Unfinished greatness: Towards a more perfect union in Nigeria (2)
Continued from yesterday
Over the years, I have heard even presumably informed analysts referred to our country as the mistake of 1914. But was it really a mistake? The American social philosopher, Eric Hoffer argued that divide-and-rule is most effective when it “fosters a multiplicity of compact bodies – racial, religious or economic – vying with and suspicious of each other.” Therefore, it is possible to argue that the toxic legacy of the colonial ‘divide and rule’ strategy may be the reason that we have remained divided even 60 years after their rule has ended. However, to describe this amalgamation itself as a mistake would be wrong, both historically and conceptually.
Every student of history will agree that as a people, if not as a country, Lord Lugard did not introduce us to ourselves. Long before the white man set his foot on our land, our people had developed an intricate network of relationships. Even though they lived in their various enclaves as independent people, they traded together, they married one another, they fought together as allies in battles and against one another as adversaries. Our cultures inter-mingled and produced a rich synthesis of cultures, in such a way that no single culture is left pure and unaffected through new vocabularies, diets and even dress. Many of our empires and kingdoms were also territorial rather than tribal. They luxuriated and thrived on their diversity and formed unions and alliances based on shared understanding and mutual respects.
The colonialists may be “culpable” for creating the country that we call Nigeria, without consulting us, but the task of forging a nation out of this colonial invention, rests squarely in our hands. Among other things, this must start with deliberate effort to remobilise and re-interpret our history, especially our pre-colonial history. A sociological interpretation of our history will show clearly that we did not arrive here by chance or as mere products of colonial misadventure. In his book, titled: “Can Anything Good Come Out of History?” renowned historian, ObaroIkime observed, that it is not colonialism that introduced the Igbos to the Igalas; the Kanuris to its neighbouring states; the Efik to the Ibibios and the Igbos; the Itsekiri to the Urhobos or; the Yorubas to the Nupes, etc. Forced together, sometimes by forces of geography and history, all these people, he noted, “knew about themselves and respected their varying cultures and susceptibilities.” He went further to underline the important roles that historians and teachers of history have to play as we strive to build a united nation out of this colonial legacy called Nigeria. He argued that “There is a need to provide a general framework of our nation’s history; a need to indicate broad influences and operative factors in our history; a need to identify the nature and impact of contacts between our peoples; a need to identify factors that make for the differences discernible among our peoples; and so on.”
One of the most popular anecdotes that survived from our early efforts at nation building was the one credited to the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, who was said to have retorted that we do not need to forget our differences, rather we only need to recognise and respect them. It is not clear to what extent this wise admonition was taken on board by our founding fathers as they tried to grapple with the challenges of nation-building in a post-colonial Nigeria. However, embedded in the notion of “unity in diversity” is a distinct awareness that sameness is not necessarily a precondition for oneness. Perhaps, one major area that the successive generation has failed is in the tendency to stigmatise difference and weaponise diversity. We are Muslims, we are Christians, we are animists, we are Idoma, Tiv, Angas, Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Kanuri, Fulani and so on. We don’t need to apologise for these differences or attempt to hide them. The problem starts when these social categorisations become the boundaries for inclusion or exclusion.
Development anthropologists have long concluded that culture plays a crucial role in development. In other words, every culture contains essential facilities for progress and advancement. The language in which we articulate our ideas; our diets and consumption patterns; our architectures and the way we live; our religion and how we understand our relationship with God and to the universe, our notion of ethics, morality and justice, all of these, in different forms and at different levels, provide the essential driving force for development. What this means therefore, is that the more diverse the cultures within a nation, the more resources they have for development and for progress. In essence, homogeneity is not necessarily a blessing and diversity needs not be a curse. This is why we must always make the distinction between our differences, which is essentially benign, and the politicisation of those differences which is the malignant cancer in the body of our nation.
What we have failed to take full advantage of is the fact that our diversity is indeed a source of strength. Our ability to live together as a diverse but unified country is something we should celebrate. It is what makes us better than even Europeans who find diversity management difficult. The Balkans had to split into Sweden, Norway and Finland. Czechoslovakia became Czech and Slovak nations, the Soviet Union couldn’t hold together, Yugoslavia collapsed into Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and Herzegovinia and Britain still has not found a definitive answer to the Irish, Welsh and Scottish question. But imagine Nigeria with over 250 ethnic nationalities and particularly in Arewa, where no state, indeed few communities can claim to be homogeneous. Yet, we are managing our diversity very well until we lost the values of tolerance, equity, fairness and justice which we inherited from our founding fathers such as the Sardauna of Sokoto.
Precisely because we have refrained from heeding the wise counsel of Shehu Usumanu Dan Fodiye in his book Bayan Wujub al-Hijra “One of the swiftest ways of destroying a State is to give preference to one particular tribe over another or to show favour to one group of people rather than another.” Reading through the research conducted by the Arewa Research Development Project, one of the foremost, contemporary research projects in Northern Nigeria, I was struck by the conclusion on one of the research projects, “In contemporary world, issues of nation-building are increasingly being centred around citizenship rights and equality in accessing these rights, special and conscious efforts to safeguard minorities and disadvantaged groups, gender equality in political and socio-economic spheres of a nation, protection of cultural assets….” These are indeed conditions that will ensure political integration and progressive development.
In the days of the Sardauna Sir Ahmadu Bello, respect for each other’s faith was a norm. The late Ambassador Jolly Tanko Yusuf, one of the young technocrats close to the Sardauna, once shared a story here at the Arewa House of how the Sardauna supported them to establish the Northern Christian Association on the 10th of April 1964. He recalled that he and Mr. Edward Manuso, the then Provincial Commissioner for Sardauna Province wrote a letter to the late Premier and engaged him on the matter without any form of hostility or reprimand. His testimony was equally corroborated by late Chief Sunday Awoniyi that the Sardauna, Sir Ahmadu Bello ensured that Muslims and Christians had equitable access to the corridors of power. This spoke to the motto, ‘Work and Worship’ and to the values of hardwork, accountability, honesty, dedication to duty, selfless service to the people, religious tolerance, foresight and vision. Many of these values cohere to what those from my part of the country know as ‘Omoluabi’ ethos and what is commonly known here as Mutumin Kirki – The concept of the Good Man in Hausa, apology to Tony Kirk-Greene.
Even so, with all of these qualities and virtues, we must also acknowledge that State building is a slow and dynamic process. It involves experimentation and learning, trial and errors, setting and resetting. This is why the operative framework is never intended as a divinely inspired scripture. Many of the challenges that we face today could not have been envisaged in 1999. However, even as daunting as these challenges are, we must see them as opportunities to test our governance system and its responsive capacity to the challenges of our national existence. The integrity of our governance and administrative system must be continually measured in terms of its ability to deliver the greater good to the greatest number of our people. If it is not able to do this, we must be willing to press the reset button and ask ourselves why is the system that we all must submit not working for all?
- To be continued
Text of the address by His Excellency, Dr Kayode Fayemi (CON), governor, Ekiti State and chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum on the 50th anniversary of the Centre for Historical Documentation and Research (Arewa House), in Kaduna on Saturday, October 31, 2020.
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