The unwholesome federal structure and system of government practiced in Nigeria, has continuously been criticized as the fundamental factor in Nigeria’s inability to attain nationhood. This system has no immediate or remote resemblance to the accepted features of federalism practiced anywhere else.
With all the diverse and sometimes academic postulations by all well meaning Nigerians on what the issues are, it is high time Nigerians took the bold steps by identifying and accepting the already known problem instead of playing dumb and pretending there exists no problem with the system and structure. Being that as it may, the need to define, and identify the basis of the unity being chorused by those who blindly accept the existence of national unity need be x-rayed at this point.
Prior to independence in 1960, and after, the issue of national unity was a dreaded nagging matter no one wanted to discuss. It called into focus what type of nation Nigerians desired and what the basis would be for attaining those ideals. Collectively, the issues of national unity are summarized in the now famous “National Question” and its answers are found in determining why nations federate. One of the basic reasons are to form a more perfect union to provide for defense, economic, social and political cohesion and advancement, while at the same time, the federating units maintain some well defined levels of autonomy and right to self determination if it feels it’s continuous existence in the union is being compromised. A federation tries to balance the centrifugal and centripetal forces to achieve the purposes of nation hood. Unity has never been forced, but achieved through a fair and equitable management of federal resources among all the federating units, and also through policies that are geared towards oneness of purpose.
The paradox of the Nigerian situation is that, the issues of national unity are intrinsically interwoven within the confines of ethnic loyalties. Consequently, the sing song has been for the southern region to canvass for a resolution of the national questions, while the northern section provides a fierce refusal to open up any discussion on those “volatile” issues. This creates a kind of conundrum .One is apt to think and surmise that, national unity, once achieved, would benefit one section and at the same time prove a disadvantage to another section.
So it should then be understood clearly that there is a different tune and meaning to what constitute national unity by both sides of the divide. This seeming confusion and absence of a consensus therefore underscores why there is the urgent need to renegotiate and discuss the basis of national unity in Nigeria.
Pitiable as it may seem, it clearly demonstrates how petty and strong ethnic cleavage and suspicion of one another is in Nigeria inspite of the nearly half a century of independence. The various agitation and clamor for a just equitable nation, the need to convene a sovereign national conference, the fear of marginalization, insecurity, oppression, right to self determination, and civil war including the ever unending Niger-delta crisis are all indications that something is definitely wrong with the system. Why would majority of the southern groups contemplate secession? It depicts in a clear language how insecure they are within the present union and hence the need to address this and other issues to assuage the fears of every other group so as to form a more viable and veritable union.
The different understanding of the type of nation and basis of unity Nigeria wanted was aptly demonstrated in 1957 when the northern delegates were booed from Lagos following their rejection of the motion for independence by Enahoro. Subsequent events reinforced the views that, that humiliations in Lagos of the northern delegates who specifically wanted self autonomy than an independent Nigeria, never saw themselves as one Nigeria. Also, it may have been responsible for the southern delegate’s conclusion that the Northern delegates were traitors against earlier independence. The bottom line here is that prior to Independence, our leaders never had a consensus of what type of nation they wanted. Each of them was concerned with their ethnic regional loyalties and no conscious efforts were made to inculcate a true one Nigeria dream. The brutal assault of the federal armies in quelling the civil war aptly demonstrated in no small measures the degree of hatred, mutual suspicion that has deeply permeated the basic fabrics of our national life.
Other issues that were divisive at independence were the status of Lagos, unequal representation, revenue allocation formulae and minority question. While the north and west with their groundnut and cocoa boom threatened to secede if the revenue formulae was anything short of derivation, it was granted to them to the peril of the east that was the lone canvasser for fairness in resource allocation and distribution following the dismal drop in the prices and value of oil palm in the world market. But today, without a referendum or plesbicite, Lagos is no longer the federal capital for the flimsy national security reason that it was situated on the shores of the Atlantic ocean. After all, London the capital of the UK is not an inland city.
Secondly the revenue formulae was adjusted to favor the cash crop producing west and northern regions that gave rise to the emergence of cocoa house, groundnut pyramid, et al, but today, the same standard is not extended to the Niger-delta and eastern region when crude oil discovered in those areas became the black gold. For the same subjective standard of national unity and interest, derivation formulae is quickly discarded as the national resource allocation and distribution formulae.
The search for the elusive national unity in Nigeria follows the pattern of deceit and insincerity of purpose. It is amplified by the aimless gyration for coerced unity, which would amount to attempting to level a rocky mountain with a nail file. While the struggle for independence was characterized by selfish ethnic parochialism and overt regionalism, there was no unanimity of purpose by our leaders then to form a united country. It was ruled by constant suspicion and fears of domination by one ethnic group over the others. After having tasted the futility of these attempts, it behooves on modern day detribalized Nigerians to be able to tolerate one another’s differences and iron out what type of country Nigerians desire and hope for, instead of the trial and error approach in practice since 1960’s.
Agreed that the basis of national unity was not discussed or agreed on prior to independence, the inability of successive governments to assuage the feelings of injustice and threats have exacerbated the fear of domination, marginalization and insecurity which consequently have eroded whatever iota of unity that may have existed among the various federating units. Also, various policies like federal character, federal police, military, quota has been misinterpreted in their implementation by whoever is affected negatively by it. The creation of more states leading to increasing affinities to Statism and state of origin syndrome, the issue of religion particularly the sharia enforcement in some states has further heightened the fears of domination and insecurity and thereby diminishing whatever there is of unity. This lends credence to the assertion that Nigeria is a mere geographical expression. Unity and nationhood foundation has never being laid. It makes no sense pretending that it exists. All that there is, is a mere deception of our entire history.
Unity is achieved when everyone is comfortable within the federal arrangement. When the factors that gave rise to those fears, suspicions are non existent. To achieve this safe haven, certain safeguards must be vigorously pursued and enforced. Nigerians must be given an opportunity to discuss and choose the type of country they desire and chart the path towards achieving these goals. Because of our diversity, federalism appears to be the most accommodating option. That being so, federalism must be practiced pure as we all know it from the books and there will evolve the elusive unity, leading to what will become acceptable to all as the Nigerian dream and culture. We can only have a Nigerian dream when there is a consensus of purpose, ideology and philosophy. A group of minority cabal cannot determine the basis of unity for Nigeria to favor only a fraction of the society.
Fellow Nigerians, it is high time we make bold attempts to identify our problems instead of providing remedy without diagnosis and medicinal prescription. The question to ask now is when we hear our leaders say “in the interest of national unity” we are at a loss where the basis are for such unity for these appear to be non existent given our peculiarities.