As a Nigerian American and a concerned humanitarian, I would
like to contribute my two cents to the ongoing conversation
about the future of Nigeria as a Nation.
To the so-called National Delegates who are working to create
a new constitution for Nigeria, I have this advice: Start small.
Forget about creating new states. Instead, create instruments
within the constitution that would allow communities to create
small, self-governed regions – cities. Focus on developing
infrastructure and allocating resources to support these new
cities so that they can do what cities have done all over the
globe for millennia – add new life to geographic locations and
create communities that serve to propel its residents forward.
Why Nigeria Needs to Focus on Building Communities
Nigeria is still working to become a nation. By its definition, a
nation is a gathering of people who share a geographic location
AND are connected by a common culture and belief system.
Nigeria, with all her glory and splendor and the potential she
has to flourish, has one major problem: Nigerians.
Nigeria’s residents seem to have a fundamental lack of trust
for one another. Neighbors from the same state have trouble
trusting one another. Northerners do not trust Southerners.
Southerners believe Northerners are the cause of most of
Nigeria’s problems. And whether residents are from the north
or the south, the Nigerian government seems to have no real
concern for its residents at all.
Nigeria should be a world-class nation. It is rich in human
talent, overflowing with natural resources and ironically
enough, according to an article in the New York Times, America
is home to some of Nigeria’s sharpest minds, . But back home
some of the world’s smartest people cannot see beyond
something as simple as tribe.
It is 2014 and Nigerians still segregate themselves into tribes.
Tribal culture is a beautiful thing but it has no place in politics
or nation building. Rather than elect an effective leader who
happens to be from another tribe, most Nigerians are willing to
live under the ineffectual rule of a kinsman, even if he is
incompetent, corrupt, visionless, greedy and clueless. That was
certainly the case during the years in which Northern
Nigerians manipulated the political system, only to end up in a
worse socio-economic position than their Southern counterpart
40 years later. Nigerians would be much better off if we
learned to work collaboratively, both in our day-to-day lives
and in the governance of the nation.
How the U.S. Capitalizes on the Tradition of Communities
After leaving Nigeria, I lived in Europe before moving to the
United States thirty years ago. The U.S. is known around the
world for its successful adoption of democracy. In a short span
of time, the nation has grown from being an agrarian society
to being a world superpower and has spent the last 70 years as
a global leader in innovation. How? Not by inward fighting and
corrupt policies that stifle the growth of its domestic economy,
that’s for sure.
Say what you will about the American government, the leaders
work to serve the people. Federal leaders serve the nation as a
whole. State leaders petition the federal government to
acquire more resources for their particular state. County
governments petition the state, and city leaders petition
county and state governments. The goal is always the same: To
do what is necessary to make their particular community, city,
county, or state the best in the Union. Now these aren’t
arbitrary acts. On the contrary, action is almost always the
result of a conversation that starts within the communities.
Yes, sometimes it takes a revolution and sometimes the people
have to raise their voices to make their requests known, but in
the end, they expect their government to move on their behalf.
They expect it. That’s what democracy is and I don’t doubt
the tradition of democracy is part of what makes America
great and powerful.
The American Opportunity is Real
Americans have an uncanny ability to create economic miracles.
They see opportunity where seemingly none exists. I suppose
that depending on your disposition, this ability to “see the
money” can be admirable or distasteful. Either way, most
Americans have the freedom to create opportunities out of
thin air. The government encourages it and rewards its citizens
with incentives for doing so. That kind of environment
inevitably spurs creativity and economic growth.
American cities are in a constant race to one-up the other
cities. Which city can create the most jobs, the most
opportunity, the greenest pastures, and the healthiest
residents? States try to poach businesses from other states by
creating reasons for businesses to relocate. The governor of
Texas can’t wait to go on television to woo California businesses
to the Lone Star state with commerce-friendly policies. When
a city manager is good at attracting businesses to his city, you
can bet the mayors of other cities are watching and it won’t
be long before one or more of them are reaching out to have
that city manager come work the same magic in their city. But
that’s the power of American communities and the ideal of the
In Nigeria, that kind of open opportunity is virtually non-
existent. It is almost unheard of to have a so-called non-
indigene from one state come in and assume a leadership role
in another state.
Case in point: My cousin speaks fluent Yoruba. Born in Lagos,
she took a position in Osun state for her youth service corp.
Unfortunately, her talents were not put to good use. In fact,
she and the other non-indigenes who were posted in Osun were
seldom given any tasks to perform while serving, simply because
they were from other states. The result was that a well-
intended policy designed to bring youths together was
thwarted in favor of clinging to an unproductive and outdated
notion of tribalism or state of indigene.
