On Saturday, 1st October 1960, thousands of happy Nigerians gathered at the Race Course Square (Tafawa Balewa Square) Lagos, to witness their young country’s independence ceremony. For many persons who shared greetings and basked in the ambient excitement, the full import of “independence” was not known. The knowledge that “the white man will go, and we will lead ourselves”, was enough reason to celebrate. Today, fifty-five years later, Nigeria is sorely in need of that common drive that fuelled the campaign for independence.
If you expect to find a literal “55 Reasons” in this article, I’m sorry to disappoint you. The title is my best attempt at capturing the thoughts floating somewhere above my neck. Whether it is one reason or a million reasons, one thing is certain—my Nigeria desperately needs unity.
It’s already October in the year 2015—a year in which some predicted the disintegration of Africa’s most populous nation. As this year approached, the looming prediction hung in the air, as a bogeyman haunting the aspirations of Nigeria. Remarkably, despite all the tremors that shook in a country not known for active volcanoes, Nigeria is still Nigeria. Was the execution cancelled or merely postponed?
The 2015 General Election was a massive event for this country. The campaigns and results’ trends made one-thing obvious—entrenched divisions across religious and ethnic lines. The predominantly Muslim core north voted for a northern Muslim candidate, while the largely Christian south queued behind a Christian Southerner. The largely Christian North-Central supported the Christian, while the South-West, a region with more Muslims than other southern regions, extended olive branches to the Muslim. The results were an expression of ethno-religious identities in a country plagued by a myriad of problems, not least of which is corruption, which is said to intend to “kill us, if we don’t kill it”.
For a nation heavily dependent on one resource, there is no worse gift than a rapid dive in the value of that resource. The oil price crash could not have come at a worse time for Nigeria. For years, in the midst of burgeoning oil prices, Nigeria wallowed in the cesspits of infrastructural decay, insecurity, turbocharged communal and religious crises, high unemployment, brain drain, corruption, nepotism, tribal superiority, poverty, laziness, high infant mortality, low life expectancy, and several other egregious evils. Whereas the cesspits are still there, the lustrous oil price has crashed severely. Combined with a global oil supply glut, this crash has introduced new political and economic manoeuvres into the sale of crude. In essence, Nigeria has less income to solve its problems.
Apart from religious and ethnic inputs, Nigeria’s many problems surely contributed to 2015’s tsunami—the victory of Muhammadu Buhari. The new Sheriff has come into town with a pledge to confront Nigeria’s demons head-on. However, he faces the greatest challenge known to God and man—disunity. Disunity is a weak link in the chain of progress. Even the Bible, through the Babel story, alludes to the importance of unity in solving problems. Throughout history, humanity has been known to unite in the face of adversity. In Nigeria, the reverse seems to be the case. We want “change” in our fortunes, but don’t want to change our proclivity for hate-inspired disunity.
In 2015 Nigeria, virtually every news story is given an ethnic or religious colouration—even stories that have no link whatsoever to any religion or ethnic group. Many Nigerians with fecund imaginations somehow find a means to drag ethno-religious inclinations into every occurrence. Take a stroll through the digital world, check the comments by Nigerians on news sites, forums and blogs, the apparent enmity would jump at you like a coiled cobra. The animists, Christians, Muslims, Beroms, Efiks, Fulanis, Igbos, Ijawa, Hausas, Ogonis, Yorubas, and the 200-plus other tribes virtually see nothing good in others. Everything quickly degenerates to “YOUR people against MY people”. If there’s a fight, instead of assuming a conciliatory tone, we tend to embrace confrontation—“YOUR people are killing MY people”.
Such attitudes will not help Nigeria. This country’s problems cannot be solved in an atmosphere of disunity. I tell people in my area that if we say “the North is the problem”, and advocate a breakup, in the new Banana republic, progress would still remain elusive as the newly-married tribes would still live in suspicion, trying to undo one another. If the root cause is not handled, no matter how many minuscule fragments you divide Nigeria, disunity would still show its face.
At the root of Nigeria’s disunity is self-interest and distrust. Imagine a marriage where each party only seeks its own progress—the walls would crumble. Complexity theories teach that the whole is greater than the sum of individual parts. A broom is stronger than a broomstick acting alone. In 55 years, despite a devastating civil war, Nigerians have failed to see why unity is the best policy. Vested interests keep setting obstacles for unity. This tribe believes it owns perpetual rights to ruler-ship, the other feels its wealth is being unjust taken, another sees the other as crooks, the other sees another as betrayals. Each one sees evil in the other, no good. How can we see good if we only look for evil? How can we see strengths if our sensors only seek weaknesses? Our selfishness is unbelievable! Instead of working together to achieve greatness, we waste time second-guessing the actions of others.
President Buhari has an enormous task on his hands, a task that would require sacrifices from Nigerians, sacrifices that cannot be made if there’s no unity. It’s 2015, and we are at the crossroads. Would we choose the path of unity, and develop? Or would we still go the way of disunity, and continue to suffer the doldrums of underdevelopment? If we choose unity, in the next 55 years, we will give ourselves a pat on the back for a choice well made.
Happy Independence Day Nigeria
Image Source: cp-africa.com