Nigeria’s stability as one nation comes under regular scrutiny on certain occasions, the most recent being the 2015 general elections. Yet with a fair amount of luck and last minute negotiations, the country consistently defeats talk about a break up or outright implosion.
Nevertheless, the recurrent political cracks have created a particular feature for the polity, the multiplicity of groups.
In the space of one news cycle, it is not uncommon to find a host of associations and bodies - lobbying, issuing proposals or statements, backing candidates, and criticising failed or failing institutions working across the country.
Between the pages of Punch, ThisDay and Vanguard, a host of groups with surprisingly descriptive names can be found with a diverse range of interests. In just one day I have come across the ‘Civil Society Coalition for Good governance’ which called for better inter party relations, the ‘Northern Community in the South South’ which called for the Federal government to repay loyalists with patronage, the ‘PDP Media Watchdog’ which called for President Buhari’s resignation on account of his age, and the ever accurately named ‘Advocacy of Societal Rights Advancement and Development Initiative’ which made attempts to halt the Presidential inauguration.
In more recent times, the ‘Senate Unity Forum’ and ‘Senators of Like Minds/Like Minds Senators’ have grabbed the attention of the nation over the election of the new Senate President. Amongst the 59 Senators elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the party was able to swiftly divide itself into pro-Ahmed Lawan (Senator, Yobe North) supporters and pro-Bukola Saraki (Senator, Kwara Central). This may be considered incredulous by some international standards, but is very common in Nigerian politics. Why?
It is worth nothing that Nigeria faces a host of complex problems. And with so many interests held by so many different people, it sometimes appears necessary for an ‘us’ to exist, in order to be able to blame ‘them’. Else, we have no one else to blame.
The Nigerian political spectrum is bereft with divisions - North vs South, Muslims vs Christians, Itsekiris vs Ijaws and many more. Among the dissidents, further tribal lines are replicated according to political patronage, with even the smallest tribes unable to work under a single leader. And this is not just the effect of efficient federalism, it is the root of dissent.
In a satirical description of the lifestlye of Nigerians, a 1966 book written by the late Anthony Peter Enahoro referenced Nigerians ability to group and regroup, surround and decamp, refuse isolation, yet reject coalition.
The process sometimes appears comic; it may start with a central movement/union, then a group of concerned leaders put their hearts and heads together and begin a bitter quarrel which splits the movement wide open. They then regroup under two central movements achieving a temporary settlement. But then a third movement which cannot accept this compromise will break away. On the occasion that there is an intervention and settlement meeting, all three bodies compromise and create something akin to a ‘Joint Action Committee’. The process is then repeated.
Sometimes this results in endless bureaucracy and brutally inefficient time delays, other times it presents an opportunity for leakages and graft. Either way, good governance loses.
Years later, what Nigeria has developed is a series of similar yet different and identical yet antithetical list of bodies and groups, all requesting political patronage and special representation.
The outside world may see Nigeria as divided by reason of corruption, but beneath that, a predisposition to factionalise is identifiable. It is why it is not unusual for a group as respected as the House of Representatives to use violence to settle its disputes when reason appears too difficult.
But we must conclude on the issues before us, and despite the insistence by individuals on both sides of most disputes that the only thing wrong with the dispute is the existence of the opposing party, it is safe to make one statement regarding all divided groups – we have one too many.