By Wani Enang
There was a country, Chinua Achebe wrote, and I think he knew what he was talking about. Because to say there wasn’t a country, to say Nigeria is a mistake of 1914, that Nigeria is a mere geographical expression is to discount 1920 and the formation of the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) by Herbert Macaulay to fight for the right of the people he considers to be his country men.
It is to discount 1933 and the formation of the Nigerian Youth Movement by people like Ernest Ikoli from today’s Bayelsa, H.O. Davis from today’s Lagos and Eyo Ita from today’s Cross River, to fight for the right of people they consider to be their countrymen.
It is to discount 1944 and the formation of the National Council of the Nigeria and Cameron (NCNC), it was formed by students to bring together the two political heavyweights of that time, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Herbert Macaulay to bring them together in one organization so they could effectively fight for the independence of the country this young people consider to be theirs.
To say Nigeria is a mere geographical expression is to discount the Constitutional Conferences that took place in 1951, 1953, 1957, and 1958, where Nigerians from all works of life came together, sat down, negotiated and agreed on the terms under which they were prepared to live together.
It is to discount Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who in the early 1960’s took a trip to the United States of America, and what he saw there made him think to himself that if this country, with it trajectory can become a nation, then Nigeria can dob it too. And from there he wrote a letter back to his friend in Nigeria and in that letter he said, “from today, I consider myself a Nigerian and nothing else”.
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 struggles.
So when Chinua Achebe said there was a country, he was expressing nostalgia for a dream that did not come to pass, not very different from the sentiments express by Anthony Enahoro, who as a young man in the Parliament, moved the motion for self governance in 1966, but in a much later time in his life, wrote the book, “this is not the Nigeria of out dreams”. I know that this is not the Nigeria of Achebe’s generation.
I know that there was a coup on the 15th of January 1966 that triggered a catastrophic series of events in this country, I know this. I know there was a pogrom in May, July and September of 1966 where men, women and children where killed. Pregnant women had their bellies split open, their babies ripped out and killed, all because of their ethnicity.
I know that there was a war, a brutal war where millions of children starved to death, innocent men, women and children killed and till today, no plague, no wall, there is no memorial anywhere to remember them, we don’t even know what their names were, how many people actually died and how they were buried, I know this.
I know that this giant of Africa stumbled right at the starting blocks and almost collapse, I know this, I can even understand why it happened, because our founding fathers, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello were really and truly different. The fact that these three people were able to work together somewhat to bring Nigeria to independence is testament to their believe in the viability of “One Nigeria”, that believe was virtually the only thing they had in common.
Ahmadu Bello was born and raised in the north, northern Nigeria was his cosmos, the first time he went to Lagos was in his mid 40’s.
Obafemi Awolowo was born in western Nigeria, raised and lived there all his life, that was what he knew. Of the three of them, the one that was slightly different was Zik.
Nnamdi Azikiwe came from the East, but was born in the north, did part of his education in d east, completed it in the west, worked in the west and did his politics in the west, he was the most cosmopolitan.
It is therefore very logical that the concept of “One Nigeria”, of a monolithic Nigeria, of a Nigeria where any Nigerian can represent every Nigerian regardless of tribe and faith came naturally to him, because that was his socio-cultural background.
Ahmadu Bello had a slightly different concept of “One Nigeria”, to him, one Nigeria was a federation of the existing regions at the time, because northern Nigeria was his primary constituency. so he saw Nigeria as a federation of northern Nigeria and all the other regions relating on an equal but independent basis.
Obafemi Awolowo had a different idea. 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, Obafemi Awolowo saw Nigeria as a federation of ethno-ethnic nationalities because the region he came from was dominated by one ethnic group, the Yoruba’s. So he saw Nigeria as a federation of ethnic nationalities were each ethnic group will have its own political group from which it could relate to the others on an equal footing.
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And when we finally became Independent, it was the idea of Ahmadu Bello that carried the day because Nigeria became independent as a federation of the existing regions, but over time, we have evolve towards the vision of Awolowo, because overtime, different ethnic groups have started agitating 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 one federal capital territory.
But what baffles me is that, individually we have evolved more towards Zik. Today Nigerians are more cosmopolitan than ever. 60 years ago it may have been odd to find a Nigerian who is born outside his place of origin, lived outside his place of origin and maybe even lost ties with his place of origin but today, if I ask how many of u fit this profile, so many hands will be up. There are so many Ziks reading this piece right now which begs the question, “if we have become more similar overtime, why is our politics still as divisive as it was 50years ago? I could understand that 50years ago 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 I’ll give just two:
1. The bedtime stories we’ve all been told; For instance, we’ve been told that the Igbo’s killed the sadauna, we are not told that major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogu killed the sadauna, what we are told rather is that the Igbo’s killed the sadauna.
We are told that the Yoruba’s betrayed the Igbos; we are not told that Obafemi Awolowo was the commissioner for finance in the Gowon’s government during the war, and it was his responsibility to evolve a fiscal strategy for the Nigerian side during the civil war, no, what we are told is that the Yoruba’s betrayed the Igbo’s.
