By Sunday Ani
President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, Prof George Obiozor, has said that the popular claim that Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable is simply a historical fallacy.
He insisted that contrary to false claims of Nigeria’s non-negotiability by some leaders, the unity of the county must be renegotiated for it to stand or survive the prevailing circumstances.
He stated this on Monday at a public lecture held at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos, which he also hosted.
The Igbo leader lamented that despite the best efforts of the past and present leaders, military and civilian, to foster enduring unity, Nigeria’s unity is still not guaranteed. “It is simply, at best, an aspiration, and not yet an achievement. Consequently, the statement that Nigeria’s, unity is non-negotiable is simply a historical fallacy,” he stated.
The former Nigerian Ambassador to the United States of America expressed sadness that the country’s diversity has been turned into disorder and democracy into an invitation incremental anarchy, noting that if the country was to be salvaged, the leaders must begin to face reality and stop the syndrome of self-deception and delusion about Nigeria’s historical exceptionalism.
“For Nigeria’s unity and nation-building to succeed, the leaders need to emulate the experiences of countries that did not ignore the element of pluralism in the respective countries and societies. Nationalism, including ethnic nationalism, is not about to disappear in the world generally, and certainly not in Nigeria, no matter how much we want to wish it away. It is still a potent force and all its advocates feel they have a strong case and that history is on their side,” he said.
He also blamed the disparity between claims to nationhood and political realities in Nigeria as being responsible for political instability, military coups, sporadic levels of warfare, crises and violence that have characterised Nigeria’s history.
“It is equally the same realities that compel the Nigeria political elites, military or civilian once in power to quickly split along many fault lines, particularly, the lines of ethnic origin, religion and region,” he said.
Delivering a lecture on the topic, “Nationalism and Nation Building in Nigeria History,” Prof Jide Osuntokun lamented that since 1966, Nigeria has been struggling to find a way of managing a multinational state, balancing the regional desire for autonomy under an overarching national structure.
He recounted the history of the nationalist struggle in Nigeria starting from the events that characterised the colonial government of Lord Fredrick Lugard to the independence era and up to 1966 when the first military coup took place, lamenting that Nigeria never learnt any lesson from history.
“One would have thought that Nigeria had learnt a bitter lesson but the reverse is the case. Several unviable states by the whims and fiat of the military rulers who have dominated the politics of Nigeria for years have been created, thus miniaturizing the power of the constituent states and increasing the power of the centre, while still masquerading as a federal state. No one is deceived. Nigeria has not succeeded yet and from the various demands for restructuring, the country by almost everyone, it seems to me that those in power had better listen and control events from above rather than leaving the people to demand by force of numbers from below. Our future as a country is pregnant and no one, with mathematical precision, can hazard what it will bear,” he stated.
Corroborating Obiozor’s position on the negotiability of the country, the spokesman of the Northern Elders’ Forum, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, said northerners were not opposed to negotiation, insisting also that Nigeria’s unity is negotiable.
He raised the alarm that Nigeria was at a breaking point and only genuine discussion among various ethnic nationalities could save the country.
“We have seen nations negotiate their existence. Anybody who says Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable is not being honest. It is only the military that can say such and even that force alone cannot keep Nigeria together. If you can’t negotiate then you must fight your way out; it is either we negotiate or we fight our way out. So, we should and must negotiate our unity and it must be based on well-spelt-out principles,” he said.
He noted that Nigeria must use the history of the past to shape today and the future, lamenting that “we have derailed not because we quarreled but because we have forgotten our destiny. We don’t hear much about where we come from but where we are going or not going and it is a tragedy.”
He noted that politicians who seek to exploit and manipulate Nigerians by hijacking political power were the ones causing problems in Nigeria.
He commended the former governor of Akwa-Ibom State, Obong Victor Attach for putting together a group of elite under the umbrella of ‘Compatriots,’ few weeks ago to discuss the way forward for Nigeria.
“We believe it is possible to create elites that can rediscover the mission of this country. We believe Nigeria cannot continue the way we are going. All thanks to Victor Attach who created the group. Nigerians should give it a chance. We believe Nigeria can and must survive,” he said.
Still, on the state of the nation, the northern elder noted that any Nigerian who says he is happy with what is going on must either be living in the presidential villa or does not live on this part of the planet.
On the 2023 presidential election that is a few months away, he called on the elite not to sit and watch politicians control the country as they like but to stand up and give direction. “We got our fingers burnt in 2015 and that is why we are being careful this time. We are saying that the best candidate should be allowed to win the election.
