By Peri-Monday Okonny
These days, several important national issues are competing for attention in the polity, but at the centre of it all is the question about the unity of Nigeria which has been given a fresh spark by the centenary celebrations to mark the amalgamation of the country, as well as the upcoming National Conference. During the preparation for the centenary celebrations, the debate was whether it was important or not for us to mark with so much pageantry the 100th years of the formation of Nigeria at amalgamation. In 1914, the British colonial administration under Governor Lord Lugard merged two different entities, the Southern and Northern Protectorates, and named it “Nigeria”. This was how the journey of the chequered history of Nigeria’s unity began.
Of course, the Jonathan administration won the argument. It contended that even though the country might not have gotten it right in terms of its governance structure, socio-economic, political and infrastructural development; even though the journey of its nationhood has obviously been rough and bloody, there are a lot to cheer about the unity of Nigeria. There is, especially the resilience and strenght of its unity which has impacted positively on Africa and the rest of the world. There is its enduring history of noble sacrifices and rare demonstration of courage by our men and women as well as the unyielding determination and spirit of its people.
But not every section of the country or Nigerian agrees with the the Jonathan administration on Nigeria’s unity thus prompting a poser: Is Nigeria indeed united? There are opposite views that the country’s so-called unity was done by colonial force. In other words, the consent of the two protectorates were not actually sought.
Again, in this skewed binary categorization of the large country along South and North, there are other generic relentless agitations by other minority tribes that complain about being subservient to the three big tribes. While the South is mainly dominated by Yoruba of the South-west, the South-east dominated by the Igbo, the North is dominated by the Hausa/Fulani. This (the question of minority tribes) still remains one of the fundamental challenges to Nigeria’s unity today.
Perhaps, the most contentious argument is that the amalgamation of the country was done for colonial administrative convenience and maximum economic exploitation of the southern part of the country, particularly the South-south region. It is historically contextualized that while the people of the North likened the idea of amalgamation, the southern part of the country had kicked against forging unity among people of totally different cultures, religions and histories; a people of about 250 languages.
This fear was made clearer and became heightened when oil discovered in a large commercial quantities in the Niger Delta region became the main source of Nigeria’s economy. It has continued to be explored and the revenue from the sale used to develop the North and the rest of the country. More disquieting is the fact that national census figures are regularly being rigged in favour of the North so as to give the region that is not contributing anything to the national treasury comparative advantage in terms of distribution of national wealth.
There have been proposals that the country should revert to regional government structure, confederalism while others think the country will fare better if each section goes its separate ways. The question is: How do we, as a nation, correct these anomalies if we must together move forward as one united nation? Can the country survive these overwhelming situations?
Repeatedly, the Jonathan administration has reiterated its commitment to one united Nigeria against all odds.
Unless the roots of the problems bedeviling this country are dealt with squarely, the unity of the country will remain shaky and fragile. The President therefore needs to pragmatically mobilize all national forces in his power towards resolving all the contentious issues that have continued to push the unity of this country to the edge. He should see himself as a man on a rescue mission to rescue the nation from disintegration. Therefore, he should not pussy-feet; rather, this is the time for him to stand his ground by demonstrating courage, wisdom and political sagacity. Thus, he should take full advantage of the forthcoming National Conference as a veritable and grandest platform to address some of the knotty issues threatening the unity of the country.
*Okonny is a public affairs analyst