I cherish events like this that seek to discuss issues, which promote and foster unity, communal interrelation and conflict management in our dear nation. It also reinforces further my personal conviction to pursue every effort for peaceful, united and sustainable nationhood as well as bring us together to strengthen our unity despite our diverse rich cultures.
Let me also thank the organisers for putting this event together and for having us here. I was made to understand that the maiden edition of the lecture took place in December, last year. This is a dynamic initiative that shouldn’t be allowed to die down.
The topic of my discussion is: “Sustaining United and Indivisible Nigeria: Myth or Reality” which I consider as relevant at this promising time. It is relevant, given the appropriateness of the time when Nigeria has been persistently experiencing security problems including agitation for secession or self-determination in some parts of the country.
My understanding of the topic is that it is an attempt to look into issues of national unity and the imperative of Nigeria remaining as an indivisible nation. I believe strongly that a review of the existing situation and offering solution is significant in securing a rounded approach to ensuring that we co-exist and remain one Nigeria.
The aim of this paper therefore, is to x-ray the argument of these two schools of thought on the unity, integration and cohesion of Nigeria and the issue of secession, disintegration and conflict in Nigeria; and to determine if a united Nigeria is a myth or a reality.
While my presentation is not going to be that bulky, I hope to do justice to it so that we share experience in this task of keeping our dear nation strong and united. And happily, with discussants in person of the Hon. Minister of Power and Housing, Babatunde Fashola and Senator Rochas Okorocha, Senator Peter Nwaboshi, Hajiya Ramatu Tijjani-Aliyu and Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, my task here will be made simple.
THE BIRTH OF NIGERIAN NATION
I do not want to bore you with history of the creation or amalgamation of Nigeria into one indivisible nation. Let me leave that detail to historians. But a brief look into how this happened; Nigeria, like many modern African states, is a creation of European colonialism.
The modern history of Nigeria, as a political state comprising more than 400 ethnic groups of widely varied cultures and modes of political organisations, dates from the completion of British conquest in 1903 and the amalgamation of northern and southern Nigeria into the protectorate of Nigeria in 1914, without much regard for pre-existing ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic divisions.
This is because, even before Europeans arrived in the territory that is now Nigeria, a number of civilizations had existed whose presence is still felt today. In the North, for example, Islam was predominant. In the 19th century, there were two Islamic empires, the Sokoto Caliphate and the Bornu Empire. To the South West lay numerous Yoruba city-states that generally with traditional system of governance. To the South East was an Igbo Kingdom and a collection of semi-autonomous towns and villages in the Niger River Delta or present day South South. Such regions were linguistically, religiously, and politically distinct.
In October, 1960, Nigeria became an independent state. While anniversaries on this day are times for reflection, and given that today, over 117 years after amalgamation, the country is still grappling with its national identity.
LESSONS FROM THE NIGERIAN CIVIL WAR
Seven years after attaining self-rule, Nigeria was plunged into a Civil War or the Nigerian-Biafran War. The three-year bloody conflict began with the secession of the southeastern region of the nation on May 30, 1967, when it declared itself the independent Republic of Biafra.
The question now is did we learn a lesson from the civil war that led to the death toll numbering more than one million people? Recent development points to the fact that lessons haven’t been learnt.
A country like Rwanda has since its own brutal civil war acknowledged and integrated the memory of the war into its national perception, ensuring that all her citizens understand the price of war, and know exactly what led to the sad turn of events.
It would be recalled that it was hate speeches such as the unfortunate reference to the Tutsi ethnic group as “cockroaches” by the Hutus that led to, and worsened the Rwanda genocide and civil war in the mid-90s. Hate speeches also played a diabolic role in Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leon and Southern Sudan civil wars, among others.
Therefore, events in recent times in the South East and South West of the country is a pointer that disgruntled elements, many of whom have not known the Civil War, talk less of learning from it, or have learnt no lesson because of selfish interest.
