#ListenUpNG Wk37: ARE WE REALLY ONE?



“We are not one in Nigeria. We are a divided nation, still held together, miraculously and oxymoronically, by divided politics, divided people, divided communities, divided everything. We are, 57 years after flag independence, a country of divided motives and expectations, sitting on a tinder-box… You’d probably say, thanks, but we all know what the problem is, thank you for the description and information, but what is the way forward? Secession? I’d say No. Dismemberment? Again, No, I don’t think so. So, what to do then?” ~ Reuben Abati

Yippee! Its our month of independence! #ListenUpNG This is me saying HAPPY NEW MONTH & HAPPY 57TH INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY! Someone out there may be wondering, “What is happy about this independence anniversary?” Hmmm. I feel you. Sometimes I wonder too! But, you know what? We can’t afford to give up! We can’t just throw in the towel! Dis na our obodo country o. You can only be a 2nd class citizen at best, in another man’s land!

I believe we shall still eat the good of this land! We will wake up from our slumber! We will bring back ‘Happy Days’! Oh yes! #ListenUpNG Happy days will come! But for it to come, we must get our acts together! We must see beyond our greed & selfishness!

This month, in commemoration of #NaijaAt57 we will be discussing #RealLifeIssues in relation to the #StateOfOurNation. Our guests will be tweeting their OPINIONS based on facts and their experiences in their various spheres of influence and as patriots and citizens of Nigeria.

Today on #ListenUpNG #IndependenceSeries, I have the honour of hosting my very first special guest in the person of Reuben Abati @abati1990. He is a Journalist, Writer, Thinker, Media Professional and a Public Affair Analyst. @abati1990 was also the Official Presidential Spokesperson(2011-2015) in Nigeria during the Administration of former President, Goodluck Jonathan

#ListenUpNG Based on his wealth of experience especially those gleaned from the corridors of power as a former spokesman & a Public Affair Analyst, he @abati1990 tweeted on the topic, “ARE WE REALLY ONE?”

See below the unabridged and unscripted version of his tweet session on #ListenUpNG, your favorite weekly mentoring event on twitter, for your reading pleasure. On #ListenUpNG, we aim to inspire, educate and enlighten you.

Do #ReadRestRelaxAndReflect Make sure you press the share button too! Happy reading! ~ Kemi Odutayo

Let me start by thanking Kemi Odutayo, #ListenUpNG for inviting me to be part of this conversation on the conditions, the reality and the prospects of our dear nation, Nigeria. The question that has been posed: Nigeria: Are we really one? is topical, apposite and well-considered. But the response to this question is a no-brainer. We are not one in Nigeria. We are a divided nation, still held together, miraculously and oxymoronically, by divided politics, divided people, divided communities, divided everything. We are, 57 years after flag independence, a country of divided motives and expectations, sitting on a tinder-box.

I consider myself a patriot. I see myself belonging to a united Nigeria, and I’ll like to argue that our immediate challenge is how to make Nigeria one, how to move Nigeria from being a country into becoming a nation. The amalgamation of 1914 created a country and a state, even if it was an artificial country and an inchoate state, that was set apart by the diversity of its heritage and cultures, the genius of its people, the beauty of its flora and fauna and the resilience of the environment. But it was not actually a nation, and it has never been, and it has never been one. The real challenge that we face is transforming the country that the British handed over to us, into a nation, and developing a true community of statesmen and nationalists.

There are symbols of nationhood around us: a flag, national currency, defined boundaries, a national security system – a system of governance, a new political elite and leadership, and institutions of governance. The British handed all of that over to us on October 1, 1960, and three years later, we became a Republic. What they handed over to us was a country, not a nation, the country that they created was an artificial contraption, constructed out of over 400 ethnic nationalities speaking different languages.

To build a nation, these disparate groups must agree to speak one language: the language of oneness, of togetherness, of nationhood. They must believe in the idea of Nigeria. They must belong. They must be ready to defend, promote and protect that idea. Unfortunately, flags, national currencies and anthems do not make a nation, or guarantee national unity. This has been the biggest problem with Nigeria: the atomization of a country.

