ONE NIGERIA: Unity in Broken Tongues

Over the years, the leaders of this geo-political space called Nigeria have tried to formulate policies and programmes designed to forge national unity and integration. The Gowon administration introduced the National Youth Service Commission, NYSC. About 40 years after, the programme has not only achieved its purpose but its continued existence has been called to question.

When the fratricidal war ended in 1970, the Gowon's regime also instituted the "Federal Character" designed at integrating all ethnic groups affected by the war, particularly the ethnic groups from the South. It was introduced in the spirit of no “victor no vanquished”. Successive administrations also established the National Institute of Cultural Orientation, NICO, the introduction of the Language Policy and now the National Orientation Agencies. All these agencies were established to bring about national unity through value re-orientation, religious tolerance and ethnic accommodation.

In 2002, 40 Nigerians and other experts on the country attended a conference at the Kennedy School at Harvard and they expressed their profound distress at the parlous state of Nigeria's democracy. Among the critical ingredients of dissension and instability include critical governance deficit; over-centralization of power by the centre, lack of transparency, lack of economic diversification, corruption and the imposition of Islamic law. Others are lack of human and investment security and human rights abuses. The Group recommended a national conference to debate constitutional reform, and leadership. These challenges and inherent contradictions of democratization are not in a hurry to go.

The burden of forced unity after the Lugardian fiat in 1914 is a foundational error that has negatively affected the constitution hence the cry for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC). A sovereign national conference would enable the various ethnic groups to re-negotiate the basic structures and power sharing arrangements in our federalism rather that the trial and error methods we have adopted to balance the structural defect in the foundation of Nigeria. If we acknowledge the contributions of the likes of Harold Dapa Biriye, Anthony Enahoro and other nationalists, then it is high time we re-visited the knotty issue of true federalism in Nigeria. The interminable killings in Jos, insurgency in the Niger Delta, the Boko Haram movement, the Movement of Emancipation for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and others mushrooming for purposes of reinforcing the need for local autonomy, has made the call for SNC more urgent and immediate.

When a nation lacks national integration and national unity has resulted to a situation whereby there are no acceptable national ideology and value system underpinning our existence. Rather than use our cultural affinities to intensify devotion and loyalty, discipline, dedication and faith, by our thoughts, words and deeds we work hard to widen the gap existing among the various ethnic nationalities. This is becoming evident as Boko Haram runs rampage, itching for a negotiation with the Federal Government, with the allure and attraction of an Amnesty Programme. My thinking is that the Amnesty Programme was necessary because most Ijaw Communities: Odi, Odioma, Okerenkoko; Agge; Kaiama, Ayakoromor, etc were destroyed. These communities were not only destroyed, the inhabitants were decimated, traumatized and brutalized.

Besides, The Niger Delta Youths were holding the testicles of the nation – the oil rich Region. But the Youths in Boko Haram and their sponsors are have forgotten that Islam is a hard sell. In Nigeria, there are Buddhists, Christians, Taoists, Zoroastrians, African Traditional Religionists, Confucians, and colony of free thinkers like me. The sponsors of terror in the land are not true Muslims because Islam abhors the use of violence without a justifiable cause. Besides, all the sponsors are beneficiaries of Western Education – they acquired at the Sandhust Academy.

When I saw the Nigerian Armed forces arrest the street urchins as perpetrators of the Boko Haram bombings in Bauchi and Maiduguiri, I wonder aloud what their sponsors are. It's like cutting the tail of a snake whereas the head is left untouched. The approach of the security forces in Nigeria leaves much to be desired. The Boko Haram phenomenon in which violence meted out to innocent, law abiding citizens is not acceptable, but to solve this problem would require spreading the dragnet to catch the sponsors of terror and teachers of fundamentalism – who must be investigated, caught and punished. This politicization of Islam has undermined the government's national integration efforts and proven to be quite detrimental to the process of democratization and good governance.

Nigeria is “republic of quarrels” because the various ethnic nationalities have not been able to coalesce into a single functionally integrated organic community. The plural nature of the Republic and her historiography is harassed by the polemics of centripetal bearings. We therefore have a fundamental controversy as to whether Nigeria is a nation state or a hotchpotch of ethnic nationalities owing primary allegiance to their primordial groups without the desire to coalesce.

Nigeria is indeed a nation united with broken tongues, and the familiar areas of polemics in the mass poverty of the committee syndrome. There is an obvious quarrel on how to solve the economic problems of the country. While some Nigerians advocate the wholesale adoption of market driven, neoliberal paradigms that would ultimately transfer wealth into the pockets of comprador bourgeois, others argue that privatization will only exacerbate mass poverty, while at the same time creating a few billion naira a class that could even topple the political economy. Now there is a major controversy as to whether States can pay minimum wages of N18, 000, which in other lands can pass for welfare package of the unemployed. Another controversy is in the area of removing subsidy from petroleum products. We must deregulate to the point of overkill so we reduce the population by increasing the mortality rate.

In a state where the masses are exploited to their where civil servants are treated as “real servants” and where some people are treated as “second class” citizens the so called “Nigerian Project”, which seeks to engender the spirit of fellow-feeling among Nigerians will only remain a good intention. The “Nigerian Project” is a myth or at the very best a pragmatic fallacy that cannot thrive on inequity and illegality. Members thus Republic will continue to quarrel about fundamental issues like resource ownership and control.

Those who have cash crops in their land cultivate, harvest and sell them to advance their cause. Solid mineral resources are mined and sold by the owners, but the same people support the injustice of sustaining the laws dispossessing the oil bearing communities of their land, resources and heritage. This is a fundamental basis for quarrel and the underpinning factor for the oil style insurgency in the Niger Delta Region. In Nigeria, when it comes to issues like revenue sharing, fiscal federalism and power sharing, such quarrels are not often led by reason, by driven by self – interest and personal aggrandizement.

Perhaps the most controversial area is in the Petroleum Sector. Nigeria is the sixth greatest oil producer and an influential member of OPEC, yet there are only four refineries producing below 40% capacity. Bonuses and royalties paid to the federal government through the NNPC are lodged in mysterious accounts accessible to only political power holders while the refineries decay, huge sums of money is believed to be spent on Turn around Maintenance, yet the same group of undertakers are appointed and re-appointed to do damage to the system.

I perceive the frustration in Nigeria as being mainly caused by poverty rather than religion. I therefore urge the Jonathan administration to concentrate on the solution of the nation's economic problems rather than politick with religion. We seem to be approaching the precipice as the masses have reached their peak of endurance the elastic limits of human suffering. Soon, the masses may be compelled to take their destiny in their own hands.

Idumange John, is Deputy President, Niger Delta Integrity Group, NDIG

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Articles by Idumange John