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Updated on February 23, 2011


Nigeria’s social structure or constitution as well as that of any other state is the basis on which the country works or fails to work. A country’s social structure is the people’s way and is what basically defines the government of the people, not minding by whatever name it is called, democracy or anything else. A country’s constitution can be written or unwritten and in practice it has shown that no matter how thorough and comprehensive a country’s written constitution is, it can hardly embrace all the fundamental norms of the people of a particular country. And in actual practice, most times, it is the unwritten part of the people’s norms, cultures and customs that finally decide the direction that the state must go.


A political leader is expected to be intelligent and creative but he has a less demanding position in the society than the society’s hero or model that usually happens through some special accomplishments such as in the arts, sports or military. The politician is expected to lead by example but he almost already has his job cut out for him; he leads within a system or structure that has been constructed for him as a guide. This is why the need for a properly structured society cannot be over stressed. When such basic structure is in place that has taken care to minimize social conflicts in its operation then almost anybody can lead such society with little training. It can be compared to the operation of a motorcar; it does not require the inventor or even an expert to move a car safely from point A to point B. Successful leadership of a state or society is based more on “how we do things” than the quality of the person in charge being smart or something in that light.


A people’s culture, norms and customs are the things that define their ethnicity or who they are. Those can be regarded as a people’s second nature. And they will always exert the ultimate influence on the direction that the society will go because legislations and political fiats and decrees cannot be successfully administered in isolation of the people’s values and standards since the laws are made for the people in the first place. It is for this reason that laws and state structures work better when they are adapted to work within the contexts of the people’s culture or better still when they are emanating from it.


A people’s norms and cultures are natural to them because they evolve with the people over the entire period they have existed. So when a people are taken out of their original culture setting or forced to operate within an unfamiliar one they become as fish out of water and can hardly get anything right as a result. That is basically what is wrong with the Nigerian state today and by extension the rest of Black African states. The problem in Nigeria and the rest of Africa is not necessarily bad leadership, a wrong people being led or political corruption as many would want to think.


Nigeria’s problem lies in trying to lead in or build on a basic social structure that is out of tune with the peoples’ ways or what they have been used to for so long. The conflicts that are taking place in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Sudan and other places in Black Africa today is simply a clash of cultures more than anything else; the collisions of a mishmash of cultural values and standards. It is not the problems of free and fair elections, treasury looting, lack of accountability and a host of other presumed issues. These things will quickly disappear once the root problem has been taken out of the way.


The need to restructure the political map of Nigeria and all of Africa; to remove the seemingly endemic conflicts situations cannot continue to be overlooked if we are concerned with building lasting and functional societies where peoples’ lives, rights and properties are respected. The nineteenth century European colonial masters were definitely not thinking about any permanent arrangement when they were creating the existing political map in Nigeria or Africa. What they did both before and after Berlin 1885 meeting was an ad hoc arrangement with the aim of ease of administrative stress and to keep cost down in the running of the “protectorates”; it was not intended to take into consideration the indigenous peoples’ culture and feelings. Therefore Africans of today must sit down as the Europeans did in Berlin in 1885 and redo the political map of Nigeria and the entire continent along cultural lines, and let cultural blocs decide in a referendum either to merge with their proximate neighbors or stay apart and still relate as good next-door neighbors.


It must be recognized that ethnic groups existing and running political and state businesses separately in Nigeria or any other part of Africa does not and will not diminish the prestige of the various new smaller states that will emerge. Large sizes of either population or land mass are not what determine success in any human society; it is the people’s attitude and minimal conflict environments that bring successes and attitudes are primarily influenced by the people’s culture.


Let us try to put this in perspective; Nigeria has at many occasions adopted secular constitutions as its legal instrument for state administration. The country’s constitution’s injunctions are supposed to be binding on all the states and peoples of the federation but ten of the Northern states decided to adopt the Islamic sharia legal system instead or in addition. The sharia legal system is central to the culture and practice of the Islamic religion and one can justifiably argue that the Moslem population of that part of Nigeria should not be denied the right to live by their cultural rules if they chose to. So no one should blame those states for doing what they did in adopting sharia laws for their people.


Instead of blaming them one should ask why they insist on remaining in the same country with the rest states that would not live by sharia laws. And taking it the other way; we ask why would the rest states not opt out so their own people can be free to express their own cultures without molestation? These questions are necessary because the Nigerian society since its existence has remained in constant turmoil resulting in the killings of tens of thousands of people along cultural/religious and ethnic lines. It is so because opposing cultural values and standards are forced to remain in the same choking space.


As some sincere people today grapple to find solutions to the many problems of Nigeria and other African states they need to bear in mind that solution can always be found for all social problems when the will is there. And the will can be found when the people concerned choose the path of honesty, sincerity, hard work and the commitment to building structures that will continue to carter for the good of the people over a long time. Nigerians and other Africans must do away with the sentiment of insisting on retaining the status quo of the old colonial state boundaries which has only cost the lives of millions and millions of Africa’s children, their mothers and men to maintain. Nigerians and Africans of today can choose to become bold, honest, practical and creative in dealing with their issues or continue with the current avoidable human and economic wastes trends.


In Nigeria or anywhere else in Africa it must be realized that it has never been the lack of laws with which to run the states but lack of the enforcement of the existing laws that is the problem. The will to enforce laws in Nigeria gets so weakened because the country has come to be regarded as a no-man’s-land by the various constituents, both groups and individuals. In the mind of its citizens the country does not really belong to any person because the cultural divides run very deep and irreconcilable hence every ethnic group and individual want to outsmart the other in terms of stealing from the treasury and other social vices. (This in a way has spilled over to the rest of the world in the form of the infamous advance-fee fraud or email scams for which the country has come to be known). It will continue to be the issue of unhealthy rivalry rather than healthy competition until the country is restructured by removing the reason why an individual or a group must outsmart or kill the other in order to survive or prove superior.


