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Nation Building And Imperatives For Nigeria’s Transformation (1)



Nigeria’s former Head of State, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo once described Nigeria as a potentially great country. The 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, in his 2009 inauguration speech reminded Americans that “greatness is never given. It must be earned.” What is greatness? If greatness as a notion is measurable, what benchmarks can be used to evaluate the concept of greatness in any nation?

How does contemporary Nigeria fare in the light of the generally-accepted indicators of greatness? Where have we been found wanting on the scoreboard? What is needful to be done and make Nigeria truly great and empowered to score high on the contemporary human development index (UNDP) and take her rightful place among the comity of great nations? When the needful is done, the society shall be sufficiently transformed. Only then can Nigeria (the giant of Africa) fulfil a destiny bestowed upon her by God, geopolitical, socio-economic circumstances and history.

Elements of National Power and Influence

Greatness is generally associated with the idea of being “chief or pre-eminent over others” (Merriam–Webster Dictionary), “considerably above average in ability, quality, or importance” (Oxford Dictionary of Current English). For our purposes, therefore, greatness would imply a nation being chief or pre-eminent over other nations, considerably above average in ability, quality, or importance in comparison to other nations (as principal actors besides non-state actors in international relations).

The greatness of a nation would suggest the degree to which it is capable to attain its short-term, medium and long-term national objectives over other actors in its domestic environment and in its interactions with the international community. It is also important to distinguish between power (the possession of a certain potential element) and influence (the practical deployment of that element to achieve immediate, long-term or remote national goals).

In the light of the foregoing, the 20th century classical school of geopolitics and strategy, (Hans Morgenthau) recognizes power as crucial in the pursuit of a national interest at home or abroad. It identifies important attributes of national power, including geography, territory (land mass, and waters), natural resources, population size, industrial capability, political leadership, economy, social stability, military capability, diplomacy, intelligence, information/media and propaganda. Since the 20th century, technology has increasingly become a vital game-changer, minimizing or enhancing the effectiveness of some of the above elements of national power.

An effective and efficient application of one or a combination of these elements by a nation to achieve policy objectives or exercise influence is important. To the above instruments of national power, I would add national ethos and collective world-view of a nation (its leadership and people(s)) as very crucial. This is because a nation’s world-view would determine its beliefs, value system and behaviour.

How Powerful Is Nigeria?

Power in the political sense has been associated with security (territorial and human) and capability. It describes the resources and capabilities of a state. A nation-state may have a capacity, a potential as it were, to be powerful but that capacity has to be translated into a capability and effectively applied by the state in the pursuit of its national or international objectives.

According to the American author, Charles W. Freeman, Jr., power can be acquired when resources are transformed into capabilities that may enhance political influence, military might, economic growth, cultural influence and human development.

Regarding geography and territory as elements of national power, the extensive land territory and the severe winter conditions in Russia was to her advantage during the military campaign of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte against Russia as well as Hitler’s aborted invasion of Russia in the Second World War. Though Israel has a comparatively smaller land territory, the Jewish State was because of a superior military technology and morale, able to contain a confederacy of her Arab neighbours in the Arab-Israeli wars of 1947, 1967 and 1973.

Any threat by North Korea’s present regime to invade the American homeland with conventional land forces would not be taken as serious by Washington as it would a credible threat from the Asian country to launch inter-continental nuclear ballistic missiles (a product of advanced military technology) on American soil. Japan, a relatively small island state, is not endowed with many natural resources. But with committed and purposeful political leadership and advances in technology, Post-World War II Japan today ranks among the world’s richest and most developed modern economies.

For Nigeria, her geography and large land territory provide habitat to her large population, arable land for agriculture to guarantee food security and several solid minerals, petroleum resources for the manufacturing industry, inland waterways and a long sea coast to complement the available means of transportation for people and goods when properly developed. Opportunities abound along several rivers to develop irrigation, water and sanitation, fisheries and hydro-electricity power. All-year round sunshine across the country can be properly harnessed to generate solar power and the open fields for wind-powered energy in the open Savannah belt.

