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Nigeria: “The settled, non negotiable union”

By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo

It’s not impossible Lord Lugard is laughing in his grave.  It’s not often that  a man’s selfish and commercial adventure   come to be venerated as a moral ideal. When he strapped the southern and northern protectorates together in 1914, he did it to meet British colonial interests.

Now he must be a god. That  fruit of adventurous  imperialism, that  contraption for commercial exploitation, that accidental union, has become a non negotiable union. Well, they could say he wasn’t ingenuous. After all,  most African countries were carved out by the restless greed of colonial masters.

But we are very religious. So they could say, it was God who fashioned it. Then they would  say there is strength in size and diversity. And the  prudent would  add, that re-negotiations and breakdowns could be explosive and costly. They will always point to Rwanda, their bogey man. Then we will be told that the consensus is that we must live together. Rwanda didn’t teach them more.

The authority  for the righteousness of their patriotism  is  the constitution. The constitution  was written by military hijackers of the peoples’ mandate. But we would always be told it is  supreme and final. They will say they took oaths to defend and protect it.


With condescension, they will concede that people may have grievances. They may even postulate that everybody has grievances. So  grievances are routine,  so they have them effectively trivialized. And because they have to be seen as democrats  they would moralize that those who have grievances should air them. They can make their noises, and no more. The noises should be channeled  through the National Assembly and the Council of States.  Those are the appropriate and legitimate channels for manifesting disenchantment. In those channels, their disenchantment will be safely  buried.

If the aggrieved  is an oppressed, marginalized, minority then it must plead with the oppressors. Or have their noises hushed in the national assembly before they become wretched ineffectual  motions. They know Lugard strapped different, disparate ethnic nation states. They know ethnic cleavages subsist and ethnic  loyalties are profound. They know only equity and fair play can obliterate the divisions and  forge true cohesion. But they are too opportunistic to be  bothered by justice. They  like sophistry and slogans. They live in denial.

They control the minds of the majority through all kinds of scaremongering. So the majority cannot understand the complaints of the minority. The minority, becomes  an intemperate Oliver Twist. The majority cannot understand why the minority wants devolution of powers. They cannot understand why marginalized groups cannot find enough sense of belonging. After all, they allow members of minority groups to   occasionally occupy  important political positions.  So why can’t the minority  simply be grateful.

The majority is not interested in  correcting foundational defects. It is not interested  in dismantling systemic  discrimination. The entrenched discrimination, it has been indoctrinated, were instituted to guarantee its survival.  Quota system , the majority will then declare, is a moral idea. It is not a distortion of merit. It is not a promoter of mediocrity. It is the championship of inclusiveness. It doesn’t matter that it is the minority that cries about exclusion. The majority is the apostle ‘one Nigeria’. But their Nigeria is one whose constitution discriminates brazenly along the lines of state of origin. A  oneness that  worships state of origin.

They have all the aces. The minority can air their grievances about quota system and federal character. The minority can complain that it damages competition and merit. The minority can argue that it entrenches sectionalism. The majority will listen but the majority will refuse its removal.  Those structures, they have been told, are bulwarks against their domination by the minority.  The truth is that without merit and equity, indolence and opportunism and nepotism are enthroned. The truth is that there can be no enduring peace without justice. But a paranoid  majority cannot allow objectivity.

What can the minority do? The aggrieved minority must court the majority. Lick its boots if necessary. Someday, the majority may come to its senses. The union is settled and non negotiable. The majority doesn’t owe the aggrieved  insatiable minority any moral obligation.  The unity of the country can be taken for granted. It is not settled by equity and fair-play and prosperity. It is settled by the commitment of the majority to a constitution forced on the people by a military dictatorship.

The regions cannot retain their wealth. That could foster a competitive federalism. But some regions are so poor they are fearful of that degree of autonomy. So they prefer the  sort of federalism that benefits  indolence. So we have a federalism  wherestates and local governments  exist  just distribution of  national wealth. All blames for lack of development and backwardness can be passed to the anonymous center. And who would blame Lord Lugard for laughing in his grave?  That doesn’t even look like the contraption he fabricated. As recently as the 1960s the regions kept their wealth. That piece of equity was dismantled by the military. We cannot renegotiate our way back to it.

The minority is told it’s a sin to seek greater homogeneity. Yet the majority doesn’t seek the homogeneity of the larger whole. Federal character regulates appointments and promotions. And the nation prides itself in its unity. Industry and hardwork are relegated to the background by medieval politics of entitlement. The powerful center is an inevitable  fountain of corruption. The center is no man’s land.

The minority can air its  grievances. But they are effectively hemmed in. They don’t have the numbers. We cannot even have a census. Yet everyone must remain, willy-nilly,  in the union. If any shows any signs of unruliness it would be made to face the full weight of the law. Democracy , all must know, doesn’t not allow the rascality of the minority. The rule of law is noble. The rule of law is the rule of the majority. The minority cannot hold the majority to ransom. It is not acceptable.  The majority must have its way. They are happy to lump agitations for a better arrangement with agitations for outright secession. And often , with levity, they label all agitations for restructuring ,of all hues, as devices by those at the periphery to get attention and crumbs from the center.

The unity of the union is settled, not negotiable.


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