We have not transferred allegiances from ethnic nationalities to nationhood —Professor Adeniran

September 29, 2020

Professor Tunde Adeniran is an accomplished academic, politician, diplomat, former Minister of Education, former staff of the United Nations, and former director at the Directorate for Social Mobilisation between 1987 and 1992. In this interview, he speaks on the challenges and prospects of Nigeria 60 years after independence. KUNLE ODEREMI brings some experts:

How would you assess the journey so far for Nigeria since independence?

It is painful to observe that the journey so far has been quite rough, bumpy and full of mishaps apart from the occasional hold-ups and ambush along the way. It has indeed been quite tough for Nigeria. As a participant-observer for quite some time, let me expatiate with only one major factor in the determination of the fortunes of an independent country. Democracy is expected to characterise governance in an independent Nigeria, being the widely acknowledged best form of government. Nigerian leaders also accepted it as granted by the British colonisers.

From available records, the Nigerian people also did not object to it because they thought that democratic governance would bring about mass emancipation and participation, the rule of law, socio-economic justice, equity, mutual love, mutual respect and accommodation, transparency and accountability in governance. But what have we seen? We inherited democracy quite alright, but we have neither been able to keep and consolidate it nor make it endure through patriotic innovation and institutionalisation of a democratic culture. The institutions of governance have continuously been weakened while the simple conduct of free and fair elections has been a mirage.

The first phase of what was to have been post-independence democratic governance was terminated in 1966 by the Nigerian military while the second phase of the democratisation began in 1999 but we have been battling with autocracy at state and national levels up till today. The combination of a terribly flawed constitution handed over by the military and the self-seeking, self-serving orientation of Nigerian leaders plus the docility of a pauperised citizenry have made the journey almost a nightmare! With the absence of strong institutions and sufficient number of highly patriotic leaders ready to offer honest, selfless, impartial and heroic services, and lack of equality of opportunities, mutual love and tolerance, discipline and sense of nationhood in the midst of widespread insecurity and ravaging poverty, we wonder the direction Nigeria’s democratic journey would take!


Could the country have done better, given its immense human and material endowments, coupled with the status of its contemporaries in Asia, Latin America and so on?

I see your question as a hypothetical one. There is a saying in academic circles that “if all variables are held constant, X, Y, Z would happen.” But that cannot be. We have men and materials in abundance quite alright. In fact, no country in the world is as blessed as Nigeria. But what is their worth? What is their value in nation-building, in ensuring justice, national discipline, and the transfer of allegiances from ethnic and sub-ethnic nationalities to one nationhood? In short, the factor of leadership is what determines the relevance of other endowments.

In comparing Nigeria with some Asian and Latin American countries, we should not forget that those countries have been able to handle their diversities through their leaders.

With the benefit of hindsight, what do you think are the problems of the country and have there been pragmatic steps by successive governments to tackle those challenges?

There are many problems but two of them are very fundamental. Once these two problems are solved, all the others would be little challenges that could be resolved within the scheme of careful planning for national development. These two problems are leadership and education and they are linked. Nigeria is blessed with potentially great leaders, but we have not been lucky to have them in positions as to make a difference. There were lost opportunities in the past. The process of leadership recruitment has been systematically bastardised over the decades such that criminals and charlatans now have easy ride to positions of leadership especially in politics, but the situation has spread to the other sectors of Nigeria’s national life.

For our multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, we are in serious need of leaders with solid background and capacity to lead at various levels and sectors; leaders with a sense of history, who are honest and transparent; leaders who are conscientious, just, broadminded, visionary and courageous enough to decisively fight the monster of corruption and the marginalisation of ethnic minorities.

As for education, all the ills of our society (ignorance, bigotry, poverty etc.) cannot be cured until education is made free and compulsory throughout Nigeria up to the secondary school level. A situation in which some Nigerian children have access to education while some do not and are not encouraged or compelled to go to school is very dangerous. Having children educated should be considered a civic responsibility of parents and children. And learning should not just be limited to the traditional subjects. Children should be encouraged to acquire some skill before leaving secondary school. Moreover, subjects such as history and civics should be expanded and taught diligently to make young Nigerians grow to be more responsible and patriotic.


