These timeless quotes were gleaned from Karl Maier’s book: “This House Has Fallen – Nigeria in Crisis.” Maier is not only a keen observer but also a gifted practitioner of the immersion reporting popularised by Ted Conover, the author of Newjack. His relentless accumulation of details and close-to-the-skin reporting shows that the spirit of both John McPhee and Gay Talese lives in his reportorial ability.
Most of the sentiments in the book are still relevant today as the time Maier focussed his reporter’s search light on Nigeria’s woes. Twenty-two years after his epic and ground-breaking reportage in Nigeria, we are worse off even with a democratic government in place. Great nation, little minds! What a nation! Tuck into his menu!
He said: “Yoruba people simply need some space to govern themselves and plan their own economic development free from Abuja – Dr. Beko Ramsome-Kuti.
“Designed by alien occupiers and abused by army rule for three quarters of its brief life span, the Nigerian state is like a battered and bruised elephant staggering toward an abyss with the ground crumbling under its feet. Should it fall, the impact will shake the rest of West Africa. Nigerians from all walks of life are openly questioning whether their country should remain as one entity or discard the colonial borders and break apart into several separate states.
“The issues of ethnic autonomy and a just distribution of the nation’s resources originally raised by Isaac Boro and the Biafran civil war had not been resolved, he said. This country is built on false structure. The Yoruba southwest should be allowed to return to the conditions of the early post-independence days when the region used the proceeds of its cocoa exports to fund free education. What future lies for our children? What future lies for us?
“Southern leaders and the Lagos press view the north as a monolithic entity that enjoys all the benefits of Nigeria’s vast oil riches while leaving the rest of the country to rot. Whether in Lagos, Port Harcourt, or the Middle Belt, the north is generally blamed for squandering the nation’s wealth and leading the country to ruin. The common wisdom is that although most civil servants and middle ranking officials in state run companies are southerners, principally Yoruba or Igbo, the man at the top is always an alhaji, that is, one who has made the hajj to Mecca. Typical of this view is Bola Ige, a prominent Yoruba leader. When I asked him who actually controlled Nigeria, he said bluntly, ‘There are not more than two hundred Fulani families and they are connected with the conservative emirates and the military. They are the only group that has no territory because they are immigrants. They are all over the place. They have no home.’
“Ojukwu freely admits he is a tribalist – the very circumstances of Nigeria only permit an idiot to be detribalized – and says that what he calls “ethnic sovereignties” should be the building bloc of a more just society. The natural order is a development of your ethnic sovereignty. In that analysis, he shares much with the likes of the OPC and the Ijaws in the Niger Delta. Here in Nigeria, you must first recognise the primordial sovereignties and then negotiate their position within the amalgamation starting from that recognition that they are sovereign. In that case, the sky is the limit. The issue is not whether you want a unified government for the entire country but what accommodation within that unity do you give to the various ethnic sovereignties that you cannot just paper over?”
One of the eloquent arguments for redrawing the Nigeria’s political map to collapse into six powerful regions once came from an unlikely source – late Abba Kyari. His argument was that six regions would mean leaner and more efficient governance. Hear him: “With thirty-six states, we have thirty-six governors, thirty-six deputy governors, an infinite number of permanent secretaries, political advisers, members of state assemblies, to the point that 90 percent of state’s entire income goes to service these people, who live in the state capital and constitute an insignificant part of the population.
“This centralised structure is literally taking all the money for itself and that means that there is no education, no health services, and an abundance of illiteracy and poverty. As long as you keep this structure going, you are going to have problems in Nigeria. It translates into social and political instability and it is thrown into ethnic, and religious fault lines.
“Millions of Nigerians including much of the cream of the educated and business elite have fled their country to escape impoverishment and political repression.
Most live in the United States and Europe, although almost every country has a Nigerian community. Nigerian drug syndicates, aided in part by the large diaspora, have carved out a dominant share of the world market. They rank among the top importers of heroin and cocaine into the United States, and they have penetrated major African markets, such as Kenya and the nations in southern Africa.
“In the official arenas of international discourse – the United Nations, the World Bank, the media- Nigeria is known as a “developing nation,” a phrase that conjures up images of economic progress of the sort experienced by the West or among the Asian tigers. Nigeria, like so many countries in Africa, is patently not a developing nation. It is underdeveloping. Its people are far worse off now than they were thirty years ago. The numbers speak for themselves. Despite some $280 billion in export revenues since the discovery of oil in the late 1950s, at least half of all Nigerians live in abject poverty without access to clean water. Literacy is below that of Democratic Republic of Congo. Gross domestic product per person is lower now than it was before the beginning of the oil boom of the 1970s.
“Colonial Nigeria was designed in 1914 to serve the British Empire and the independent state serves as a tool of plunder by the country’s modern rulers. Nigerians spent a good part of their lives trying to get the better of the government for their own benefit or that of their family, their village, or their region. Rare is the head of state who acts on behalf of the entire nation. The people are not so much governed as ruled. It is as if they live in a criminally mismanaged corporation where the bosses are armed and have barricaded themselves inside the company’s safe. Nigeria’s leaders, like the colonialists before them, have sucked out billions of dollars and stashed them in Western Banks.
“When Africa discarded the bonds of colonial rule, few could have imagined the depths to which Nigeria and the continent would sink a generation later. When the British lowered the Union Jack and freed a land, they had ruled for less than a century, Nigeria was the focus of great optimism as a powerful emerging nation that would be a showcase for democratic government. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that such optimism was naive.”
The push for a thorough rebalancing of this criminally mismanaged corporation called Nigeria has just begun. We should go on pushing for a reconfiguration of Nigeria and put an end, once and for all, to Fulani colonialism. Period!