“The north has not endorsed any candidate and we will resist that attempt. All the elites in Nigeria are in hostages and captives of politicians but we must remove ourselves from that bondage. So, we will reach out to elites from other regions and together we will welcome any presidential candidate who says he has a solution to Nigeria’s problems.
“We worry about the South East. We don’t know whether they are in support of Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party or not. The nation can see what is happening now and if the South East fails to line up behind Obi, they should not blame anybody.
“If the Igbo believe it is time for them, they should support Obi, reach out to other Nigerians and tell them they are supporting Obi not because he is an Igbo man but because he is the best. We will give our support to the best man who can heal the wounds in the land because actually, everybody in Nigeria is marginalised right now,” he said.
He urged the Siutheasterners to ensure that all politicians are allowed to campaign freely in that zone. He also urged President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure that the environment is safe and secure for everybody in the campaign.
“Nigeria has a future but we must work very hard to secure it. Let the best candidate win and let us accept whoever wins so that we can begin the process of rebuilding Nigeria,” he said.
For the leader of pan Yoruba sociopolitical group, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, the lecture was timely but he tasked leaders to be sincere in their dealings.
He commended the lecturer, Prof Osuntokun but told him that he ought to have pointed out what led to the collapse of MacPherson Constitution which established federalism in Nigeria after the Lancaster House meeting in 1954.
He noted that it was the Lancaster conference that resolved the disagreement among Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmed Bello on the better option between unitary system that Zik was proposing and federal system that Awo and Bello were pushing for.
He noted that it is that constitution as agreed in Lancaster in 1954 that the Afenifere group is urging Nigeria to return to, not in three regional structure but in the content of that constitution.
“What we are saying is that that constitution granted autonomy to the regions and they developed at their own pace. Nigeria should return to that because it encouraged competition and we live in peace until 1966, when it was distorted by the military,” he said.
He lamented that Nigerians are paying lip service to honesty and sincerity. He specifically directed his invectives to the NEF spokesman who he accused of running around the truth in his speech.
He told him that calling the presidential candidates to speak to northern elders about their programmes if they win the presidency was the height of hypocrisy because every other zone should be supporting the South East to produce the next president in 2023.
He was responding to Baba-Ahmed who said that the South East should try to lobby and convince people from the other zone to support them to produce the country’s president.
“The case for the southeast is not about begging. Some southerners must have been brainwashed to believe that only the north can make anybody president of Nigeria but I don’t believe that. The South West has produced the president, the South-South has produced and the north is completing eight years by next year. So, it must come back to the South and when that happens, justice, equity and fairness demands that it should go to the South East Igbo. So, to live together must be on agreeable terms. You can’t deny a prodigal son his right because he is prodigal. Afenifere is on sentiment but on the principle of equity, justice and fairness. The Yoruba don’t believe in dishonesty, that is why I am supporting Peter Obi. How can we be together when the signal unit is being cheated,” he stated.
The chairman of the occasion, former military governor of old Anambra State, Gen Atom Kpera (retd), agreed that Nigeria’s unity is negotiable. “Saying that Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable is a dead, poisonous point. We can’t decree against discussing Nigeria’s problem. We have come to a stage where we don’t believe ourselves in Nigeria. So, the way forward is for the sociocultural leaders to come together and discuss it and present the solution to those in government. Even if you have done it before, do it again and again until it produces positive results,” he advised.
Simon Reef Musa, who represented the president of Middle Belt Forum, Dr Pogu Bitrus, lamented that the role the media played during the days of nationalism is no longer possible because the media had been hijacked by the moneybags.
He stated that for justice, equity and fairness, the MBF is queuing behind the candidate of LP, Obi. “We believe in justice and equity. We believe that it is fair for power to shift to the south after eight years in the north. Many Nigerians believe in Obi. I am happy it is not the Igbo that ate projecting him but the whole Nigerians. Democracy has been commercialised and our challenge is to wrest power from them,” he said.
For Dame Uche Azikiwe, wife of the first president of Nigeria and Owelle of Onitsha, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, her late husband’s struggle for a united Nigeria is still a subject of discussion. She expressed satisfaction that Zik’s fight for a united Nigeria was not in vain.
Other dignitaries that graced the event included Ayo Adebanjo, Ebitu Ukiwe, Gen Ike Nwachukwu, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Prof Jide Osuntokun, Prof Bola Akinterinwa, Prof Anya O Anyaal, Dr. Akin Osuntokun, Emeka Ugwuoju, Chris Asoluka, and the Secretary General of Afenifere, Sola Ebiseni, among others.