Furthermore, our large land territory can be a deterrent in a conventional warfare in the absence of a superior naval and air power of an invading force.

However, our relatively long and porous borders become increasingly difficult to patrol and secure without adequate personnel and technology. This leaves the country open to illegal trafficking in small arms and ammunitions, illicit drugs and persons, smuggling, insurgents and other cross-border criminal activities that undermine national development endeavours.

On population, Nigeria, with nearly 180 million people, a sizeable number of which are youth, ranks as the largest black nation in the world. However, general security of life, property, good health and higher life expectancy rate, literacy rate, skills development, gainful employment, and the availability of basic necessities of life, including food security, adequate and affordable housing, access to efficient health-care delivery systems, potable water and sanitation, general well-being and welfare (under a purposeful leadership) are needful to transform Nigeria’s teeming population into a formidable force in nation-building.

If in our international relations, we consider Nigeria’s foreign policy as an extension of our domestic policy, diplomacy constitutes a vital tool in the conduct of our international relations undergirded by the rest of those other elements of national power and influence. It therefore, behoves us to enhance the effectiveness of our diplomacy by developing and sustaining a properly staffed, adequately funded, equipped and highly motivated Foreign Service.

According to Hans Morgenthau (Theory of International Relations, Politics among Nations) “international politics, like all politics, is a struggle for power”. The classical realist school further argues that nation-states are the main actors in international relations and that the main concern of the field is the study of power. It defines power in terms of “an actor’s ability to exercise influence over other actors within the international system”. This influence “could be coercive, attractive, co-operative or competitive”. Mechanisms of influence can include the threat or use of force, economic interaction or pressure, diplomacy and cultural exchange. If national power is the sum of resources available to a nation in the pursuit of its objectives or the ability to influence behaviour of others to get a desired outcome, the US Joint Forces Operations and Doctrines SMART book differentiates between “hard power” and “soft power”. Hard power enables countries to wield sticks and carrot to get what they want while soft power is “the ability to attract people to our side without coercion”.

Regarding the protection of Nigeria’s territorial integrity an efficient military force is one that is properly trained, disciplined, loyal to civil authority, professional and highly motivated. Such a force should be supported by an informed defence policy and driven by a military doctrine that is adapted and responsive (in our present and future engagements) to prevailing geographical circumstances and strategies at home, in the sub-region, on the continent and at the global level.

The idea of a reserved corps of military personnel in peace time should, without prejudice, be revisited. The engagement of segments of a large army in other productive activities during peace time is also desirable. Egypt which has de-employed her Army in agriculture and its engineering corps in competitive construction contracts in peace time provides a good case study. But it should be pointed out here that military might is not everything. Otherwise why do big nations loose small wars? Russia’s exit from Afghanistan and America from Vietnam in last are case studies outside our present discourse.

–Ambassador  Chukwukeme is a retired diplomat, lawyer and consultant in international relations.

on that account have continued to interfere openly and covertly, in our domestic affairs, and in so doing, have undermined our development as one nation. The south-ward encroachment of the Sahara Desert, reducing available grazing and arable land due to Climate Change, the large population of unemployed youth, economic pressures across nations, Nigeria’s large Muslim population, make Nigeria a fertile ground for the destabilising activities of foreign adventurers in quest for regional hegemony with the collaboration of some of our misguided citizens. If these and the movement of many disbanded fighters from Gaddafi’s Libya(now potential soldiers of fortune/mercenaries) south-ward and the recent dislodgment of strongholds of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria if not properly managed by our leaders pose serious  threats to our national security and development as a nation.

Nigeria can expand existing cordial relations and forge new ones with other nations on the platform of mutual respect for our diversities. We can co-exist and share with other nations those common and universal values that are common to civilizations and human communities, irrespective of cultural differences in an interdependent world. That other cultures have different world-views does not necessarily make them your enemies. However, such differences ought to be constructively managed.

