Nigeria, on October 1, 1960, gained its independence from the British imperialists.
On that day, Nigerians were joyfully on the streets, hopeful of a better, productive and prosperous Nigeria. Our founding fathers, in spite of their differences in tribe, faith, and tongue, came together to fight for independence. They dreamt of maintaining one Nigeria, premised on equity, justice, and fairness.
So sad, that kind of Nigeria hasn’t come to reality yet. What has gone wrong? What has shortchanged the mutual aspirations for a great and prosperous Nigeria? How did Nigeria, a country believed to be the giant of Africa, come to find itself in the middle of wind struggling for survival.
As provided by history, Nigeria’s unity and march to greatness were disturbed by the military incursion into politics and governance. In the early hours of January 15, 1966, Major Kaduna Chukwuma Nzeogwu and some officers staged a coup d’état and overthrew the republican government led by Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Leading politicians including; the Prime Minister, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Okotie Eboh among others, and some senior army officers were assassinated during the coup.
The coup, which led to the accession of power by Major General Aguiyi Ironsi, was seen as ethnically targeted since most of the victims were of Western and Northern origins. In a response action, army officers of Northern origin carried out a counter-coup on July 29, 1966, and killed Major General Aguiyi Ironsi and many others of mainly Eastern origin. In the aftermath, Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon assumed command of the military government. The two coups and some other pogroms led to the declaration of Eastern region secession from the federation by Lieutenant Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu and the (July 6, 1967, to January 15, 1970) Nigerian Civil War.
Up till today, Nigeria still faces issues relating to ethnicity and tribal rivalries. Also, in recent times, there are calls for secession. Some persons in the Eastern region of the country are increasingly agitating for Biafra Republic; same with the Western region, there are serious campaigns for Oduduwa Republic. What have been the causes of these? Is Nigeria the only state housing people of different descents, languages, cultures, customs and traditions? Definitely no! But why are we having serious ethnoreligious and secessional issues? The issues can be traced to the improper management of the diversity of the Nigerian people; bad governance; ‘divide and rule approach to power; ethnoreligious militancy; tribalism; revenue generation and uneven distribution; resource control; partial delimitation of constituencies; oppression; perception of marginalisation; cronyism; and lopsidedness in employments, promotions, and appointments.
Nigeria is one of the world’s largest countries with people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, cultures, and languages. Nigeria is believed to be having over two hundred and fifty ethnic groups and over four hundred languages. Keeping together and satisfying such an avalanche of groups are the greatest hurdle Nigeria has been facing. It is only through genuine national integration, constitutional provisions, and an all-encompassing system that our Nigeria could find peace and progress. It is only when Nigeria is united that Nigerians of the Southern origin will find pride in the achievements of Nigerians of the Northern. It is only when Nigeria is united that Nigerians of the Northern origin will have fellow feelings for Nigerians of the Southern origin.
To develop a spirit of togetherness in Nigerians, the government needs to make viable constitutional reforms; particularly to the system of government being practised. For example, we have been practising this kind of federalism since the beginning of the fourth republic, and since it seems not working for our national unity and integration, why can’t we opt for another kind of federalism or system of government that will give Nigerians a sense of belonging to the nation? Chief Obafemi Awolowo once argued that ”Nigeria should have as many provinces, zones, regions or states as possible as there were linguistic or ethnic groups in the Country; and that each region should have a legislative and executive government of its own. There would be a central parliament and executive on which the various linguistic groups in the country would be represented. Under these arrangements, each ethnic group could develop its own peculiar culture and institutions in accordance with its wishes; and the inter-tribal acrimony and jockeying for leadership, which were rearing their heads, would cease”.
Alongside, the Nigerian Government should convene a national discourse where leaders and key stakeholders in the Nigerian project will discuss issues affecting the nation’s unity and prosperity. They should not be done for its sake, but it must ensure that resolutions are well noted and implemented. Nigerians should equally play their part, maintain a spirit of togetherness, and believe that much more can be achieved from our diversity if we give room for sincere reforms and ensure that the right mechanisms that can make our differences yield positive outcomes are adopted.
The Nigerian Labour Congress in a press release by its President; Comrade Ayuba Wabba on the occasion of Nigeria’s 60th Independence Anniversary said: “At sixty years, we must confer a bigger value to our being together. Our togetherness amounts to nothing if we are not tapping from the wealth of knowledge, experience and cultural diversity of the Nigerian people. Our being together amounts to nothing if the rich intellectual resource of our people is not applied to solving key developmental issues. Our togetherness might as well be a liability if we fail to use the political process to achieve national consensus on the Nigeria of our dream, how to construct our dream country and recruitment of an enabling leadership that can midwife our collective developmental aspirations.”
In closing, I would want my fellow Nigerians to note that there are lots of benefits in our unity in diversity and that we can only enjoy more of the benefits if we remain together as a nation. We should shift our loyalty from our tribe to the country. We should believe that things that bind us together are far stronger than things that divide us. The Nigerians of the Northern origin should cooperate with the Nigerians of the Southern origin; while the Nigerians of the Southern origin should also cooperate with the Nigerians of the Northern origin. We should see ourselves as one, and give no room for enmity.
Together we prosper!