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Identity and Development, Lessons from Nigeria for Africa and Europe
Publisher: ECONOMIC RESEARCH 2002, 7 St Jamess Square, London, SW1Y 4JU. £10.
Reviewed by John Papworth
IT IS slowly dawning on even uninformed opinion that the winding down of the British Empire was one almighty, historic cock-up. In one territory after another the departing colonial authorities proceeded to arrange elections on the Westminster model in order to establish a strong centralised government to which it could transfer the power of government. The results everywhere have been both tragic and disastrous. The carnage and the bloodshed which has resulted already runs into millions of victims and the toll of terror, corruption, social disintegration, hunger and want continues to grow with only intermittent respite.
The key error lay in the arrogant British refusal to recognise the realities of Africas tribal identities and the strength of the loyalties and traditions which underpinned them. One major victim of this patronising, Fabian-style arrogance was one of Africas major colonial creations, Nigeria. A territory five times larger than England and the home of more than a hundred identifiable tribal entities of varying sizes suddenly found itself lumped together under one central, tribally dominated government. Every conceivable disaster ensued, constitutional, political, military, economic and social. Since then there has been one disruptive upheaval after another as successive governments, military, federal, presidential two-party and multi-party, tried their hand at creating a coherent and comprehensive system. They all failed; even as these words are written, ethnic bloodletting continues and now yet another constitutional review is under way. The Westminster model did not work, in part for the same reasons why it is ceasing to work effectively at Westminster, and why overcentralised, top-heavy government is breaking down everywhere.
The author has a keen eye for the problems and is not slow to spot the similarities of those problems of the Nigerian Union to the European Union. I am not altogether sure, however, about the validity of some of his proposals to resolve them. They include necessarily complex provisions for a fair degree of representation for all tribes, large and small, as indeed they must be, for such an incredible variety and complexity of interests.
But nowhere does he raise the question of the need for such a gigantic entity as Nigeria to exist at all. On such a scale the USA is deemed a success. But is it? In any case, given such a colossal scale of the factors involved, and some of its constitutional arrangements are deemed worthy of emulation, a final verdict on it in the light of the pell mell development of war-making technology allied to a scale of economic brigandage the like of which the world has never before seen, historys final verdict on that enterprise has yet to be given, although the omens suggest it will not be long in coming.
Nigeria is, after all, a purely colonial creation of forces quite alien to Africa and Africas interests; so that if it is of legitimate interest to consider whether such a giant entity can work at all and to consider how it may be dissolved into some at least of its hijacked parts, the next question is whether it is practical politics; practical in the sense of whether enough people would want it or work for it. Well, the world is already awash with the struggles of secessionist movements, and these movements are clearly the building blocks of the global polity of the world of tomorrow, a trend suggesting at least one answer to the problem that would arise of a successfully united Nigeria, which would inevitably become the bully boy of Africa tomorrow. One may discuss the answers endlessly, the important thing is that for a change here is a modest book which is at least asking some of the right questions.
Fourth World Book Review No. 119 return to top page