The much taunted giant of Africa has since Independence in 1960 been confronted with many threats of disunity and dismemberment. The Northern and Southern Nigeria have continued to maintain a not too green relationship which some analysts say dates back as far as the 1914 Amalgamation of the two protectorates by the colonial masters. This some describe as a monumental disservice which the whites committed against the black man, majorly for economic exploitation and administrative convenience.
Shortly after the Independence, this not too rosary relationship snowballed into a full blown civil war in 1967 between Northern muslim-dominated and Eastern christian-dominated Nigeria. By the time the war ended in January 1970, over three million people including women and children were despatched to their untimely graves and properties worth billions of Naira destroyed. Till the scars are there for all to see.
The South East which pulled the stunt for self determination that triggered the civil war recorded a higher casualty during the three year civil war. Unfortunately, there have been no true reconciliation between the two regions since the war ended. The two regions view each other with palpable fear, distrust and suspicion. The peace we enjoy today can simply be described as the peace of graveyard. All the points of agitation that led to the civil war till today still stare us audaciously at the face and they are yet to be addressed. This probably is the reason for the recent renewed agitation by Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) for a Biafra republic.
Hardly is there a part of this country where the tone of marginalisation or total dehumanising treatment is not heard. However, that of the South Eastern people is so glaring that the blind can see, the deaf can hear and the stone hearted can feel. It is the only region today that has only five states while the rest have six each and the North West seven states. It is the only region that is always linked with all forms of crimes such as arm robbery, kidnapping, drug trafficking and other heinous crimes. It is the only region that has no representation in the security structure of this government. It is the only region that has no representation in the kitchen cabinet of this government. It is the only region with the highest score line for entrance into the unity schools. Suffice it to say that fifty years after the civil war, the Easterners are yet to have a sense of belongingness, acceptance and safety in this federation called Nigeria.
At a moment when all hands should be on deck for the peaceful co-existence and unity of Nigeria, some youths in the North have got themselves pre-occupied with fanning the embers of disunity and spewing hate speeches and cessationist tones which have the tendency to further widen the line of division that already exists between and among us. The June 7 Kaduna declaration by a group of Arewa youths is a deep cut in the very thin rope holding us as a nation. The go home order issued to the Igbos in the 19 Northern states is an indication that they are no more needed in a country they have contributed so much to build. No one has the right whatsoever to ask a citizen not to legitimately pursue his means of livelihood in any part of the country. It is a breach of fundamental human right of citizens to movement. It is an invitation to anarchy and chaos. Sadly, no single arrest has been made related to this treachery called quit notice.
There has been a renewed call for restructuring in most recent times. This should not be treated with kids glove. It is very vital to the unity and prosperity of our country. The current system which concentrates so much power at the centre is not beneficial to the Nigerian masses. An ideal federal system as obtainable in United states and other developed countries is the one that divulge power to the federating units and allow them to develop at their own pace based on the resources available to them. Under this structure, the centre has a very minimal input on the running of the affairs in the states. A situation where it (centre) is made a cash cow where the states come to fetch at the end of each month is a direct opposite of what it should be.
If this system is not changed, it will impede our growth and affect our unity and peaceful co-existence. The states should be given a certain level of autonomy and powers to mine the resources they have and contribute to the growth and development of their people and bring something to the central treasury. Some of the responsibilities we still have on the exclusive legislative list should be brought to the concurrent legislative list so that states will have more political will and resources to develop. An already over burdened centre cannot continue retaining powers that ordinarily should be on the hand of the states. The federal government should not have any business with ministry of agriculture, housing, education and others because the states have been empowered to take control. They can therefore take decisions that have direct impact with the people without necessarily being caged by government bureaucracy. Beyond currency, defence and foreign affairs, the centre should not have any business with other things states have powers to do.
All parts of this country are sufficiently blessed with mineral resources that can conveniently take care of the needs of the people. The staunch opposition to restructuring by some Northern figures including prof. Ango Abdullahi has raised suspicion, giving credence to the senate deputy president’s assertion that we are running a feeding bottle federalism that has encouraged laziness and docility among the states. The oil money which they come to the centre to fetch has encourage their inability to think out of the box and harness the many potentials that are deposited in their soils. One way or the other, we effect restructuring in our individual lives, families and businesses. Nothing is basically wrong with replicating same in our national life for optimum growth. Restructuring is not the same as balcanising the country into fragmented units as some erroneously think but an opportunity to review the old ways we do things that have for long kept us perpetually on our knees.
