Italian unification in 1861, also known as the risorgimento, meaning resurgence or rising again, was the political and social movement in the 19th century that consolidated different states of the Italian peninsula into the single state of the Kingdom of Italy. Prior to this date, Italy was bitterly divided into southern, central and northern states, which were under different governments with different ideologies. These states reflected the different outside forces that conquered Italy and some parts of Italy in the past. The citizens preferred to be identified by their different ethnic and linguistic background with a lack of national identity. However, citizens of Italy in diaspora realised that despite their differences at home, they were regarded as one Italy abroad. This realisation inspired nationalistic instincts in the citizens of Italy which continued till 1861 when Massimo D’Azeglio, an Italian statesman, novelist and later on Prime Minister appeared on the political scene and declared “We have made Italy, now we must make Italians”. This translated to a national identity for all Italians who now resolved all their differences and melted into one nation with one destiny. With this unity they became a world power which played significant roles in both the first and second world wars. Till date, Italy is still a force to reckon with.
Modern Nigeria was created in 1914 by the British colonialists. This was made possible through the amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates. Prior to British colonization, there were obstacles to the unification of the ethnic nations of Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba and so on that comprised the geographic territory later on called Nigeria. The obstacles of unification included the linguistic gap, influence of localism on people’s thought, the will of oligarchy to preserve political power in local areas. In the absence of modern roads, vehicles and gadgets of communication, people were highly localised in the ancient world and independent nations were established based on linguistic affinity. It was the entrance of the British in our political life that brought the different nations together in what is today known as Nigeria.
The British imposed their will, language, culture, religion on us. They created Nigeria but failed, refused and neglected to create Nigerians. They rather created Britons out of Nigeria. We wore their suits and ties as our official dress in our offices, churches, marriage ceremonies even in the blazing heat of the African sun. We ate their food and drank their beverages. We used their currency and paid allegiance to the Queen as her subjects. Even in 1960 when we purportedly got our independence, the British, surreptitiously, made us part of the British empire because our Head of State remained the Queen who was represented by a Governor General of Nigerian extraction. The British purposely refused to unite the different ethnic groups in Nigeria because they were benefiting from their disunity. They employed the strategy of divide and rule to achieve this. By the time they perfected this strategy they succeeded in planting spirit of suspicion for one another and struggle for supremacy amongst the different ethnic groups in Nigeria. They skewed the political structure of Nigeria to favour whichever group that was more amenable to their rulership of Nigeria. It came to a point when leaders of the regions of Nigeria preferred to employ expatriates to work for their region instead of employing people from different tribes within Nigeria.
Nigeria, obviously, was created by the British but its our duty to create Nigerians. Other countries on earth also were created by outside forces but the citizens of those countries took it upon themselves to create their own national identity which they managed well to become the greatest countries of the world. United States of America was colonized by Great Britain. It fought for its independence and got it in 1776. It is today the most powerful country in the world because it succeeded in creating Americans out of the thirteen colonies that made up the United States of America. Nigeria can no longer hide under the amalgamation of 1914 as excuse for their backwardness. It’s time to create Nigerians out of Nigeria by Nigerians.
In 1963, Nigeria started struggling to get its national identity by the works of some nationalists. They threw away the 1960 Constitution which made Nigeria part of the British empire and opted for a 1963 republican Constitution which made Nigeria answerable to Nigerians. The Governor General was transformed to President and Head of State of Nigeria. Although this was a laudable move, the mutual suspicion which the foreign power has sown among the different ethnic groups led to the great mistakes of the young Republic. Elections were violently rigged, corruption was alleged, bloody coups were executed which eventually led to the civil war that nearly consumed the Republic.
After the war, a lot of lessons were learnt with the declaration of no victor, no vanquished. However, military regimes with their autocratic and nepotistic background could not create Nigerians out of Nigeria. Appointments were made on the basis of loyalty not on the basis of merit. Leaders appointed people of their clan to sensitive positions to ensure that coups were not successfully carried out against them. 1n 1979 Constitution, there was a genuine effort to create Nigerians out of Nigeria with the introduction of the federal character principle which abhors marginalization and domination of any individual or group by another individual or group and provides for the equitable distribution of appointments and social amenities among all Nigerians. These provisions were recreated in the 1999 Constitution to ensure equity. Ordinary Nigerians seem more poised to create Nigerians out of Nigeria than their leaders. In June 12, 1993, Nigerians discarded any difference between North and South, Muslims and Christians etc to voluntarily vote for a Southern President and two Muslims to become President and Vice President of Nigeria. The Head of State then, Gen IBB cancelled it without any reason and threw this nationalistic resurgence into disarray till 1999 when democracy was restored. In football too, we are Nigerians.
The most recent educator of Nigerians on the need to create Nigerians out of Nigeria seem to be the coronavirus. This disease is merciless and deadly. It ought to be forgotten as soon as it is defeated. It claimed the life of one of the most powerful men in Buhari’s cabinet. The lesson it taught us should never be forgotten by all Nigerians. The last paragraph of the last statement by the President’s Chief of Staff says it all, “Like the whole world, we are dealing with a new disease. Our experts are learning more all the time about coronavirus, what it does and how we can combat it. What we do know is that while some may become very sick, many others who contract the virus will not, and may have no symptoms at all. This is a disease that recognises no difference between north and south, men or women, rich or poor. We are all in this together. Sincerely, Abba Kyari, Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari”. This has become Abba Kyari’s testament. If Nigeria will overcome its problems, the leaders must recognise no difference between north and south, men or women, rich or poor in the distribution of appointments and social amenities. We must act in togetherness as a people, without allegiance to primordial sentiments, to overcome our problems. Whether Abba Kyari himself lived up to the same testament he has espoused may never be known as he was largely taciturn throughout his sojourn as the Chief of Staff to the President and after his death, he became a subject of controversy among the Nigerian elites as to his true intentions and achievements.
But one thing is very clear, whatever may be his true intentions, it does appear that our leaders know the solution to our problems but simply refuse to implement it in order to preserve the powers of Nigeria within their own local areas to the detriment of other local areas in Nigeria. He has also set a new template for the incoming Chief of Staff to the Nigerian President and indeed all incoming leaders of Nigeria. If you must succeed and move Nigeria forward, please, in the discharge of your duties, make no difference between north and south, men or women, rich or poor. Ensure that you promote togetherness among Nigerians at all times to make Nigeria the greatest country on earth. Rest in peace Abba for sincerely telling us the truth, whether you lived by the same truth you told us or not. May all the incoming leaders of Nigeria learn the lesson of Abba, taught him by coronavirus, as the panacea to creating Nigerians out of Nigeria.