The inappropriate and offensive comments coming from the character of people leading agitation for secession, make a mockery of any claim they may lay to a legitimate cause. If every aggrieved company were to carry on the way these aspiring ‘Biafrans’ and ‘Oduduans’ are going, the chaos the nation would face can only be imagined.
WE CAN’T AFFORD ANOTHER CIVIL WAR
It is part of democracy that people should air their views, but not translate grievances into violence and bloodshed. While the unity of Nigeria should be discussed, the agitators must be strongly cautioned to channel their grievances to the appropriate quarters without perpetrating acts that could be interpreted as an attempt to enthrone instability and dismember the country.
Those in the streets of South West or South Eastern states, carrying dangerous weapons, attacking security personnel and formations as well as innocent citizens, whose only political education comes from misguided and narrow role models, should be cautious not to become cannon fodders for mischief-making. Nigeria is bigger than all of us and there is no challenge that is bigger than the political class to solve. We can make mistakes but we are mature enough to correct such mistakes as part our development processes.
The leadership of the groups in the two geo-political regions spearheading the bid for secession from Nigeria, have gone too far. They incite followers to acts of violence against Nigerian security forces and has established a paramilitary wing. No serious government will stand by and watch this scenario and go to bed. While the matter is before a competent court of law, I think these people should understand how far they can go.
Nigeria has had to fight an appalling war to preserve the country. The North had paid its dues in that war, as indeed it did in many ways throughout the history of the country. Under our current circumstances, no Nigerian should welcome another war to keep the country together because violent secession by any part of Nigeria would compound the problems all Nigerians live with.
It is my hope that we reach a point in Nigeria where we can openly discuss the ills in our society, with a mindset of finding sustainable solutions, and further entrenching our nation’s unity. This is where our public and national institutions such as the state and national assemblies should be more resourceful. They are the representatives of the people.
The parliament is an arm of government that gives meaning and authenticity to democracy. They should enhance the concept of representation in a democracy. Here is my take: Our state and federal legislators should take the job of representation more seriously. If anything is wrong in any community, the first port of call should not be the Office of the Governor or even the Divisional Police Office. It should be the constituency office of any complainant’s representative.
NIGERIA IS ONE INDIVISIBLE NATION
Going down memory lane, the first major historical antecedent that would have occasioned the disintegration of Nigeria, was the civil war between 1967 and 1970 as I mentioned earlier. The second event occurred on June 12, 1993, when the election of MKO Abiola was annulled. Another remarkable one was the period of uncertainty that preceded and followed the demise of then President Umaru Yar’Adua. We also had another test of Nigeria’s unity during the 2015 general elections where a ruling party was defeated. And of recent and once again, there are increasing agitations for secession in Nigeria.
Most clamours for secession seek their legitimacy from the right to self-determination preserved in international laws we have subscribed to. However, the prevailing view seems to be that the international accords, which provide for this right, were not meant to be used as a tool for secessionist groups.
Rather, they were designed as legal backing for de-colonization. This point should be made clearer by our public information officers. We don’t need to insult each and one another at this time. We need to understand each and one another.
Under the Nigerian Constitution, no part of Nigeria has the power to form its own independent government or secede from the country. In fact, the word ‘secede’ does not appear in the Constitution.
The nearest answer to this is found in Article 2 of the constitution, which states that Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state to be known by the name of the ‘Federal Republic of Nigeria’. This means the only way to legally grant such an option is through an amendment to the law. Agitators would be required to follow established guidelines, while protecting the sovereignty of the nation-state.
UNITY AND INDIVISIBILITY OF NIGERIA AS A REALITY
The nationalists who preach “one united, indivisible, indissoluble and integrated Nigeria” are divided into two. On one part, we have those that are proponents of one Nigeria at all cost, while on the other hand are those that have argued in favour of maintaining Nigeria’s unity, though they insist this will not be “at any cost”.
Both groups agree Nigeria will fare better staying together and therefore, it is better for Nigeria to remain as one indivisible nation than for each tribe to go its separate way. Their argument is firstly that disintegration will produce successor weak Republics wherein the power of both the states and the citizens will diminish compared to the power of a united Nigeria and Nigerians.
