth of Nigeria with a straight face “ Dulce et decorum est Pro patri Mori” --- “ It is sweet and becoming to die for one's country. “

No one in Nigeria can say that without being disingenuous. We are all diminished a little, when we can't experience this feeling. We are deprived of the ability to love, to really love a nation that we consider our own. Consequently we are robbed of a key essence of our humanity because of our condition

The ethos of the dominant culture is what propels a country. It determines the policies that enable the state to achieve the aims and the aspirations of its citizens, by providing an enabling environment geared toward the essence of its people. When policies are made they reflect shared values and are geared towards who and what the people are

The notion of a dominant culture determining the ethos and dogmas of a nation transcends capitalism, socialism, fascism, ect, It refers rather to the nuances that mark who we are as a people of a particular group and our outlook to life and how we go about actualizing life's aims and accoutrements.

The most crucial political and economic belief involves that of political identity, of what political unit or units does the individual consider himself a member, and how deep and unambiguous is the sense of identification. It is not merely a question of the physical location an individual assigns to himself as he might identify himself by saying “ I live in such and such a street”, rather, the identification with the nation may be and often is one of the basic beliefs that servers to define the individual for himself.

Viable nation states with dominant cultures have been able to advance by promoting that which in their essences offer them a comparative advantage. It is no accident that the Japanese are good at miniaturization among other things, o that the Germans at Engineering the Swiss at precision or the Dutch at Marine Engineering. Go back to their cultures, and policies made based on their ethos to find the answers. There is a sense of proprioception that pervades these nations ---- a sense of understanding of where one is and where one is oriented.

Those things that set the apart were not subsumed, by yoking them up in a farrago of competing cultures that suffocates rather than liberates their essences, as it obtainable in African countries.

In a sack race, one man in a sack will always win, over two or three men in one sack without a predetermined direction.

The role that dominant culture plays in the building of viable state has recently been proven and given credence by two eminent scientists. Giles Fanconnier, and Mark Turner in their fascinating new book, The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind's Hidden Complexities ---- 2002.

Faconnier is a professor of Cognitive Science at eh University of California at San Diego and Turner is University professor and Behavioral Scientist at university of Maryland. They suggest that the culture we inhabit creates templates that they call “Entrenched Integration Network”. “ In response to a certain stimuli, people from the same culture tend to have similar responses. “ Is there any wonder, in the absence of a dominant culture in African states, the result has been in – fighting, ideological paralysis, stagnation and retrogression?

Cultures have norms that reflect centuries of shared beliefs and ideals. We should not expect ot scoff at such things with impunity.

As Professor Chinweizu mordantly pointed out in his “ The west and The Rest of Us” 2nd. Ed. (Pero Lagos, Nigeria 1987) pg. 188

“ In any serious attempt at African renaissance, it would be necessary to dig down to the cultural bedrock of pre-European Africa, and there inspect our cultural foundation so that we can reconnect with suitable strands of our cultural trajectory”.

That reconstruction cannot be achieved in a nation state like Nigeria with three dominant cultures and none the bedrock which societal structures is built. That is why we need a Sovereign National Conference. If I may quote Verdi , (“Torni-amo all'antico, sara un profresso”) “ Let us go back ot the past, it will be a step forward.

In a viable state like the United States, the dominant culture is Anglo- Saxon (Wasp). Though the country is made up of immigrants , and is known as the melting of of the world (Isreal Zangwill the Zionist leader coin the pharse “the melting Pot”. A title of one of his plays is little performed today) that “Pot” is Anglo-Saxon. Every group that comes into the United States melts into that dominant culture or will forever remain on the fringes of society. That is not say that immigrants do not impact the dominant cultures they do and in some ways for the better but the core remains.

Another good example is Great Britain. Thought the country comprise the Engilsh, Scots, Welsh and the Irish, the dominant culture si English. The English culture is what determines the country's pathways. Though the Welsh, Irish and Scots have and maintain vibrant culture all their own, the ethos and dogmas of the English determine the structures and strictures of what is Britain. This was applicable in the old Soviet Union where the Russian culture was dominant and determined the essence of the country.

