By Jaye Gaskia
We are living through very dangerous, even perilous times. We are once again as a people living through a moment in history when positions are hardening, when battle lines are being drawn, when our notion of good and bad, right and wrong is calcified within a ‘’we and they’’ narrative that no longer has any regard for facts or truth.
We are living in a period when supposedly enlightened elites deliberately spew lies in order to edify ourselves, while we deliberately and aggressively dehumanise others.
Let me start by stating very clearly what and who I am, and what and who I am not! I believe in self-determination as a human right. I believe in the right of an oppressed people to self-determination.
I am also a firm believer in and fighter for Social Emancipation. I affirm that the primary division based on exploitation and oppression among and within human beings and human societies is the one based on Class; the division between Rich and Poor; Those who have and control wealth and power in society, and those who are poor, and do not control wealth and power.
And every ethnic group, every nationality, every gender, every religious group or sect, every faith, manifest this basic division within them.
Having said these, I affirm that I am a Humanist, not a Nationalist; A Marxist Humanist, not a Patriotic Nationalist.
And within this context, although I support the right to self-determination, I am not in the context of Nigeria; A Nigerian Nationalist, or A Biafran Nationalist, or A Yoruba Nationalist, or A Hausa Nationalist, or An Ijaw Nationalist; I am not an ethnic nationalist, of whatever nationality at all.
I do know however that people who make public declaration of their belief, who make public political demands, and who organise and mobilise towards realising those demands, have a responsibility; a huge responsibility, not only to the people they claim to represent, not only to the people they want to organise and mobilise, but also to the people who may not accept them, their message, or their demand.
Actions have consequences, and those who want to lead, or who claim to be leaders must be able to see beyond their noses, beyond the immediate.
What do I mean? What does it mean to demand self-determination? What does self-determination entail? At its most concentrated form self-determination implies separation, having one’s own country separate from that of which one was a part, or has previously been a part.
On the other hand, what does it mean to be a patriotic nationalist of a country or nation whose undivided unity one demands?
In the present Nigeria context, what does it mean or entail to insist on the indivisibility of Nigeria as some do? What does it mean or entail to insist on the other hand, that Nigeria must be restructured, and or to insist on the right of constituent parts to self-determination as is the case with the demand for Biafra, for example?
Whether we are talking of retaining Nigeria as one single country, or of having a situation where component parts leave and establish their own country; we are as a matter of fact talking about Nation Building; that is nation building within Nigeria, or outside of Nigeria, pure and simple.
So, whether it is Nigeria as it is presently constituted that we want to maintain and defend; whether it is Nigeria, with the present borders intact that we want to restructure; or whether we want to have component parts of present Nigeria become separate countries; what is central to all of these demands, is the utmost necessity of Nation Building.
The people of every country in existence, old and new, including peoples of territories demanding their own countries, are all essentially faced with the historical challenge of Nation Building.
Nations are not built simply because they are wished for, or because they exist, or because they have just become independent.
Nations are built over time, and the actions and inactions, of the elites, and the contending classes matter a lot.
Those who insist on the sanctity of Nigeria as it is today certainly ought to want that country to be stable, prosperous and to grow.
Likewise, those who want Biafra, or Odua Republic, or Niger Delta Republic, must also know and understand that these nations can only be built within secure borders, in conditions of relative stability, and in a context when they at the very least not in active confrontation with hostile neighbours!
What is the point I am making? On both sides of the divide; separatist or unitarist; self-determination or Nigerianism, there is an utmost responsibility on the part of the contending leaderships and elites to understand that ultimately what they must achieve is national building.
So, if nation building is the ultimate end, then it stands to reason that our demand must be well thought out; that we must have a clear idea of what we want and how we want to achieve it, recognising that we cannot build nations in the context of chaos, nor can we build nations against the will and wishes of those we insist must be included in those nations.
At the moment, unfortunately among the contending elites, there continues to be manifested reckless irresponsibility; while among the intellectuals, a significant retreat from the search for truth and empirical facts which form the basis of progressive scholarship; one that advances our common human heritage, rather than debases our collective humanity.
A New Nigeria is possible, a new socially just, equitable Nigeria; but it has to be forged through conscious efforts by all the peoples inhabiting the space called Nigeria in general, and by a conscious, selfless collaboration of the elites.
If the core challenge is therefore that of Nation Building, an irresponsible, greedy, selfish, and incompetent elite, that lacks foresight, cannot succeed in that task regardless of whether it is within Nigeria, or outside Nigeria.
Besides, building the new nations being proposed will require the same processes, and the building of national and international alliances, that are required in Rebuilding Nigeria. Besides, channelling those efforts into rebuilding Nigeria has some inherent advantages, some distance has already been covered.
Furthermore, there is a potential advantage in numbers, in size, in economies of scale. The logic of development of human productive forces, and the modes of production in human society is such that the trend is towards concentration, the trend towards diversity. It is why start-ups become global conglomerates.
Those who are unable to navigate leadership and take responsibility for building their societies now, cannot and will not certainly acquire those competences simply because they have a new nation!
So, what is my preference? I am a Humanist, a Marxist, and an Internationalist. I obviously prefer and would continue to work for a New Nigeria based on social justice, equality and equity, as I will continue to work towards the emergence of these at a global level.
I’d rather build class alliances across ethnic, national and religious divides, and work with those allies to perfect our humanity and rebuild the human experience; than to find myself in the situation where I will consider my friend my mortal enemy simply because he claims a different ethnic, religious or national origin or background from mine.
Actions have consequences, and those who assert leadership have a responsibility to safeguard our common humanity. When we dehumanise others, we simply dehumanise ourselves.
In reality, since 1999 at least no state has been governed by non-indigenes. Those elites who are incapable of providing transformational leadership and providing the inspiration to build their communities in this context will not be able to do so in a different context. The single narrative promoted as the only narrative, as the only truth is dangerous. It tears people apart rather than bring them together, destroys societies rather than build; it entrenches enmity rather than solidarity; and ultimately it weakens us all and debases our common humanity.
If we permit it to happen to others, eventually we shall be powerless to prevent it happening to us. What we require now is for the responsible elites, the humane intellectuals, and the foresighted leaders across Ethnic, Religious and National divide in Nigeria to reach out actively towards one another, and to put together a common platform and program to rejuvenate of society and rebuild our common country in the interest of the poor and oppressed of our society.
That task has become urgent and imperative. Let us build a Movement that unites us, that energises us, and that enables us to Take Back Our Country and proceed to Rebuild in our own image.
Jaye Gaskia is Co-Convener of Say No Campaign [SNC]; and National Coordinator of Protest To Power Movement [P2PM]
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