Secondly, they argue that in addition to the big three ethnic groups, we have over 300 others scattered across the country. So if the country breaks up into three, dominated respectively by each of the big three, as is advanced by the separatists, what will be the fate of these other minorities? So they posit that this ethnic and religious diversity can best be managed within a federal republic of a united Nigeria.
They also remind us of the chaos and bloodshed that usually characterizes the bloody conflicts of disintegration of a larger state, citing the examples of Sudan/South Sudan. This group also posits that Nigeria’s separatist movements attract a “mixed multitude”:- some are in it for personal gain; some use it as a bargaining chip; and only a few are in it for full regional autonomy/succession.
At the same time, there are many internal contradictions within each separatist area that it is not at all clear if honest conversations and referendums are allowed that the forces of separatism will carry the day.
Largely, because of this and because of the contradictions within separatist movements themselves, many surmise that the various separatist agitations, if not unnecessarily inflamed, are likely to fade out if the issues that cause conflicts, hatred and suspicion are dealt with.
So for them sustaining a united and indivisible Nigeria is possible both in our imagination and as a reality. This brings us to some recommendations that have been proffered that will reduce the agitations and increase Nigeria’s chance of successful cohesion, integration and sustainable unity.
SUSTAINING NIGERIA’S UNITY AND DEVELOPMENT
The issue of sustainable unity and development in Nigeria is apt because our country is endowed with great physical and human resource. In Africa, Nigeria has almost unrivalled record of leadership changes and ethno-religious crises which are often difficult to explain why the country has made a very slow progress in her development programme since independence.
This should be our general concern and challenge to us, especially in the political class.
As I stated above, even before the establishment of the colonial rule, the geographical area now known as Nigeria was indebted by diverse ethno-nationalities with different languages, social, political and religious institutions. These diverse ethno-nationalities thought of themselves as distinct peoples, and enjoyed relative independence, save for the expansionism and strong influences of the Sokoto caliphate as well as the ancient Benin and Oyo empires. This was the situation until the amalgamation of Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914.
Unfortunately, there were no unifying symbols that could induce the desired integration, and the task was left to the post-independent leaders. It is therefore difficult in dealing effectively with the crisis of sustainable development confronting the nation through disunity.
Even though there are several reasons that led to formation of Nigeria, as she is presently constituted, one still believes that nothing happens by chance. Besides, in spite of obvious cultural and religious differences, Nigeria has come a long way in terms of the political, economic and social relationship of members of her numerous ethnic groups. Again, the people have intermarried a lot and lived together for years.
The concept of multiculturalism is strong and that is why even the iconic Nelson Madela would like Nigeria to get ready to take up her position as the leader of black nations in the world. Yes, we are the most populous black nation in the world and even the great Brazil, a member of BRICS (comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), that is, the world’s emerging market leaders, is second to us. Mandela said to a Nigerian diplomat in his country home in Johannesburg shortly before he flew away that: ‘The world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The black people of the world need Nigeria to be a source of pride and confidence….’
The world will not respect Africa anymore if Nigeria comes to harm and our ‘Mandela The Great’ won’t sleep well if we blow up this opportunity to lead the black race. That is why we the leaders need to come together to appeal to our aggrieved people who are agitating for self-determination at this time.
The ‘Biafran’ agitators and a small section of the Yoruba nation agitating for Oduduwa Republic should therefore always have this at the back of their minds in their political calculations and transformations. It is on record that the great Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria, was an Igbo man and also a perfect negotiator and foremost champion of Nigeria’s unity. The same for the great Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He never agitated for secession. He was loud and clear on restructuring of the federation. And that demand is even louder and the debate is on and no one is troubling agitators for agitating for restructuring of the federation. What is more, the governing party, the APC has a working document already on this (restructuring). This is the way we should all go. There should be no secession distraction at this time.
Therefore, at this point in the country’s history, all right thinking citizens, irrespective of their tribal and religious inclinations should bond together to sustain the corporate existence of the most populous and naturally endowed nation in Africa. We must shun temptations and anger capable of leading us into more turbulent time that cannot be controlled as we have in some North African and Middle Eastern countries.
