Nation-building and roles of the ‘tribesman’ and ‘statesman’

At the Global Peace Foundation forum for the discussion of Nigeria’s troubles of which former President Olusegun Obasanjo and some ethnic and religious leaders attended, every participant tabled their grievances and/or concerns and perhaps proffered solutions.

An Ijaw ethnic leader, Ebipamowei Wodu, national Secretary of Ijaw national spoke on Nigeria’s tortured federal system and suggested that contrary to the current practice whereby all mineral resources especially petroleum resources domiciled in Niger Delta states and Southeast were corralled and confiscated by the Federal Military Government of Nigeria in 1969 and had entrenched that national heist in the basic laws of Nigeria and that act was and still is clearly anti-federalist practice.

He had barely summed up his position on that vexed issue when General Obasanjo who was visibly enraged at that Ijaw ethnic leader’s declaration that touched his statesmanly nerves angrily reacted to that heresy and shut him down with his statesman’s position to cloud out that pesky and audacious ‘tribal’ outburst from a clearly cheeky disaffected tribal leader.

When that news broke out, the Ijaw were up in arms against General Obasanjo seeing his action as bullying of their tribal leader for daring to present his people’s position on Nigeria’s national question. Chief Edwin Clark is generally acknowledged as the ethnic leader or rather in General Obasanjo’s anthropological categorization, a tribal leader.

After excoriating General Obasanjo for appearing to have bulled their tribal leader rather advised him to desist from appearing as an hater of the Ijaw people by his postulation that the petroleum resources in the Niger Delta States of which the Ijaw are prominent inhabitants and citizens, belong to the Federal Government for the enjoyment of all Nigerians as has been the case since 1970 to date.

In response to this Chief Clark’s outburst against him, Chief Obasanjo reacted by writing a letter to Chief Clark explaining his position that elicited Chief Clark’s reaction. Having restated his position against the Ijaw leader’s position on federalism, he urged Chief Clark and other Nigerians like him to change from tribal sentiments and become statesmen. Using the compass of General Obasanjo in his understanding of the classification of Nigerians as ‘tribesmen’ and ‘statesmen’, it will be fairly easy to classify Nigerians into the two political concepts.

To General Obasanjo, every person who declares himself a member of an ethnic group in Nigeria and goes ahead to propose and propagate the promotion and protection of the welfare of that ethnic group domiciled in any of the sectional or geopolitical construct either as state or local government or a group of these structural entities etched in the constitutional framework of Nigeria belongs in the tribes and could rightly be called a ‘tribesman’.

On the other hands, any person who pretends that tribes do not matter in Nigeria and fancies that there is a being called ‘Nigerian’ and that this being and the newly-invented anthropological entity created pursuant to the basic law of Nigeria is superior and that this concept supersedes the biological being represented by the concept of tribesman must of necessity be a statesman. The ‘tribesman’ and the ‘statesman’ can be defined lexically and politically.

The foregoing explanation and/or description could be taken as the political definitions of the terms: ‘tribesman’ and the ‘statesman’. Lexical definition of the term ‘statesman’ according to Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (10th Edition) is “one versed in the principles or art of government, especially one actively engaged in conducting the business of a government or in shaping its policies; in another sense, the term is “one who exercises political leadership wisely and without narrow partisanship” and in these senses the person so disposed to these characters could be rightly called “statesman.” or adjectivally that he is “Statesmanlike” or “Statesmanly” and “Statesmanship” is the noun. On the other hand, the definition of tribesman ‘does not give a good understanding except it is linked to its’ generic word ‘tribes’.

The same dictionary defines ‘tribes’ as “a division of the Roman people, tribes” and in another sense is “generations together with slaves, dependants or adopted strangers” but politically speaking the term means according to this dictionary as “ a political division of the Roman people” which originally representing one of the three original tribes of ancient Rome” and furthermore, the dictionary says the term could mean “a group of persons having a common character, occupation, or interest” and finally, “a category of taxonomic classification ranking below a subfamily, or a natural group irrespective of taxonomic ranks.”

