By Tonnie Iredia
In many heterogenous societies, particularly those in developing countries, a plethora of centrifugal forces often combine to stretch to breaking point, the fabric of solidarity which binds society together. This has been the experience of Nigeria in which every ethno-religious category is engulfed in mutual distrust and suspicion for one another.
It was probably for this reason that the drafters of the Nigerian Constitution sought to encourage oneness of the people by providing in Section 15 of the Constitution, national integration that is premised on free mobility, the rights of every citizen to live in any part of the country and the promotion of unifying issues such as inter-ethnic marriages.
In fact, Section 15(4) specifically provides that “the state shall foster a feeling of belonging and of involvement among the various peoples of the federation, to the end that loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties.”
This quest for integration in Nigeria probably also influenced the creation of specific societal institutions that could promote national unity. One of such institutions is the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). At its inception in 1973, the founding fathers attempted to put in place guidelines that can promote unity and encourage peaceful coexistence.
The strategy was to mobilise Nigerian youths in the national interest by inculcating in them, a sense of patriotism upon which national unity can conveniently rest. Another relevant body is the Federal Character Commission which was established in 1996 to implement and enforce fairness and equity in the distribution of public posts and socio-economic infrastructures among the various federating units of the nation.
It was hoped that as a mechanism, the commission would ensure that all the different ethnic categories that make up the country are represented in all public organizations with no one group or section allowed to exclusively populate or dominate any public entity. With this, Nigeria looked forward to diversity management in the form of representative bureaucracy. Painfully, the framework for national integration is yet to achieve the desired objective.
The main obstacle has not been the media as many analysts often imagine. It is true that the media could have facilitated national integration more than they done so far, but it should not be forgotten that divisive messages hardly originate from them.
Instead, they are essentially channels through which messages are passed from one source to another. Meanwhile there are several other channels such as house to house campaigns, community rallies, village square and town hall meetings where different groupings often agree on a thought-process that creates an immutable rift with their neighbours.
A clear understanding of the case of Nigeria would show that all these channels including the media are hardly accountable for the inability of Nigerians to unite. The greatest sources of the Nigerian problem can be located first, in the social structure of the country and second the nature of the nation’s political system and its actors.
In the case of social structure, there are inherent contradictions about what the country purports to want as distinct from what it relishes. For instance, although all Nigerian groups mouth their love for federalism, each often struggles to control the federal government where it can have much powers to control all others and act as a father Christmas. This explains why, local government workers in Nigeria clamour to be, not on the local but the federal pay roll.
Nigerians claim to loath ethnicity and tribalism, but everyone expects his village or tribal kith and kin in government to use his position to get more of their own into the system in contravention of the federal character principle. Thus, ethnicity which is perhaps a major source of disunity in our clime is in reality cherished by many. A major boost to the divisiveness of ethnicity is the practice in Nigeria whereby, everyone is identified by his place of origin. Wherever one goes, fortune or misfortune is allotted on the basis of place of origin; an unqualified candidate can use it to get admitted into several societal institutions just as an outstanding candidate can lose on account of where he comes from.
One would have thought that a nation which purports to treat its citizens equally would not need to know anyone’s place of origin. If it is for planning purpose as often explained away, ‘place of residence’ would have been a more pragmatic phrase.
In Nigeria, what aptly represents disunity is the notorious North/ South divide, a phenomenon that would be hard to overcome because of its patronage by our governors. One general forum which could have given our governors a pan-Nigerian outlook now has Northern and Southern factions.
The week before, a meeting of Southern Governors’ Forum in Lagos produced a communique on issues like devolution of powers on which all governors and not those from a section could benefit. The communique regretted that “States are disparaged for always carrying begging bowls to Abuja in quest of hand-outs from the federal government.
This is a function of our present national constitution that burdens the federal government with activities and responsibilities that rightly fall within the province of states.” It would appear that Northern Governors share a different opinion on the subject hence they were not invited. There-in lies the Nigerian dilemma in which people often oppose what they actually cherish and desire.
Occasionally, Northern Governors do meet on what they consider to be their areas of common interest. In October last year, they were in the United States to attend a symposium on Development. Because such a symposium could have been more salutary if southern governors were part of it, analysts thought such sectional issues cannot unify a nation.
Indeed, each time a section meets, it also gives an impression of a religious divide as the country is generally seen as Muslim North versus Christian South. As if to confirm this, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) accused the US of seeking to disunite Nigeria following a visit by former Secretary of State John Kerry to meet with Sultan and Northern Governors last year.
CAN described the visit as a “lack of respect for the heterogeneous nature of Nigeria.” If so, why hold more sectional meetings that widen the gap between both sides of Nigeria?