By Tonnie Iredia
The clamour for Nigeria’s unity in the last one year has become louder by the day. However, there does not appear to be a more rational way of looking at the subject than to see it as an indictment of the present government.
The opposition parties have therefore latched on the clamour to amplify their anxiety to embark on policies and programmes that would give every Nigerian a sense of belonging as soon as they come to power. Indeed, even before becoming the official candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Atiku Abubakar a former Vice President of the country had assumed “unifier” as his middle name.
At the end of his party’s recent presidential primaries which he won, Atiku’s explained why he had been referring to himself as a unifier. According to him, “Unity is very important because the government of the APC has disunited Nigeria completely from North to South, Muslims and Christians and I pledge to restore unity irrespective of the state of origin and religion” of all Nigerians.
Some aspirants of the smaller parties have all also been singing the same unity chorus. It was in fact with the same reasoning that former President Goodluck Jonathan’s admirers who wanted him back to power insisted as captured by Professor Benjamin Okans, President of the Ijaw National Congress INC, that Jonathan’s presidency was best opportune to unite all the geopolitical zones of the country.
Interestingly, many presidential aspirants of the ruling All Progressives Congress APC, do not think twice before joining others to promise Nigerians that if elected they would, as a matter of priority, unify all segments of the Nigerian nation. Have they ever bothered to imagine that such an electioneering promise is self-indicting?
Where were they when many were accusing their party of marginalization? If the complaints were frivolous they should have dismissed them but no one spoke until election became close. We acknowledge however that Governors El Rufai, Zulum and Akeredolu, consistently harped on the need for power shift to the South. Many other politicians were only articulating contrary arguments that favoured their preferred candidates.
A party whose members cannot collaborate on simple matters cannot guarantee peace in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. In the PDP only one of the numerous presidential aspirants stepped down presumably, for the sake of reducing the tension the contest was generating.
Those who earlier resigned or opted out of the contest did so in anger, protest or bitterness. A good number of the contestants waited till when one of them was declared winner thereby showing a weak spirit of togetherness and cooperation. Even the earlier efforts of Bukola Saraki, Bala Mohammed, Aminu Tambuwal and Mohammed Hayatu-Deen to identify a consensus candidate among themselves did not materialize.
Again, the decision of northern elders they willingly submitted themselves to for adjudication was abandoned. In the circumstance, it is hard to locate any actor who stands a chance of being able to persuade disparate communities to unite when the effort to bring only four aspirants together proved abortive
The case of APC has been no less disconcerting. For twenty-three aspirants from the same party which ought to have the same political philosophy to be fighting for a single office speaks volumes. A good example here is the case of two prominent aspirants, governors Ibikunle Amosun and Kayode Fayemi who claimed to be political twins with similar manifesto contesting for the same office under the same political party.
In Ogun state alone, there were four presidential aspirants of the same party. Could it be that the four of them wanted to share the votes of Ogun aspirants?When Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu visited Cross River State to campaign for votes, the eulogy presented by Governor Ben Ayade on the visitor prompted me to ponder for a while on Ayade’s business in the APC primaries.
If some of the neophytes in the race planned to hang around in case they may in due course be considered for Vice President, the party should have used persuasive skills to get suchaspirants to leave the race to make its management tidier. I dare say some of the aspirants in the contest had not had enough exposure.
For example, to install street lights on a few major streets in a state capital is not enough for becoming a president. If the party could not work on some aspirants to step down from the race for the good of themselves and the party, it is hard to agree that the same party can produce a unifier to pacify numerous aggrieved citizens and bring them to a level where they can begin to appreciate the expedience of collaboration.
The inability of our big parties to bring together contending party members is further exposed by the numerous parallel congresses held in different states. In Rivers, Cross River, and Abia to mention just a few, disputes among APC members have been made to look unresolvable.
But when the issues at stake are examined, they always centre around the failure of party executives to play the game by the rules and to apply basic rules of fairness to all. This is why I am still searching to find out how politicians that cannot unite their party members keep insisting that they are the only ones that can unify over 200 million Nigerians. In Edo state, the PDP won the governorship election of 2020.
Since then, two different factions of the party have been operating on parallel lines. At the recent national convention of the party, there was a report that the faction loyal to governor Godwin Obaseki was not the one officially recognized by Abuja. If so, how is Obaseki the governor and leader of the party?
Critics who believe that Nigerian politicians are not likely to succeed at unifying the different groups in the country base their fear on the transparent self-interest of our political leaders. Nigerian legislators for instance are great examples of political leaders who are too busy fending for themselves to have time to serve as agents of national unity.
The love for the gains of constituency projects and oversight functions are two official policies that would keep Nigerians in penury. In addition, their working to the answer mentality is another hindrance. The only laws that interest them are those on politics and elections.
Whenever legislators rush back from holidays it is to handle issues of their group interest; hence they recently concentrated on the Electoral Act not to create a level-playing field or to bring improvement to elections. Instead the emphasis was to edge out other people especially the governors from the process. Alas, they found out too late that they had inadvertently passed a law against themselves concerning delegates. What time will any leader with such mentality have to unify Nigerians?
I can’t conclude this piece without reference to a painful story about Sports -a most unifying factor. The Nigerian Basketball Association has for sometime now been challenged by a leadership tussle arising from the emergence of two presidents at separate parallel elections akin to what our political parties do.
Rather than unify the two leaders, (only 2, not 200 million Nigerians)the reaction of our government was to dissolve the executive teams and appoint an interim committee to run the affairs of the association contrary to the rules of the world governing body of the game which abhors government interference.
Government also decided to suspend the team from future games for the next two years. The implication of this is that Nigeria will not be able to participate in the Women Basketball World Cup 2022. Meanwhile, the Nigerian team which is the reigning African champions have won the continental title five times.Some members of the team have in frustration vowed never to represent Nigeria again. Top player Upe Atosu merely described Nigeria’s reaction as heart-wrenching. Beyond sports, Nigerians can only hope that politicians promising to unify them will act differently.