By Omoaholo Omoakhalen: 2023 EPLF Cohort Fellow
Propelled by a collective and diverse pursuit of greatness and driven by the transcendent force of destiny known as the Nigerian dream, Nigeria’s journey to nationhood has been long and arduous. With over 250 ethnic nationalities comprising the nation, the Nigerian dream represents the aspiration that every Nigerian, regardless of their location or circumstances, will proudly declare themselves as citizens of a great and prosperous nation, saying, “I am a Nigerian.”
The pace of this nation-building journey has been influenced by the shifting economic power within the tripod of governance—politics, business, and civil society. In the pre-colonial era, economic power revolved around political institutions like the Alaafin of Oyo, the Oba of Benin, and the Sarkis of the Hausa city-states, resulting in strong centralized states and forged identities. Conversely, among republican peoples like the Igbos, economic power resided in individuals, households, and businesses, leading to a dispersed population across the country upon the formation of Nigeria, and eventually causing clashes between centripetal and centrifugal forces.
These inclinations were also reflected in the perspectives of Nigeria’s founding fathers. While Sir Ahmadu Bello and Chief Obafemi Awolowo were strong regional leaders, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe took on a more nationalist role. The fight for independence, from the Aba Women’s War of 1929 to the Abeokuta Women’s Revolt of 1947 and the General Strike of 1945 to the Iva Valley Resistance of 1949, engendered a sense of “Nigerianness” through enterprise and civil society, rather than partisan politics. However, the dominance of politics in the 1950s led to a retreat into regional identities, highlighting the underdeveloped state of Nigeria’s political system, a condition that persists today.
To foster the growth of mature political systems, Nigeria must cultivate a vibrant civil society and entrepreneurial ecosystem. The nation’s progress will be driven not solely by politicians, but by socially conscious and enterprising citizens who can mobilize diverse resources for transformative purposes. Consequently, Nigeria’s path to nationhood will be accelerated through the implementation of laws and policies that reallocate economic power from the political class to the citizens. This may involve the repeal of the Land Use Act and granting subsurface rights to taxpayers.
In essence, the Nigerian dream will be within reach when every citizen is guaranteed property and resource ownership rights, as well as control over production factors and wealth creation drivers within market systems that reward enterprise and social innovation. Furthermore, a politico-economic system that ensures equal allocation of opportunities and competitive rewards, while promoting social inclusion, will contribute to the fulfillment of the Nigerian dream.
By embracing these principles and enacting the necessary reforms, Nigeria can foster an inclusive and prosperous nation where every citizen can confidently proclaim, “I am a Nigerian.”