Opinion: Pain In My Heart – Intellectual Obstacles To Nation Building In Nigeria; By John Abhuere

When some Nigerians especially politicians speak or write about problems of Nigeria, they focus more on the physical side of development at the expense of the mental side. They look at the body- the outside of man and seek its improvement and tend to ignore the mind-inner-side of man – thereby leaving it dark and undeveloped. With undeveloped or underdeveloped mind in prowl, the greatest obstacle to progress is laid and creative thinking and critical evaluation become difficult in society. Such people begin to ask the wrong questions and so get the wrong answers to problems. For instance at the national level, they talk of structure, corruption, origin of the country especially its foreign creation by the British in 1914 while conveniently ignoring the weakness of man especially intellectual inadequacy which largely accounts for poor performance in leadership, management and governance of the country. Consequently in most cases they make the wrong such as the demand for restructuring and take the wrong steps such as the willful assault on the constitution as solution to biting problems of disunity, poverty and under-development. The neglect of the mental or intellectual side of man in the development is at best an incomplete approach to nation-building that has not helped the cause of national unity and development in Nigeria.

The present approach has left so much out of consideration. Operating from narrow mindset and limited vision say of regionalism, writers have hardly taken a broad view of the problems of the country, or hard, close look at the conduct of leaders in government in relation to those unseen factors that inform and drive their policy actions. Take the disrespect for rule of law, violation of the constitution, and corruption in Nigeria for illustration. Why have they been so persistent? The answer lies in the warped mind or negative values of the actor. Other than poor or wrong value orientation, why for instance, would a man entrusted with high office decide to abuse it, betray the trust by resorting to corruption or violation of the constitution he had sworn to defend? Such actions of men and women can only be explained by the influence of some unseen hands or factors within men and women which inform their actions. It is needless to say that their failure or breach or misapplication has had negative impact on the well being of citizens, unity and development of the country.

As we have hinted earlier, when someone in position of trust and responsibility  pockets the money meant to provide public utility, say water or power, provide security or check insecurity, such a person is only impoverishing the country by robbing her of scarce resources for national growth and development. The underlying value for such unpatriotic action is selfishness usually driven by individual greed for political power and material wealth. When leaders employ citizens on grounds of nepotism, or cronyism, disregard the rule of law,  or deride the  country as good  for nothing etc such  people are usually driven by unpatriotic and non altruistic values and would only be helping to sowing the seeds of envy, division, discord, alienation, disunity, poverty, incompetence, underdevelopment etc in the country. It should be observed that some of these actions that retard progress and unity are issues of the mind done either consciously or unconsciously. But either way, they have negative effect on the unity and development of society. Unless there was a change of direction for the better, the society concerned may never attain her goal of solid national unity and meaningful development. This has been the case of Nigeria which has been driven by incompetent elite with profane values, poor knowledge and wrong ideas emanating from the inner side of man.

Such unseen factors include their values, belief, intellect, attitude, capacity, value orientation, conceptual understanding of the task at hand say nation building, the quality of their ideas, their perception of justice, quality of skills in leadership, management, governance etc. But while these are the things which inform elite’s actions that either make or mar the progress of a society, however, little or no attention is paid to them by most critics of the present structure. Rather in the more recent years, they had concentrated on demanding for restructuring of present system as though a structure would produce gold without the good touch of man or woman. A system or structure may be erected for a great and just society, but it could be frustrated or even ruined by elite’s negative attitude.  Thus it has been unhelpful focusing only on the physical aspect of nation building say the system, structure without developing the mental side- the mind of man – the master creator and user of systems.

