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Centrifugal and Centripetal Forces in Nigeria

Today’s article is one on Nigerian unity and separatism by Azeez Olaniyan. It showed up in my feed because it begins with the traditional homage to the Peace of Westphalia as the origin of the modern state system. It also begins with the author citing his own work as sources three times in the opening three paragraphs. With this kind of start, I was afraid this article was going to be one of the bad sort that I referred to in my last post.

I was pleasantly surprised. The article touches little on Westphalia specifically, but it does address a matter of central interest to me: what makes a state coherent? Nigeria, like almost all other African states, was cobbled together from several different ethnicities and polities that existed prior to British conquest. In the case of Nigeria, these were the Igbo, the Yoruba, and the Hausa. The author notes that many attribute the failings of the Nigerian state to the presence of three different ethnicities. This is a fair criticism; it is difficult for a state to maintain loyalty among different groups. The Hausa threatened to secede on several occasions unless granted special privileges, and the Igbo actually did secede before being reunited by force after a bloody civil war. One wonders how those who promote “diversity” in Western states feel about the ethnic tensions in Nigeria and the rest of the world.

However, the author does not stop here; if he did, his article would just be pointing out the obvious. Instead, he notes that all states are the product of centrifugal (decentralizing/separatist) and centripetal (centralizing) forces, and this includes states in Europe as well as in their former colonies. It can be easy to overlook the ethnic differences within European states, but it is also easy to see them if we look. The UK is not just English but also Welsh, Scottish, and Scotch-Irish; Spain includes Castilians but also Catalans, Basques, and numerous other people who do not all appreciate being ruled by a central government. Belgium is so divided between Flemish and French speakers that the country is divided by a “language border,” and some Flemings favour separation from Belgium altogether. The list of distinct ethnic groups could be repeated for other ostensibly homogeneous Westenr nations.

In short, “the creation of the modern state in Europe, as well as its replication in other climes, has been a product of wars, forceful occupation, annexation, conquest, and subjugations.” “If there was any negotiation or bargaining,” he continues, “they were of little essence and significance.” I would disagree that negotiations played such a minimal role in the creation of Western European states, but I think it is fair to say that violence had at least as large a role. And if this is so, is Nigeria any less likely to form a cohesive state than Europeans were? Clearly, there are violent tendencies at work in Nigeria, as the suppression of the Biafran Republic demonstrates. The circumstances may not be ideal, but they never are.

On top of this interesting discussion of state formation, this article also caught my attention for a note it made about the origin of the name “Nigeria,” which of course was proferred by the British. “Lady Flora Shaw,” he explains, “the then mistress (what this generation would call a ‘side chick’) of Lord Lugard [High Commissioner of the territories] who, in what could be interpreted as an ‘imperial pillow talk’, succeeded in influencing the imposition of the word “Nigeria” on the amalgamated entities.” I did not know that, and I am impressed that the author managed to use the expression “side chick” in an otherwise scholarly article.

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