“The world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect” – Nelson Mandela

As the late Nelson Mandela put it: “The world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The black people of the world need Nigeria to be great as a source of pride and confidence.”

The Patchwork Nation

By ADEWALE MAJA-PEARCE, Contributing Op-Ed Writer/The New York Times
Published: December 26, 2013

LAGOS, Nigeria — In 2005, the National Intelligence Council, an independent group that advises Washington’s director of central intelligence, published a report that raised the specter of “the outright collapse of Nigeria.” It echoed an earlier council report on global trends through 2015 that was pessimistic about the future of the so-called giant of Africa.

The findings struck a nerve. They were repeated ad nauseam in Nigerian newspapers, over the airwaves and in beer parlors throughout the land, inflated with each retelling to the point that many Nigerians actually came to believe that the United States government was predicting their nation’s imminent collapse.

Regardless of its accuracy, the anxious chatter reflected the fears of many Nigerian citizens that their country, which promised so much at independence 53 years ago, has delivered so little. Despite its great wealth, Nigeria today has a worse rate of infant mortality than neighboring Liberia.

Much of the problem lies in the sheer ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity of this patchwork country — a legacy of the British empire. It is common to talk about the “largely Muslim north” and the “largely Christian south,” a characterization that is itself something of an oversimplification (there are plenty of both Muslims and Christians in either region), but a deeper problem is the existence of some 350 competing ethnicities.

Just three groups (the Hausa/Fulani, the Igbo and the Yoruba) comprise roughly 70 percent of the total population of nearly 170 million people. All the rest are minorities.

In the years before independence in 1960, the smaller tribes all expressed fear of domination by the three largest ethnic groups once, as one early nationalist put it, the “restraining and liberalizing” hand of Britain was removed. In an effort to address those fears, the British appointed the Willinks commission to examine how best to reorganize the soon-to-be liberated country. But its report, published two years before independence, hardly helped their cause.

“It is seldom possible to draw a clean boundary which does not create a fresh minority,” the commission concluded.

The result, in any case, was the creation at independence of three, semi-autonomous regions for the three main groups — and for the minorities the subjugation they had foreseen and feared. The worst affected groups were those in the oil-rich Niger Delta, which accounts for at least 80 percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. The problem was displayed most brutally in 1995 with the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, an environmental activist and author, for demanding a more equitable share of his patrimony.

The struggle between the Big Three groups for dominance led to civil war and long years of military rule, which finally ended in 1999. In the process, the role of the federal government was strengthened while the three regions (and a short-lived fourth) were dismantled, first to form 12 states, then 19, then 21, then 30 and, finally 36.

In other words, and no doubt unwittingly, the country is gradually breaking up into the smaller and smaller ethnic-centered units that the Willinks Commission feared. As presently constituted, they are almost all dependent on their monthly allocations from the federal administration (i.e. oil earnings), but this is only because of the suffocating powers vested in the central government.

There is no reason why the states should not be able to form alliances for their mutual interests — except that this is forbidden by the Constitution, which also forbids the states from even counting the people they are supposed to be governing. Only the federal government can conduct a census, only the federal government can generate electricity, only the federal government can run the railroads. … The list is a long one.

The result is a dysfunctional country that nobody cares about, except the cabal that milks it for all it is worth. Meanwhile, things fall apart, as the late Chinua Achebe presciently titled his famous first novel, published the same year as the Willinks report.

The most obvious manifestations of the slow slide to disintegration are the Islamic fundamentalists in the “largely Muslim” north, and the Niger Delta militants in the “largely Christian” south. But the lawlessness includes widespread kidnappings and armed attacks on both commercial and private vessels off the country’s long coastline, apparently without any response from the navy.

Unfortunately, President Goodluck Jonathan, who is fixated on retaining his post until the 2015 election — to the exclusion of all else — appears to believe that we will somehow muddle through. The irony is that Mr. Jonathan himself is a member of a Niger Delta minority. His own Ijaw people launched an armed struggle against what they saw as an illegitimate government in the wake of Mr. Saro-Wiwa’s execution. Evidently, things look very different when you’re in the driving seat.

That Nigeria will have to restructure is not in doubt, but it is a great pity that we are about to miss an opportunity to do so in a peaceful, constructive manner. There are good reasons why Nigeria should stay together. With its natural wealth and gifted people, it has the potential to become a serious presence on the world stage, one of the few African countries with the wherewithal to do so. But to do this it needs to devolve power to all its component parts, thereby giving them a stake in its future.

The alternative is a great fracturing into yet more African countries, each with its own flag, national anthem and seat at the United Nations, but doomed to survive on the goodwill of others.

As the late Nelson Mandela put it: “The world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The black people of the world need Nigeria to be great as a source of pride and confidence.”

Adewale Maja-Pearce is a writer and critic, and the author of “Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa, and Other Essays.”

YOU MAY ALSO WANT TO READ: Haiti, and the tragedy that Nigeria’s failure represents to people of African descent – Tola Adenle


SATURDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2013. 3:15 a.m. [GMT]

, , , ,


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

7 Comments on ““The world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect” – Nelson Mandela”

  1. Tobi Says:

    And I disagree with this co editor that if Nigeria disintegrates, it will rely solely on goodwill of others. He needs to study the developmental path of most great nations.After a while every serious nation will come to terms with the creed of its independence.And no nation as is in this present world anyway stands completely alone without some of reliance on other nations even the Great US of A. So stop preaching that kind of fear-breeding philosophy that has prevented the nation from moving forward since time immemorial.

