It is impossible to imagine a nation more in self-denial than our dear country.
Nigerians like to speak about what would or would not happen “in civilised societies” in comparison with events or circumstances in Nigeria. But let us tell you what would not happen in civilised societies – a “genocide” that took away the lives of an estimated three million people of a particular ethnic group will not be swept under the carpet so cavalierly. That war, and the issues it threw up would, in fact, define the nation forever.
Unfortunately for Nigeria, we tried to “just move on.”
There needs to be a realisation by Nigerians, especially of a new generation, that our federation is defined by fault lines manifest in the reality of much-ballyhooed ‘tribalism’ (a word we are loathe to use as Nigeria has evolved beyond ‘tribes’). Indeed, Nigeria as presently constituted gives itself frequently to justified feelings of unfairness, oppression, and, yes, marginalisation.
The past few weeks have been a lesson. As the events unfolded, many young Nigerians were faced with the specter of prominent Nigerians seeming to stand at one side or the other of the #OccupyNigeria protests based on interests that were hardly national. There was Pini Jason sectionalising the protests in The Vanguard as he explained the apathy in the South-South and South-East, Niger Delta activists and militants rallying round their ‘son’, and then the Segun Adeniyi article that seemed to spotlight respected financial entrepreneur Atedo Peterside as representing a parochial sectional sentiment.
However, the most striking detail about the Adeniyi article wasn’t actually in the piece. It was the fact that, only two governments ago, Mr. Adeniyi had cause to caution Yoruba leaders about the same narrow-mindedness and “ethnic jingoism” in relation to the government of General Olusegun Obasanjo.
What is apparent?
Something is wrong with the concept of “One Nigeria” as it now stands, or as people like Ibrahim Babangida, with their obtuse concepts of patriotism, express them.
This is where the recent clumsily expressed article by Femi Fani-Kayode comes in. In the piece, he spoke to the reality of Nigeria splitting anytime now. As he noted, the only two nations forced into a partnership like Nigeria have collapsed – which would be Sudan and India; emphasizing that the matter of Nigeria’s unity is not settled, and automatic patriotism of citizens should not be taken for granted.
It does not mean Nigeria cannot be one country. It only means we cannot take it for granted. Why should people who have consistently cried out against majority oppression suddenly trust large sections of the country with their well-being if there has been no agreement based on a fair social contract as to how the country will run? Or if they feel like “conquered territory”?
Indeed, it has become fashionable these days amongst young Nigerians to denounce as ‘tribalist’, jaundiced, unpatriotic, and shameful those who have attempted, though in-artfully, to point to the reality of our shaky common enterprise. Even parents, when they voice these sentiments, are sharply criticised for belonging to an outmoded generation.
It’s understandable. This is after all a generation that came into understanding long after the painful civil war that scarred the generation before us, after the shenanigans of June 12, after the stark inequalities that caused Olusegun Obasanjo to restructure the civil service and private sector in 2000, after the acute tribal politics that prevent different sections of the country from breaking the glass ceiling of the Presidency for decades. It’s a generation that does not understand the role played by ethnic groups and religious organisations in working the shaky compromise that now holds the nation, albeit loosely.
But you see, it is not enough to name-and-shame the Ayo Oritsejafors or the Femi Fani-Kayodes when they raise alarms. If we automatically shoot down this uncomfortable discussion, we will be making the same mistakes as our fathers.
There is, after all, a reason we have Federal Character in our constitution, even though it has entrenched mediocrity across board. It was inspired by people acutely aware of how dangerously pieced together our federalism is; people aware of how fragile our unity stands; people who understand that the foundations of our nation are wobbly at best, but who chose temporary solutions as opposed to the more difficult, but utterly inevitable, restructuring of our nation. It is because of that we now have a country where people speak in ethnic terms in private, but tout a puerile unity in public.
It is impossible to imagine a nation more in self-denial than our dear country. What causes this refusal to speak the truth about our fair of affairs? Of what use is this willful march into progressive disaster – despite the various problems that stare us in the face?
Whether you call it a Sovereign National Conference or a Social Contract, any attempt to move forward without answering this much-talked-about National Question is an exercise in foolishness. This generation needs to understand this and brutally confront this problem so that we do not supervise the disintegration of what we now call Nigeria.
So, forget the flawed nature of the messenger, Mr. Fani-Kayode is absolutely right – for any serious-minded evolving nation, especially one as rocked by disunity and crises as ours, there is nothing like a doctrine of settled issues.