IT was a pleasant surprise listening to President Muhammadu Buhari while he launched the new emblems of the 2021 Armed Forces Remembrance Day as he averred, even if nominally, to the importance of unity as a prerequisite for the Nigerian project. He said inter alia: “Nigeria’s strength lies in her diversity. He also appealed to Nigerians to desist from actions and comments that could jeopardize the unity and progress of the country. According to him, the country’s unity was won at great cost.
Although such pronouncements have become routine and hackneyed, especially at this time of the year leading to the celebration of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day early next year, the subject of Nigerian unity and progress in the context of its nationhood is apposite and germane given the experience of the #EndSARS peaceful protest which unfortunately turned awry following the shootings at the Lekki toll plaza in Lagos. There are many reasons why the subject of Nigerian unity has remained on the front burner of the national discourse as a challenging and controversial issue till date. Since the 1999 return to civilian rule, at no other time has the country been as divided and fractious as it is currently following the several controversial pronouncements and lopsided appointments made by President Buhari. There have been countless face-offs between him and other national leaders of thought over the issues.
Buhari’s appointments very rarely recognise the diversity of the Nigerian people which he touted so avidly in his recent speech while launching the emblems of the Remembrance Day. For a country in which the diversity of the population is constitutionally recognised, such appointments cannot foster unity. If President Buhari claims that he cannot work with people he doesn’t know and trust, then he obviously cannot lead modern Nigeria with its ethnic, linguistic and religious heterogeneity. To say the least, his various lopsided appointments have caused a lot of rancour in the polity.
His pronouncements too have tended to be divisive in their import, so much so that part of the catchphrases which caught the attention of the #EndSARS peaceful protesters was the repudiation of the tag, lazy youths, which he authored earlier in his administration. President Buhari admitted that the country’s unity was won at a high cost and we agree with him. Millions of lives were lost during the Nigerian civil war (1967) and, what is more, the country tottered precariously on the precipice in the aftermath of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. In any case, even with the return to civil rule in 1999, the country continues to battle threats to its corporate existence in the form of terrorism and separatist movements. It is therefore imperative for the political leadership to take deliberate steps to maintain its unity.
It is a fact that the progress which the country lacks is traceable to the lack of unity among its constituent parts. Certainly, unity and healthy rivalry among the various geopolitical zones of the country will enhance progress and help in unlocking and unleashing the great potential that it boasts of. But actualising this goes beyond talking about unity as if it was a third party. President Buhari has to offer this country leadership by example. The lip service paid to unity won’t suffice. Commitment to unity has to be veritably demonstrated. Unity is best demonstrated in just, equitable and patriotic actions and pronouncements targeted at the overall collective good.
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