By Afe Babalola
THE amalgamation of the hundreds of scattered ethno-political groups across the geographical plane now known as Nigeria has always come at a cost – the separation of the people across ethnic and religious divides.
Consequently, people from a particular geo-political or religious affiliation tend to express nepotic bias towards other members of the group and, therefore, the concept of one Nigeria has usually been relegated to the realm of fantasy.
It has been observed, however, that the only notable exception, that is where Nigerians tend to be unanimous, is when the country participates in regional or international football competitions. In such times, the Igbo man would easily welcome his Hausa neighbour to share moments of sporting bliss.
Nigeria’s inherent ethno-cultural divides climaxed into the civil war which further drove the nation apart. Though the impact of the civil war is still being felt, particularly in unspoken hostilities among peoples from different tribes, there is largely peaceful co-existence. This, perhaps, has accounted for seemingly rare moments of immense show of camaraderie between people with differing religious, political and ethnic affiliations.
Recently, during the celebration of Christmas at a church in Zaria, Kaduna State, members of the renowned Shiite group attended and fellowshipped with Christians, and also presented gifts as a sign of love and solidarity. Commenting on the rationale behind the unprecedented visit by the group, the leader of the team reportedly noted that:
“We decided to attend this church service today because today is Christmas Day, a day that the birth of Jesus Christ is being celebrated over the globe and we feel that we also have our concern to share with them the feelings of the day Jesus was born.
“The coming of Jesus to this world is a blessing to everybody, so we wish that we should come and celebrate this glorious day with them. As they (Christians) attach importance to this day so also we attach so much importance to the day and that is why we came today to clear all the unnecessary imaginary boundaries that have been created between Muslims and Christians. This is important now that the country is facing multiple security challenges that require all hands to be on deck in other to overcome them”.
It is indeed true that there have been imaginary boundaries between Muslims and Christians, much so that adherents of both religions do not usually find a common ground. This, therefore, accounts for the nationwide celebration of such rare occasions when a person defies ethnic or religious divides to save or rescue members of the other tribe or religion, even at a risk to his own life.
Such was the case Imam Abubakar Abdullahi, an 83-year-old Muslim cleric who saved hundreds of Christians who fled attacks from Muslim herdsmen who had launched coordinated attacks on Christian farmers in 10 villages in the Barkin Ladi Area of Plateau State on June 23, 2018. According to a CNN report, the imam gave refuge to his Christian neighbours, sheltering 262 Christians in his mosque and his home, then stood outside the doors confronting the Muslim attackers, pleading with them to spare the lives of the Christians inside, even offering to exchange his own life for theirs. In appreciation of this brazen act of bravery, the US government, therefore, honoured the cleric with the 2019 International Religious Freedom Award.
Similarly, it was reported that a Fulani Muslim rescued two Christian missionaries who were dumped in the bush by kidnappers after two months in captivity. After rescuing the missionaries, he reportedly took care of them for two days before taking them to their church leaders in Gusau, Zamfara State.
There is hope for the nation
The inherent challenges in nation-building from multiple ethnic groups is one which most African nations such as Nigeria face today. Admittedly, Nigeria is a complex, multi-lingual, and heterogenous society with behaviour and relationships of individuals and groups being determined by cultural affiliations and social institutions. According to sociologists, different people are predisposed to conceptualise political and economic resources and the access to them in divergent ways through their own coded lenses. Despite these ethno-social and religious divides, Nigerians have, over time, demonstrated the capability to be united, at least in matters which involve the overall welfare of the citizenry such as security.
There is no doubt that the nation is plagued by a myriad of security challenges which has affected virtually every region. The news media is constantly awash with reports of kidnappings of Christians and Muslims, Northerners and Southerners. If there is one thing that Nigerians agree on, it is the spate of insecurity.
Having recognised this, it is important, among others, for government to put in place mechanism for legislative and constitutional reviews or overhaul to improve on the policy and institutional means of dealing with security concerns that has plagued the country.
The federal, state and local governments must bring about programmes relating to cultural and political orientation that seek to enthrone the fundamentals of sustainable democracy. Democracy must be maintained in the face of growing security threats. While most Nigerians are unanimous as to the concern of insecurity, it yet remains for the political stakeholders to make comprehensive contributions in order to tackle the problem and boost the confidence of the dying masses in government’s resolve to end insecurity.
As already demonstrated, the capacity of Nigerians to live in unity is one which is not unrealistic. However, for sustenance of this state of affairs, there must be proportional representation which allows for the effective representation of the minorities at the local, state and national levels. There must be a demonstrable commitment to fair and equitable development, as well as the recognition and acceptance of the fact that each group, whether in the majority or minority, is entitled to a measure of self-determination within the national framework.
It has been remarked that a national policy which ensures that no group shall be denied its rights and entitlements, must be formulated.
It must be noted that the denial of a certain group of the dividend of its resources always leads to frustration and inability to identify with the nation state – the people of the Niger Delta as case in point. There must be a framework to support dialogue among all groups.
Though government has, in times past, made attempts to manage the ethnic diversity in the nation, such as prohibition of ethnic political parties, adoption of the federal character principle, federalism, among others, there is clearly more to be done in order to create an atmosphere of unity for Nigerians; where everyone is made to feel relevant.
While the idea of living in a unified Nigeria is, in reality, not a façade, it is yet possible given a conducive environment to foster same.
But until then, the status quo remains and Nigerians may continue to experience the isolated events of brotherliness.