Recently a section of the media reported that a woman was leading nominees for the soon-to-be-vacant post of governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. If true, this would mean Nigeria is closer to having a woman governor of the Bank than it has ever been in its history. Good news? Unfortunately, this report was greeted by a section of the citizens with the weird claim that the nominee’s regional background somehow makes her unqualified for the position.

Because she is from the north and the incumbent is from the south, the argument goes, her appointment to the high office would be further evidence that northerners are taking over the country. The fact that the nominee has a long career in banking and is, in fact, an incumbent deputy governor of the bank was rendered irrelevant by this line of argument. This cynical outlook is unfortunately not an aberration in this country but has become an unpleasant fact. A deep-seated suspicion greets every action and development in the country.

Nigeria is a country divided along numerous lines, notably religious, ethnic, linguistic and regional lines. The country parades one of the largest congregations of diverse ethnic groups in the world, with over 300 ethnic groups cohabiting in the 923, 763 km2 that is called Nigeria. The languages spoken in the country are as many. Religiously, two major religions dominate and engage in embarrassingly petty competition.

Now, some would look at this diversity and see a richness that could be leveraged for the development of a country, but in the case of Nigeria, many who purport to lead her only see an opportunity to leverage the division for their own benefit and to the detriment of the nation. This disposition has roots in the colonial era when the British, instead of investing in nation building, focused on magnifying differences and stoking the division. The politics of independence and the first republic also contributed immensely to deepening the fault lines and manufac new ones.

It is now commonplace to come across politicians who project their personal ambition as the ambition of their ethnic or religious group. When they are schemed out of a position, they represent their hurt as the hurt of an entire group. The cynicism is tiring, but it is a cynicism that is bought by an overwhelming number of compatriots and therefore holds the nation back as violence and crisis are fomented thanks to the manipulation.

Nigeria’s nationhood will continue to be in jeopardy until we begin to hold politicians responsible for their divisive actions, in and out of office. It is a shame that the hate speech laws of this country are mostly abused to shut up critics with minimal or zero influence, instead of applying them against politicians who wield serious influence and wield them for all the wrong reasons.

An important way to manage Nigeria’s diversity for growth is to foster good governance. Hawkers of the nation’s difference succeed because too many Nigerians are looking for people to blame for their awful condition. A nation with the highest population of poor people in the world would foster a killing field for unscrupulous politicians and clergymen. Taming high-level corruption, however controversial, must be pursued with all rigour as the money that is stolen is exactly the money that is made unavailable for the nation’s development which in turns breeds dissatisfied citizenry who are ready to blame the “other” for their woes.

The current centralised system we are running should be overhauled. It is not totally irrational that citizens focus on Abuja for their redemption when the federal government wields more financial power than all the constituent states combined. When the federal government busies itself with mundane projects that the local government should normally execute, citizens begin to consider their problem as the result of action of other people outside of their domain.

If more power resides with the state and local government, the citizens can be persuaded to focus their attention on the people who lead them at the local levels. Unfortunately, it has to be acknowledged that our fault lines go beyond the national ones, but also permeate to the local level up to the town level. People within a state with homogenous ethnic identity still manage to draw up divisive lines. Redefining our governance structure at the federal level would therefore not heal all our wounds but might reduce their severity and redirect them to the local levels where local solutions might be available for redress.  

Sodiq Alabi tweets from @SodiqAlabi1.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of Nigerian Diary