Those calling for the division of the country do not mean well for the nation. No man in his right senses can call for the dissolution of an over a century marriage. Those elements masquerading as the champions of the agitation for Biafra republic do not represent the majority voice of the Easterners. The average Igbo man believes in one united Nigeria where fairness, equity and justice will be the watch word. Our strength is in our diversity. We are better off as one united entity and not as factional units. This is not to say we will turn a deaf ear to all the imbalances the Igbo nation and indeed all other regions suffer. The South East Development Commission bill which was recently thrown out by the lower chamber of the national assembly would have been an opportunity for us to heal the wounds of the Easterners 50 years after the civil war massacre. Each and every part of this country is in one way or the other marginalised. Just like Joe Onumah titled his latest book “We Are All Biafrans”. The statement credited to the president as to treat the region that gave him 97% vote different from those that gave him 5% vote is worrisome. After politics comes governance. The president is not the president of the North but the president of the entire Nigeria.
Some entities who have broke away from their countries today are not finding it rosary. For instance, the Korean war of 1950-1953 that led to the loss of 2.5 million lives and eventual division of the country between North and South have continued to hunt both sides. They are still struggling to be on their feet several decades after the war with the South fatally affected. Also, the USSR that broke away from Russia has fizzled away. It no more exists. The recently divided Sudan has been mired in deeper crisis. Those fanning the embers of unity and beating the drum of war should have a rethink. They should look at what Rwanda in now and what it used to be prior to the 1994 genocide.
Some of us were not yet born when the first civil war broke out in Nigeria but from what we were told by those who witnessed it and what we read, it is an experience no man wishes to have twice. We were told it’s not a tea party. We read people were practically praying for death to come. There was no water to drink or food to eat. People resorted to eating their own children to stay alive. Who will want to live under such condition now? We are keeping those awful memories behind us and the drumbeat of war, disunity and division that have continued to envelop the air negates the very essence of our peaceful co-existence. War is no more the tool to resolve crisis. Round table discussion and dialogue are powerful tools that will not only strengthen the fragile peace we enjoy but help us understand our differences and build on them.
Several constitutional conferences have been held in the past where the way forward for Nigeria was the cardinal focus. They were geared towards ensuring that we find strength in our weakness and in our differences, find common front. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo saw this need and convocked a national conference in 2005 which the outcome, sadly couldn’t yield much result. Also, in 2014, the then president Goodluck Jonathan brought many Nigerians from all works of life, the best brains we can boast of including youths, women, physically challenged, retirees to discuss the way forward for our country.
These Nigerians within three months reached about 180 resolutions including the much feared resource control. This has been adjudged to be one of the most holistic blueprints to move Nigeria forward. Unfortunately, Jonathan couldn’t implement even one resolution in that report including the ones that do not require legislative backing, probably because he hoped to come back in 2015. The rest is now history. Regrettably, the tones with which officials of this government describe this well marshaled out white paper for Nigerian progress is a clear pointer that it will stay a bit longer in the dustbin of history where it’s currently gathering dust. They call is “job for the boys”. This is an insult on the profile of the eminent Nigerians that produced the report chaired by a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, justice Idris Kutigi. There seems however to be a ray of home for the conference report as the Senate has demanded to look into the content of the report.
Religion and ethnicity have dealt a heavy blow on the very tie that bind us as a people. Even though christianity and islam, the two major religions in Nigeria preach peace, love, tolerance and respect for one another irrespective of what their beliefs are, the adherents of these religions have instead dissipated so much energy is showing how superior their religion is to the other. This offensive bigotry has been seen to give rise to crises of unimaginable proportion in various parts of the country, particularly in the North. Today, we see how people are brazenly killed over alleged slander against Islam. In 2016, a lady by the name Bridget was beheaded in Kano for “disrespecting” islam and her killers danced and merried with her head on the streets. Even when the culprits were said to have been arrested, they were in no time discharged and acquitted by the magistrate and she never got justice even at death. Last year also, about five students of a private polytechnic in Zamfara state were burnt to death by some marauding gangsters over alleged blasphemy on Islam by one of them.
