Joel Ighalo: How non-negotiable is the unity of Nigeria [NEXT]

Joel Eghosa Ighalo

by Joel Ighalo

There was this legend which was told about a schoolmate of mine: In an Oil and Gas exam, there was a question which bordered on Resource Control and Fiscal Federalism. This schoolmate of mine who was from the Niger Delta had a lot to write: “My people are suffering; my people are dying. The Federal Government take our oil, our oil wells to give to the kings in the North, and give us nothing in return… We are underdeveloped.”

The lecturer rushed into class the next semester, quaking with indignation. He did not like the essay. Thereafter he warned the class sternly that in subsequent exams, he never wanted to see compositions with words like “my people are suffering.”

No doubt, this kind of talk has always been articulated as far as the Nigerian polity is concerned. It can be stated that from the East of the Niger to the South, then to the Northernmost part of the country, the people who live therein, especially the eminent citizens, have articulated sentiments which could be taken to betray ethnic nationalism in its purest form. From the happenings which have continued to unravel themselves in our political space, it would seem that the entity christened Nigeria means different things to these people.

Now, the Executive Governor of Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike, was quoted as saying that the unity of Nigeria was non-negotiable.

Three civil society organizations have voiced out their dissenting opinions against him, upbraiding him, and comparing the unity of Nigeria to a unity between the snake and the mouse. They are the Niger Delta Security Watch Organization of Nigeria, NDSWON, Ijaw People Development Initiative, IPDI, Foundation for Human Rights and Anti- Corruption Crusade, FHRACC.

Their statement reads in part:
“Our attention has been drawn to a statement credited to our most respected Governor of Rivers State that the leaders and the people of Niger Delta will always strive to defend the unity of Nigeria because to them, the country remaining as one indivisible entity is not negotiable and of paramount importance… We find it difficult to stomach his unconditional support for the unity and indivisibility of this defective federal structure that favours only a section of the country.”

Now, there can be no denying the fact that any debate about the unity of Nigeria will somewhat or ultimately lead to the knotty issue of its unique kind of federalism. One can go back as far as the year 1967 at the Aburi Accord in Ghana facilitated by General Ankrah when the Eastern Region under the stewardship of the late Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu opted for a confederation of some sorts. Quite a handful of nomenclatures have been used to express reservations about the kind of federalism Nigeria practices; notably among which is the feeding- bottle federalism, christened by Former Senate President, Senator David Mark.

Notwithstanding, the sad twist to this malady is that Nigerians seem so alien and removed from each other by virtue of tribal, religious and political affiliation to such an extent that our national unity has suffered. Politics has only made it so glaring. One would say that the underlying basis of any relationship besides love is tolerance. Therefore, if it is absent, then the structure will shake to its foundation.

A First- Republic political stalwart (I cannot remember his name now) once referred to the country as “a conglomeration of estranged bedfellows.” A quintessential politician today would cite the genesis of the problems of this country as the amalgamation of 1914.

Nevertheless, if the foundation of our national unity continues to quiver, if true federalism is eventually presented to the federating units by those along the corridors of power, the country might still remain on the precipice of disintegration. This is because of the fact that a federating unit with more powers in its hand might be moved by the allure of secession. After all it might have no use of the relative weak Federal Government.

Secession or Disintegration, I believe, remains the fear of the government in Abuja. As it stands, we are all citizens of Nigeria, we are not necessarily countrymen.

Instead, we are Igbos, Yorubas, Efiks, Hausa etc.

Therefore, it is my view; most respectfully too, that before Nigeria can be restructured, her national unity must be amended. What I mean by National unity is the state of Nigerians being united irrespective of tribe, religion etc. Perhaps, the political restructuring of the country will galvanize its citizens into actions underscored by a profound sense of national unity.

Restructuring the country, it is hoped, should inter some of these sentiments that have bedevilled the polity, stoked the embers of animosity amongst us and separated us always.

The President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, has also said the unity of the country is not negotiable in a manner which seems to reveal his inclination towards military might, if need be. Whatever that means, I am of the conviction that if the negotiation of our restructuring is what he is against, then he is speaking for himself and not the generality of the people whose mandate he holds.

According to Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, “every political relationship is open for negotiations, without pre-set outcomes. As a democrat and businessman, I do not fear negotiations. This is what reasonable human beings do.”

In conclusion, the lyrics of our former National Anthem comes to mind; “Though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand.”
Happy New Year!

Joel Eghosa Ighalo is an International Law student,  Historian, Reader and a Nigerian dedicated towards the maximisation of the country’s potentialities. He tweets @_empighalo

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