You are not told that Murtala Muhammad led the army into Asaba during the war and that it was under his watch that the Asaba massacre occurred, no, what we are rather told is that the Hausa/Fulani murdered the Igbos and so we keep seeing our social realities through the blinkers of this stories, and this has forced us to keep interpreting current facts using models that were invented 50years ago.
2. The system; Now I dont 5 care how cosmopolitan you actually are, but at some 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 straight back to 1966, but you need to answer the question because it gives you access to so many parts of the Nigerian public life. It is the answer to this question that will get you admitted in the Nigerian public university, get you a job in the civil service, it is the answer to that question that will give you the consideration for federal appointment, it will determine your decision about where to run for public office in this country and therefore no matter how u define yourself based on your actual upbringing, at some point you have to accept a label that was created by circumstances 50years ago.
These factors ensures that, as we become more similar, our politics remain locked in the 50’s and 60’s. Now, what can we do about this? How can we facilitate integration in this country? The answer is simple, we have to tackle it directly. Integration is not a bye product, it does not just happen, integration is unnatural, it only happens through a deliberate investment on it because there is no nation on earth that is natural, all nations are a deliberate creation of men.
To facilitate integration we need to consciously and deliberately invest on it as Nigerians, and there are certain aspect of integration we must invest in;
1. The Infrastructure of Integration: Those things that actually connect us physically like roads. For to be physically isolated is to be socio-culturally isolated, for instance I can not tell u the damage the non existence of something as simple as the 2nd 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 contribution to the GDP, sometimes we have to evaluate some of this things in terms of impact on our sense of belonging, and that sense of belonging is as critical to us as the crude oil in the Niger Delta.
For this reason, we must consciously invest in the infrastructure of integration, things like roads, Unity Schools, things like sports; NUGA games, National Sports Festival, Music and Arts, things that naturally connects people. Any government that is thinking seriously about the future of this country has to see this things as strategic investments.
2. The Economics of Integration: Now, as a rule of thump, whenever people feel less secure, whenever they feel poorer, they tend to be more xenophobic, so to invest in security, to invest in a vibrant economy, and an all inclusive growth, not only in growing the GDP, is also to invest in creating a climate that is conducive to tolerance and integration.
3. The Body Language of Integration: As Nigerians, we must be conscious that we are living in a highly charged political environment, we are living in a space that is mined, that is fragmented by foreblinds and that any word carelessly spoken, or any action carelessly taken can provoke a traumatic and extreme reaction from any section of the country. Therefore we need to begin to invest in a language that demonstrate our awareness that we are citizens living in a fragile nation. It is important.
4. Stories of Integration: The only stories we ever hear is how the Igbo’s killed the sadauna, how the Hausa/Fulani’s killed the Igbo’s, how the Yoruba’s betrayed the Igbo’s, you’ll never hear how the emir of Katsina went out of his way to save the Igbo’s during the pogrom. You’ll never hear how the Nigeria soldiers who came into Biafra were giving water and food to the malnourished children they saw, you’ll never hear of Umaru Rautini, the Hausa/Fulani man who became the Mayor of Enugu, you’ll never hear of Igbo’s who are winning elections into States House’s of Assemblies in Kano and Lagos. You don’t hear these stories because they don’t fit the mainstream narrative. Any government that is interested in the future of this country will be interested in the investing in this stories.
5. The Morality of Integration: No matter what your ideology or politics is, I don’t know what you think of Nelson Mandela, but you can’t take it away from him 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 opportunity to. That act was his own investment in the unity and integration of his country.
We need more act like that here in Nigeria, we need people who have suffered harm in the hands of individuals, members of other religious or ethnic groups who make a decision that when they have the opportunity, they would not take revenge because this tit-for-tat would take us to a dangerous place.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth will leave us all toothless and blind”.
Also the lady Justicia, we need to put the blindfold back on her eyes so that justice in this country is blind particularly to the ethnic and religious backgrounds of those that stands before it. People should pay for their crimes no matter the reason.
6. Politics of Integration: We need to invest, most importantly in the politics of integration. Now those that don’t want Nigeria have effectively politicise their point of view, over the years we have developed the capacity to politicise out ethnic and political differences, but we have refused to develop the capacity to politicise the things we share in common, and what are those things we share in common? What we share in common no matter our faith and tribe is bad roads, no light, no books in our schools, no drugs in our hospitals, we share in common also poverty, poverty in Sokoto, poverty in Yenogoa, corruption in Maiduguri, corruption in Lagos, yet, while we have been able to build radical and pluralist fanatical movements over our differences, we are unable to build radical fanatical and pluralist movement’s over our socioeconomic similarities because any objective analysis of the fact will show u this, that there is no major ethnic or religious group in this country that has not produced a political leader at some level of government in this country, which suggest that, what we are suffering today has nothing to do with the village that person comes from or the god he or she worships, but it has everything to do with the quality of his policy prescriptions and his commitment to executing them.
These are the issues that are routinely neglected by those whose politics is defined by identity.
Now I believe that if we are able to invest in all these aspect of integration, then that dream that eluded the generation of Chinua Achebe and Anthony Enahoro will become realisable in ours.
Excerpts from Oke Chukwumerije