By Tony Eluemunor
Nigeria has a name, a boundary, enjoys a sovereignty over its territory, and enjoys the recognition of the international community. But it ends there as many cannot be employed outside their states of origin as they are “non-indigenes.” Now, even the sovereignty is under attack from a relentless Boko Haram.
Where is the Nigerian? A unity among the nations (or ethnic groups) that form Nigeria’s federating units, may have been an unrealistic expectation, but playing by the rules…constitution really could have de-emphasised the differences. Now, I have to check myself because if I move a step further in a straight direction, I would arrive at the reasons the majors gave for overthrowing Alhaji Ababakar Tafawa Balewa-led First Republic; the symptoms, not the sickness, that killed that Republic.
Instead, I have to make a detour and show that even before that coup d’état, Nigeria was not actually a country as most of the political parties that contested the election that preceded Independence bore ethnic names.
For instance, the leading party in the coalition which formed the national government bore the name of Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), and it polled 1, 922, 179 or 25% of the total votes to gain 134 seats. The National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) scored 2,594,577 votes or 34.0% to win 81 seats. So, NCNC clearly came first. Zik, the flagbearer of the NCNC, became the junior partner in a coalition with NPC’s Balewa just so that the North would not secede and so that Nigeria could remain one. Had he aligned his party with Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group’s 1,992,364 votes or 26.1% and 73 seats, their coalition would have had 154 seats and 60% of the votes.
Earlier on May 12, 1953, Zik addressed the NCNC at Yaba, Lagos: “The dissemination of lies abroad; the publishing of flamboyant headlines about secessionist plans… in the North is being overdone. These quarters must be held responsible for any breach between the North and South, which nature had indissolubly united in a political, social and economic marriage of convenience.”
So, even by 1953, separation calls were on; that time from the North. Today, it’s from a group in the East. What happened to Project Nigeria? When did we desert the Nigerian common ground? Actually there was no Nigerian common ground. Late Prof. Omo Omoruyi wrote that his mother was surprised when Balewa became the Prime Minister and asked how a man who never campaigned won the election.
Of course, Balewa and the NPC campaigned in the North only. Remember too that the North actually voted to delay their region’s having political independence from Britain, not because they loved servitude, no, but because Nigeria, the real country of Nigeria, had not been built. Only a set of contending regions lording it over the frustrated and angry minorities in their regions, existed.
Did Balewa unite Nigeria? No!!! The January 1966 coup was a consequence of that failure. Then, disdaining Nigeria’s geo-socio-political and religious problems, Gen. Aguiyi-Ironsi, decreed Nigeria into a unitary state. All the problems which had weakened the First Republic heightened as the central government’s power almost totally swallowed up those of the states and Nigeria split across the seams.
The July 1966 counter-coup, and later pogrom against the Southerners, mainly Igbo people, in the North, further disgraced African history as the General Yakubu Gowon administration did absolutely nothing to stop it. Nigeria owed every Nigerian that primary obligation of safety of live and property but failed to meet it. A civil war resulted.
Briefly, the 1975-’79 Murtala/Obasanjo administration made Nigerians proud by their Afrocentrist- foreign policy and Nigeria began to show signs of emerging a global medium power; the real giant of Africa stirred. Nigerians shook with incipient patriotism. Youths everywhere began to identify with the regime, and openly denounced the coup in which Murtala was assassinated. He was genuinely mourned and his successor became not just Obasanjo but “Uncle Sege,” Even the Nigerian diaspora felt the nationalist favour.
Then Shehu Shagari became president and the hopes dissipated. Shagari was not to blame; like Balewa, Agu-Iyi Ironsi and Gowon before him, he was a yesterday’s man. Murtala/Obasanjo were propelled by the Musa Shehu-Yar’Aduas who overthrew Gowon. They were tired of a “big for nothing” Nigeria. They wanted a change.
The soldiers who ousted Shagari wanted an encore. But the team was different this time; the late Gen Joe Garbas had already retired. Gen. Mohammadu Buhari became Head of State and gave some uplifting messages; to salvage the country, to fight corruption and indiscipline but it slid into despotism, something the Murtala administration shunned. A palace coup brought in Gen. Ibrahim Babangida who disappointed and alienated Nigerians by annulling the free and fair 1993 election. Gen Sani Abacha succeeded him and took dictatorship to the worst level.
Unfortunately, Nigerianism has not grown a bit under this latest democratic rule. As the nation atrophies, through dilapidating infrastructure, nation-wide insecurity, bad governance, leaders’ indifference, Nigeria shames her children such that people despise identifying with her. Successful countries attract love and respect while failed ones are detested; Nigerians now proudly represent other nations in sports competitions while shunning Nigeria. Instead of encouraging the learning of languages other than one’s mother tongue, Southerners are fleeing the North and vice versa.
Insecurity has constricted interstate travel and commerce and the young can no longer mix as freely as their parents did as few of them now grow up outside their ethnic areas, unlike in the past. Nobody schools outside his immediate environment anymore. So, youths hardly mix up, the idea of Nigeria is foreign to the youths; Nigeria’s future! To this long list, please add the fractious Cattle herdsmen issue.
They have sacked communities and enmities multiply. In this separateness, this several countries in one, this assorted destinies, lies Nigeria’s real tragedy. W.E.B. Du Bois once said: “Herein lies the tragedy of the age: not that men are poor, — all men know something of poverty; not that men are wicked, — who is good? not that men are ignorant,—what is Truth? Nay, but that men know so little of men.” Nigerians know so little of other Nigerians. It has always been we versus them.
As though reeling under a curse, we are abandoning secularism and the religious divide is ever widening. But the late Ikemba Nnewi, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu warned in a 1987 lecture titled, Pax Nigeriana, “we must diffuse ethnicism by laying emphasis on citizenship and place of residence rather than state of origin and tribe.”
He concluded: “Let us always remember that there is only one price too much to pay for peace, that price is self-respect.” And this is squarely the trouble with the government-sponsored cattle route, cattle colony or cattle ranch gambit. Self-respect is also the reason restructuring is still being advocated.
So where are the real Nigerians? They will emerge, when an inspired and inspiring leader comes, who will accord dignity to the citizenry. The beautiful ones are not yet born, remember.