Nigeria on Fire : Nigeria’s Darkest Moment, 1985-98 (III) – The Ruin of Civil Society and The Politics of National Unity.


Nigeria as an emerging State or a pretender nation-state has had her share of narrow misses and escapes from premature death. This remarkably tragic short history is like the story of all human life as captured in the biological adventure of a foetus whose survival from the moment of conception through birth, infancy, adolescence and adulthood is nothing short of miracles. Like the baby, at every stage of its growth and development, disaster hovers closely around. Is it of the mother who felt she did not want a child at that period in time and contemplated abortion, but somehow got dissuaded? Is it of the almost premature birth or stillbirth; or of the careless nurses/nannies who nearly choked the baby? Is it of the adulterated baby foods and polluted water that almost poisoned the baby to death and so on and so forth? Yet the baby survived and succeeded into adulthood.

The Nigeria’s situation captures this analogy in every symbolic sense. The fact that there is still a place called Nigeria, a mere ‘geographical expression’ and a neat utility administrative framework created by George Goldie, a British adventurer and exploiter, purely for personal economic gains, is a testimony to fate. The short history of Nigeria so far, just as it was in its creation, has been froth with bad faith from all and sundry. Every major actor who has performed on the stage of Nigeria’s political theatre had come with similar peculiar script. Like Sir Goldie’s script, it was not designed to build a nation but to exploit the riches of this chimera of a landmass for the glorification of self.

The problems facing Nigeria as a baby country are definitely man-made and there is no single reason why the gods should be drawn into it at all. But sadly, religion has become the main theme of analysis by many experts. They see the mostly Muslim north and the mostly Christian south and they quickly come to a conclusion that the differences in faith are the root cause of the problems. Of course, religion from time memorial is one of the cheap tools of exploitation by all Machiavellian-type leaders.

Tyrannical leaders have never been known to be great lovers of intellectual analysis of problems in their empires. They often prefer to hide under the exigencies of circumstances, propaganda and slogans. Therefore any analysis for that matter, that is geared towards the fundamental questioning of the political, economic or social problems, organisation and institutions of their tyrannised country, regardless of its beneficial effect to their subjects, is forcefully rejected. They see any informed reflection articulated to promote social change as a potential threat to the status quo of the pattern of privileges as well as of the power relations. Hence, it should not be a surprise to find that the so-called Nigerian leaders have couched political, economic and social issues under religious myths and fallacies to frighten the ignorant populace into continued, and if they have their way, perpetual subjection and obedience to their anything but godly rule.

Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha, the two musketeers, who captured power in Nigeria from 1985 to 1998, were the products of this myth. They capitalised on the established psychology in the northern part of the country that would support anybody or anything that lays claim to being a defender of the ‘sacred north’, which these two were not. At least this implicit claim was a handy tool for them in their war against the people of Nigeria as they schemed to gain ungodly power and to fulfil their silly egoistic ambitions.

It is the contention of this writer that the Nigeria’s political set-up is a fertile ground for soldiers of fortune (or is it misfortune?) as well as clever political rogues to lay siege and prosper on the misfortune of the ever faithful but hapless country men and women who put trust in them. As a result of this covert set-up, the Nigeria’s federal political arrangement, since its inception in 1960, has had its real power jealously hidden from the public view.

With the benefit of hindsight, it seems those controlling the Mafiosi-like leadership selection arrangements have sworn never to uphold or respect any Nigerian constitution. It seems this gentlemen of the night are forever mainly driven by a supremacist and fundamentalist clandestine secret agenda that are contrary to the open constitution of Nigeria. This is the set up that has consistently produced rogue military leaders and weak purposeless political leaders.

However, is there any truth in the belief that the common people of Nigeria cannot relate or work or live together because of the differences in religious faith? Is it true that the Northern part of Nigeria is a wholly Islamic region and that it abhors every other person who does not share its beliefs? Can we ask, what is so special about the people of the North that they needed extra-vigilance in order to keep off other people from their perch of Nigeria? When and how did the fear of political domination developed and who are the sponsors of this vile divisive idea?

This writer believes that finding answers to these questions will go a long way in unravelling the myth that created the kind of leadership that have bestridden and wrapped Nigeria in fear since independence to the detriment of peace, equality, freedom, justice and development.

