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Nigeria’s futile search for unity

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Since Nigeria gained independence in 1960, her cultural diversity and linguistic diversity have ironically remained the albatross of our development. Successive leaders, both military and civilian, believe in the potential inherent in diversity for Nigeria’s development but it is yet to translate into reality on a massive scale. This may not be unconnected with the palpable reality of disunity fuelled by the mutual suspicion that has become the root of group solidarity and allegiance among the various ethnic nationalities that make up the country. Nationalism, to many groups, has become synonymous with group allegiance seen only from the prism of sectional boundaries. The result is that issues of national importance take a secondary or even tertiary position. Hence, leaders openly or covertly champion group interests, and to a large extent, their selfish interests.

The upsurge in agitation for restructuring and the extremist secessionist agenda of some groups attests to the dysfunctionality that has characterised the polity.  Interestingly, our leaders remind us all the time that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable. Meanwhile, the process of leadership recruitment into government is, by default, skewed towards sectional or group patronage. The contradiction between their often-mouthed ‘unity not negotiable’ mantra and their actions that seem to undermine their claims remains one of the reasons unity has remained elusive in Nigeria. The other reason is the fundamental infelicity in conceptualising ‘unity.’

Put simply, unity is being together or at one with someone. First recorded in 1250-1300 middle English as ‘unite’, unity is the quality or state of not being multiple; it is oneness. Perhaps such togetherness only translates to unity in the context of relations with other countries where Nigeria is regarded as a corporate entity, either for economic, diplomatic, sports or other sundry purposes. This is the sense in which the Collins English Dictionary describes unity as “the state of different areas or groups being joined together to form a single country or organisation.” However, being together within a geographical expression to form a country is not all that is to togetherness. To forge a united nation, it is required that the parts of the country operate in agreement and act together in the pursuit of a common purpose, belief, or interest.

Sadly, all through Nigeria’s history, it has been stories of disagreement and working at cross purposes. Even the seeming agreement that attended the agitation for Nigeria’s independence was punctured by the disparate ambitions of the ethnic agenda of those who championed the agitation. The military incursion into Nigeria’s governance, which by intent was meant to be corrective, ended up further exacerbating the divisions along regional, ethnic and religious lines. Appointments into offices were selective and badly skewed to favour a particular part of the country without any consideration for the unity of the country; thus making nonsense of the principle of federal character. The aftermath of the civil war that was fought, ostensibly to preserve the unity of Nigeria, provided enough proof to show that the pursuit of unity among the various nationalities in Nigeria would likely remain a mirage. Despite the noise about “no victor, no vanquished”, the trend of appointments, the siting of projects and the general exclusion of a section of the country were enough evidence to prove that a part of the country had appropriated victory to themselves, while others have become second class citizens.

In today’s Nigeria, the talk about unity has become mere rhetoric. Who still believes in a united Nigeria? Perhaps only our rulers who seek to protect their economic and political interests are in the vanguard of the unity orchestra whose overbeaten lyrics still sound melodious only to their ears. It is a melody that the rulers have not yet realised which is being drowned by the booming of guns and the shouts of agony across the land. The rulers, irrespective of their ethnic, political and religious affiliations, seem to be united against their subjects, who despite their common fate, are also divided along the same sentiments as those of their rulers. The rich minority are united against the poor majority; just as the elite against the hoi polloi. Group solidarity has taken over the allegiance to the nation, hence the rationale for the Oodua Peoples Congress, the Arewa Consultative Forum, the Ohaneze Ndigbo, as well as the militant groups whose songs of liberation continue to fall on deaf ears. The ‘emere’ spirit in our rulers will neither let them hear nor care about the gloom that bestrides the land. But it is so the deaf can hear that information is often disclosed to their children. Let the ears that still hear not forget that the natural inclination within a nation with such diversity that exists in Nigeria should be to harness the strengths and accommodate the differences of the various parts. Understanding and cooperation will remain very essential ingredients for the achievement of a workable solution to the problem of our togetherness.

To have a forced ‘united Nigerian nation’ is not only going to be a pipe dream; it will remain an impossibility that only God can achieve. The biblical account of the origin of human language sums up the futility of man’s quest for unity. In the face of the obvious unity displayed by man in the construction of the Tower of Babel, God said; “Look! … The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them! Come, let’s go down and confuse the people with different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other.” (Genesis 11:6,7 NLT). As it was in the beginning, it has remained in Nigeria. Nigeria has more than 400 languages, multiple religious and cultural practices, and various political affiliations. To force all these to be one will pose a threat to our corporate existence. Instead, we should foster understanding and encourage cooperation.

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