This is applicable from Japan to Korea, to India and to Malaysia where the hoisting up of the dominant culture “Malay Bahasa” led by Dr. Mahathir in the 1970's and 80's as the fulcrum of the country's structures led to rapid development that has transformed Malaysia from a poor country with the same per capita income as Nigeria in the 1960's to a very wealthy nation.

It is also noteworthy that the country with highest per capita income in sub-Sahara Africa, Botswana, ahs a dominant culture “Tswana” and it ethnically homogeneous.

Yugoslavia was cobbled together in 1918 from disparate peoples and then held together after 1945 by the iron fisted Marshal Tito with a clearly defined political and economic ideology based on communism. Comparatively, Yugoslavia fared worse than Hungary another communist country with comparable defined political and economic ideology but with a dominant culture on which the country's structures were built. As of 2000, the GDP per head in Hungary was $11,900, while Yugoslavia is was just a paltry $1,575.The only differentiating factor or variable between the two countries was that Hungary had a dominant culture “Magyar” while Yugoslavia had three competing dominant cultures, Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes and none the fulcrum of society.

It has been noted in a recent article that “ The excellency of Japan steel works in making Samurai swords translated in its dominance in the technology to forge the critical $150 million part, a solid steel vessel to contain the radioactivity from a single 600 – tonne ingot using time-honored techniques can be traced to what the Japanese say reflect their culture of “monzurkuri” (making things) and “kaizen” ( continuous improvement) . This technical success has its roots in old strengths. Its excellence in fine ceramics harks back to its expertise in pottery. Its brilliant steel forging are vestiges of ancient sword making”. Do I hear echoes of the Ancient Benin kingdom. Is there any nation better in casting Bronze by the lost wax method? Would that not lead to foundries and the casting of industrial machine parts?

Not to discount the other nations states of Nigeria, Will anyone doubt that if an enabling environment is created allowing the Yorubas to engage in what they are food at in terms of financial services (banking, insurance Accounting Consulting etc,) that Lagos and Ibadan will become the financial centers for the whole Africa and beyond. I do not think that that Wall Street or city of London financial District can hold a candle in terms of creating financial instruments if allowed to do what they are good at. The same goes with the Ibos in industry and commerce, the Hausa in Agriculture and commerce. What will prevent the Hausa nation from being as viable as Brazil knowing fully well the yearly Brazilian Soy bean export surpasses the entire revenue that Nigeria receives from oil. We should be cognizant of the fact that Northern Nigeria once accounted for seventy percent of the world's peanut production among other things when the regions has more autonomy to chart their own course.

Moreover who knows what other benefits will accrue if the nation states were more autonomous and set up structures to run their society based on the ethos of their culture. Who is to say that the Hausa or any other nation state for instance will not take a step back and really ask itself what their ancestors did when a woman, say commits adultery. Was the woman stoned as the Semitic tribes do based on their cultural sensibilities and the consequent value they placed on their women folks or is this inimical to core Hausa cultural beliefs and an embrace of Arab Cultural imperialism in the guise of religion. Does the tenet of Sharia law comport with the sensibilities of the Hausa culture or is it a club in the struggle against the federal government. Then if any nation state within the polity decides to implement any laws that may be odious to the rest of the country, they have the right so long as it does not run afoul of the federal law or contrary to the parameters and articles of unification.

Where there is a lack of a dominant culture, there is no sense of belonging and consequently lack of nationalist fervor.

Tribalism may be anathema in the present dispensation of Nigeria, but it is the engine that drives countries to greatness in the guise of nationalism. Nationalism has been defined a “An expression of the intense need for affirmation of national or communal identity as the anchor of individual identity. It is one of the fundamental forces at work in political societies, giving them meaning” How cthen can you be nationalistic if you do not identify with the nation? This lays bare what is missing from Nigeria and other African states. In our effort to maintain this false unity bequeathed to us, without any unifying foundation, our people have been turned into poseurs and coerced to our detriment, to suppress and extinguish this nationalist fire,----- the most natural of all emotions, ----- the love of oneself and one's ethnic group in all of its manifestations be it in literature, Arts, or Economic endeavors. This is a grave injustice perpetrated on our people with its attendant negative ramifications.

