Nigeria: So, Who Will Speak Up for Nigeria?

12 May 2021
column

Since independence the unity of Nigeria has hardly ever been taken for granted.

This topic is being revisited here because it is even dangerous to have false assumptions today about a united Nigeria under the watch of President Muhammadu Buhari. The basis of unity in the country is being called to question in virtually every part of the country.

Therefore, it's time those who genuinely believe in the unity of Nigeria spoke up for the beleaguered country.

Unity has always been a prominent item on the national agenda in peace time and during crisis.

The tragic civil war was fought to unite the country following the declaration of the Republic of Biafra with General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu as the Head of State . Millions of lives were lost in the crisis. During the war the battle cry of the federal government was this: "To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done."

More than 50 years after the war, it is unthinkable that the type of force, which the government of General Yakubu Gowon employed to keep Nigeria as one nation, could be applicable anymore.

Instead, what is required at this conjuncture is playing the politics of national unity with the due sense of historical responsibility.

In particular, Buhari should consciously give presidential leadership to promote national unity. His tenure may ultimately be defined by what he does or fails to do to promote national unity. At least, he could sow the political and social seeds that could germinate and grow to become trees in the forest of national unity.

For instance, he could begin the process of restructuring by implementing the report of the 2014 national conference. He has more than 700 days to do so. After all, it took President Franklin D. Roosevelt only 100 days to lay the foundation of the New Deal for which he is remembered in history. Admittedly, Roosevelt had a clear vision of America that he pursued with policies and programmes.

At the end of the Nigerian civil war, the nation was reunited.

However, it has subsequently witnessed a lot of bloodletting in the course of crises in which national integration has been a factor.

All the constitutions written for Nigeria have always have had provisions to strengthen national cohesion. Policies and programmes have been designed and executed to promote national integration. Some provisions in the Chapter II of the 1999 constitution are meant to bolster oneness in the country as one of the "Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy."

National broadcasts by elected presidents and military heads of state have been laden with exhortations about the imperative of national unity. For instance, on October 1, 1980, President Shehu Shagari, listed maintaining national unity as of the achievements of his government. This was just a decade after the civil war. Shagari's National Party of Nigeria (NPN) fought the 1979 elections on the platform of national unity. Members and supporters of NPN were proud of the proclaimed achievement. The opposition parties, of course, would like Shagari to point to more "concrete achievements." The party's slogan was "One Nation, One Destiny." The question of unity was also central to the politics of the second most popular party. The party answered the question with its name, Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). The presidential candidate of UPN, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, campaigned on an unimpeachable social democratic platform.

He sold the ideas of free education, free healthcare, full employment and integrated rural development. His traducers could not effectively fault him on what he called the "cardinal programmes." Awolowo's opponents, however, steadily put him on the defensive on the question of national unity. They accused him of being an ethnic chauvinist who could not be more than a Yoruba leader. "Awo is a tribalist (sic)" was the common campaign against the UPN leader.

Today virtually everybody is a believer in "true federalism." It's now little remembered that Awolowo was once crucified for his position as an unwavering federalist. He theorised about federalism and worked hard to put into practice when he had the job of the chief executive office as premier of the old western region (the present southwest and Edo and Delta).

The point at issue here is that advocates of federalism were once accused of not being fully committed to national unity. The military regimes worsened the matter with their impolitic and mechanical drive for "unification." Today, "true federalism" has been elevated to level of a panacea to Nigeria's problems.

Historically, however, some partisans of national integration used to be impatient even with the federalist idea.

The foregoing is to demonstrate that the unity of Nigeria was once considered to be worthy of defence. On the contrary, to defend the unity of Nigeria is no more fashionable today because of the fissiparous ferment on the national horizon.

Some strange tendencies in the crisis of nationhood are often ignored by pundits. One of such tendencies is for those who have the privileged of holding high national positions of responsibility and sensitivity to regress into being ethnic champions in retirement.

Here we are talking of those who history had once put in vantage positions to see the complexity of Nigeria because of the responsibilities assigned them and information available to them.

This tendency is immoral and indefensible. In the situation, a Nigerian who has commanded the Nigerian army or who was once the inspector-general of the police or the head of a security agency doesn't see anything awkward in spewing ethnic prejudice against other groups in defence of its own ethnic or regional group.

Similarly, something is wrong with a nation in which those who have headed the national parliament making laws for the federation transmute into regional champions and ethnic irredentists. Nobody thinks anything is strange for a one - time minister of the federal republic who was in charge of the formulation and execution of policies with great impacts (negative or positive) on the political economy and the society now supporting secession.

In fact, it should be considered a political abomination for any former commander-in-chief of the Nigerian armed forces to ever belong to an ethnic or regional organisation. It is morally untenable. When you listen to some former national office holders on issues bordering on national unity you wonder how they managed to formulate or implement national policies in good faith with this mindset.

The same principle also applies to those who have had the honour of representing Nigeria outside as symbols of the nation's sovereignty.

How can you build a nation when those who once managed the affairs of the nation are not willing to wave the nation's flag anymore?

