By Sunday Ani
President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prof. George Obiozor, has rebuffed the trite claim that Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable as historical fallacy.
He insisted that the unity of the county must be renegotiated for it to stand or survive the prevailing circumstances. He 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.
The former Nigerian Ambassador to the United States of America, who spoke at a public lecture held at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos, expressed sadness that the country’s diversity has been turned into disorder and democracy into an 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 also blamed the disparity between claims to nationhood and political realities in Nigeria as being responsible for political instability, military coups, sporadic levels of warfares, crises and violence that have characterised the country’s history.
“It is equally the same realities that compel the Nigeria political elite, military or civilian once in power to quickly split along many fault lines, particularly, the lines of ethnic origin, religion and region.
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 socio-cultural 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 result,” he advised.
Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed of the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF), said northerners were not opposed to negotiation even as he raised the alarm that Nigeria was at a breaking point and only genuine discussion among various ethnic nationalities could save the country. 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 planet.
“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 at 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 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.”
For Dame Uche Azikiwe, widow of the first president of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the late Owelle of Onitsha’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.
Delivering a lecture on “Nationalism and nation building in Nigeria’s history,” Prof. Jide Osuntokun, lamented that since 1966, Nigeria has been struggling to find a way of managing multinational state, balancing regional desire for autonomy under an overarching national structure.
He recounted the history of the nationalist struggle 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 miniaturising 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.
Dignitaries at the event included Ebitu Ukiwe, Gen Ike Nwachukwu, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Prof Bola Akinterinwa, Prof Anya. O Anya, Emeka Ugwuoju, Chris Asoluka, and the Secretary General of Afenifere, Sola Ebiseni.