“I assure them that the saying by Gen. Yakubu Gowon that ‘to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done’ still stands. In those days we never thought of oil all we were concerned about was one Nigeria.
“So please pass this message to the militants, that one Nigeria is not negotiable and they had better accept it. The Nigerian Constitution is clear as to what they should get and I assure them, there will be justice.” – President Muhammadu Buhari, to some residents of Abuja who paid him Sallah homage recently.
President Buhari’s off-the-cuff statement above provides an opportunity for us to pick the mindsets of Nigerians on what they really mean by the concept of “One Nigeria”. It is obvious that “One Nigeria” does not have a single meaning for all of us; going by the way we carry on, especially when we find ourselves in positions of power as Buhari currently does.
Let me describe my own idea of One Nigeria. It is a crossbreed between the Zikist and Awoist visions of the unity of Nigeria. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the father of African Nationalism and foremost exponent of Nigeria’s independence, believed in a Nigeria where all citizens would share one vision and national aspiration, irrespective of their tribes, tongues, regions, religions, majority or minority status. That is the kind of nationalism practised in Ghana, a country whose foremost independence proponent and Pan-Africanist, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, was inspired by the Great Zik.
In Ghana, tribe, region and religion are no impediments to national unity. That is why the longest-ruling head of state, John Jerry Rawlings (a minority), was able to seize power and sanitise Ghana. He laid a solid foundation for today’s success story. Contrast this with Nigeria, where an earlier attempt by Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and his colleagues ended up being given an ethno-religious and regional toga. It resulted in a civil war at the end of which Nigeria became a colonial booty of Arewa (the Muslim North).
The Awoist version of One Nigeria recognised the differences between the various groups and sought to establish a structure in which all these groups could live within their geopolitical enclaves and aspire competitively for the greatness of a united nation. Nobody’s ethnic, religious or cultural hang-ups would slow down the progress of others who do not share these hang-ups, and yet all would belong equally and equitably to one nation in spite of their complex diversity. This arrangement is often described as “true federalism”.
So, in this Nigeria of my dreams, those who want to practice Islamic Sharia in their home zone can go ahead. Those who want to cut off the hands of their thieves and overpopulate their home zones with illiterate citizens will not be an impediment to my section which wants to exercise population control, give good education to the young people and offer them a modern, civilised lifestyle comparable to the best in the world. You use what you produce to cater for your people but pay rents to the Federal Government to maintain the common services that bind us together as people of One Nigeria. But you do not use your landmass and population to parasite upon and terrorise others and suck their resources dry in the name of “One Nigeria” which, you insist, is “non-negotiable”.
Buhari made reference to what General Gowon told them as young soldiers during the civil war, which was that, “to keep Nigeria one is a task must be done”. Gowon’s charge to his soldiers was meant to bring back the former Eastern Region which was forced by injustice and insecurity within Nigeria to seek safety in a breakaway Republic of Biafra. Majority of Nigerians (not just Northern Nigerians of Arewa extraction) eagerly participated in enforcing the unity of Nigeria through that war.
The question we must ask ourselves is: why is it that 46 years after, those who fought in the war and are now in their seventies and eighties are still in charge running the country with their archaic and retrogressive mentalities? Why are they still putting a gun on the heads of Nigerians, threatening that to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done? Is there any country in the world apart from Nigeria that maintains “national unity” at gunpoint? Why is it that more and more groups are copycatting Biafra with either secession or self-determination bids if, indeed, the civil war kept Nigeria one?
In any case, is it indeed true that Nigeria’s unity is “non-negotiable” as Buhari says? For me, it an old lie told a million times by people who do not even take time to check what they are saying. The truth is that the negotiation of the unity of Nigeria is constantly ongoing and (unfortunately) never-ending. The Aburi Accord was a product of negotiation of Nigeria’s unity. All the constitutional talks after the civil war in 1977/78, 1989, 1994, 2006 and 2014 were acts of negotiation of Nigeria’s unity.
After the annulment of Moshood Abiola’s victory in 1993, the North negotiated among themselves and gave up the presidency to the Yoruba people to entice them to remain with the Nigerian project. They banned Northerners from contesting the presidency, and overwhelmingly gave their votes to Olusegun Obasanjo.
The Yar’ Adua regime negotiated with the Niger Delta militants to drop their arms and accept “amnesty” and some lollipops in return. Nigeria has been begging to negotiate with Boko Haram since the days of President Goodluck Jonathan till date, and even Buhari himself is still on his knees begging the Niger Delta Avengers for negotiation and offering to do “justice” (the same justice he has refused to do since he was elected a year ago!).
All these negotiations were efforts to wrest some justice, fairness and equity for people who are not happy with Nigeria. They were thwarted because Nigerians are very easily fooled by cosmetic red herrings, such as concession of the presidency, creation of more states, granting of “amnesty” to aggrieved agitators, appointment of a few of your people to glamorous government offices and flashing of cash to shut up noisy mouths. It also comes in the form of intimidation, persecution by prosecution, freezing of accounts, detention and (in extreme cases) outright elimination of recalcitrant opposition.
Even when you thought that seventeen years of renascent democracy had gradually moved Nigeria towards some semblance of geopolitical equalisation, a forgotten fossil of the Nigerian civil war, General Muhammadu Buhari, is brought back to power. He relaunches the worst form of extreme nepotism which even a Northern reactionary commentator, such as Junaidu Mohammed, recently openly condemned. Who would have, in their wildest dream, believed that 46 years after the civil war, it would be possible to have a Federal Government in which the kinsmen and religious acolytes of a sitting President would so predominate in total defiance of the Federal Character principle enshrined in our Constitution?
And this is Buhari’s idea of One Nigeria which he vows to maintain? He can count me out of that! This is not the One Nigeria that the people of the North Central, South-South and South West fought for, and certainly not the One Nigeria which the ex-Biafrans looked forward to when they returned in 1970. This is not the One Nigeria which the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) prescribes because it does not give me a feeling of belonging. I reject Muhammadu Buhari’s lopsided One Nigeria!