Do you find the agitation for self-determination out of place?

The various agitations are as a result of threatened co-habitation and unrelieved frustration: frustration as a result of suffering from an unjust system and insensitive leadership. The ethnically based solidarity you see in some parts of the country is as a result of what the agitators consider to be external rejection. It is as a result of the lack of interest or concern by others outside their ethno-cultural group to be sensitive to their yearnings and accommodate their interests. Leaders of societies that are not driven by ideologies rooted in social justice, equity, the rule of law and built around the all-round development of the individual are bound to be influenced by primordial loyalties, religious and ethnic considerations. And when the primitive accumulation of wealth is tilted against those marginalised politically or are treated with scorn and contempt as second class citizens, some seek self-determination as the answer rather than continue with the struggle of changing the system.

More than five decades after the Nigerian civil war that claimed more than a million lives, why has it been difficult for the country to resolve or overcome some of the fundamental issues that led to the conflict?

It has been difficult because we have been living largely in denial. Some leaders pretend as if the issues do not exist while some dismiss the issues with arrogance. We have refused to open up to serious dialogue. The 2014 National Conference addressed most of the issues, but the unanimous recommendations were never implemented. Those who have read Chinua Achebe’s There was a Country and Wole Soyinka’s Climate of Fear will feel sorry for us as a people and a country. This is a very critical time for all of us to re-think and come together across the various divides and put pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari to lead by example in taking steps to eradicate all vestiges of distrust and divisions among Nigerians.


Given the avalanche of challenges threatening the corporate existence of the country six decades after independence, what are the immediate implications for the future of Nigeria and why?

The immediate implications are that the challenges could breed other challenges and compound the tasks of development and national unity. This is because the challenges will not go away on their own unless they are faced with sincerity, courage, and patriotic zeal.


As an erudite scholar, do you share the view in certain quarters that the British made a mistake to have amalgamated the northern and southern protectorates of Nigeria in 1914, instead of allowing the various ethnic nationalities making up the present federation to assert their individual sovereignties?

I do not agree with such views. The British did not make any mistake on the amalgamation. The mistake I am aware of is that we, Nigerians, have always misunderstood the reasons for the amalgamation and have not been able to get our acts together to take advantage of a creation that was never meant to serve our collective interests.

The administrative system was devised by Frederick John Dealtry Luggard, the soldier-businessman who subdued northern Nigeria and became the governor of all Nigeria from 1912 to 1919, having welded the diverse territories into one administrative unit. Through the amalgamation and adoption of the indirect rule system which Britain employed in some of its colonies, it achieved its goal of complementing the resources in one part of the country with that of the other. Any loss in the cost of governance of any part could be made up for with the gains from another part. It was good business for Britain, and it was not a mistake. You can also see their success story in the way the United African Company (UAC) served British interests profitably.

For Nigeria and Nigerians that have chosen the path of unity in disunity rather than to have creatively taken advantage of their being brought together to build a great black African nation on justice, equity, brotherly love, strength in ethno-cultural and religious diversities and good governance, the British colonialists are not to be blamed eternally.

Don’t you feel that the founding fathers of modern Nigeria that negotiated Nigeria’s independence from Britain should equally be blamed for some of the critical defects and challenges manifesting in the Nigerian federation, as the nationalists had the ample opportunity to agree on self-autonomy so that each unit could move at its own pace?

No. Again, don’t blame the founding fathers. In spite of their relatively limited exposure and experience, they did their best. Many people do not know or appreciate the fact that of Nigeria’s various constitutions (Clifford’s in 1922, Richard’s in 1946, Macpherson’s in 1954, the military’s under Obasanjo in 1979 and the military’s under Abubakar in 1999) it was the Independence Constitution negotiated with the British between 1957 and 1959 that qualifies to be called a constitution of the Nigerian people. It was based on the agreement among genuine leaders of the Nigerian people. That constitution which was thrown away in 1966 by the military was the type of constitution meant for a federal system of government. There was reasonable degree of autonomy and when serious people talk about restructuring nowadays, they mean something quite similar, with states assuming their relevant positions with the federating units. Let us restructure Nigeria and the world will see peaceful co-existence, very healthy competition, rapid transformation and development of a great African country.


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