The current structure has also led to the situation where every individual has become a nation unto himself. There is a complete lack of any glue or social contractual bond that holds the strands of a society together in Nigeria. This has caused individuals and groups to feel that they are simply on their own. And based on this feeling they believe that individually they must provide their own personal and family security, their own domestic and industrial water supply, generate their own power and self-provide a host of other social amenities that should have been provided collectively by the society or state.


Another reason for which the will to enforce laws in Nigeria is hardly ever there is because when anyone from a particular ethnic group commits crime people from his group root for them and by all means exonerate them no matter how heinous their crime maybe. And as events have always shown they are always let off the hook and next time the people from the other group will do same for their own people and the obnoxious cycle goes on. It is also in this regard that it becomes near impossible for a consensus leader to emerge in Nigeria. There will never come a day, for instance, when an Igbo leader will be acceptable to the Yoruba or the Hausa and Fulani, no matter how sterling his qualities might be. The same thing goes for the other groups when reversed. Anything coming from a different ethnic group other than the one a person belongs to is never good to them. The distrust that exists amongst the major ethnic groups is just unassailable.


It will only amount to sheer insensitivity on the side of the world or the leaders in Nigeria or Africa to continue to maintain the current political map at such huge cost where millions and millions of the continent’s children are destroyed to keep the extant boundaries. It will also be callous to insist that the people should wait out a 400 to 500 year period to enable social and cultural fusion take place when there is a clear, less-expensive alternative. This time in history calls for all serious and well-meaning people everywhere to remove emotions and sentiments and apply honest and sincere approach in solving the problems facing this part of the world today.


Cultural mobilization happens where there is cultural fusion which in turn requires time to take place, a lot of time and there must be cordial social interactions taking place. The enabling conditions that encourage such harmony come through the respect and liking or admiration of one group by the other and vice versa. But in the absence of such respect as it is the case in Nigeria and other parts of Africa today where there is deep rooted ethnic/cultural distrust and hatred of one group against the other, cultural fusion may never happen under the present arrangement.


Like we said earlier, solution to Nigeria’s problem does not consist in any free and fair election because in Nigeria it is expected that anyone in power is there for the interest of his own ethnic group. This is why the issue of zoning or rotating political powers or positions is a hotly contested issue. Some groups like the Igbo ethnic group complain that they are being marginalized or not getting attention by way of provision of infrastructures and government investments within their region and that their own person or persons are not allowed to win the presidency. This begs the question; should the matter not be rather of producing a good candidate for the job instead of a particular ethnic group’s candidate?


We will turn now to the 1966 ethnic/religious conflicts which led to the killing of over 100,000 peoples of the Southeastern region of Nigeria by the rest peoples of the country. That is a typical of the terrible ethnic and Islamic religious intolerance or jihad that still continues till today. It was the perpetration of that genocidal act on the Southeasterners by supposedly fellow citizens that led to the people of the region to declare an independent Republic of Biafra from Nigeria in 1967. The war that followed would also lead to the further killing of additional 3 million Biafrans by Nigeria and its allies.


Arguably no true leadership emerging from among the people would have stopped the 1966 pogrom or else such leader would be regarded as a bad leader of his people if he was of the Northern or Western extraction or if from the Eastern region he would be termed as brutal and intolerant.


If we bear in mind that the Nigerian Islamic community is only trying to live out their religious/cultural injunctions in the internecine unrests then we can begin to appreciate the situation better. It will therefore be wrong to suppress them by force when they are only trying to live according to the dictates of their culture/religion. What is wrong is rather that the Nigerian union is being forced on groups that are not willing to abide by the dictates of the strange national constitution. The state’s dictates are artificial while the people’s culture is natural to them and they should have every right to choose it above the state laws if they so wish. Membership in any country must be based on the ideals of social contract terms and each party must be allowed to enlist willingly rather conscripted.


At this point we will want to disabuse the mind of readers who may have always believed that the Biafran genocide of 1966 was the result of the January of the same year coup d’état. Nothing can be further from the truth when we remember that similar killings had earlier taken place in 1945 in Jos Plateau State and in 1953 in Kano against the same ethnic group, the Igbo and by the same group, the Moslem North. It should be recalled that on those two occasions there was no coup d’état, rather the British were still in control as the colonial masters. So, in the end it becomes inevitable for us here to say in the same plain language as Libya’s Gaddafi said one year ago, divide Nigeria along cultural/ethnic lines and good leaders will begin to emerge within each resulting new nation and people’s lives (Igbo lives particularly) would be saved.   


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    • S Leretseh profile image

      S Leretseh 

      6 years ago

      "And in actual practice, most times, it is the unwritten part of the people’s norms,"

      In fact, there were no written constitutions in Sub-Sahara Africa (in African male societies) prior to the 1950s. All of the countries of Africa were created by the Europeans. They do ignore historic tribal lands , as well as historic tribal rivalries (e.g. Nigeria and the Muslims & Christians; the state of Rwanda and the historic hostilities between the Hutu & Tousi). African states as they exists today, in my opinion, are impossible to maintain.

      Osita Ebiem, well written here...

    • elnavann profile image


      6 years ago from South Africa


      Thanks I found this very interesting. Am on my way to Nigeria (Port Harcourt) for the first time and decided to read something deeper than what to see and do . . . .

      A few years ago I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun which I found disturbing, remembering from my high school years the news and pictures and realising now how the world really ignored the plight of those civilians. (And these things have happened all over the world, not just in Africa).

      Redrawing the map of Africa? - should probably have been done decades ago - but where to start? Very thought-provoking article


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