Nigeria is 51 years plus as a nation yet nothing much to show for many decades of self-government. Many years ago, Chinua Achebe, one of the Nigerian literary giants, got disturbed with the situation in the country and came up with a book titled “ The Trouble With Nigeria”. Before and after he wrote his book, many people have equally written on the situation in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the situation has not improved except for the enthronement of democracy and civil rule in recent years. So the question remains, what is wrong with Nigeria.
Is it structural imbalance? Corruption? Bad leadership? Bad followership? Lack of patriotism? Nepotism and favoritism? Northern hegemony? Marginalization? Disunity? Religious and ethnic differences? Resource control? Rotational presidency? Or what is that thing that has hindered Nigeria from developing in terms of infrastructural development and integration of her people as citizens of one united country?
To my mind, the problem with Nigeria is squarely disunity. Nigeria is not the only country that is populated with people of diverse cultures, languages, and religions. Some countries with similar composition like Nigeria have been able to surmount evils of ethnic chauvinism, religious bigotry and such other divisive tendencies to grow into a cohesive entity. But why is the Nigerian fate different?
Nigerians are yet to see themselves as one people. As far back as 1947, the late Yoruba leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, made the following statement in his book, Path to Nigerian Freedom, “Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no “Nigerians” in the same sense as there are “English”, “Welsh”, or “French”. The word “Nigeria” is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria from those who do not”.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo was certainly not the only Nigerian who saw things this way. The late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the first and the only Prime Minister Nigeria ever had, said this in 1948:
“Since 1914, the British Government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and do not show themselves any sign of willingness to unite…..Nigerian unity is only a British creation for the country”.
These two great Nigerians have long passed away, one can just imagine what they would have said in the light of how things have gone worse. Crises everywhere! While some are motivated by religious bigotry, others are political or ethnic killings. Presently, mindless genocide is taking place in Nigeria with the menace of Boko Haram’s attacks especially in the Northern part of the country. Lack of unity manifests in different areas of our national life.
Lack of unity has cost Nigeria progress, economic growth and development, political stability, national integration and credible international image. So the question now is- what is the way forward for Nigeria?
The Way Forward
In proffering solutions to Nigeria problems, people have made multifarious suggestions. Some have called for the convocation of Sovereign National Conference; some call for return to parliamentary system; some others demand a devolution of powers among the tiers of government; some have also called for state autonomy, while some others demand for the break up of the country.
None of these suggested solutions evokes more passion than the call for break up of the country. Apart from the fact that it is the most difficult path to tread, working out modalities for that path is a huge challenge for a country that has existed for this long. Supporting a call for the break up is bound to attract emotive reactions but it remains the only viable option in the circumstances of the Nigerian situation. Nigeria has stayed for too long on the problem of disunity to get out of it. A recall of the Czechoslovakia history might help us to see the prospects in this path.
J. Isawa Elaigwu, an eminent professor of political science in his paper titled “The Nigerian Federation: Its Foundation and Future Prospects” said:
‘‘The colonial state was heterogenous . But the British were creating a UNION and not unity among Nigerians”
So the problem with Nigeria is foundational. As the Holy Book says, ‘’If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”. The foundation of Nigeria is faulty and this explains why all programmes and jingles fashioned to promote national integration, which we need to work towards a common purpose as a people, have not yielded commensurate results.
Unity was not in the mind of the colonial masters that created Nigeria. Unless Nigerians are united, this country cannot move forward. Though the unity of a country of Nigeria size cannot be attained overnight, the progress we have made in the last 51 years does not suggest that we can get to the promised land in another 100 years.
An average Nigerian puts the interest of his ethnic or religious group before the national interest. Nigerians are too factionalised to form a united and developed political entity.
The moment we begin to think along this viable option of break up, our fears to tread that path will fizzle out. Assuming this option is to be given some consideration, the question is how do we work it out? In addition, it may also be asked – how do we divide? Is it along ethnic or religious line? What is the fate of Abuja?
This is where a national conference becomes expedient to work out modalities for the eventual break up of the country. Nigeria cannot afford to remain on a spot – forward she must move. To move forward, the people of Nigeria must be courageous and be ready to take an unpopular decision that evinces some hope and antidote to our longstanding challenges as a people.