The other day there was a referendum on the separation of Scotland from the United Kingdom. Significantly, two former British prime ministers of Scottish origin, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, campaigned vigorously in support of Scotland remaining in Britain with a greater devolution of powers and other political reforms. As intangible as this point may appear, it is firmly at the root of the present grand assault on the idea of national integration.

After all, every nation is built by its people with some persons thrown up by history to play decisive roles.

To the separatists, it is naïve if not outdated to speak in favour of the unity of Nigeria. The most disastrous naivety, however, is to ignore the grave danger of anarchy that may descend on Nigeria in the event of disintegration. Whatever deficits this present dispensation may have recorded since 1999, it is still better than mobocracy (that is the democracy of the mobs) and the reign of ethnic warlords. With the heavily poisoned public sphere and free flow of arms it is sheer fantasy to imagine a neat and bloodless separation of any part of Nigeria.

Worse still, separatist agitations that used to be on the margin of the political landscape are creeping to the centre stage with public intellectuals busy rationalising mob actions.

Specifically, those who have proclaimed the republics of Oduduwa and Biafra with flags, passports and currencies in the cyberspace should ponder a point made about the fate of Nigeria by a fellow columnist on this page, Olusegun Adeniyi, when he spoke on May Day at the Platform, a programme of the Covenant Christian Centre in Lagos.

Adeniyi concluded his highly perceptive presentation like this: "There is enormous strength in our diversity. If we get our acts together Nigeria will certainly be more than the sum of its parts."

Unfortunately, Buhari has grossly mismanaged the nation's diversity.

The agitators of Oduduwa and Biafra republics should, however, be persuaded to accept the proposition that Nigeria needs every part to be a great country just as every part needs Nigeria in the context of the nation's history. Bishop Mathew Kukah is quite right when he says that it is "cheaper for Nigeria to remain united" than to disintegrate.

Those who want the two major ethnic groups in the south to be carved into different republics seem not consider judiciously the fate of the dozens of minority groups in the south, not to speak of the northern ones in the event of national disintegration.

In a most provocative manner, some intriguing maps of the proclaimed Oduduwa Republic include the geo-political space of ethnic groups in Edo and Delta states as if they are ethnically Yoruba. Similarly, the land areas of ethnic groups in the south-south are included in some nostalgic maps of Biafra. The Yoruba and the Igbo are ethnic groups of tens of millions of people. There are other ethnic groups in the south that are only in hundreds of thousands; some are even in tens of thousands. And poignantly, some of these ethnic groups are located in the oil-producing areas of the Niger Delta where the environment is degraded and exploited and the people live in poverty after decades of extraction of petroleum from their backyard to sustain the Nigerian economy. Now it is projected that fossil fuel will substantially lose value in a matter of a decade. Essentially, the proposition of the Yoruba and Igbo separatists is that the ethnic groups of the Niger Delta become micro republics of poverty. That is a selfish proposition. These other groups are as different from one another as the Igbo and Yoruba are different from each other. In such a scenario, does anyone expect a neat emergence of a plethora of republics?

While the Nigerian state should be told that unity cannot be forced or decreed into existence, it is also very important to make the separatists to see the futility of using violence to pursue their dreams. Neither the advocates of unity nor the separatists would benefit from the looming anarchy.

In championing the cause of their respective ethnic groups, Ohaneze Ndigbo and Afenifere have wisely articulated the case for restructuring. The two organisations whose memberships include statemen have rejected secession. These ethnic organisations have sustained the clamour for restructuring in the most civilised culture of debate.

Away from ethnic solutions, the debate has even been deepened and enriched from a popular-democratic perspective . For instance, remarkably from the Left, Comrade Edwin Madunagu, a Marxist, has been writing on restructuring in the last 35 years. He engaged the late Chief Anthony Enahoro who also made important contributions to the debate including giving the shape of a restructured Nigeria.

Madunagu, who incidentally will turn 75 on Saturday, once encapsulated his propositions in many essays as follows: "Nigeria will remain a federal republic; the current principles of citizenship, fundamental human rights and principles of state policy will be enhanced; the federal government will give up a substantial fraction of its current appropriation to the states and local governments. The states, in turn, will finance the zones and the local governments will finance the communities. Finally--and this is the "magic" of popular democracy--the "cost of governance", both in relative and absolute terms, will be much less than what it is at present."

The elites of the Yoruba and Igbo ethnic groups should be wary of the danger of the budding fascists in their midst waving the flags of ethnic liberation. There is this astonishing tendency of members of the elite conceding leadership to the mob out of frustration with the state of things in Nigeria. It's a destructive path to take in the circumstance.

All told, the collapse of governance at all levels is a major factor in the crisis plaguing the land. Burgeoning poverty demonstrates the failure of years of experimentation with neo-liberal socio-economic policies.

Doubtless, mass poverty is fuelling the soaring wave of insecurity which in turn exacerbates the threat to national unity.

The Nigerian condition today is a bitter proof that unity can only be sustained on the basis of social justice and equity using the instrumentality of inclusive policies.

Buhari's professed agenda comprises Security, Economy and Anti-corruption (SEA). The President should be suggestible enough to add National Unity to its policy plate for the next 24 months. After all, SEANU doesn't look a like a bad acronym!

QUOTE

"Buhari should consciously give presidential leadership to promote national unity"

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