By Kayode Ketefe
The prediction by the United States of America few years ago of a possible dissolution of Nigeria in 2015 on the grounds of internal pressures has remained an abiding ghost haunting the national psyche.
It has polarised the people into two camps comprising those who have begun the countdown with trepidation as well as the overly-optimistic who believe nothing can shake the country. But it appears we need to really dissect the concept of unity itself before thinking of preserving it.
Does forging a united front guarantee a positive and favourable outcome vis-avis the realisation of common goals? A hasty and perfunctory response flowing from the human’s natural emotional predilection for anything that sounds positive would resolve the poser in the affirmative. However, a more reflective, sober consideration would spawn a much more cautious and conditional response.
Like unity, virtues such as love, charity, selflessness, forbearance, perseverance etc may have no auspicious meaning in them except when put in a value-laden context.
Love for instance may lose its positive connotation when the object of affection is another man’s wife! Likewise, perseverance ceases to impress if the goal(s) you are expending steadfastness on is unworthy or unattainable. Thus, it irritates this writer when people talk of Nigerian unity as if the coming together itself is what counts.
As a matter of fact, unity can be counter-productive if the so-called united peoples are pulling in different directions in a manner that renders progress impossible. There is hardly any rational soul in Nigeria today who would not agree that the vision grounding our unity has been elusive, proving the fact that bigness in size and greatness in might, are not necessarily correlative.
By way of illustration, it is a known fact that Ghana is working, boasting of effective and efficient social infrastructure. Now imagine, just in the name of unity, that Ghana was a 37th state in Nigeria! Would the fate of her population have been different from our own parlous situation?
The desirability of unity for its sake is an unwitting endorsement of that mythical doctrine that no constituent part can be greater than the whole. But that, at least, is mathematically invalid. Imagine for instance this sequence of number, 2, -4, 3, -7, 6, -9, 11, -2. If added together, everything is equal to zero, whereas some of the components, take 11 for instance, is of course, greater than zero! Who says a constituent part cannot be greater than the whole?
Ironically, it is a former president of Ghana, Mr. Jerry Rawlings, who was once reported to have derisively referred to Nigeria as a “big for nothing” country. Inherent in that seemingly abusive phrase is the reality of the disconnect between our potentials and actual achievements. Rawlings was expressing the pains of betrayal; that Nigeria had failed to provide the leading light for the Blackman.
The vision of forming a leading black nation that would be the flagship of all Black peoples in the world was well-intended, but the actualisation of such vision naturally transcends mere amalgamation of diverse peoples in a territory delineated by artificial boundaries. Unity in itself is nothing but an impotent mantra; it is what we accomplish with it that matters.
Unfortunately so far, we have not reaped any dividends of unity, despite having borne the cross of unity over the decades. In spite of all her human and natural resources, Nigeria today, is among the most backward nations on earth in terms of human development index, scoring poorly on the cogent indices like welfare of the people, security, access to food, good health, prospect for longevity and even psychological well-being.
Having deconstructed the myth of unity as an ineluctable ingredient of progress, the conclusion here is not an incitement to divide the country, but a call to reflect on how to make the unity count; to focus on how to eliminate all the inhibiting factors that make us “big for nothing” and integrate formulas that would both foster harmonious co-existence and make synergistic enterprises for progress feasible.
Although it is known that a sizeable segment of Nigerian elite does not care about making the nation work, as long as there is oil to exploit and sell for dollars. However, since the country belongs to us all, we must make it work. If a vision proves perpetually unrealisable, there is a need to re-examine both the vision and the mission with a view to identifying the inherent defects. The big challenge now therefore, is how to turn our unity into strength; our ‘big for nothing status’ into “big for greatness” and stagnation into progress.
In this quest we must first exorcise the ghost of illegitimacy haunting our unity by allowing the diverse peoples to truly come together in an unprecedented sovereign national conference. This conference must honestly accommodate the wishes and aspirations of the variegated peoples forming the federation and explore the ways we can meaningfully coexist.
It is only by addressing all our internal contradictions that the ship of the state can avoid the icebergs lying in wait in 2015 or beyond, no amount of baseless optimism can wish away our potentially lethal underlying problems.
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