OVER five and a half decades after what some would rather pessimistically describe as obtaining ‘flag’ or largely symbolic independence from colonial rule devoid of concrete economic or developmental content, Nigeria continues to grapple with the challenges of a complex and multi-dimensional national question.
The key aspects of the national question include weak integration at the horizontal level in terms of strained relations among a diverse mosaic of ethno-cultural, communal and religious groups; poor penetration on the vertical plane of central governmental authority into the sub-divisional peripheries of the polity; ineffective capacity of the state to deliver on its obligation to provide efficient social services and formulate public policy that promotes the greatest good for the greatest number of the people; and the absence of a supporting framework of ethical values that can sustain the overall wellbeing of society politically, culturally, spiritually and economically. In concrete terms, the national question manifests as a protracted economic crisis that continually deepens poverty and underdevelopment, massive deindustrialization and unemployment, agricultural underperformance, high incidence of crime and violence, prevalent corruption, virtual collapse of critical social services like education and health, chronic infrastructure deficit and widespread lack of patriotism characterized by loss of trust and confidence in the state.
Journalism is one profession that is critically and continuously preoccupied on a daily basis with interrogating and proffering solutions to the challenges of the national question. In addition to its constitutionally recognized role of serving as a watchdog over the activities of the state on behalf of the people, journalism also interacts with and reports other professions and spheres of society as they directly or indirectly confront diverse dimensions of the national question in their areas of specialization.
In news reports, features articles in newspapers and magazines, news analyses, opinion pieces, personality interviews, columns, editorials, specialized pages, radio and television discussion programmes and now the social media, journalism provides a platform for an unceasing and relentless dialogue and contest of ideas in the quest for answers to the national question as it continually evolves and mutates. Although it was published by Adonis & Abbey Publishers Ltd, United Kingdom, in 2012, it was only recently that this writer obtained and had the opportunity to read a copy of Emeka Nwosu’s collection of journalism essays titled ‘Nigeria and the Crisis of the Nation-State (Agenda for National Consensus)’. Running into 284 pages and covering 68 chapters including the introduction and conclusion, Emeka Nwosu’s offering enriches the genre of newspaper columnists who have collected their fragmented writings in book form for greater accessibility and readability as well as a valuable reference point for posterity.
The poet, essayist and polemicist, Odia Ofeimun, comments on this development in his essay, ‘Beyond the Tyranny of Disconnected Facts’ published in a collection of essays in honour of iconic columnist and journalism teacher, Professor Olatunji Dare, on his 70th birthday. According to Ofeimun, “Rather than be seduced by the tyranny of disconnected facts, and the daily fevers and periodic coups that turn journalism into a house on fire, the bringing together of newspaper pieces tends to give truth a viable and lasting consummation. Surely, journalism benefits from the expansion of space that books make possible. They help the linkage of daily events to larger interpretations beyond the quick dig of the daily newspaper or journal”. Continuing, Ofeimun says “Arguably, it is not every columnist who benefits from such gathering of old columns. Some columnists are made more forgettable by putting their pieces together.
Another generation of readers may well believe that what they are being offered is just old hat, uninteresting if not downright banal. But there are journalists who actually gain more credence by being secured between covers”. There is no doubt that Emeka Nwosu can easily be counted among the latter as there are few people better qualified than he is to comment authoritatively and competently on the crisis of the Nigerian state and the quest for an agenda for national consensus as this book so vividly demonstrates. With a Master’s degree in political science from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and a Master’s in Industrial Relations and Personnel Management from the University of Lagos among other qualifications, Emeka has two and a half decades experience in journalism, which included serving as Political Editor and later Deputy Editor of the Daily Times.
Apart from serving as Assistant Director in the Presidency and a Special Adviser in the National Assembly, he also contested although unsuccessfully as a national legislator in the badly flawed 2007 elections. Both in terms of theoretical grounding and practical experience, therefore, Emeka Nwosu is uniquely placed to offer useful insights into the character of the national question. In the various essays in this book published initially as newspaper columns in This Day newspaper between 2007 and 2010, Nwosu offers us interesting and penetrating perspectives into various developments in the polity during the period. Some of the issues that come under his analytic radar include crisis within the PDP, corruption in the aviation sector, failure of governance, remembering MKO Abiola, Icon of Nigeria’s democracy, the Freedom of Information Bill and Challenge of Democracy, collapse of values in Nigeria, the flawed 2007 elections, urban management in Abuja, violence in Jos, infrastructural decay in Kaduna, banking reforms under Soludo, resurgence of criminality in the Niger Delta and various aspects of the politics of the South East to name a few.
Nwosu combines analytic rigour and clarity of thought with freshness of perspective and lucidity of language. In a thoroughly researched introduction, Nwosu traces the roots of Nigeria’s national question to the colonial intrusion, which forcibly incorporated the ‘artificial geographical expression’ into the global capitalist economy on a weak and disarticulated basis. As he put it, “It is my contention that for a proper understanding of the dynamics of the crises of nation building in Nigeria, we must take into account the historical circumstances surrounding her evolution from the ashes of colonialism. To do otherwise, would amount to embarking on a journey without any destination; a wandering of sort in the wilderness.
As we grapple with efforts to reposition Nigeria, away from the colonially- inherited divisive political order, her elites must come to terms with current political and social realities on the ground and embrace ideas that would guarantee equal rights to the citizenry and equitable access to power to all the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria”.
And in the no less penetrating and incisive conclusive chapter, Nwosu reinforces this position when he asserts that “A peculiar problem requires peculiar solution. Attaining national integration in Nigeria in the last five decades of her existence has been particularly tasking and difficult. Since, at the centre of the National Question, is the problem of power sharing amongst the competing ethnic groups in Nigeria, it makes sense to put in place a political system in which no group is excluded from the power configuration of the State…In our search for national consensus, deliberate State Directive policies must be evolved to accommodate and balance interests of all the ethnic groups in the power arrangement of the country”.
But then, if the kind of elite integration across ethnic groups into the power structure advocated by Nwosu is pursued, will it necessarily lead to greater incorporation of the masses into the system with the much desired meaningful reduction in the level of social and economic inequality in the polity? In other words, can the national question be resolved in isolation from the no less critical issue of the social question and the attendant inequitable relations among social classes that one finds irrespective of ethno-regional origins and religious faith?