Nigerians and the Misconception of Unity, By Amir Abdulazeez

By Amir Abdulazeez,

Just recently, Nigeria celebrated its 55th independence anniversary amidst a mixed atmosphere of renewed political hope and optimism on the one hand and the fear of an uncertain economic future on the other. The general belief is that the country has made some progress democratically and it is well positioned to begin the journey of attaining the long elusive greatness. However, many others are of the opinion that there is not much to celebrate as our independence still remains ironical. They claim that with our mono-economy heavily dependent on one single commodity which price is directly or indirectly determined by the western giants, we are nothing but dependent.

At home, we are still battling with debates about how the ownership and control status of that single commodity the country depends on should be. While some think it should solely belong to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, others think it should be partly so. Some even think it should completely belong to the areas where the oil is being extracted from. Meanwhile, the more serious minds among us are asking us to shelve this debate on oil resource control and focus on how to diversify the economy.

The story of Nigeria over the last 55 years has been that of an independent but fragile and disunited nation. The Nigerian unity doesn’t go beyond the word ‘Nigeria’, besides almost everybody sees his fellow tribesman as his only true brother. The question is no longer when this will stop; the question is for how long would this continue? If after 55 years, citizens of a country do not see themselves as one national family bonded by nationhood, trust and understanding, then how many more years do we require to truly become citizens of one nation? This is the primary reason why some genuinely believe that the solution to all these is disintegration. The question is into how many parts do you need to divide Nigeria into in order to do justice to the multi-ethnic nature of its societies?

There is an argument as to whether achieving national unity is something natural or artificial, deliberate or coincident, divine or man-made. For instance, many think there is no way a Muslim would achieve any meaningful and lasting understanding with a Christian or an Igbo man achieving true unity and brotherhood with a Yoruba man and so on and so forth. This is simply because; there are some shape-thinking forces of nature that are beyond the control of both parties. Proponents of this argument often say that countries that have achieved unity are bounded by something natural like religion or tribe which they built upon. For example, more than 90% of Britons are Christians and are mostly English, then what is there to disagree about?

There are people who argue that the above position is weak and to some extent baseless and that it’s only those who don’t understand the complexities of life that would hold such views. Their claim is that unity is quite different from uniformity and what is required of the citizens of a nation is unity of purpose and not necessarily unity by nature. For instance, more than 90% of the Middle-east people are Arabs and Muslims, but there is no region with many inter-political and intra-ideological conflicts as the region. The Arab world does not show any sign of unity. Another argument is that, there is no way a people can be uniform. If we happen to all be Muslims, some would be practicing Muslims and others, Muslim by identity; some may be white others black and some may be Sunni, Shi’ite or even extremists, etc. We may all happen to be Hausa, but some may be purely Hausa while others are Hausa/Fulani, Christians or Muslims. rich or poor, educated or ignorant, etc.

The problem facing Nigeria is that most of its citizens neither understand nationhood and the aspirations of a nation nor the interpretation of our history and the history of others. It is true that the British did a great injustice by not considering a lot of logical factors while demarcating the area they called Nigeria, but nations are not perfect and even if they are perfect, they didn’t start perfectly but with determination that imperfection can be overcome over time. However there is no absolute guarantee, even if there are prospects that the various original societies and kingdoms that were merged to form Nigeria would be any better in terms of unity and progress if they were left as they were. This is debatable.

What is unity? An average Nigerian may think of unity as a scenario where everyone is of the same religion or tribe or atleast something similar or close to that situation. This explains the agitation for disintegration in many quarters. The belief is that once we have entities of Igbos only, Yorubas only, Muslims only or Christians only, then there would be unity. On the other hand, an average Nigerian elite may think of unity as a scenario where the presidency rotates periodically from North-east to South-south, from North-central to South-east or a scenario where federal character is strictly adhered to with all states or ethnic groups getting equal appointments and number of civil servants.

All of these are not unity. Unity is when we all unanimously agree to pursue a common cause, that is to make our country great for our own benefit and that of the unborn generation. Unity is when we all understand from where we came from, where are we now and where we are heading to together. Unity is when we understand our differences, acknowledge them and work inspite of them to build a civilized society of law, order, justice, equality and prosperity; a society which everyone feels an integral part of.

It appears, we are actually confused as to what we really want, probably that’s why we haven’t make the progress we should make. So, now, over the last 55 years, what have we being pursuing, unity or uniformity?


Mallam Amir is on Twitter: @AmirAbdulazeez