by Olusegun Adeniyi
The people of Scotland will go to the polls today in a referendum that could end their 307-year-old union with England and begin the process towards breaking away from the United Kingdom effectively by March 24, 2016. Although the exercise is essentially a local Scotland affair, many countries are nervous about the implications of the outcome for their own domestic politics. Yet, it doesn’t appear as if Nigerians are paying much attention to what could become a potent weapon in the hands of those who have always canvassed the dismemberment of our country.
In China, Canada, Australia, Middle East, the Holy See and several political theatres across the world, policy makers are already making projections about what could happen in their own backyard should Scotland vote YES. And the prospects of such eventuality are quite frightening, especially in this age when identity politics, whether driven by ethnicity or religion, has become a dominant and very dangerous ideology.
With the never-ending unrest inTibet and the contentious issue of Taiwan, it is little surprise that the Chinese Premier, Mr. Li Keqiang would advocate for “a strong, prosperous and united, United Kingdom,” an indication that his preference is for the people of Scotland to vote No. And in an editorial last week, ‘The Global Times’, published by the Communist Party’s official ‘People’s Daily,’ gave expression to the global implications of a Yes vote in Scotland. “An incredibly large number of nations will suffer from secessional movements if other nations follow Scotland’s example,” the paper wrote, before concluding that “China, as a country with a complex history and numerous minorities, will certainly never play this game the British are playing”.
In Australia, the Premier, Mr. Tony Abbott said it is not within his purview to tell Scottish people which way to vote but would nonetheless add that “as a friend of Britain, as an observer from afar, it’s hard to see how the world would be helped by an independent Scotland.” In his own case, the Canadian Premier, Mr. Stephen Harper, is not in denial as he looks at the campaign within the context of his local environment vis-a-vis Quebec: “We think, from a Canadian perspective, that a strong and united United Kingdom is an overwhelmingly positive force in the world. There’s nothing in dividing those countries that would serve either greater global interests or frankly the interests of ordinary people in these countries.”
Whether we like it not, if Scotland (with a population of 5.3 million people) votes for independence, there will be global reverberations. Therefore, we cannot pretend that it doesn’t have implication for Nigeria, especially given how divided our nation is today. A Yes vote in Scotland would most certainly embolden some of our politicians and stoke up unhelpful rhetoric that could further polarise our country and make things far more difficult than they already are.
However, those who would be advocating the Scotland option for Nigeria should the Yes vote carry the day would be drawing a wrong parallel. For the people of Scotland, this is not about some mundane issues like how many polling units are created in their country, it is about the possibilities, founded more on hope, that their economic situation could be better if they were a separate country. And because such prospects are not even guaranteed, many Scots are hedging their bets, and going by the latest polls, may have decided to err on the side of caution. So those who have been canvassing the idea of a divided Nigeria and may want to use Scotland as their template, should do their homework properly.
For sure, there are sentiments being expressed by the Scots about their union to which many Nigerians can relate within the context of our country. But most of the challenges we face today are the results of the bad choices made by our leaders at different epochs and at all levels. Unfortunately, having failed to forge a nation out of our diversity, and with a penchant for mismanaging our enormous human and material resources, many of the political gladiators (including those who helped to bring us to the current sorry pass), may have no qualms about dividing Nigeria. But such an eventuality neither addresses our problem nor does it point to the way forward. Because, as I have consistently argued on this page, Nigeria is still far greater than the sum of its parts and to that extent, we are better off staying together as one country.
However, those who would be advocating the Scotland option for Nigeria should the Yes vote carry the day would be drawing a wrong parallel. For the people of Scotland, this is not about some mundane issues like how many polling units are created in their country, it is about the possibilities, founded more on hope, that their economic situation could be better if they were a separate country.
At this point, I need to stress that I am not unaware of the challenges we face or that we could not do with some restructuring. There are certainly things that we can, and indeed should, do if we must reposition our country for peace and prosperity. However, what I find objectionable is that having created the problems, our political leaders (many of them with notorious public service records) also see themselves as the solution by selling us the fraud that once Nigeria is divided along their preconceived notions, then things would automatically change for the better.
Even those who use the security challenge in a section of the country as basis for their call that Nigeria be divided miss the point as escapism has never been a solution to such a problem which is actually national. Besides, how would they draw the map? The fact is that Boko Haram is waging a war against Nigeria and we must collectively face and defeat the insurgents. Unfortunately, it is the absence of such national will that has compounded the problem.