Fact: Fifty-seven years after independence from British colonial rule, Nigerians do not see themselves as Nigerians in the same sense of belonging to one national family. Even before independence, the founding ethnic leaders, who fought for the country’s independence, did not see themselves as one. They were partisan gladiators who defended sectional and sectarian interests. In 1947, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Yoruba leader said: “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 “Nigerian” is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria and those who do not”.

In 1948, Tafawa Balewa the Fulani agent who would later become Prime Minister of Nigeria at independence, said: ‘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 customs and do not show themselves any signs of willingness to unite…Nigerian unity is only a British invention.”

In 1964, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, speaking for himself and for his Igbo kinsmen said: “It is better for us and many admirers abroad that we should disintegrate in peace and not in pieces. Should the politicians fail to heed this warning, then I will venture the prediction that the experience of the Democratic Republic of Congo will be a child’s play if ever it comes to our turn to play such a tragic role.”

In other words, the men who went to Britain and held meetings in 1950, 1951, 1954 and 1957 to negotiate Nigeria’s independence met not as nationalists, not as Nigerians, but as representatives of sectional interests. The territories and colonies that the British amalgamated in 1914 had never met; the first time they would sit together at a table through representatives was in 1950 (!) and they were expected to become one. The difficulty of the proposal and the union was exposed when Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna uttered the following words, twelve days after Nigeria’s independence in 1960: “The new nation called Nigeria should be an estate of our great grand father, Othman Dan Fodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power. We must use the minorities in the north as willing tools and the South as conquered territories and never allow them to rule over us or have control over their future.”

In those words, the Sardauna set the tone for the impossibility of Nigeria becoming one. Things happened in the new Nigeria. Double-check Nigeria’s early post-colonial history, and fill the gaps, and fast-forward in your mind. In 1967, the civil war broke out. General Yakubu Gowon was in charge as Head of State. His famous statements of that season were as follows: “To Keep Nigeria One is a Task that Must Be Done”, and “Go One With One Nigeria”. Making Nigeria One must have been the theoretical pre-occupation of successive Nigerian leaders, but collectively they never managed to move from ideas to praxis. This is the problem with Nigeria: failed promises, failed expectations and dishonest leadership.

It is this that has produced in communities and ethnic nationalities over the years: strife, discontent, religious violence, ethnic battles, and deadly competition for power and dominance. Military rule combined with partisan ethnic and religious politics has over the years made it virtually impossible for Nigerians to have an open debate about how their country should go forward. We live in a country where some powerful forces just don’t want progress, growth and development. At every turn, they invoke the weapons of religious and ethnic division and cause mayhem. We have become in the process, a nation in desperate need of patriots, statesmen and intelligent citizens. To have a country of a majority of idiots is the worst thing that can ever happen to a country.

This country called Nigeria is not yet a nation. As Nigerians, we are not yet one. We are, sadly a country of ethnic gladiators, remote-controlled by primordial instincts and affiliations. And it is so sad, because we are wasting human talent and natural resource.

You’d probably say, thanks, but we all know what the problem is, thank you for the description and information, but what is the way forward? Secession? I’d say No. Dismemberment? Again, No, I don’t think so. So, what to do then? It seems to me that to move this country forward, power must be handed over only to persons who are willing and ready to serve Nigeria, not partisan interests. Nigerian leaders at all levels must be persons who are fit, knowledgeable and capable, not charlatans relying on the beauty of their wardrobes, the depth of their pockets or the beauty of their car parks. We have so many of such at the moment in government. To move Nigeria forward, the basis of the union must be re-negotiated afresh, the outcome of which must be the building of a sense of oneness. The future lies in dialogue and responsible leadership.

Finally, it is instructive that Nigerians inter-marry, do business together, and live in each other’s communities, but when it comes to politics, power and religion, neighbours turn into enemies, friends become adversaries, and oftentimes, they spill each other’s blood. The new Nigeria that we seek must be a country, nation and state of citizens, not a divided community of fortune- seekers where anything goes. Converting the centrifugal forces in our land to centripetal building blocks, turning our diversity into a source of strength, and establishing a sense of common ownership is the task to be done to make Nigeria one. My belief and conviction is that this is do-able and achievable, if we manage to get our leadership recruitment process right at all levels: from mosque to church to schools, to groups, to communities, to the seats of power.

About Kemi Odutayo

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