The Fallacy of National Unity

As a result of the ungodly rule of Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha, the last thirteen years in Nigeria witnessed a despicable value reorientation and a grievous barbaric misuse of state power. These two governments committed atrocious and heinous crimes on the peoples and on the institutions of government in Nigeria. It will shock all and sundry when Nigerians who are physically involved in the perpetration of these dastardly deeds eventually find their voices. The revelation will almost dwarf the record of the Nazi Germany of 1939 – 1945.

The testimonies will surely come into the open when sanity begins to reign in the land. These incidents cannot and should not be swept under the carpet without the truth being told to prevent a reoccurrence. The psychological damages to both the perpetrators and the victims will be too great for the health of the nation to handle. And unless a healing process is put in place the consequence might lead to a social and political implosion.

At the moment, some of the victims of these atrocities are too traumatised even after being released from incarceration to discuss their painful experiences in the hands of friends, work-mates, kinsmen, business-partners and such like close acquaintances who claimed they were acting and working for the greater good of the country.

These two hideous men claimed they were more concerned about the unity and sovereignty of the country than freedom, liberty, constitutional or human rights, justice, rule of law, fair play or other such civilised niceties. They were unyielding in their vain faith that the unity of the country must be preserved even if every dissenting voice has to be cruelly shut by force or blackmail or even death, so be it.

It is disheartening to hear the likes of Umaru Shinkafi, former Director-General of the National Security Organisation, a presidential aspirant in 1993 and a Vice-presidential aspirant in 1999, in his published tribute to the memory of Sani Abacha, saying,

“Those individuals whom he [Abacha] saw and judged as too determined to undermine Nigeria’s unity of purpose he confronted very forcefully. In these, he never flinched. To me that approach accounted for his stern public image…. Personally, I would say categorically that General Abacha’s preoccupation with preserving Nigeria’s unity, security and sovereignty against any form of subversion in the guise of political freedom or international diplomacy is valid.”2

It is therefore valid to lie, murder, put innocent people in jeopardy, torture, maim, incarcerate and engage in all other unspeakable things which Shinkafi knows much about, as he was the first civilian head of the organisation saddled with such great national assignment. Just think about it, if eminent personalities in Nigeria like Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Shehu Musa Yar’Adua could be made to go through a cooked-up coup plot, conviction and sentencing all in the name of preserving national unity, then may the good Lord help the poor and ordinary Nigerians who fell by innocent mistakes into the traps set for subversive elements.

From the newspaper reports we now learnt that the Nigeria Security agents don’t even wait for their foes to commit the offences alleged anymore: they set traps for the would be offenders! They are now so brilliantly creative in the performance of their duties to the extent that they set traps for adjudged enemies of the state.

Oladipo Diya and others already convicted and sentenced to death for coup d’etat are living examples of such ingenious official masterminds. In the words of Obasanjo concerning his sojourn in the hands of blue-blood patriots,

“The conviction as dictated by the highest level of government was parcelled out like wrapped presents on 14th July 1995 to some citizens of this country who were seen as too dangerous or uncompromising for the comfort of a deceitful, godless, corrupt, soulless, oppressive, murderous, obstinate and wicked regime. The whole exercise was a charade and a cover-up to arrive at a predetermined objective of eliminating and silencing those who refused to be compromised. It was the most iniquitous political act by any government since Nigerian independence.”3

Reasonable men and women in Nigeria are asking, and the question is becoming more and more strident of recent, on whose or for what benefit is this unity to which Nigeria as a political entity has been obsessively committed since its amalgamation in 1914? The murmur and query are getting louder, more so when it is noted that every evil being perpetrated by the state agents has been committed in the name of the unity of Nigeria.

The question is if the unity of Nigeria is so important, how come ordinary Nigerians seem not to understand it? Do you need high intelligence quotient to decipher that one’s life and every other life in Nigeria cannot survive except there is this elusive but yet ineluctable unity the political overlords hanker about? What is the nature of this unity? Who are the visionaries or prophets who had looked through the magical glass to discover that without this magic wand called unity that Nigeria and the life of every human existence in it are in peril? The word of Immanuel Wallerstein on unity is prescient,

“In the abstract, unity is an innocent concept that precludes dissent. But in its concrete manifestation – the desire to create, reinforce or increase the unity of a specific social group – it is far controversial.”