In their paper on “Ethnic Conflict and Economic Development”, John Richardson and Shinjinee Sen dissected societies like ours where more often, political and religious leaders play divisive roles, appealing to primordial sentiments and scape-goating rival groups in order to enhance personal political power. This predisposition, according to the writers, bind group members to each other by emphasizing the differences that distinguish the group as a whole and its individual members from other groups and their members. It is a clever ploy that works for many politicians around the world but if we must tell ourselves the home truth, what our leaders emphasise today is a struggle between ethnic groups seeking to maintain or gain control of state power which is not necessarily in promotion of the public good.
That precisely is the basis of most of the agitations concerning the forthcoming 2015 general elections even when experience has shown that Nigerian public officials (whether from the North or South) belong to a peculiar ethnic group that speaks the same “language” of power and money! Yet by the dummy they sell to the unwary public, leaders of every ethnic group are expected to gain office and then use state institutions to distribute economic and political benefits preferentially to their ethnic brethren. We know it doesn’t happen that way.
The danger however is that in societies where leaders promote these retrogressive ideologies, feelings of relative deprivation intensify, not only when benefits (including political as well as economic well being) decline, but also when expectations increase. And this is usually exploited by ethnic and religious entrepreneurs in promotion of personal interests often masqueraded as group interest or even national interest. Yet through good governance, dialogue, and participation, all the citizens of a diverse society like ours can form a greater understanding of one another’s concerns and move towards a common destiny.
By their desperation and obsession for power, our politicians have today created a climate that encourages ethnic and religious differences and have thus polarized our society. That explains the popularity of violent ethnic and religious based groups among the growing population of the jobless. Yet, as we have learnt from the example of many failed states, when these violent groups become strong, the task of managing – let alone resolving – differences will become complicated. With the power derived from the barrels of the gun, the redress of grievances becomes practically impossible. For these ‘freedom fighters’ that now populate the landscape, it is ‘victory or death’ since there is no acceptable solution other than the triumph of their cause, however ludicrous. It is therefore my hope that Scotland will vote to stay in the United Kingdom, because it is in our own collective interest as a nation.
Death in the Synagogue
Ordinarily, the Synagogue should be a place of hope, a place of succour, a place of rest, to use a biblical term. But at Ikotun, a suburb of Lagos, a spiritual edifice that goes by the name The Synagogue of All Nations has in the last few days become a place of blood. Even when we are yet to ascertain the reason(s) why the Church’s guest house under construction collapsed, and in the process taking scores of people down, there are already plausible speculations that some clever gods might have circumvented building codes.
Whatever may have been responsible for the tragedy, it is difficult to believe the theory that Boko Haram deployed its “fighter jets” to Lagos to kill Pastor Temitope Joshua. That is what the church leader has been telling those who cared to listen with some video clips as evidence of his claim. Anybody who believes such a tale can believe anything, apology to James Hadley Chase!
However, to the extent that there is an international dimension to the tragedy, the authorities have to conduct a thorough investigation. The Synagogue is a centre for spiritual tourism because of the claim that Pastor Joshua has the powers to cure any and every ailment/affliction, from HIV/AIDS to Ebola. On Monday, the South African Department of International Relations’ spokesman, Nelson Kgwete, said that “at least five South African church tour groups were at the Synagogue at the time of the collapse”. And on Tuesday, President Jacob Zuma said 67 South Africans died in the tragedy. “This is a particularly difficult time for South Africa. Not in the recent history of our country have we had this large number of our people die in one incident outside the country,” Zuma said in a statement.
If South Africa alone could record 67 deaths, what that suggests is that this tragedy is bigger than what many of us imagined. But because a place of worship is involved, and given how Nigerians behave when it comes to the issue of their faith, it would be difficult for the authorities to secure the kind of access that would avail them the opportunity to really get to the bottom of what exactly happened. Yet, even with all the hysteria about Ebola Virus in our country in the last one month the number of casualties is still in single digit. Therefore, it is important to unravel the mystery of the collapsed building where dozens of lives have been recorded lost and hundreds of other persons wounded–some severely. While I commiserate with the families of the deceased and wish the injured quick recovery, we must do everything to learn lessons that would ensure we do not witness such a tragedy again.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.