    And no true resolution of a messy conflict such as Nigeria’s can be truly peaceful. Even as Mandela preached peace in prison, thousands and thousands of South Africans actually died before a meaningful and somewhat egalitarian South Africa was achieved.

    So again i say, enough of this kind of talk and let’s set words to purpose.



    • emotan77 Says:

      Mr. Maja-Pearce, a Nigerian, wrote as he best understands or wills. There are many out there like him even in his ancestral Yorubaland even though most of us there would rather a parting of ways or, at worst, a confederation in which the center is very weak while each region can develop as it wants, prioritizing those things that are most important to it: religion, social development, etcetera.

      Unlike many journalists/writers … who cannot take a stand, as for me, Mr. Toby, I think Nigeria has run her course, and a long one at that, and has failed. Yorubaland as a nation, can exist without handouts as long as we do not borrow, borrow borrow for all the fancy projects that seem to be the directions these days, ESPECIALLY when financed through borrowings by states with little revenues. Pray, tell, why should we borrow BILLIONS of Naira when repayment sources are scarce? Would these not create more poverty?




  2. Tobi Says:

    Do we really need Mandela to tell that to that nation?!No greatness shall ever come out of that nation as is, it needs a total overhaul and a complete purge of its ailing elements.



    • emotan77 Says:

      Dear Mr. Toby,

      We need the voice of Mandela to remind us that we’ve failed to carry Africa on our back despite all our wealth. We also need our own people to keep reminding ourselves, hence my lowly cry referenced under that write up: “Haiti, and the tragedy that Nigeria failure represents to people of African descent” in my NATION weekly essay of January 2010.

      Our missed opportunities baffle, and the inability of those in government through the years to rise above the primitive acquisition that lead to the massive looting of wealth that should have long taken Nigeria out of the underdevelopment that it remains caught in must have led Madiba to utter those words.

      I know what you mean, that he did not need to tell us before we know but in Yoruba, a saying goes “Ti a ko ba so fun abi’fun rairai, ko pa ifun rẹ mọ, …” – meaning something close to: if a despoiler/vagabond/useless person … is not told of his shortcomings, he will continue in his bad ways.




      • Tobi Says:

        And a sane man would realise and understand that when you have told a vagabond too many times of the same thing and he refuses to change, then he has to take action to get rid of this vagabond before he infects others with his venom and breed more vagabonds. Nigeria as is,and its current bunch of political leaders from North, east, south and west,is/are the vagabond/s. No amount of talks or cautionary advice from Mandela(God bless his memory), nor you or anymore( to include Sowore and his Sahara reporters( sure even him would agree with me on this if he comes to know who i truly am cause we once shared equal thoughts over this issue) would salvage this madness.Nothing short of a revolution where brothers shall send his fellow brothers to the afterlife for crimes against the innocent. Not like the Biafra Revolution where some tribes like our own spineless Yoruba, align itself with the Non Progressive North to rob the Ibos of their shot at freedom. We have talked for too long Tola, use your blog to garner support of serious minded people who engineer words into action that would liberate the people and set everything into perspective. If Ethiopia, small and poor as it is, can do it,then I am quite confident that if we talk less(especially talks that border simply on display of intellectual showmanship through use of meaningless grandiloquent expressions) and set tasks to purpose, we shall we truly free to create a New Nation or Nations of everyone’s envy. I have said my piece.


      • emotan77 Says:

        Dear Mr. Toby,

        All well said, and thanks.

        My blog set out to document as much of my past writings in newspaper essays, etcetera in once place so that they can be shared with more people as well as serve as a repository. It just happens that many of those were on politics without my meaning to ever do that even though with a past in students’ unionism, General Secretary of Ibadan Poly Students’ Union in 67/68 and Assistant Secretary General of ANUNSA – the union of all Nigerian students in tertiary institutions during the same period, it should be apparent I was no wall flower in politics.

        This blog will continue to publish contributions by any – and all – who writes on social issues from reasonable points of view as my own way of hell-raising; nothing beyond that. I think I’ve raised enough hell – pardon my being the one saying so – for my time and the places I’ve been. Sowore, a companion in arms (so to say) of yours is doing a wonderful job and is getting results, so can you and other younger compatriots, I’m sure, if you want to go back into the theater of war and chart a different course from what
        we are taking.

        Talking more seriously, I think Nigeria still has a chance; we must let her have it despite the belief of millions of Yoruba like me who would rather be parted from the ill-fated and star-crossed forced union known as Nigeria.



      • Tobi Says:

        I don’t know if you are aligned with Ms Cleo or some of these other fake fortune tellers or star readers, but Nigeria stands No Chance for the better.Not even if the western God himself comes down to salvage. I guess this is where we must part ways; i have zero tolerance for inaction or just words,words,words either of past glorious deeds or present sentiments. I have once taken a bullet to my noodles in the name of Student Unionism and general human rights advocacy in the early 90s while a philosophy major in Unilag. But never again will i be the first to spear head anything in the name of Nigeria as is.And yes, i know war and its implications, i have 9 years and counting in the US Army, 3 tours of Iraq and multiple combat trainings to show for it.So, when that time comes, fear will not be a consideration of mine as its been with the lot of many Yorubas and other indeed other Nigerians. Enough said. Goodluck to you and others.


Leave comments

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.