All these breed provocation and anger. We should not engage in orgy of fight for God but show love and respect for human life. There are appropriate channels where we can table our grievances instead of taking the laws into our hands by engaging in the mindless killing of one another which is almost being institutionalized.
Nigeria has a long history of religious crisis which never blew anyone any good air. In 2001, there were riots between christians and muslims in Jos about the appointment of a muslim politician Alhaji Muktar Mohammed as local co-ordinator of the federal programme to fight poverty. Another such riot killed over 100 people in October 2001 in Kano state. In 2002, the Nigerian journalist Isioma Daniel wrote an article that led to the demonstrations and violence that caused the death of over 200 people in Kaduna. She was later moved to London from Abuja. The Mohammed cartoon also sparked off another violence in Maiduguri in 2006 and several lives were lost. Till date, we are still contending with boko haram that wants to install sharia law all over the country.
People who think only those from their ethnic group are best for everything are unpatriotic. They use the position they occupy to advance hate among the various tribes and ethnic groups by replacing merit with ethnicity. No ethnic group is better than the other. We should therefore see ourselves as brothers and sisters and abhour hate, fear and distrust. An Igbo man should see an Hausa man as brother, a Yoruba man should see an Urhobo man as brother. Tongues and tribes should consolidate our uniting forces and not broaden our divisiveness. If only we can see ourselves as one great people, the hate speeches that have continued to rent the air wouldn’t have been. If only we love, trust and understand each other, our country would have been one of the most peaceful places to live. This is what Gen. Yakubu Gowon envisaged when he put in place the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) after the civil war as a tool to solidify our unity.
It is unfortunate that our leaders who should be at the fore front for the campaign for national unity have continued to cause more division to advance their political horizons. Politicians have done us great disservice keying into our religious and tribal volatility. We should start seeing ourselves as one united people and not balkanised along religious, ethnic and political lines.
We all need each other to live. God in His infinite wisdom built a uniting bridge between the North and the South. We depend on each other for one thing or the other. No one region can boast of having it all. Over 80% of the food we eat for instance has Northern signature, the same way the South thrives in cash crops such as cocoa, cotton, palm kernel and oil and indeed the almighty liquid black gold which is our biggest revenue earner. The Eastern Nigeria has gloriously carved a niche for itself in trade commerce which accounts to why they are seen in all parts of the country and beyond making waves. There is no part of the country that has nothing to bring to the table that will benefit all of us.
We have gone a long way as a country. We have been through the good, the bad and ugly. Calling for our division at such a time like this is to say the least most unpatriotic. We need to listen to the cry of each other, empathise with our frustrations, carry each other along and mend fences for us to achieve our ultimate goal.
Today, we are producing the OPEC benchmark of 2.2 million barrels of oil per day. This is attributable to the relative peace we currently enjoy in the oil rich region. To deploy brute force as solution to all problems is a recipe for further crises. We should look at the points for agitation, placate and accommodate the agitators and let them have a sense of acceptance instead of dismissing them with a wave of hand. The minority ethnic groups which are often neglected when the project Nigeria is being discussed should be given a voice.
The security agencies should up their game by arresting and prosecuting those behind hate speeches including the infamous Kaduna declaration to serve as a deterrent to intending offenders. We must commend Kaduna state government, the 19 Northern state governors, Arewa elders forum and indeed leaders of thought in the North for their swift reaction to the treasonable Kaduna declaration.
If we are truly ready to move forward as a country, we need to effect major amendments in the current structure we are built on for better yield. If we continue doing the same thing over and over again and still expects miraculous change, it beats common sense. Virtually all the states are owing workers’ salaries yet some people don’t think there is the need for us to chat the way forward.
The giant of Africa can still bounce back and command the respect it once wielded. Playing the ostrich and pretend all is well when indeed nothing is well is not taking us anywhere. We must face our problems head on and confront them. This way, we will be on the march to building a more peaceful and prosperous nation which our children yet unborn will be grateful and proud of.
Alex Enemanna is a student of International Institute of Journalism Abuja. 08036469225
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