By the time this article is published, the good people of South Sudan will become an independent nation by virtue of a peace agreement in 2005, which gave backing to the holding of a referendum on whether the Southern Sudanese wanted to remain as part of a corporate Sudan as created by the instruments of Independence in 1956, when it obtained independence from its colonial masters or as an independent nation. In January 2011, the people of South Sudan voted massively to sever ties with their Northern masters, whom they had engaged for 22 years in a bitter struggle over issues like religion, ethnicity and control over Sudan's major resource, being oil. The crisis being the longest in African history, claimed its toll of over 2 million people, as well as other scars such as the turnover of refugees, a dilapidated infrastructure, the non functioning of viable institutions much required for nation building and the trauma accompanied by any conflict so senseless as that of Sudan, which never failed to claim headlines then (The Darfur Crisis), a pointer of man's humanity to man.
Nevertheless, it is not yet Uhuru, as a subsequent crisis may still be in the offing over tenure of the oil rich Abiyei region, which both North and South Sudan lay claim to. It was responsible for nearly marring the referendum as well as pitting both countries in violent clashes against each other recently. Except both nations show great restraint and reach an amicable settlement on the said region, then the Abiyei crisis might lead to another round of war between the two nations with graver consequences. Kudos yet must go to the likes of the United Nations, the United States President Barack Obama for successfully coordinating diplomatic efforts and both Presidents of North and South Sudan for successfully implementing the 2005 accord successfully. Special praise again to US envoys , who used the carrot and stick method to get the vacillating Omar El Bashir, president of Northern Sudan to keep to the agreements. The deal may see the US remove Sudan from its list of nations that sponsor terrorism.
There are lessons here for the Nigerian nation. Students of history will understand that Nigeria and Sudan bear many similarities. We share a common colonial master, the British, who simply welded different nationalities into one single unit for easy administrative purposes without putting in measures to unify them. We share a bag of crisis, Awo's arrest, The state of emergency, the wetie crisis, the coups of 1966,the Nigerian civil war, Maitasine riots, Kaduna crises, June 12, the Sharia riots, Odi, Oodua Peoples Congress, Zaki Biam, Niger Delta and the latest, Boko Haram. We share a class of leadership so flawed that the only heroes we both parade are champions of tribal agendas.
A leadership that has by and large, failed to solve the unending troubles of ethnicity and tribalism, preferring to pay lip service or use crude force. We share similar resources, oil and gas, enough to wet one's greed. We share a history of the undeveloped regions, marginalized people as the unofficial policy of government, even when these regions contribute immensely to the wealth of both nations. We share failing institutions, weak and unable to regulate the affairs of our society.
We share a hodgepodge of people, who ordinarily should link hand in hand, irrespective of where we come from and move our nations forward but cannot, owing to the disjoint in our societies, caused by our overzealous love for religion or our ethnic group.
It was once predicted that Sudan would split into the Muslim-dominated north and the Christian/ animist south. That scenario applies to Nigeria as well; in fact we are moving nearer to the 2015 date, specified by certain US officials, motivated by the daily fissures within the Nigerian nation. South Sudan's emergence is an ominous sign to the leaders and people of Nigeria, to make hay yet.
What would Nigeria be like, split along ethnic lines? Where would the 360 ethnic groups be? How would they relate with each other, how would the Tiv nation relate with their Jukun or Idoma counterparts? How would the Okun people in Kogi and Kwara, relate with a Hausa/Fulani-dominated North? How would the Itsekiri man relate with the Ijaw man?
Nigeria as a nation cannot afford such a split, for even a North/ South divide, a confederacy or customs union, may not be an end itself; neither will it be a cure all. Our strategic position as the giant of Africa will also come to naught if we went our different ways. Even our attempts at securing a Security Council seat on a permanent basis in the United Nations would appear dashed.
Yet there is no gain getting all emotional about this if our leaders do not rise out of their local champions toga and help restructure this country, entrench true federalism and make moves towards granting greater control of resources to the regions or states and state police.
There is much greatness to being a Nigerian; in spite of our failings and shortcomings, our little feats tell us that greater things can be done if we would only get our acts right: servant leaders, an improved economy, a diligent civil service, a secure nation, full employment, uninterrupted power supply and even a viable nuclear programme.
Time is now, for the Nigerian people to begin a series of conciliatory moves; time is now for our youths to begin to revolt against the old order, think outside the box and demand better of ourselves, for we have stayed too long in the darkness, and much longer in the fire, before we fully melt away, let us step into the marvellous light and be melded like one people, one nation, one destined for greatness.
Igboeli Arinze writes from Abuja