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Nigeria, a nation for all its citizens: The dream is still possible

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Tabia Princewill

ONE of the most disturbing, and historically inaccurate, statements one sees both on social and traditional media, is the belief that Nigeria is not a nation because it is made up of competing tribes which had neither knowledge nor interaction before the British colonial government’s decision to amalgamate the North and the South in 1914.

Virtually every angry social media post by Biafran separatist groups begins with a rant about the supposedly innate differences that exist between the North and the South, not knowing that the origin of these invented stereotypes lies in colonial rule.

The script politicians use to divide Nigerians is only an updated version of the writings of our early colonial masters who labelled Nigeria’s tribes based on their personal appreciation of their services to British rule.

Most of our laws, including the ideas behind the settler and indigene dichotomy, are invented divisions to curb pre-existing relationships between groups and enhance opportunistic divisions based on a scarcity of resources: most Nigerian cities and towns are still planned like colonial cities.

The 1917 township ordinance segregated Nigerian cities along ethnic and class lines: e.g. the Government Reserved Areas, GRA, for the European elite and the “native” areas for indigenes and non-indigenes.

Arbitrarily deciding who is an indigene of a state remains one of the most contentious issues of our politics today, yet these tools of division continue to structure the daily lives of millions of Nigerians who still access state services not based on universal ideas of citizenship but based on religion or tribe.

Ironically, most of the pre-colonial empires our modern nation replaced were multi-ethnic. In fact, contrary to popular opinion (and to what Western imperialist arbiters would have us believe) Africans have been successfully managing inter-ethnic relationships for thousands of years.

The real tragedy is that we are yet to untangle and re-think the new direction taken during the colonial interlude. Similarly, we are also yet to interrogate the economic course imposed by Western institutions who mine our resources and repatriate all profits with no benefit to the host economy.

Members of the elite who support this system actively support and encourage the “balkanisation” of Nigeria, because a nation thus weakened and split up is easier for their partners in Western corporations to deal with.

Unfortunately, the unemployed youth furiously tapping away on their keyboards, wishing for civil war or the death of their fellow poor or marginalised youth from various parts of the country, does not understand the financial and political agendas at stake.

He or she thinks Nigerian politicians mean what they say and that the restructuring they preach means something more than reviewing how the elite share money amongst themselves.

To anyone who has bothered to research or study Nigeria’s pre-colonial history, these ideas about the supposed natural incompatibility between Nigeria’s ethnic groups is maddening and obviously dangerous due to the obvious desire to separate us from one another based on misunderstandings and misgivings sponsored by politicians. Again, most of the poor souls employed to spew hate online are unaware of the power games and machinations at play and there is no one to educate them because most of the would-be opinion leaders, columnists, analysts, etc, are too busy regurgitating these same divisive ideas to the benefit of their paymasters.

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What are Nigeria’s founding principles and beliefs? Very few can say. The unpopular opinion is that things were unclear from the beginning. We were set up to fail because ethnic division, fear and suspicion were rooted into political interaction from the very moment we became a country.

However, this does not, of course, mean that we are destined to fail. Far from it. As President Muhammadu Buhari begins his second term in office, he must endeavour to leave an impactful legacy that cannot be undone once he leaves office: too many projects in Nigeria are overturned by jealous, competitive successors.

He must leave us with at least one landmark development that serves to remake the social contract between Nigerians.

It appears this government is mulling over the possibility of state police, which worries some observers because quite frankly, not all our governors have the maturity to be endowed with a force that answers only to them.

Community policing and reform

Either way, this is not enough. True, there are definitely economic issues at the route of the conflicts between herdsmen and farmers and it is also true that without serious community policing and reform, tackling insecurity will remain difficult.

However, unless our laws reflect a new understanding of citizenship and we place merit, competence and our shared nationality as Nigerians at the heart of both government transactions with citizens, and our involvement with one another, rather than state of origin or federal character, Nigeria will forever remain ripe for manipulation on ethno-religious grounds.

Politically, this is of course difficult to realise because most people in office are very comfortable with the idea of zoning, federal character, etc., which they can manipulate for their needs and use to influence their supporters through false cries of “we are being marginalised!” when what they mean is: “I want a place in this government!”

But unless Nigerians keep advocating for lasting means to end conflicts in our society, governments won’t have the courage to enact what in the long term is best for Nigerians even if it isn’t best for politicians.

 

CAN

THE Christian Association of Nigeria criticized President Muhammadu Buhari’s attendance of a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, OIC, which it called “unconstitutional”. We must be wary of all attempts to divide Nigerians on religious lines using misinformation or ‘fake news’.

The President did not attend the OIC meeting simply to discuss “Islamic matters” (one wonders what that even means) nor did he attend because the OIC is Muslim and he is more comfortable with Muslims.

These false arguments repeated by some dangerously misleading platforms online alienate and divide Nigerians and one must ask who benefits. A CAN statement read: “Is the government not heating up the polity?

We wonder if the President is ready to attend the meeting of the World Council of Churches or be asking the Vice President to represent him whenever the members meet”.

The World Council of Churches does not provide any loans or economic benefits to member states.

The OIC provides funds for capital projects and national development projects with positive impact for both Muslims and Christians in Nigeria.

The media should also be more circumspect in its reporting and not make itself a tool for enmity amongst Nigerians.

 

Pastors

A POPULAR singer, Timi Dakolo accused an Abuja Pastor, Biodun Fatoyinbo, founder of the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly, COZA, of allegedly “having sexual relationships with female church members”.

In a series of online posts, Mr Dakolo asked COZA church members not to ostracise the women who made the allegations and to listen to their stories.

He also alleged they were being harassed by the pastor and his “criminal lawyers”.  Some Nigerians reacted with the usual Bible verses many use to excuse or brush off any allegation of misconduct such as “touch not my anointed and do my prophet no harm”.

Mr Dakolo rightly pointed out that most people who don’t know the context of such verses use them to ignorantly stop any investigation into any alleged crime.

“They have used that line to scam us,” he said. The political and religious elite in Nigeria use all sorts of tricks, including “perpetual injunctions” to stop investigations into their conduct.

If they have nothing to hide, why don’t they open themselves up to scrutiny?

Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.

VANGUARD

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