In the midst of growing tensions and separatist agitations across the country, the emeritus Archbishop of Abuja Catholic Archdiocese, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, has maintained that Nigeria’s unity is negotiable and that those holding contrary opinion should take another look at their rigid position. Onaiyekan made the submission while reacting to persistent herders/farmers clashes in the country.
While the cleric is not in support of calls for secession by some Nigerians, he believes that the unity of the country can still be negotiated. Onaiyekan observed that Nigeria is in danger and whatever anybody can do to prevent the worse, should be done, adding that dialogue is urgently needed to save her from imminent implosion.
The presidency has consistently dismissed calls by eminent Nigerians and groups for the restructuring of the country to make it work like other federations across the world. President Muhammadu Buhari, had, during his Eid el-Fitr message to Nigerians on July 6, 2016, said united Nigeria is not negotiable. The Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, later, added: “Our unity is not negotiable. We should make sure that we remain united in order to enjoy the resources God has blessed Nigeria with.”
Onaiyekan does not agree with such rigid positions of the government on the future and unity of the country. According to him, “when they say the unity of the country cannot be negotiated, I refuse, as you cannot say such a thing. It is negotiable, and we must negotiate. And negotiation simply means give and take. We must agree that the unity of Nigeria is negotiable, and that in fact, right now, Nigeria is up for negotiation.” Like the cleric, other prominent Nigerians believe that Nigeria’s unity is negotiable.
Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, is of the view that anything is negotiable and stressed that it is the right for people to determine their future. According to him, most nations came to being through negotiation. Former military President, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, erstwhile Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, and Mr. Peter Obi have also spoken in the same vein.
A lot of factors make their point exceedingly important. In many parts of the country, the demand for self-determination has been strident. Ethnic nationalism has been on the rise with accompanying tensions. Poverty is widespread, posing serious threats to the corporate existence of the country. Incidences of insecurity are going beyond control. At no time in recent history has Nigeria’s fault lines been exposed as they are now. In other words, things are not in order. This informs the call by Onaiyekan and others for the negotiation of Nigeria’s unity.
We commend their principled stance on the matter. Running away from the agenda is running away from the truth. The authorities cannot continue to behave as if things are normal. If Nigeria does not embrace dialogue, it may be heading for the precipice. Saying this is not being uncharitable but being patriotic. The signs are getting clearer. The cracks are widening so much that something needs to be done urgently to mend the floundering national edifice.
There is need for the government to pay heed to the clamour for restructuring, especially on matters of policing, fiscal federalism, devolution of power and others. The noxious notion that the country’s unity is non-negotiable is out of touch with the modern reality. Democracy is synonymous with dialogue and negotiation.
The government should create an environment for Nigerians to negotiate wisely a united country where equal respect for all the citizens and ethnic nationalities will remain a cardinal principle. Restructuring is not a call for dismemberment of the country. It is an exercise whose time has come. Renegotiating the country and agreeing on acceptable mode of existence will enhance peace and harmony among the component units of the country.
Those against negotiating Nigeria are getting it wrong. The fact remains that unless the government accepts that things are not normal, the country will continue to operate as a company under receivership. Many countries that had been run under the iron fist of historical exigencies or colonial experiences, had, with transparent and broad-minded dialogue, fashioned out acceptable mode of existence for their citizens in an atmosphere free of tension and mutual suspicion. It is high time Nigeria toed the noble path. The government can create a template for negotiation by falling back on recommendations of previous national conferences that have not been acted upon. The onus lies on the federal government to fashion out a platform for Nigerians to discuss their future.
We also call on highly placed Nigerians, religious and ethnic leaders to stop making comments capable of causing disaffection among the citizens.