by Adebayo Yusuff Grey
Former President Goodluck Jonathan having observed the trend of the 2015 Presidential election and the possibility of him losing out asked ‘Control 4’ to get the then APC Candidate, Muhammadu Buhari on the line and congratulated him. Realistically, with that call ‘Jonathan pulled Nigeria back from the precipice, saving the country from what would have been a serious crisis, the ending of which nobody could have foretold.’
However, amidst the quest to return to power by the PDP; amidst the will to get an unpopular President Muhammadu Buhari into office for the second time; amidst the call for restructuring; amidst the attempt to secede; amidst the blame game of deliberate alienation; amidst the brutal killings in Benue, in Yola, in Taraba, in Southern Kaduna; amidst the killing of over 2,100 people in 2018 alone which tolls more than the 894 recorded in 2017 doubled; amidst the religious and ethnic intolerance that remains the order of the day; one tends to question the need for Nigeria to remain a monolithic entity and its possibility especially as we go through another election year.
How Did We Arrive Here?
This is the question in the minds of many Nigerians who are conscious of the evolution of events in this country over time. We are curious and seek to know. Is Nigeria just a mere geographical expression? Is being ‘Nigerian’ a mere possessive nomenclature? Should there really be a Nigeria in the first instance? How can we facilitate the integration of Nigeria to remain united against the backdrop of killings and subtle massacre going on? And an attempt to find answers to this takes us back to the annals. When Chinua Achebe wrote ‘there was a country’. I for one think he knew what he was talking about. Because to say there wasn’t; to say Nigeria is a mistake of 1914 amalgamation, that Nigeria is a mere geographical expression is to discount 1920 and the formation of the Nigerian National Democratic Party as a political party by Herbert Macaulay to fight for the right of people he considered to be his countrymen.
It is to discount 1933 and the formation of the Nigerian Youth Movement by Earnest Okolie from today’s Bayelsa, H.O Davies from today’s Lagos, Eyo Ita from today’s Cross Rivers to fight for the right of people they considered to be their countrymen. It is to discount 1944 and the formation of the National Council of Nigerians and the Cameroons (NCNC) which was formed by students to bring together the two political heavyweights of that time – Nnamdi Azikiwe and Herbert Macaulay in one organization so they could more effectively fight for the independence of the country these young people considered to be theirs.
To say Nigeria is a mere geographical expression is to discount the constitutional reform that took place in 1951, 1953, 1957 and 1958 where Nigerians from all walks of life came together, sat down to negotiate and agree on the terms under which they were prepared to live together.
To say Nigeria is a mere geographical expression is to discount the fact that for a generation of young men and women, Nigeria was an aspiration, a dream that independence was the fruit of decades of struggle.
So when Chinua Achebe said there was a country, he was expressing nostalgia for a dream that did not come to pass. And that nostalgia wasn’t very different from the sentiment expressed by Anthony Enahoro. He was a young man in the parliament who moved the motion for self-government in 1956. But as a much older man later in his life, he wrote, this is not the Nigeria of our dreams.
Yes, I agree that this is not the Nigeria of the dreams of Achebe’s generation. I know that this giant of Africa stumbled right at the starting block and almost collapsed. And an attempt to revive her into consciousness is what led us to where we are today. I know. I can even understand why it happened. Because our founding fathers, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello were really and truly different.
In fact, the fact that those three people were able to somewhat work together to bring Nigeria to independence is testament of their belief in the viability of one Nigeria. That belief was virtually the only thing they had in common. They were really and truly different.
Ahmadu Bello was born in Northern Nigeria; raised in Northern Nigeria. Northern Nigeria was his cosmos. The first time he came to Lagos, he was in his mid-40s.
Obafemi Awolowo was born and raised in Western Nigeria. He lived there all his life. Western Nigeria was his cosmos as well.
The one that was slightly different was Nnamdi AZikiwe. He came from the East but he was born in the North. Had part of his education in the east and then the north and the west. He lived in the west, worked in the west and did his politics in the west. He was the most cosmopolitan.
Ahmadu Bello had a slightly different concept of one Nigeria. To him, one Nigeria was a federation of the existing regions because Northern Nigeria was his primary constituency. So he saw Nigeria as a federation of Northern Nigeria and all the other regions of Nigeria relating on an equal but independent basis.