Nationalism cannot be legislated into people, nor can disparate peoples be infused into an Ersatz entity devoid of their input.

In December of 2002. the U.K Government published the result of a fascinating survey of how the British viewed their national identity. The survey showed that most white people did not consider themselves British. Asked what national label they would give themselves, the majority described themselves as English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish. Only 29% of white people described themselves as British, with a further 16% saying they were British as well as English, Scottish, Welsh, or Irish. As a union of four nations, Britain encapsulates the idea of pluralism but the people still referred to themselves based on their ethnicity.

Nigerians therefore do not have a monopoly on ethnic sentiments; it is the most natural of feelings because it is inherent in human nature. To desensitize the populace from their essence by the imposition of an extrinsic superstructure is an exercise in futility that will only lead to retrogression as history has shown, since the people are not operating in tandem with deeply held ethos and dogmas.

The execrable notion that the blackman cannot govern and build a viable state is a myth that needs to be excised from the psyche of the rest of mankind by reversing this sisyphean task assigned to us by people whose designs for our well-being is suspect. Systemic flaws, the results of a lacuna ---- an absence of a dominant culture conspiring with human frailties have led to this our inexorable march to failure as a society. The time has come, through a Sovereign Nation Conference, to redress the injustice done to us which we have helped to perpetuate by maintaining the status quo.

This is a Seminal work, a lecture really, creditable and not in the least comprehensive, that will in all likelihood meet with a lot of resistance from obscurantist in government, “The Parvenus'', who will obfuscate rather than enlighten, by arguing and highlighting our commonality, which we incidentally share with the rest of humanity, in order to protect and preserve their sinecures to the detriment of the whole populace. My response to their assertions is summed up in Zora Neale Hurston's aphorism which succinctly frames the Nigerian condition----- “ Not all my skin folks are my kin folks”.

On the question of a Sovereign National Conference, our leaders do not have the luxury of timidity, for timidity is not prudence, it is a confession of weakness. They cannot fail but see the set up for what it is. They owe it to posterity not to squander this opportunity and avert the inexorable anomie, and calamity that will surely follow.

They should borrow a leaf from Immanuel Kant's Exhortation, who says somewhere in his “Critique of Pure Reason:that “all possible knowledge and experience are marooned on an island surrounded by the dangerous waters of the unknown. The trick is to discover the best way to set sail. Only when there is no mast in knowledge or experience that can be raised are we in troubled”. Our mast in this present predicament is a Sovereign National Conference.

This Conference will enable us to establish a legitimate social contract (freely given) between the people(s) and their government, and create a polity free from the sound of grinding axes that is heard in present day Nigeria with its attendant debilitating economic, social and political ramifications.

History will be unkind to our leaders if they fail ---for their timidity, their dereliction of duty, their myopic view of life and their role in the stunted manifest destiny of the nation states of the Nigerian polity. There is no room for misoneism by our leaders at this point in our history

Call me a meliorist if you will, but it i my belief that our greatest assets lie in our people, and if provided with an enabling environment, our people will excel.

What is required is the political will to take this step in calling a National Conference, and offer the people a modicum of freedom to negotiate a “SOCIAL CONTRACT” with their government and embark on a boat going somewhere. Then the prescient description that Michel Foucault made in 1967, which Nigeria appropriated in to-to may be reversed.

“In Civilization Without Boats:,Foucault remarked in a 1967 lecture, “dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure and the police takes the place of pirates.” What an uncanny description of what Nigeria has become.

Finally, at the risk of being accused of sophistry, this is a truism that needs pondering: To become one, you have to participate in Unity and you cannot be part of Unity if you do not have the attribute of Unity. Your becoming one derives from your attribute of that Unity which is inherent. It is not external. Though written years ago and left unpublished until now, I believe this article remains pertinent today.

Chime Iheke, Ph.D.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Chime Iheke, Ph.D. Arkansas and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."