It has been almost a hundred years since the British colonialists conducted a marriage of the Northern and Southern provinces of Nigeria, but time has shown that it takes more than a century to make people united. Nigeria has been an entity since 1960 when independence was handed over by the colonialists, but for some reason, the people have been unable to see past the lines of regional division that existed prior to amalgamation. As much as I want to hang everything on the neck of the British as most of us tend to do, I think the typical Nigerian psyche is to blame. Ethnic nationalism which can be traced back to our founding fathers laid the foundation for the bickering that has become a norm in Nigerian politics.
Before he became prime minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa made his opinion clear about the almagamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria in 1914 by the British. In his own words “since the almagamation of Southern and Northern provinces in 1914, Nigeria has existed as one country on paper…it is still far from being united. Nigerian unity is only a British intention for the country.” Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the first premier of Western Nigeria and leader of the opposition in the first republic would also state his own opinion in his book ‘Path to Nigerian Freedom’ where he claims that “Nigeria is not a nation, but a mere geographical expression..”. Chief Awolowo went further to state that “…the word Nigeria is merely an appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria and those who do not..”. These sentiments while stated factually have done more damage than good. Modern day politicians still hang on to the mentality that produced these words and have refused to see past boundaries of regional politics.
This is evident in the flurry of reactions that has greeted the recent attempts by the National Assembly to further amend the 1999 constitution. The entrenchment of the six geo-political zones in the constitution has brought to light the divisions in the country. In an interview granted by Dr. Junaid Mohammed of the ‘Concerned Nothern Politicians, Academics, Professionals and Businessmen’, he said, and I quote, “…geo-political zones will never be accepted in the constitution no matter what it takes. North and South are not equal, and can never be equal.” In response, Niger Delta activist Chief Nengi James said, “This time around, we are ready for them, if they don’t want it, let them go and form a country of their own. We have suffered enough in their hands. We are not ready to suffer any more”.
As the intrigue continues, I am forced to wonder what the fuss is really about. Is it really about power as Dr. Junaid Muhammed claims? Or is it really about economic gain as inferred from the views of those clamouring for the addition of three geo-political zones? How will the addition of more zones into the constitution bring about the much needed development the country needs? How will it help us achieve greatness as a country? The North/South dichotomy is rarely felt by the poor of the society. What does the Yoruba bricklayer trying to eke a living under the Obalende bridge beside the Hausa petty trader care for geo-political zones? Is this tiresome verbal sparring among Nigerian politicans not a game of egos or even a mischievous attempt to continue to keep the country grounded on the high sands of ethnic politics.
Even more vexing is the existence of governors forum. There is no reason why a bunch of individuals who have been entrusted with the responsibility of bringing development to their states should go about gallivanting into affairs of national concern. These forums whether on a national or regional scale are just an excuse for these governors to avoid their responsibilities. In saner societies, these forums are an anomaly, but in Nigeria they serve a purpose for religious and ethnic jingoist to pursue one nefarious agenda or the other. I was reading the papers the other day and saw an article agitating the revival of the Southern governors forum to answer the Northern governors forum and I could only shake my head in despair. If these governors came together to tackle issues of poverty, crumbling infrastructures and insecurity, then their champagne filled get together would have made some sense, but no, it is never about these issues. Infact, God forbid that the masses should even factor in the scheme of things. For these politicians, it is all about what they stand to gain.
The almagamation might have been an experiment in the eyes of the British or a short cut to easy governance, we will never know unless we invoke the spirit of Lord Lugard to find out what his intentions were, but it is time for us to move ahead from the past and the divisive politics played by the founding fathers (and no, they were not gods, but merely mortals prone to sentiments). Our federalism might be a mirage because the center is all too powerful and the states too weak to function in the spirit of true federalism, but we can go back to the drawing board and correct the mistakes of the past without necessarily reverting to the governing style of the first republic (and yes, I mean regionalism). If that happens, we will all find a common ground in our diversity and there will be no need for a few individuals to continue to hold us ransome to their egos. Nigeria as a country has come a long way and while we are not perfect, we must strive to let go of sentiments that do not aid development. We must make a conscious effort to see ourselves as a whole unit, rather than several distinct units. We must see ourselves as one nation, rather than several nations. We must see that our unity was not just an intention of the British and neither is Nigeria just a mere geographical expression. When that happens, we will surely find the path to freedom.
Umari Ayim is a lawyer, published author and a thinker devoted to the Nigerian cause.
Her column ‘Revolution Woman’ where she will be dealing on topical issues runs every Monday.
Follow her on Twitter – @Umariofficial
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