Obafemi Awolowo had a slightly different concept of one Nigeria. Like Ahmadu Bello, he also didn’t see Nigeria as one monolithic entity. He saw Nigeria as different groups but those groups were not the regions. He saw Nigeria as a federation of ethnic nationalities because the region he came from was dominated by one ethnic group – the Yorubas. So he saw Nigeria as a federation of ethnic nationalities where each major ethnic group will have its own political unit through which it could relate to the others on an equal but independent basis.
And when independence came; it was the vision of Ahmadu Bello that carried the day because Nigeria became independent as a federation of the existing regions. But over time, we have evolved towards the vision of Obafemi Awolowo because over time different ethnic group have begun to agitate for greater recognition at the federal level and that is what has driven the fragmentation of this country from a federation of four regions to a federation of 36 states and a federal capital territory.
But what baffles me is that, individually we have evolved more towards Nnamdi Azikiwe today. Nigerians are more cosmopolitan than ever. 60 years ago it might have been odd to see a Nigerian who was born out of his space of origin, lived outside is space of origin, worked there and maybe even loss ties to his space of origin.
But today, how many people filled this profile? A lot! This then begs the question; if we have become more similar over time, why is our politics still as divisive as it was 50 years ago? I can understand it 50 years ago. It was an accurate reflection of their socio-cultural reality. But as we have become more similar, why is our politics still locked in the past?
There are many reasons for this but these two are more prominent.
i. The bed-time stories we’ve all been told. For instance, you’ve been told that the Igbos killed the Sardauna. You were not told that the Sardauna was killed by Major Kaduna Nzeogu. You were told that the Yorubas betrayed the Igbos. You were not told that Obafemi Awolowo was the commissioner of finance in Gowon’s government during the war and his responsibility was to evolve a fiscal strategy for the Nigerian side in the civil war. No. What we’ve been told is that the Yorubas betrayed the Igbos. You were not told that Murtala Muhammad led the Army into Asaba during the civil war and it was under his watch that the Asaba massacre occurred. No! What you were told is the Hausa-Fulani murdered the Igbos. And so we keep seeing our social realities through the blinkers of these stories. And these force us to keep interpreting present times using models that were invented 50 years ago.
ii. This is it. I don’t care how cosmopolitan you are. But at a point in your life, no, at some point in your life; as a matter of fact, at every point in your journey as a Nigerian, you will encounter the question; ‘what is your state of origin?’ And attempting to answer that question will take you back straight to 1966.
But you need to answer that question because it gives you access to so many part of Nigerian public life. It is the answer to that question that will get you admission into Nigerian public higher institution; it will get you a job in the Nigerian civil service, it will get you promoted; it will determine your consideration if you’re ever going to be appointed as a minister in this country; it will influence your decision of where to run for public office in this country. Therefore, no matter how you define yourself based on your actual upbringing; at some point you have to accept the label that was created by circumstances 50 years ago. And these factors ensured that as we become more similar; our politics remained locked in the 50s and the 60s. The Igbos throw jabs at the Hausas. The Yorubas accuse the Igbos and the Hausas spite the Yorubas. While every other ethnic groups that are allegedly unrecognized at the center accuse the three major groups of deliberate alienation.
And more disheartening is that the Nigerian politician understands this rhetoric and exploits it for his political gains. They tense up the ecosystem just so they could drift the attention from the mismanagement of public funds, abuse of office, gross incompetence, misplaced priority of the welfare of the citizen and their larger than life style of living. Therefore, every day we keep drifting towards the possibility of history titles such as ‘There was a country called Nigeria’, ‘The Fall of the Giant of Africa’ etc.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT THIS?
How can we ensure that Nigeria remains the united? How can the Christians feel safe in Borno, Bauchi, Yola, Kaduna? How can the Hausas have no reason to fear when they are in Imo, Jos, Anambra, Onitsha? How can the Yorubas be rest assured that a Hausa or Igbo representing them is just as good as a Yoruba representing them? It is through socio-cultural integration.
THE CONCEPT OF INTEGRATION
Integration is that part of nation building that we have skipped. It is the process that ensures that every fragment of our amalgamated country really and truly is on the same page of coexistence. And to address our problems now requires us to revisit the process and take the integration of all elements of our nationhood serious. Integration is not just a bye-product. It does not just happen, it is unnatural. It only happens as a result of deliberate investment in integration because there is no nation on earth that is natural. All nations are deliberate creations of men.
