While addressing mostly Moslem faithfuls at the Presidential Villa at the Sallah day celebrations on 6th July 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari restated the now hackneyed notion of the inviolability of the Nigerian state and the settling of the question of its unity, in response to agitations for economic justice and a loosening of the ties of the Nigerian Union by militants in the Niger delta. The President reminded the militants about Civil War “hero”, General Yakubu Gowon’s earlier admonition to that effect during and after the grueling 33 months Biafran war, the bloodiest Civil conflict in African history.
Rewind to July 27, 1966 and 33 year old Lt Colonel Yakubu Gowon, “leader” or more accurately, the acceptable face of the “revenge coup”, in his maiden speech stated inter alia, that “There is no basis for Nigerian Unity”, while ostensibly pleading with the murderous hordes in his native Northern region, intent on extracting their revenge for the lopsided killings in the earlier coup and the political damage to their interest inherent in the turn of events from January, to stop the slaughter of Igbo civilians in the North. Barely a year later, in a move that will define subsequent Nigerian history, Colonel Gowon, in reaction to the Biafran Declaration of Independence in May 1967, averred that the unity of Nigeria was non-negotiable and “to keep Nigeria One is a task that must be done”. A real incredible reversal of positions and one that was made without qualms and no intellectual or political discomfort whatsoever.
On his first visit to the United States of America after his improbable victory in the March 2015 Presidential election, the Nigerian leader, President Muhammadu Buhari ,declared that he would pursue a process of selective development in his country, based on the voting patterns for his party, by constituent sections of the Nigerian electorate. While this raised a lot of righteous anger back home in Nigeria, and surprise in the democratic country that he was visiting, President Buhari was actually being very honest with himself and most Nigerians. The myth of Nigerian unity and the serial hypocrisy inherent in its perennial avowal by those seemingly least interested in genuine national unity, is one of the crucial presentations of the Cant that afflicts governance and real unity in the failing state that is Nigeria.
Nigeria is perhaps the only country on this God’s earth, that is obsessively engrossed with the notion of national unity, while living a lie. From the motto in the national crest “Unity and Faith”; the words of the first national anthem “Though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand”, to the slogans of the victorious Nigerian forces during the Biafran War “To keep Nigeria One is a task that must be done”, the country has always pushed forth its sense of national unity. However, unlike the rest of the world that seems to care very little about “national unity’, including some of our neighbours with similar ethnic diversity, the reality is that Nigeria is perhaps one of the most divided and disunited countries on earth.
The seeds of national disunity were sown even before Independence in 1960, when a British contrived election process ensured that power was kept in the hands of the region that was least developed and disinterested in Independence, and really had to be assuaged to agree to Nigerian Independence. Further events in 1966 and the unintended consequences of a brutal genocidal conflict, pitting the rest of Nigeria against a region and ethnicity of the country, put paid to any notion of national unity, even though the conflict ended with the quaint sloganeering platitude of” No Victor , No Vanquished”; national unity never recovered and events since then have served to further widen the cleavages in the Nigerian society.
The question that has always irked many Nigerians, other Africans and the rest of the world, is that after decades of Independence and great national wealth accumulation through the instrumentality of prodigious oil and gas reserves, the country has not managed its diversity well enough to even attain a semblance of national cohesion in just about any social and economic endeavour.
This is a country where, the wealth that is derived from particular sections of the country is, by virtue of a contrived demography and cynically conjured political hegemony, mostly spent in parts of the country that contribute virtually nothing to the national purse, which is basically centred on the accrual and circulation of easy oil and gas revenue. Because of this legalized injustice, there is a permanent state of violence , distrust and a terrible and absolute lack of any iota of patriotism in most aspects of national life, leading to a perennial descent to national anomie.