We can learn from the example of Indonesia, a heterogeneous, multi-cultural and multi-religious society like ours, whose motto is “Unity in Diversity”. The Pancasila(five principles) form the official philosophical foundation of the Indonesian State, namely: “belief in the one and only God, just and civilized humanity, the unity of Indonesia, democracy guided by the inner wisdom in the unanimity arising out of deliberations amongst representatives, social justice for all of the people of Indonesia.” These five principles are held to be inseparable and inter-related.

Our leadership and the political elite should be in the vanguard of this transformation. In “the Trouble with Nigeria” (1983) Chinua Achebe acknowledged that “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership…..The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership”.

Fundamental to our present national malaise is that, majority of our leaders and our people do not genuinely fear God. From Sacred Scriptures, we understand that God is people-oriented and loves justice and equity. We are also told that when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice but when the wicked bear rule, the people mourn (paraphrased). Whereas, sin brings reproach to a people, righteousness exalts a nation (paraphrased). Though “the necessary change begins in each one of us”, our leaders shall lead in the positive change revolution.

Take the menace of corruption for example, according to the Ancient Greek Philosopher, Plato (428 BC – 347 BC), “corruption occurs in a system because men who have not acquired the control of their appetitive passions and have not obtained higher level of knowledge and wisdom are given high political functions”. This is true of our society today.

However, Chinua Achebe (op cit) noted that “Nigeria is not beyond change…….. Nigeria can change today if she discovers leaders who have the will, the ability and the vision………… it is the duty of enlightened citizens to lead the way in their discovery and to create an atmosphere conducive to their emergence”.

He called on “all thoughtful Nigerians to rise up today and reject those habits which cripple our aspiration and inhibit our chances of becoming a modern and attractive country”.

Since Nigeria has many thoughtful men and women of conscience, a large number of talented people, Achebe wondered “why is it then that all these patriots make so little impact on the life of our nation?” “Why is it that our corruption, gross inequalities, our noisy vulgarity, our selfishness, our ineptitude seem so much stronger than the good influences at work in our society?”, “why do the good among us seem so helpless while the worst are full of energy?”

The electorate has a responsibility to ensure that the right people are elected into public office and should be accountable for their stewardship. According to 20th Century British Writer, George Orwell, “a people that elect corrupt politicians, impostors, thieves and traitors are not victims……….but accomplices.” The opinion of the same author of The Republic, Plato, that “access to power and prominence at elite level is subordinated to moral and intellectual excellence” is therefore worthy of consideration by Nigerian voters. Our elite, civil society and all well-meaning Nigerians who truly love Nigeria can play a role in educating our electorate on participatory democracy, the electoral process, the stakes and the implications of the choices they make. Strengthening our existing political institutions and processes (legislature, judiciary and executive arms of government) is also needful in this transformational revolution.

“He that rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (Prophet of God, 1 Samuel 23:3).

Nigeria is at the cross-roads of her collective history. In my view, a view shared by many well-meaning Nigerians, this is a defining moment for our country and its future. There are more than ever before, calls for justice, equity and fairness in governance between the political elite and the electorate, between socio-economic classes and the ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria.

On restructuring of our federation, we should not play the ostrich nor engage in “double-speak” or “political correctness”. Wide consultations between political and religious leaders, traditional rulers, trade union leaders, civil society, the Armed Services, the organized private sector and academia should engage to find creative and constructive ways to effectively tackle the issues, to drastically curb corrupt practices and ensure general security of life and property to promote an inclusive development and make Nigeria truly great.

In conclusion, I take liberty to share the thoughts of two eminent Nigerians, former Head of State, Goodluck Jonathan and the renowned writer, Chinua Achebe: “I have often expressed the conviction that our amalgamation was not a mistake. While our union may have been inspired by considerations external to our people, I have no doubt that we are destined by God Almighty to live together as one nation, united in diversity” (Jonathan). Achebe having concluded that “we have lost the twentieth century”, posed the question, “are we bent on seeing that our children also lose the twenty-first century?” His answer: “God forbid!” This should be the answer of every true nationalist and patriot.

Ambassador Onyeabo Chukwukeme, a retired diplomat, is a lawyer and consultant in international relations and sustainable development.