It was the late nationalist, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who averred in his book, “Path to Nigerian Freedom” (1947) that, “Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression”. Seventy years after Awolowo made this often-quoted statement and more than fifty-six years after attainment of Independence from the erstwhile colonial master, Britain, Nigerian leaders seemed not to have weighed the import of Awolowo’s statement. It’s like our political leaders are paying lip service to the issue of unity of Nigeria.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the onus lies on the political leaders to implement policies that will unite Nigerians more, though citizens have complementary roles to play in this regard. Now, what do we have as a country? A widening gulf of disunity among the various elements that make the entity called Nigeria. Latest developments in Nigeria can clearly point to the fact that successive leaders have not done much to rectify this seeming mistake to put Nigeria on the path of unity and greatness.
Though the events of 1967 to 1970, when Nigeria engaged in a bloody and devastating Civil War to keep the country one, are readily recalled as bitter lessons in our quest to forge ahead as one united entity, a lot is happening in the country that show us a people drifting on the path of perdition again. As it is often said, we don’t learn from history!
One major factor showing how divided, disunited, disillusioned and disgruntled Nigerians are as a people presently is hate speeches. No time in the country’s history has hate speeches being so rampant, rapacious and vehement like now. This is majorly fueled by the freedom Nigerians enjoy on social media. People now sit in the comfort of their homes, offices, pepper soup joints and other places to talk about religion, tribe and political lineage with latest technologies like smartphones and laptops.
Of all these issues Nigerians talk about that are fanning embers of discord in the country, ethnoreligious crisis seems to be causing the loudest rancor. When the Boko Haram Crisis broke out in the North-East of the country in 2009, Nigerians became divided as to the causes, effects and how best to proffer solution to end the carnage perpetrated by members of the sect. Then the farmers-herdsmen clashes in some parts of the country, particularly Benue and Plateau States. The rise of the Niger Delta Avengers in a renewed agitation for equity. What about the Biafra agitation, as spearheaded by the Nnamdi Kanu-led Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The clashes in Ile-Ife between Hausas and Yorubas is another chapter in this endless ethnic acrimony in the country. The way Nigerians tongue-lash one another when issues like these are raised, demonstrates the thin nature of the unity thread in the country.
The current economic recession, which is widening the poverty line and deepening inequality among Nigerians, is another pointer. The political leaders continue to trade blames on the remote and immediate causes of the recession, with the citizenry divided along party, ethnic and religious lines in this endless search for scapegoats rather than the solution. Whatever you say is given political, tribal and religious colouration such that it is becoming difficult to attempt a debate on the way forward.
Just as Nigeria survived the civil war pogrom, the country has also scaled the hurdle of the 2015 break-up predictions. But it is not yet Uhuru in this struggle for nationhood. We have survived many austerity measures during past regimes of Shehu Shagari, Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha and others, yet we cannot heave a sigh of relief yet.
These embers of discord are not extinguished, as they still glow in this dark moment of our country’s history. The embers are glowing more than ever before. The hate speeches continue unabated in the face of rising political uncertainty. Talks about APC, PDP crisis rage on. Nigerians remain at loggerheads, as ethnoreligious crisis spread across the country like bush-fire in the harmattan. No end in sight yet to the incessant farmers-herdsmen clashes, yet we remain oblivious. The biting recession that put citizens on edge when issues relating to the economy, exchange rate, food prices and the likes are raised for discussion, continues to assault us unabated. Yet, what are we doing? Hate, fight, castigate!
Nigeria is now a country ripped apart by hate! Raw hate! Mutual suspicion among the various ethnic groups is rearing its ugly head more than ever before. It is only a matter of time before the gentle wind blows and these embers will glow, crackle, inflame, explode and consume innocent lives. War is imminent if the government fails to stop these tit-for-tat killings in the country. Disquiet will follow the growing hunger in the land if nothing is done to fix the economic downturn in the country.
At this moment in our country’s history, we need to realize that what unite Nigerians, are more than what divide us. Nobody wins in a war. It’s always a case of no vanquished, no victor, as postulated by former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) after the civil war in 1970. This is time for reawakening and entrenchment of justice in the land.
Although we have all agreed that the Federal system, under which our current democracy is run, is the sure basis on which Nigeria will remain united, we must recognize the need for restructuring, to take care of our diversity and the peculiar conditions under which the different tribal communities live in the country. The time for this restructuring is now, to address the fundamental problems threatening our existence as a country.