Drinking From Our Diverse Well

by Churchill Okonkwo

Cultural diversity is an inescapable fact of modern life. Culture refers to a historically inherited system of meaning and significance in terms of which a group understand and structure their individual and collective lives. To say that almost every modern society is culturally diverse or multicultural is to say that its members subscribe to and live by different though overlapping system of meaning and significance.

The political and social climate that prevails in Nigeria today emphasises difference, disunity and destruction rather than the qualities of unity, productive and constructive energy that are required to sustain human society. These negative processes and forces have perpetuated our alienation form the basic material root of our existence, the natural world of with we are part. The use of the phrase unity in diversity and similar concepts is not a new phenomenon. Its roots reach back hundreds of years in non-western cultures such as indigenous people in North America and Taoist societies in 400-5—BC. The question however is how unified are we in our diversity? Are we drinking from our diverse wells?

With the amalgamation of Northern and Southern protectorate in 1914, Nigeria was burn in an atmosphere with deferred abrasion. A new entity with strangers in an unfamiliar society was burn. I know Lord Lugard must have known that his new found “Niger Area” was not going to be a serene retreat for quiet meditation. And it has not been. I think Arthur Koestler was referring to Nigeria when he talked of “the sudden interlocking of two previously unrelated matrix of thought”. That is why; there is the need to find ways of reconciling the demands of unity and diversity. Without unity, we cannot hold ourselves together, take and enforce collectively binding decisions, and generate a spirit of community. As for diversity, it is not only inescapable but also enriches and contributes to the well-being of the society. Besides human begins are culturally embedded, and respect for them requires that we also respect their cultures.

A multinational society like Nigeria can reconcile unity and diversity only if it does not confuse unity with uniformity and seek comprehensive cultural uniformity among its ethnic nationalities. It should evolve its unity out of its diversity by encouraging its cultural communities to evolve a plural national culture that both reflects and transcends to them.

There is the need to find ways of reducing freedom without destroying the very ingredients that might be essential to the vibrancy of the whole democratic experiment and process; without in other words disrupting the disruptiveness. A friction that will turn the light rather than heat should be harnessed in other to build a strong vibrant society where everyone will be free.

To create a multicultural society in Nigeria, that will be at ease with itself, the central government need to take these steps, first of which should be not to subject the ethnic nationalities to intended or unintended discrimination. Rather it should show then equal respect and give them equal opportunity to flourish. Secondly, the government should ensure social justice and equal access to political power to its minority ethnic nationalities and encourage inter-ethnic and inter-religious cooperation in all areas of life, especially the political.

Thirdly, the institution of the state, especially the civil service, the army, the police and the judiciary should be completely impartial and insulated against ethnic and religious pressures. If they are corrupt or partial, the minorities are tempted to take powers into their hands as we recently witnessed in the Middle Belt and is currently experiencing in the Niger Delta. When ethnic nationalities is defined in exclusive, static and rigid terms, one fears close contact with others and finds it difficult to live with them in peace. That is why today in Nigeria, an Ibo man will not live freely and do his business anywhere in Nigeria. That is why a Yoruba man can not easily settle in the South east of Nigeria because he doesn’t have any sense of belonging. The least is endless.

Finally, the government should evolve a national identity which does not exclude or legitimise any of its communities. Wherever possible, national symbols, rituals, events etc. should reflect the multicultural character of the Nigerian society. The society should be so defined that it belongs to all its citizens and not to its dominant ethnic or religious society. It is only when this is done that we can start drinking from our diverse wealth, “serve Nigeria with all my strength” and possibly “defend her unity”

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1 comment

Anonymous July 14, 2005 - 11:11 am

Good one


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