Against the lexical and political definitions of the terms, ‘statesman’ and ‘tribesman’, the coinage was the political usage of British colonialists who labeled the peoples they encountered as traders, missionaries and empire-builders and categorised them as ‘tribes’. Lumping these peoples together to form Nigeria was a great act of nation-building but the process was not properly thought-through and consequently instead of building a nation out of these tribes, Britain acted in a way that showed that it was not interested in nation-building but in a bare statehood construct to advance its neo-colonial agenda and objectives.

The peoples lumped together to form Nigeria, in their new colonial habitations and political organisation were deliberately kept apart and separated from each except in such other ways especially economic whereby the resources were combined to foster easy administration and less-financial burden to the British Treasury.

The nationalist agitation in the South, especially Lagos, was considered by Britain an irritation by people who were not the true representatives of the tribes hence Britain sustained the Indirect Rule that is hoisted on native authority rule through traditional rulers. Britain deliberately created the tribesmen to counter the activities of the nationalists out of which the Statesmen would have sprouted and flourished to make Nigeria a nation. But the reverse was the case.

Throughout his political career, Nnamdi Azikiwe represented what our present General Obasanjo represents in Nigeria as he, out of the leading political leaders (Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo, Tafawa Balewa, believed that the unity of Nigeria as created by Britain was sacrosanct and inviolable even when the other three (Ahmadu Bello, Awolowo and Balewa) were all doubting the workability of Nigeria. When Obafemi Awolowo launched his Action Group out of Egbe Omo Oduduwa, it was a clear acceptance of the tribesman as the preferred structural construct. Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa goaded by Britain established Northern Peoples Congress out of Mutaneen Arewa as counter-poise to wrest political control of Nigeria on the principles of the ‘tribesman’.

By 1947, it was clear to Nnamdi Azikiwe that the toga of a Nigerian Statesman does not hold water anywhere in Nigeria as Britain had lifted the carpet from under his fact and he was slipping away from the leadership of Nigeria like a quicksand. By 1951 at Ibadan, the political masterstroke engineered by British colonial officials had uprooted Azikiwe from the Western Region and he had to scamper to the Eastern Region to uproot Prof. Ego Ita from the Eastern Region government.

Then it dawned on Azikiwe that his counsel to Ahmadu Bello that they, the nationalists act statesmanly by forgetting their tribal and religious differences was illusionary whereas Ahmadu Bello’s advice that they understand their differences was a better politics.

In Nigeria’s politics and governance, the ‘tribesman’ have triumphed while the ‘statesman’ and their followers who chose to forget what Nigeria is have paid dearly in terms of catastrophic consequences that befell them by way of political restructuring that has made a majority a minority, an ethnic visited with pogroms, war and humongous blood-letting and destruction of property and Nigerian State’s sequestration of land rights, loss of freedom of choice of governance structure and secularity. Those who took over Nigeria as rulers since 1966 to date, are they ‘tribesmen’ or ‘statesmen’? If their rulership since 1966 to date has been statesmanlike, would Nigeria be in this condition in which General Obasanjo at nearly 80 years, Clark at 84 years and several others who belong in that class which one of them, Wole Soyinka aptly called “a wasted generation” would still be fighting to restructure Nigeria? General Obasanjo is generally a nationalist; not encumbered with tribal loyalties or religious bigotry for he is at home with every Nigerian and generally treats every Nigerian as a Nigerian not in terms of ethnic or religious affiliation. So, in this wise, General Obasanjo is a ‘statesman’ very much living true to the lexical definitions of a ‘statesman’.

But being so oriented, he should not dismiss the fears of the ‘tribesman’ for we are all, first ‘tribesman’ before working to become ‘statesman’ and every ‘tribesman’s aspirations and hopes is that Nigeria should be structured and operated to become a nation of statesmen where the virtues that breed statesmen abound. For the time being, every Nigerian is a ‘tribesman’ and this status was forced upon the country by those who chose to be tribesmen but want others to be statesmen.




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