Leaders and managers of the country need to know many things about nation –building-process, techniques, approaches etc. today. For instance, without due understanding and knowledge say of history and concept of development, and those values and skills and competencies that drive human actions in positions of responsibility meaningful development and unity cannot be expected. In the absence of sound knowledge we grovel in the dark, focus on wrong issues, go the wrong way, become dependent on others say clergymen, sorcerers, foreigners, to think and interpret our reality. It is unhealthy. Unfortunately most of those we depend on for deliverance are no better because they themselves are products of same society of under-developed mind or intellect. As one does not give out what one does not have, we have had fake answers to our questions and problems of daily existence. Of course the questions have thus remained unanswered and the problems left unsolved. This explains why we have tended to move in cycles with same problems year in- year out in Nigeria. Issues of the mind- values, ideas, attitude, ideology, meaning etc- those unseen factors located inside of man that have marred the development and unity of the country constitute what we refer to in this exercise as the intellectual obstacle to nation-building.

Consequently in this second part of our reflection on the state of nation after nearly sixty years of independence and on the way forward, we shall identify some of the intellectual obstacles to nation building in Nigeria. In addition, we shall show how poor philosophy, inappropriate ideology, faulty ideas, negative value orientation , poor attitude, lack of conceptual  clarity and poor understanding of developmental issues, selfishness, poverty of skills ability and elite’s poor performance in leadership, management and governance  have kept  the country disunited and under- developed over the years since independence. We shall define relevant terms and explain how the issues we have classified as intellectual obstacles impacted negatively on the unity and development of the country over time till date. For the avoidance of doubt, it is the wrong actions of men such as their misuse or non-use of some relevant terms or principles that has been the bane of the country. Some of these issues are small, ordinary daily events. Others are big and known, but ignored or taken for granted by the elite. Yet others are done but in the wrong way for selfish reasons. But in all, they are important in nation building. To recall, these include issues of values, justice, governance, leadership, citizenry participation etc which had been in short supply in Nigeria.


The importance of the intellectual aspect of national development has been stressed by writers. For instance according to Tatalo Alamu who identifies “an intellectual dimension to the crisis of the nation”, the intellectual question is important and therefore deserves much attention because “without the intellect, there can be no illumination. And without the flash of intellectual inspiration, there is no way to think the way out of the tunnel of abysmal hopelessness”.  Society thus lives in ignorance and darkness (On State Closure and state capture – Clarification and Elaboration The Nation on Sunday 14-10-2018 p3). The effect of darkness has been calamitous because each society needs light to see the way forward.

Basically all human development starts from human imagination and ideas. They only come into fruitful reality through conscious actions of men and women who nurture and develop them in accordance with their values. Ideas are very important but misleading ones can prove disastrous. In retrospect, it can be said that the ideas which the early educated political elite helped in fertilizing and nurturing were not helpful to the cause of national unity and development in Nigeria.  Rather they laid the basis of disunity on consistent basis. For instance, Regionalism as sold and applied by the early leaders has proved to be counterproductive to the notion of national unity and development.

Thus while it is true  as  the saying goes that ideas rule the world, dangerous ideas in the hands of bad leaders could lead to the ruins of society. In other words, ideas can only become profitable through the positive actions on them by progressive human beings especially those in position of leadership, management and governance. 

Otherwise ideas and structures based on them will remain dead and unhelpful no matter how brilliant without the productive touch of good men and women. That is why the actions, examples and attitude of leaders are important in nation building.  They help in translating and moulding ideas into rewarding reality for the good of the citizens of a country.

According to Jack Confield, the”attitude and behavior “of individuals make the difference between success and failure of any project including the game of life. While the author advised against any enslavement to bad habits or unhelpful ideas, the point about Nigeria has been the inability to change from bad governance to good one, from disunity to unity and from poverty to wealth due to the persistence of wrong ideas, inappropriate models, wrong values, philosophy and ideology of development by succeeding elites.  Looking back into history, it is safe to observe that the examples and attitude of the early leaders to nation building in Nigeria were not the type that could possibly promote national unity and development. They were largely divisive and discouraging of the unity and development of the country. The quality of their thoughts and actions was low, negative and inimical to the progress of the country. For instance, through regionalism and politics of bitterness, they projected tribalism, ethnicity, religiousness far beyond comfortable limit and their successors have continued in the same vain manner to promote unhealthy values. They have left the country in perennial state of crisis.