In all my years living in America, no one has ever made me feel
like a non-American. Yes, racial prejudice is still alive and well
in the States. But people face disadvantages everywhere. As a
Nigerian-American, I can apply for government positions. As
long as I meet the requirements, I can even launch a campaign
to run for political office despite the fact that I was not born
in this country. I cannot run for president, but I can certainly
run for governor of the state of California, and I may win.
Two years ago, Akinyemi Abgede, ran for the U.S. Senate in
Florida then turned around ran in the California gubernatorial
primaries in 2014. Just in case you are not aware, California is
the largest, wealthiest state in the union. Yes, America is truly
great and we ought to emulate everything America is doing
Why the “Nigerian Opportunity” Can Be Better
My mom (may her soul rest in peace) used to tell me, “If you
don’t know how to dance, you should look at the guy next to
you, especially if he is a good dancer.” Well, America is there
for the whole world to see. It is not perfect, but by adopting
some of America’s governing principles, Nigeria can reposition
itself to become globally competitive. You know as well as I that
it is unlikely people will ever elect a Yoruba man as governor of
Kano, or a Fulani or Hausa man or woman as governor of Enugu.
But history has proven that adopting a system that focuses on
national pride and democracy is more beneficial than hanging
onto antiquated tribal traditions.
If a group of citizens living under the leadership of a local
government feels the government is neglecting their needs,
they should do what Americans do. Come together collectively
as one community and form a city wherein they can assert
more control over the way in which they are governed. That
means creating a city council, electing a mayor and appointing
a manager who will run the city like a business. The city
manager will report to the mayor. The mayor is held
accountable by the city council and city council members must
answer to the citizens they represent.
Starting a city may seem like a huge undertaking, but it may
not take as much effort or time as you think. Many of us
conjure up images of huge metropolises when we think of cities.
One of the world’s most famous cities, New York City, has a
population of about 8.4 million. New York City is the most
populous city in the United States, but not all cities are so
large. In fact, the smallest incorporated town in the United
States is Lost Springs, Wyoming with a population of just four
people – two men and two women.
Residents form cities for a number of reasons. Sometimes they
do it just to gain more control over services like garbage
collection or to develop their own downtown area. In the U.S.,
this happens on a regular basis.
Each new city has to incorporate, as a business would do. It
cannot rely on handouts from state or federal government for
its survival. Each new city has its own charter, akin to a
constitution. That is how prosperity happens. I have lived in
California for over 30 years, and during that time, I have
witnessed the creation of no fewer than ten cities. New cities
compete with older cities, but residents do not protest the
chartering of new cities. The decision to create a new city is
solely that of the people within those city limits they claim. As
long as they can arrange their affairs to birth a viable city,
more power to them. Each city has complete control of their
city affairs, ranging from providing police protection to
collecting trash and fixing their roads. Each city is responsible
for generating enough revenue through taxes to remain viable.
The city will sink or swim based on the action or inaction of its
When I moved into California in 1981, I settled in Riverside
County. At the time, we had a population of about 181,000.
Today, our population is over 300,000, and our city budget is
over $900 million. In 1985, the residents of a small community
known as Sunnymead decided to opt out of county control and
create their own city. There was some opposition from
residents in the community who preferred the solitude of rural
living to creating a new city and attracting more people.
At its creation, the new city had a population of less than
50,000. Today, there are over 200,000 people within its city
limits. It’s the second largest city in Riverside County and the
20th largest city in the state of California. Such is the beauty
of self-determination. When people determine what is best for
them, they usually make a damn good choice. Nigerians should
leave state creations alone and focus on building communities.
We need to give Nigerians room to develop their own brand of
self-determination. Let us focus on creating communities that
will thrive without trying to opt out of the entity called
Creating more states does not solve our economic problems,
neither does it resolve the trust issue amongst our people. What
we need is to eradicate the system of indigene from our
constitution and entrench in our constitution that once you are
a Nigerian, you should be at home in any corner of the country
without feeling alienated or discriminated against based on
your tribe, language, religion, race, national origin, or color of
your skin; this is the only thing that will stop all the clamoring
of state creation. We must evolve to the point where we
recognize that good leadership has nothing to do with tribal
origin. Let’s do as my mother said and look at the guy dancing
next to us and adopt a system that works. Let’s make Nigeria
As a Nigerian American and a concerned humanitarian, I would