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Nigeria: The Nexus between Spatial Integration and National Integration By Babs Iwalewa

The challenge of national integration is often a continuous one for most nation states or countries. The goal of National Integration is an evolving one hence most nation states or countries are seen as organic entities, which grows and evolves over time. In essence, nation states are seen as work in progress.

For homogenous nations or countries, the task of national integration may be seen as an easy one although this cannot be taken for granted as the case of Somalia shows and portends. It may also be safe to assume that heterogeneous nations may have difficulties achieving national integration, but this assertion is also not cast in stone as the case of the United States, Canada, South Africa which are very diverse and heterogeneous  nation states but have achieved a modicum of national integration which belies this fact. This goes to show that national integration is a skillful and indeed a rigorous exercise that needs to be undertaken with a lot of skills and high level state craft.

What then is National Integration? According to Online source (www.ask.com ) national integration refers to the process of creating awareness of the single identity by which people from a particular area or country should subscribe. National integration seeks to eliminate vices like inequality, while strengthening solidarity and unity. In effect national integration seeks to mobilize people and resources of diverse and disparate origins to achieve a common goal or purpose within a defined territory, often towards development or a greater good.
However, to a cursory observer, it is obvious that achieving the task of National Integration in the Nigerian state has been an onerous one. It has been argued severally that the British colonialists’ ab initio did not set to integrate the people they met occupying the vast fringes of the northern and southern Niger Area (Nigeria), this was further exacerbated by the mercantilist mindset of the colonialists.

This state of affairs continues till this day even as the country (Nigeria) celebrates 53 years of flag independence from Britain. Although there has been feeble attempts over the years to foster national integration via such policies as quota system, National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), establishment of Unity Schools, amongst several others, it can be averred that much progress had not been achieved.  As a matter of fact Nigeria cuts the image of a country whose people have being in contact for centuries, whose people share common heritage of British over lordship, for more than a century, and whose people have lived together for 53 years after the colonialists left, yet the people still see themselves as strangers without a common goal or a shared destiny. They are rather, a set of people who rebound into regular and asinine bouts of violent religious and ethnic orgies and conflicts. A sort of catholic marriage as some will describe it. In the light of these, how does Nigeria achieve National Integration?

A strategy which can serve as a corollary to National integration is in the pursuit of spatial integration, by taking advantage of the vast landmass, people and vast heterogeneous ecological zones. The British designed the architecture of this spatial integration but it was meant to serve their selfish and imperialistic desires hence it was not so successful. But if the country is desirous of change she can build on it.

Spatial integration in this sense refers to the road/rail transport infrastructure vis a vis Nigeria’s vast landmass and resources. The need to create “Nigerians out of Nigeria so to speak”. Theoretically it may be argued that Nigerians still view themselves as not sharing the same destiny or not belonging together because of the far flung geographical distances that sets them apart and acts as a “spatial sponge” which is consequently inhibiting spatial interactions between them. For instance, the physical distance between Lagos and Maiduguri in the absence of suitable infrastructure such as accessible roads or viable rail links will surely affect physical/spatial interaction between the people domiciled in those two cities. Ditto for Sapele and Jibia, Port Harcourt and Sokoto and other far flung places. The idea behind spatial integration is for far flung places within the country to be linked or connected with modern dual carriage ways akin to the Lekki- Ajah expressway in Lagos or modern and efficient rail line networks. The tremendous advantages to be derived from having a 6-Lane dual carriage motor way or modern rail line running from Lagos to Maiduguri, Port Harcourt to Sokoto linking Jibia (Farthest north ) and Nembe(Farthest south), joining Lagos and Port Harcourt, and Sokoto and Maiduguri crisscrossing several important towns in Nigeria and forming nodal cities all over with a critical intersection /corridor or interchange at Abuja the Federal capital can be better imagined.

Aside from closing or shrinking the physical distance (space) between places in the country, it would also fast track our land (road) dependent economy by making it possible for produce to be brought from the hinterlands into the cities where they are mostly sought for in real time. It will also eliminate wastes and also reduce the ever present carnage on our roads.
It’s important for stakeholders to begin to envision the nexus between spatial integration, national integration, nation building and national development. The Nigerian state has unfortunately faltered for too long, but fortunately the problem(s) that confronts her are not specific neither are they insurmountable. What is needed is the vision selflessness and willpower to make the country work.

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