This is important to note because as Tatalo Alamu cited earlier has observed,’ the crisis of the Nigerian post-colonial state is also a crisis of the intellectual class leading to progressive debility of the thinking and critical faculty…the ultimate designer crisis…tailor- made for clinical disorientation”.  To him, “most members of the Nigerians elite are incapable of a transcendental vision of humanity, of society and of the nation-state itself. This is why it has been intellectually and emotionally impossible to sustain the very idea of Nigeria as an imagined community of shared destiny and organic values. Yet without these collective aspirations and cohering ideals, nation-growing is an impossible task”. Alamu is correct in his analysis of the Nigerian condition.

In an earlier piece, the author had demonstrated the sad effect of the intellectual weakness of the elites by observing what he calls “the perpetual closure of the Nigerian state by the ascendant groups” and its verge towards “state capture”. According to him “state closure occurs when all factions of a political elite view the state as a hostile construct: an alien and alienating entity.  To him while ” this is why every ascendant group since independence has tried to barricade itself even as it violently wards off all interlopers and interlocutors”,  “state closure, in extreme case, leads to the erasure and virtual obliteration of the nation itself”.

According to him”this is why many nations, particularly in Africa, have become an inferno of wrecked hopes and expectations”. He cites examples to show the effect of state closure on Nigeria. Among others it led directly to “the 1966 coups, the civil war, the Orkar mutiny, the annulment of the June 12, presidential election, General Abacha’s Stone Age despotism, the low intensity civil war in the wake of this, the Sharia gamut, militancy in the Delta and the Boko Haram insurgency.

Poor intellectual orientation or weakness has also resulted in what the author calls “state capture”. He explains that”state capture occurs when a deliberate entrapment of the state and its machinery by corrupt elements leads to state-incapacitation and inability to discharge its principle function as a neutral arbiter of elite disputation.  He noted “the idea of state capture was a World Bank terminology for rogue regimes spawned by the collapse of Soviet autocracy though today it is generally used to refer states that have been captured by “corrupt elements”.

The author explains further: “At the level of superficial semantics state capture appears like a more radical and total version of state closure. Yet in reality while state capture implies forcible and comprehensive seizure of state machinery, state closure suggests a deliberate and systematic closing off of the state often by pseudo-democratic means (The Nation Sunday October 7, 2028 by Alamu Tatalo).  In effect both concepts refer to the nefarious acts of group of people associated with power   and their misuse of same to the near ruination of their own society.

The intellectual weakness of the elite has been largely responsible for the troubled history of the country since independence- but mostly for selfish reasons. As the author cited earlier observed: “The African post-colonial state is a neo-Roman coliseum of battered and bleeding political gladiators’. ‘They duel unto death. The prize money is huge and humongous and it is worth dying for. Rather than being an arena or site for negotiating elite conflict about the allocation of resources or adjudication about who gets what and at what time, the state is blood-splattered canvas for booty sharing and score-settling’.

The negative impact is so crippling today that some are now calling for change of attitude. To this extent it was refreshing to hear Osinbajo calling for a “new tribe” of Nigerians to build the country.  In other words the existing tribes have failed the country with their various unpatriotic acts. According to him, what Nigeria needs is” a tribe of men and women who are prepared to make the sacrifices and exercise the self constraints that is crucial for building a healthy society and who are prepared to stick together to fight injustice, to fight corruption, to insist on the rule of law even when our friends are at the receiving end. A tribe consisting professionals, of business men, of politicians, of students, of religious leaders and all those who believe that a new Nigeria is possible”(Osinbajo: we need a new tribe- The Nation October 2, 2018 p1-6).

(To be continued)

Dr. Abhuere is the Director of Centre for Childcare and Youth Development, Abuja.

Author: News Editor

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