The Holy Bible has a passage that says; can two people walk together except they first agreed? And there is another popular adage that says, you can drag a horse to the river but you cannot force it to drink if it does not want to. Is this not the character of Nigeria’s political situation? Are the different nationalities, which constitute this geographical space, called Nigeria willing to walk together or have they all agreed to walk together? Are they been dragged along the political highway without their consent? Are they been forced, cajoled, manipulated, blackmailed under duress to follow? Or else…

It was once said that, “Holding this country together is not possible except by means of the religion of the Prophet…. If they want political unity let them follow our religion.”5 Have the attitude, perception and conception of those who made the statement or that of their protégée changed since those words were recorded in 1942 by the Conference of the Northern Chiefs?

The history of national unity started with the 1947 Richard’s Constitution, which stated that one of the three main objectives of the constitution, is “to promote the unity of Nigeria.” The other two objectives are, “to provide adequately within that unity for the diverse elements which make up the country” and “to secure greater participation by Africans in the discussion of their affairs.”6 This is one of the proofs of the British hypocrisy in the affairs of all her colonies. Why is it that it was at the eve of its departure from Nigeria that Britain realised that the unity of Nigeria was important? What is wrong with the established divide and rule strategy that was already in place and working perfectly fine since 1914? What is wrong with the two separate and distinctively different legislative councils that have served the British colonial rule perfectly well in their raping, pillaging and acquisitive functions?

The simple answer is that the unity doctrine is one of the booby traps laid out for the all-believing and all-trusting Nigerians. The political goal of uniting diverse ethnic nations into one monolithic nation has never been achieved anywhere in the world peacefully except by murder and rape. In all countries where different ethnic nationalities were merged together under one flag, this ignominious political experiments were often achieved by a military conquest. The process has often been hastened by the killing and slaughtering of all the male population in the captured territory and by the merciless abduction and raping of the mourning widows and daughters.

In such countries the women population are never trusted because of fear that they could carry out a revenge attack for their murdered husbands and sons. Sex discrimination is therefore craftily weaved and worked into the cultural milieu using all kinds of concocted traditional values, myths and superstitions to hold the women down and separate from active participation in the political life. Check your history books if you are in doubt. This is the political minefield Britain laid out for Nigeria. And, we fell into it headlong and have remained trap within it ever since.

For sixty godless years, every government in Nigeria has made the unity of Nigeria the first among equals of their national goals to which every other goals were subsumed. As a result of this unity obsession, other goals like economic well being, technological development, justice, law and order, equality and liberty which are more fundamental to the goal of unity or the goal of social cohesion for the overall well being of the nation have suffered in the hands of the oligarchic fundamentalist and the colonial native feudal lords. We could therefore safely remark that the reckless wasteful pursuit of the Nigerian governments in search of the need to fudge a national unity since 1960 is central to the political problems of Nigeria. 

It should be obvious to all discerning people that the political unity, the kind Britain designed for Nigeria, could never be achieved under a climate of cultivated and regularly sustained mistrust except by the use of fear, arson, blackmail and patronage. These are the instruments that were perfected by the two musketeers who stole the highest office in the land. It was political salesmanship galore. Every Nigerian that voiced a different opinion from that of the government of the day was silenced by either a threat to his life, or by blackmail or by outright offer of money and positions. It sure did work, at least for Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha but it failed to achieve the much-touted unity of Nigeria to which every resource available to the country has been diverted since 1960.


11th October 1999.

(To be Continued)


2. Umaru Shinkafi’s statement quoted from Akin Oshuntokun’s ‘Between Obasanjo And Shinkafi’ in The Guardian on Sunday, June 28, 1998.

3.  ibid.

4.  Immanuel Wallerstein, Africa: The Politics of Unity . London: Pall Mall Press. 1968.

5. O. Awolowo, Path to Nigeria Freedom. London. 1947 p.31 (Awolowo quoted the statement from the Official Report of Conference of the Northern Chiefs held in 1942 being their ‘response to a letter written by the West African Students’ Union in London appealing to the Northern emirs and their people for co-operation with those in the South in tackling problems of Nigeria identified by the students.’)

6. ibid.