Things you learn early in life hardly leave you. In fact, they influence the course of your life either for good or ill. I had an Editor during my early years in journalism who drummed certain ‘truths’ into my head which have influenced my practice of the profession. Two of them will suffice for the purposes of this discourse. First is that there is no story that cannot be cut; the skill is in the manner of cutting.
The second which is related to the first, is that it is an indulgence on your part and an unfair pressure on your readers to write an article or a column that spans three weeks or more. These days because of what I am yet to unlearn, I cringe when I see a columnist serialise 4, 5 up to 10 parts of an article. (My old-school Editor would squirm wherever he is). How are the readers supposed to remember what they read two, three months ago when they are not studying for an exam? And how can they follow your train of thoughts if they miss an article or two in between as often happens?
The preamble is necessary because this week’s article is a follow-up of sorts to last week’s piece and because, like I said, it is not in my character—to borrow a cliche—to so do. Last week’s article titled: ‘There is a country still’ was influenced by an Independence Day homily I heard in church. This week’s column is influenced by a video of a speech by a young man called Dike Chukwumerije.
The video so touched me that if I had heard it a week earlier, I would have incorporated its message into my article. As it is, because I feel it needs to reach as many people as possible, I have helped in forwarding it to a few friends—something I rarely do. It is for the same reason I feel the need to write on it even when the theme is so similar to last week’s theme.
Dike belongs to at least a generation behind mine. He belongs to a generation that is bitter with itself, and the generations above it because they have bequeathed a Nigeria of warts and all to it. A generation with so much information and knowledge around it yet is so ignorant of the things that should matter. A generation that has members born in the main, outside their fathers’ villages and homesteads and rather than develop a more cosmopolitan and therefore more tolerant world view, is trapped in the tribal hatred and prejudices of the past.
It is heart-warming therefore, to see a product of that generation come out on a higher pedestal than we are used to from the generation to make an impassioned plea for the unity of Nigeria. Armed with the same sets of ‘truths’ that have always been in the public space, he set out to reconstruct the Nigerian narrative from a different prism and to deconstruct the widely held view of the Nigerian story based on what he termed ‘bedtime stories’ which have been handed down from father to son over the past 50 years.
He queried for example, ‘the truth’ which holds a tribe responsible for the actions of individuals in discussing the varied causes of the Civil War. He queried the ‘truth’ that emphasises the acts of callousness and wickedness of some individuals before, during and after the civil war, but ignores the acts of kindness and compassion of other individuals during the same period.
He excused our founding fathers for their views of Nigeria which he felt were born out of their limited knowledge of the country. Many of them with the possible exemption of Azikiwe never left their regions until they had become full adults. What should be our excuse; especially that of his generation?
He applauded the vision and patriotism of leaders like Davies, Ikoli and Ita who came from different parts of the south to rally round Herbert Macaulay and Nnamdi Azikiwe to form a powerful national movement. To describe Nigeria as a mere geographical expression therefore is according to him, to deny the genuine efforts of these people and the various meeting of minds aimed at forming a nation. This was the same way other nations were formed. Integration, he argued, must be worked at since there is no naturally integrated country in the world.
He then listed factors he believed would enhance integration, the absence of which would, in my view, constitute veritable barriers to nationhood. He started with physical integration and mentioned the construction of a good network of roads that would ease the movement of people. He believed physical isolation would lead to socio-cultural isolation. In this light, we should also invest in unity schools, NYSC, and sports. Secondly, he advised we should invest in the economics of integration since financial insecurity leads to intolerance which leads to xenophobia.
Thirdly, we must understand that we live in a very fragile country and so, any word or action that threatens our fragile unity must be resisted. Fourthly, we must also invest in what he called the morality of integration by refusing to take vengeance on those who have wronged us. That was the Mandela way. And the Ghandi way.
Then he talked about the politics of integration which is not to allow those who want to divide us hold sway. And to emphasise on things that unite us as opposed to things that divide us. Finally, he insisted justice must be blind to ethnic and religious considerations. ‘If you do the crime, then you must do the time’ he stated.
I don’t know if Dike is the son of the late Uche Chukwumerije, the highly cerebral journalist. If he is, then history has just gone full circle. But for the better. The late journalist was an integral part of Biafra and the spokesman for Abacha during the inglorious June 12 period. But I have never stopped respecting his high intellect. Dike Chuckwumerije has just earned my respect too.
To be fair, Uche Chukwumerije acted on the exigencies of his time. Dike Chuckwumerije is acting on the exigencies of his own time. And if he is actually a scion of the late journalist, then he is indeed, an improved chip off the old block.