By Anthony Akinola*
Recently, President Goodluck Jonathan was in New York with a large entourage to drum up support for Nigeria’s membership of the exclusive security council. He probably would not have had that confidence if he were president of an Ogoni nation or that of Arewa! What makes Nigeria a most important African nation derives from the attributes of size and population – the fall outs from the amalgamation of 1914.
I met a Gambian research scholar recently in Oxford. I introduced myself as a Nigerian only after he had said all that he had in mind about Nigeria, and it was positive. He said the West African sub-region could have been in flames if not for Nigeria. He mentioned our nation’s intervention in Liberia and Sierra Leone to support his contention. I told him we are currently contending with internal problems of our own, Boko Haram and kidnapping and hope we shall triumph.
So, there are elements to Nigeria which we ourselves may not so much appreciate. I remember Cameron Duodu, a Ghanaian journalist , saying in an article that it could only be the enemies of the black race who would wish for the downfall of Nigeria.
It could have been out of ignorance that anyone might have described the creation of Nigeria as the “mistake of 1914”. Big and purposeful nations will continue to dictate terms in the same world that America shares with the Armenians. America is currently the most revered nation in the world; if that important nation fears any rivalry, it could only be from other big nations such as China, India or Brazil. The per capital income of Kuwait might be awesome but the world of power can hardly be bothered by that.
America itself, if I may restate here, is a product of amalgamation. The nation started as a confederation of 13 independent colonies but accumulated 37 more states to be the colossus it is today. America is rightly described as a “land of opportunity” because it has space for others. Our problem in Nigeria is that we have been unfortunate to have had a swing of political leaders who lacked the talent to move a nation forward.
Would it have been because of amalgamation that our political leaders steal public money? Is it because of amalgamation that we rig elections? Is it because of amalgamation that we are prodigal, spending public money in purchasing exotic vehicles while the education sector is collapsing? Would it have been because of amalgamation that our political and religious leaders lack the courage to condemn those atrocities committed by miscreants in their respective states or regions? There are those who wish they were sons and daughters of kings or billionaires, so on what terms did we agree to be the children of the parents that gave birth to us?
I beg, let us stop ruminating about the fact of amalgamation and chart ways of resolving the contradictions that militate against progress in Africa’s most populous and most feasible nation. A deep look into the sordid past of American political history and the modest achievements the nation has now made in the area of racial integration, reminds one that those who build great nations do not permit themselves to be defeated by the problems of their generation.
We do not have to question the basis of our nation after 100 years of its existence and more than fifty years after independence. Instead we should be working for a peaceful and united Nigerian nation so that generations yet unborn will not be condemned to wishing they were members of those big nations that dictate terms in sports, economy, military and other spheres of power indices – perpetually celebrating that their own president had a 5 minute audience with that of America or China.
We undoubtedly have cause to be angry with ourselves but I must remind all and sundry that we are also inter-dependent. The call for the sovereign state of Biafra is, for instance, not in consonance with the fact that the Igbo, more than any other ethnic group, have contributed to a possible demographic integration of Nigeria.
In a functioning democratic culture, the privilege to improve on the constitution would be the preserve of elected representatives. Even when elections might have been fraudulent, the fact remains that elected men and women share the emotions and sentiments of the groups to which they belong. However, our elected men and women have been selfish in pursuit of vested interests; they need help to sort out the thorny issues in our federation.
Elected politicians contribute to the culture of greed and corruption which we must end if Nigeria is to make progress. The people themselves have a role to play in this. We must also be determined to end the culture of electoral impunity where the politics of “do or die” prevails. Those who have not won in a free and fair election have no right to be our representatives and leaders.
Our nation cannot be anything other than federal. We must resolve to put structures in place that give meaning to “true federalism”. This would entail devolution of political and economic powers to the constituent units of a new federal nation. It should not be the responsibility of Abuja to write a constitution for the sub-units of the federation. The reason we are a federal nation is because we share different values and our realistic objective would be to create a society where our differences co-exist peacefully. “Uniformity” does not substitute for “unity”.
We also need to be reminded that political tension in our polity has historically been about leadership. We fought a civil war between 1967 and 1970 because of this. The current crisis ripping the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) apart is because of the same issue. President Goodluck Jonathan might not have nodded to the idea of a national conference if there had not been a challenge to his perceived ambition of re-election in 2015. Maybe it is time we sought a Nigerian solution to a Nigeria problem rather than be myopically preoccupied with a political arrangement that works elsewhere. The need to remodel the presidency cannot be more urgent.
Governor Oshimole of Edo state was shouted down while stating legitimate views before the committee on the proposed National Conference. That, to me, is a dangerous pointer to the possible outcome of a conference where primordial sentiments and emotions could freely rage.There might be those wishing to go to the conference hall armed with pistols and hand grenades. We could have a national conference; hopefully, it will not be one that further complicates areas of disagreement – or, even worse, lead to what could be a “Tower of Babel”
*Anthony Akinola is writer based in Oxford, UK.
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