The Nigerian people, perhaps mindful of the need to resolve the National Question, have endeavored to settle this question through political and social interactions of ethnic nationalities intended to provide a final answer to the National Question. From Aburi in 1967 to the national conferences convened by General Sanni Abacha in 1994/95, President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006,President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014 and the ill-conceived Truth and Reconciliation Commission of 2000, efforts have been made to achieve a notion of national consensus on the need to move forward as one nation in an atmosphere of mutual respect, trust and justice. However, the intrinsic winner-takes-all nature of national politics , makes a mockery of the efforts at cultivating consensus from the diversity of Nigeria.
The current Government of President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress, appears totally indifferent to the perceptions of this Government in certain critical regions of Nigeria, regions like the Niger Delta and the Southeast, that can hamper any economic agenda of government by throwing spanners in the works, especially with respect to oil and gas revenue. Protests about political and economic marginalization of these crucial centers of the national economy are met with the body language of unbridled political arrogance.
President Buhari’s avowal of the inviolability of Nigerian unity, as a response to the militancy in the Niger delta is at best an exercise in Kant and political hypocrisy. For a man who in his private life , has undergone a divorce, the idea that the continuance of a union is non-negotiable and is therefore cast in stone, should be totally at variance with reality. No Union is irreversible and non-negotiable, as has been adequately proven in Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia, Sudan and Indonesia(East Timor).
The hardline posture of the Government of President Buhari, may have resurrected the militancy that virtually ground oil and gas exploitation to a halt in 2007, prior to the inauguration of the PDP Government of President Umaru Yardua and Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan. Power generation , virtually dependent on the gas resources of the Niger Delta has virtually ground to a halt, with an unimaginable zero power output recorded across a country of over 170 million for three hours on a very sad and shameful day in April 2016.The apparent sabotage of the oil and gas resources that feed the national economy has really hurt Government revenue, with oil revenues plummeting to a disastrous $500 million per month, from a previous and barely adequate $3.5 Billion per month, a seven-fold drop. This state of affairs is unsustainable and requires a more tactful approach for resolution, not the current belligerent and self-serving reactions from an obviously intellectually challenged Government.
The win-win political game that saw the revival of the moribund oil sector, through an amnesty and palliative process in 2007, seems to have been discarded or forgotten in the present atmosphere of suffocating hubris and zero-sum political grandstanding. The reconstitution of the Board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and its composition is not a clever response to the militancy in the Niger Delta, or is the latest latent threat of” Boko Haram treatment” for the militants, who in any case, know that they are able to hold the nation by the economic jugular, at very little direct cost to their own well being.
What then is the way forward for sustainable national unity, devoid of the myths, legends, hubris and hypocrisy of the settled National Question, by the same political and social tendencies that have refused to actually construct the framework for sustainable national unity, since the end of the Biafran war?
Perhaps the answer lies in the indisputable fact that, left alone to determine their future interactions with their neighbours and fellow countrymen, most Nigerians have shown a preference for some kind of genuine unity in diversity, away from the suffocating hypocritical Federalism, currently imposed on all and sundry by a political tendency with a booty mind-set, based on the “liberation” (conquest) of the Niger Delta in 1967-1970. Unfortunately, the proponents of the inviolability of the Nigerian state and the non-negotiation of their own understanding of national unity, are those least interested in genuine, sustainable unity which will end this constant recourse to threats and innuendo to maintain a union that only requires some intelligent tinkering to survive as has been shown by events in other parts of the world –Canada and the United Kingdom, where a respectful treatment and tactful response to aggrieved nationalities, convinced them to sustain the union, in the manner of a revamped marriage, hitherto on the brink of divorce.
The future of the failing state of Nigeria is indeed not beyond rescue, if the people at the helm of affairs adopt the mind-set of partners in a failing marriage, intent on rescuing the union, instead of pig headedly opting for divorce, in order to show a tough mien.
Perhaps ,the unintended consequences of the current approach to the resolution of the Nigerian Question and the Niger Delta militancy , will convince the tough men at the helm of affairs to adopt a more reasoned approach to the solution of national problems and perchance birth a new nation, where the question of national unity will be a moot point. After all, you do not need to threaten divorce in a marriage, if all parties are reasonably happy and assured with the justice of the arrangement.
– Jon West, Sokoto