To facilitate integration, we have to deliberately and consciously invest in the factors of integration in this country.
i. Infrastructure of Integration; we need to invest in the things that actually connect us physically like roads, for to be physically isolated is to be socio-culturally isolated. For instance, we cannot overemphasize the damage that the non-existence of something as simple as the second Niger Bridge has done to the fabric of nationhood in this country. We can’t continue to see everything simply in terms of Naira and Kobo and contributions to the GDP. Sometimes we have to evaluate these things in terms of their impact on the sense of belonging. For that sense of belonging is as critical to Nigeria and its continued existence as a monolithic entity as the crude oil in the Niger Delta and the Cocoa in Ile Oluji. For this reason, we must consciously invest in the infrastructure of integration; things like road, unity schools, the NYSC, NUGA games, National Sports Festival, Music and Arts; things that naturally connect people. Any government that is thinking seriously about the future of this country has to see these things as strategic investment.
ii. Economics of Integration; as a rule of the thumb, whenever people feel less secured, whenever they feel poorer, they tend to become more xenophobic. So to invest in growth, in security and in a vibrant economy is not just to invest in growing the GDP, it is also to invest in a climate that is conducive to tolerance and integration.
iii. We need to invest in the body language of integration. As Nigerians, we must admit that we are living in a highly charged political environment. And any word or action carelessly spoken or taken can provoke a traumatic and extreme reaction from any section of this country. And we need to invest in the language that demonstrates our awareness that that we are citizens living in a fragile nation.
iv. We need to invest in the stories of integration. The only stories we’ve heard so far is how the Igbos kill the Sardauna, how the Hausa Fulani murdered the Igbos, how the Yorubas betrayed the Igbos. You’ll never hear of how the Emir of Katsina, Sir Usman Nagogo went out of his way to save the Igbos during the Pogrom in 1966, you’ll never hear of the Nigerian soldiers who came into Biafra and were giving water and food to the children they saw. You’ll never hear of Umaru Altini, the Hausa man who became the first Mayor of Enugu. You’ll never hear of Igbos who were winning elections into the state house of Assemblies in Lagos and Kano. You’ll never hear these stories because they don’t fit the mainstream narratives. Any government that is interested in retaining Nigeria as a continued monolithic entity will invest in pushing these stories.
v. We need to invest in the morality of integration. I don’t know what you think about Nelson Mandela but you’ll agree that the fact that we have a multi-racial and democratic South Africa today is a direct result of his decision not to take vengeance on the whites when he had the chance to. That act was his own investment into the unity and integration of his country. We need more of such acts like that in Nigeria. We need people who despite having suffered harms in the hands of members of other religious, ethnic or political groups will refuse to revenge whenever they have the opportunity to.
vi. We need to pay a visit to Lady Justicia. And put that blind fold properly on her face again so that justice in this country can remain blind especially to the religious and ethnic background of the people standing before it. People should pay for their crime regardless of their religion or ethnicity. If you do the crime, you should do the time.
vii. Lastly and this is the most important factor, we need to invest in the politics of integration. Those who are interested in the discontinuation of a monolithic Nigeria have effectively politicized their point of view. Over the years, we have developed the capacity to politicize our ethnic and religious differences. But we have failed to develop the capacity to politicize the things we share in common. What do we have in common regardless of faith or tribe? We have bad roads in common. We have no light in common. We have no drugs in our hospitals, no books in our schools in common. We have bad governance in common.
There is poverty in Borno, there is poverty in Enugu. There is corruption in Lagos, there is corruption in Kano. While we’ve been able to build fanatical movement over our differences, we’ve not been able to build fanatical movement over our socioeconomic similarities. These are the issues that are routinely neglected by those whose policy prescription and politics is defined by identity. And I believe that if every politician is ready to invest in these factors of integration more than the next general elections and the electioneering drama that comes with it; then Nigeria will be a better place to be.
For since good leaders do not live forever, they build systems and structures that ensures that even bad leaders find it difficult to remain bad when they come into power. Only then will the dream that eluded the generation of Achebe, of Enahoro, we become realizable in ours. There will be no separate Oduduwa Republic, no separate Biafra, no separate Hausa/Fulani Emirate and Nigeria will flourish.
I am Adebayo Yusuff Grey; an OAP, VJ, Blogger, Public Speaker, Red Carpet Host. Based in Ibadan, the capital city of Oyo state, Nigeria and asides being on Radio and Television, I manage Oriyomihamzat.com as a political news blog with special interest in South West Nigeria, beyondthevibes.com as a Nigerian pop music review platform and breeding alongside few colleagues on Radio, the next set of Superstar OAPs by guiding them on their journey to be on Radio and TV at learnradioonline.com. I am passionate about Nigeria and Nigerians and the future of our dear country.