Editorial: Ethnic Jingoists and Nigeria’s Unity

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With the failure, or better still, refusal by the relevant security agencies to arrest Northern youths, who, under the auspices of the Arewa Youths Consultative Forum (AYCF), recently issued a quit notice to Igbos residing in the north, the atmosphere remains palpably tense, with the forces of darkness beating the drums of war and championing the dismemberment of the nation. The times call for all Nigerians to be vigilant and work to uphold national unity. The slightest infraction against it must be protested and any attempt at the erosion of its most basic tenets must be resisted. Everybody should exercise caution. There is absolutely no guarantee that once dismemberment begins, it would stop as every ethnic group would want to secede. Those who are calling for separation must realize that too many things bind us together than currently separate us. Let the common bonds of unity attract the statesmen in us because though tongue and tribe may differ, Nigerians must stand in brotherhood. Nigeria is better off as a united country on agreed terms than a splintered one.

While it is debatable whether the Arewa youths ultimatum was triggered by the endless secessionist agitations for an independent state of Biafra, it is unfortunate that in apparent response, an unknown group, Niger Delta Watchdogs, is threatening all Northerners to quit Niger Delta region. Meanwhile, another group went to the extent of harvesting from the internet, a horrific accident scene, for the purpose of making it look like a massacre of Igbos by Northern youths. However, the purported murder scene being depicted was a high casualty accident scene which occurred along the Owo-Akure road in Ondo State, on March 3rd, 2016. These agitations are wrong, unlawful and violate the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

It is just as well that leaders in the South have resolved to work together to protect the interest of a united Nigeria. Rising from a meeting over the weekend, leaders of the southern geopolitical zone – South-west, South-east and South-south – declared in a communiqué that Arewa youths ultimatum issued to Igbos, was an issue between the entire Southern and Northern Nigeria. The communique signed by Afenifere chieftain Ayo Adebanjo, (South-west); founding Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Chief Albert Horsfall (South-south); and former Chief of General Staff, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe‎ (South-east), criticized the manner in which the federal government and acting President Yemi Osinbajo have handled the Oct. 1 ultimatum given to Igbos to quit the North.

“We the people of Southern Nigeria, comprising the South-east, South-west and South-south of Nigeria, decided to come together to forge a common and formidable front for the sustenance of sound principles of national development, equity, fairness, social justice and political emancipation. We observe that the cry for self-determination will continue unabated and become much more stringent unless the federal government sincerely addresses the issue of Nigeria’s restructuring. We therefore resolved that we reject the attempt to reduce the current crisis in Nigeria, flowing from the unresolved nationality question, to an Igbo and North affair,” the communique read in part.

According to the Southern leaders, the Arewa ultimatum to the Igbos amounted to an ultimatum to all Southerners, and the failure of the Nigerian state to activate the law against the Arewa youths has left Southerners with the understanding that these youths are speaking the mind of the northern political establishment. The Southern leaders therefore insisted that any further discussion on this crisis should be between the entire South and the North of Nigeria. “We also demand that the Arewa youths and their sponsors must withdraw the quit notice given to the people of the South-east, as failure to do so will be taken as an ultimatum given to the entire Southern Nigeria to quit their region and any attack against anybody from the South, will be considered an attack against Southern Nigeria.”

The Southern leaders met on the heels of Acting President Yemi Osinbajo’s meeting with traditional rulers from the South-east, during which the acting president noted that enough blood had been spilled on Nigerian soil, warning that events hurtling towards further bloodshed in any part of the country would be resisted. It is unacceptable for any section of the country to approach perceived grievances by threatening the unity and integrity of the nation. Many Nigerians paid the supreme sacrifice for the unity of the country and hence, and attempt to toy with such sacrifices by dragging the nation towards another civil war is condemnable. Besides, these agitations are in grave violation of Section 2 of the constitution which recognizes Nigeria as a sovereign state and an indissoluble entity. Well-meaning citizens are enjoined to disregard these ethnic jingoists who are out to destroy Nigeria.

However one views these agitations, the fact remains that nothing seems to be working in the country today. To make matters worse, the bond that binds the ethnic nationalities together appears at the very best tenuous, if not snapping, and threatening fundamentally the unity of the country. It is perhaps right to say that at no time has the basis of Nigeria’s existence as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation been as furiously assailed as has been witnessed in recent times. The unity in diversity which hitherto was advertised as Nigeria’s strength has been supplanted by diversities in unity, such that an average Nigerian sees himself or herself first in the mold of his ethnic nationality. This explains why the country is politically weak and structurally fragile, giving rise to negative and frightening prognostications. The state of affairs is exacerbated by corruption, abusive patronage and ethnic-inspired clientelism on one hand, and deteriorating economic conditions of the average Nigerian, and insipid political leadership that prides itself in a false sense of direction with little or no accomplishments to show.

A comparison of Nigeria’s experience in the quest for national integration with the experiences of other countries provides a clear answer to the question: why has Nigeria failed or why is Nigeria failing? That answer, poignant and direct, is that there has not been a steady supply of selfless leaders to galvanize the potentials of the country for greatness. This leadership vacuum has left in its trail, economic crises, political turmoil and general socio-economic and political crisis. Worst still, the prospect of prosperity for all in a land so blessed materially and in every other respect is undermined by corruption.

Ironically, Nigeria started out on an excellent note as good leaders were not in short supply at the nation’s independence. With their sterling qualities, the likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Michael Ajasin, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Aminu Kano, Sa’adu Zungur, Anthony Enahoro and many others of that era illuminated the political horizon with ideas for a nation bound for the greatest of heights. They were men who till date remain beyond compare. But the tragedy of Nigeria is that the kind of leadership these gentlemen offered has consistently defied replication since their demise. Now, the country is bedeviled with unabashed pretenders to the positions of leadership, men and women who are only actuated by the impulses to acquire more material things for themselves and their families. The result has been the resort to base and primordial sentiments that now threaten the country’s existence.

Fortunately, the Senate has stepped into the matter; calling for the 2014 National Confab report to be submitted for review and possible action. This is the right step. When former Vice President Atiku Abubakar spoke on the need to restructure Nigeria, saying the present structure is heavily defective as it undermines growth and progress among the 36 states of the federation, he was right. What is also not in doubt is that defective constitutional provisions that hardly promote true federalism are the source of the endless vista of inefficiency and corruption that has taken Nigeria hostage. Indeed, most of Nigeria’s problems are rooted in this stunted structure; hence lack of development pervades the grassroots.

As a matter of collective honor, the ruling APC must effect the changes that should redirect, regenerate, and reposition Nigeria for its deserving place in the global arena. And the best place to start is in the first article in the APC manifesto, “initiate action to amend Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench true Federalism and the federal spirit.” If this is implemented, there are strong reasons to believe that most of the separatist agitations that are now threatening Nigeria; all really symptoms of the national question – would fade away. It is time for Nigerians to show their patriotism which have been our defining strength as one, united and indivisible nation.