Let me repeat here that Nigeria is a united and indivisible country. Our constitution has taken care of that. I don’t see secession as the way out of the current challenges afflicting the nation. Instead, advocates of secession should have a change of heart and I recommend dialogue as a crucial option for addressing their problems.
Besides, there is a National Assembly where some of the grievances can be addressed. Because dialogue is a far better alternative that costs less than consequences of the wedge that has been erected to frustrate more flow of conversations between the government and citizens to arrive at a national consensus.
And the sooner we face issues such as the huge infrastructure deficit, our shrinking oil revenue, looming food insecurity as a consequence of insecurity in our agriculture zones, the better. Seriously, we need to focus on diversification of the economy, out-of-school children shame, rebuilding of our tertiary institutions to boost knowledge development for 21st century challenges and other sustainable goals for this great country – instead of applying energies on self-determination agitation that will only diminish us as a people.
In the main, those who manage public information for our great party should note all these points as we interact to reposition our party for future challenges, because information is power to the people who should be well informed to be able to make remarkable decisions and choices. Yes, information is power to the people!
It is very important at this time that we should use the media for the promotion of peace and stability and change the viewpoints that could alter public views and sentiment toward a more peaceful resolution of our multi-faceted current crises.
I have a feeling that the crossing of redlines by some media organizations in recent times has impacted negatively on the nation’s unity, harmony and integration. The media should not be used to promote fake news and hate speeches.
And in the cause of its duty, the media should ensure strict observance of the ethics of the profession. And in the event of deviation, the full weight of the law should be brought to bear on any erring working journalist.
There is also the need for effective regulation of the media, not censorship. Let me emphasize here that I do not mean the media should be gagged. More so, Nigerian press is one of the freest in the global context. The Nigeria Press Council, the Nigeria Union of Journalists, the Nigeria Guild of Editors and other professional bodies should ensure that the media plays its expected role by promoting integration not disintegration.
So, Nigeria will remain united. Let’s not entertain any fear. We have become too fused to be divided. Where do you want an Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man whose net worth is more than $15.9 billion with his business headquarters in Lagos to go? He is more of a Lagos person than Kano. What of his brother of the BUA Group, Abdussamad Isyaka Rabiu who owns a Nigerian conglomerate active in cement production too? He too is entrenched in the South. Do we see them in Kano as much as we see them in Lagos and the South?
Would anyone remember that there is one Joe Igbokwe, who was a great letter writer to the Editors in Nigeria – from his Surulere, Lagos office on June 12 crisis in 1993? He hails from Nnewi in Anambra state. Is he not a big politician and a big public officer in the APC government in Lagos at the moment? Was it not from Lagos where he serves as a commissioner in charge of Economic Planning and Budget that Pastor Ben Akabueze was nominated by the Lagos political leaders to serve the nation as Director General, Budget Office, Abuja? He wasn’t nominated by political leaders in Anambra, his home state too. In Kano, Kaduna, etc there are more examples of our fusion that can’t be broken anymore.
Similarly, what do we do with the likes of Rochas Okorocha, former Imo state governor and now Senator representing Imo West Senatorial District in the South East. His investments is northern Nigeria and other parts of the country, providing free education for many years now. So also the Sarki (Oba) Yoruba in Kano, Engr. Murtala Alimi Otisese, a business magnet, an entrepreneur and philanthropist. He is from Ibadan in the South West but with flourishing business in the North.
Sustaining this unity is possible and it is a reality! We may be historically different in our religion, beliefs and customs, our unity may have been a British invention, but if we are willing and ready to shun bitterness, hatred, suspicion and imbibe equity, fairness, brotherly love and tolerance, we will succeed.
We are too fused, in fact too entropic together to be divided at this time. Let’s repair our broken walls instead and move on! Let’s debate restructuring, not secession or self-determination. It is too late in the day. Let the labour of our heroes past not be in vain! Let’s hail, not hate Nigeria at this time.
God bless Nigeria!
Thank you for your attention.