by Mark Amaza
Exactly a century ago, the British government forged Nigeria out of a patchwork of numerous tribes, kingdoms and territories when Lord Lugard amalgamated the Northern and Southern Protectorates. Evidently, that decision was informed more by economic motives rather than altruism.
However, while Nigeria is far from being the only country in the world that came into existence in such manner, becoming a nation for us has been an elusive goal. Nigerians think like Nigerians most times only when our national football teams are playing. Other times, we go back to being Muslims or Christians, Northerners or Southerners or Middle Belters, or our different ethnic groups.
This lack of unity shows itself in even official ways such as our insistence on indigeneship, federal character and quota systems. It is very important to identify strongly with a region, ethnic group or religious faith if one is to benefit from being a Nigerian. This has made us to use parochial thinking in approaching every issue in Nigeria rather than looking at it from a nationalistic point of view.
This faulty foundation Nigeria is built on is, for me, our biggest drawback to our progress, not corruption. This is because it has prevented us having a common vision and being able to come together to move forward in a direction. We cannot even fight corruption if we will defend “our” people who engage in it.
It is the reason why every election season in Nigeria feels like a call to arms when different sides are making battle cries. It is the reason why events and circumstances that requires to act as one nation tears us apart the more.
How did we end up like this?
Contrary to popular belief, this lack of unity is not due to our artificial creation. Whenever I hear some Nigerians advocate for the ending of this forced marriage, I believe it is based on the erroneous assumption that nations such as ours that were cobbled together cannot stand together as one. However, a great many countries similar to us, even within Africa, have managed to forge a nation out of the motley assembly of peoples and ethnic groups that the colonialism formed their countries from.
What has been our bane mainly has been a lack of visionary leadership, where people who have ran the affairs of this country have lacked the foresight to make effort to forge a nation out of the country that was bequeathed to us by the British.
A country like Tanzania which is the most similar to Nigeria in terms of its diversity had the benefit of a visionary leader such as Julius Nyerere who inspired nationhood such that his people see themselves first and foremost as Tanzanians before anything else. One great tool he used was promoting Swahili as the national language such that the common tongue became the uniting force. This is similar to what Indonesia’s first leader, Suharto, did by promoting an entirely new language, Bahasa Indonesia, to unite more than 5,000 different islands into one nation.
How can we then go about our own?
While promoting one indigenous language to be uniting force is going to be quite impossible, we can employ other means to force together the unity.
As it is, Nigeria as a country is not structured for wealth creation, but wealth sharing. All the things that divide us are merely means to access that wealth either at the top by those we call our leaders or at the bottom as citizens.
The best way to force us into a unity is to use economic realities by restructuring Nigeria into a country where the emphasis is on each component unit generating its own wealth rather than sharing the proceeds of oil from the centre. In other words, it is about time Nigeria became a truly federal country, economically and politically.
In a system of full and fiscal federalism, each component unit is forced to generate revenue/wealth or die. As a result, the emphasis becomes more on performance and capacity of individuals rather than on their indigene status and other irrelevant sentiments. It brings competition between the states, not to share the spoils from the centre, but to generate wealth and become an attractive environment to live, work and do business.
In such a system, the inefficiencies of our current system and structure will have no place to hide, but they will be glaring obvious. It will also force the melding of our seemingly disparate ethnic nations and religious groups into a more cohesive singular nation.
Admittedly, these things will not happen immediately, but they will definitely happen once set on that path.
Let me give an example:
Of recent, there have been calls from a few Christian clergymen in Lagos State demanding that the next governor of the state in 2015 be a Christian, as only one out of the four elected governors in the state’s history was a Christian. This fact ought to have strengthened the case of the clergymen.
However, I noticed a lot of comments from Christians in the state and from the state lampooning this demand. For them, what matters most in 2015 is that whoever succeeds Governor Babatunde Fashola should be able to continue with the impressive work he has been doing so far and not derail the economic growth of the city-state.
This example makes clear the point I always make for true and fiscal federalism being the tool that can be used to force the integration of the Nigerian peoples.
Economics always, always trumps politics.
It is not by numerous dialogues that this will be achieved but by making people have an attitudinal change by changing the context in which that attitude exists.
The best thing the National Conference can achieve for Nigeria will be for it to agree on fiscal federalism for Nigeria and subject the result of the dialogue to a referendum for Nigerians to directly decide on it rather than taking it to the National Assembly where it is likely to languish in perpetuity and possibly watered-down.
It is about time that we moved from being a patchwork country to becoming a united nation.
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