The admonition of Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar Ill that God does not make mistakes, must have struck strong chords with members of both the Islamic and Christian Faiths in Nigeria.
The assumption above is underscored by the fact that people of the two major religions believe there is one God. That is a fundamental and critical point of convergence and common ground.
The main point of divergence in both religions is that Muslims believe that Muhammad is the Prophet of God while Christians believe in Jesus Christ as Son of God.
As individuals in our homes or offices, people differ in their views and beliefs, yet they, more often than not, remain same family or colleagues.
Apparently, President Muhammadu Buhari shares the belief because in his Sallah message he attributed Nigeria’s unity to God and underscored it with the African proverb, which states that “ A family tie is like a tree, it can bend but it can’t break”.
So, in my considered opinion, bringing the omnipotence of the almighty God into the issue of a United Nigeria by the Sultan of Sokoto, is a master stroke that’s bound to resonate with the protagonists and antagonists in the current war of words over the vexed issue of whether to restructure or break up Nigeria.
The eminent Sultan seem to have brought in a new perspective which could be referred to as a paradigm shift in the dialogue which has so far featured incendiary comments from both sides of the debate that have frayed nerves.
And all these happened during a recent Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC forum in Abuja, where the leader of the Muslim Faith in Nigeria sued for a peaceful resolution of the schism through dialogue. He made the case that the formation of Nigeria is divine by stating, “Because we didn’t fall from the sky, we came from somewhere. We became Nigeria in 1914 through amalgamation. People are shouting that our coming together as a country in 1914 was mistake, but God doesn’t make mistakes. If God doesn’t want such a thing as Nigeria to happen, nobody could ever have made it happen.”
He added: “If restructuring will make life better and convenient, then the think-tank, after their work, would call for stakeholders dialogue for the way forward.”
In a nutshell, what the sultan is advocating is that as a nation, Nigerians should celebrate what binds us, not what divides us as we are currently doing by driving a wedge between the various through hate speeches. On the first day of October every year, we celebrate Independence Day. That’s because on that date in 1960, Nigeria secured independence from British colonial rule. But in 1914, the north and southern protectorates of the British Empire were amalgamated by fiat. And Sultan Abubakar lll has now the union of the north and South by the Britain as God’s design, which is quite refreshing. As earlier stated, Sultan’s perspective is quite illuminating and offers a common ground for dialogue.
As we say in Christian marriages, “what God has joined together, let no man put asunder”? And that’s what the highly respected monarch appearing to be echoing. That makes a God focused and sustained path to peace in Nigeria, now open for exploration. To that effect, it behoves of religious leaders of the two major faiths practiced in Nigeria, as well as traditional rulers from both the north and south, to seize the initiative from some unscrupulous politicians who selfishly exploit Nigerians by dwelling on what divides us more than what binds us as a nation. To build on Sultan Abubakar lll introduction of God into the initiative for peaceful and sustainable existence of Nigeria, l would like to recommend the cementing of the marriage between the north and south by proposing that Nigeria should start celebrating Amalgamation Day.
Obviously, Independence Day celebration became a prominent annual event marked with pomp and pageantry in Nigeria because our former colonial masters, Britain, initiated it. Since more often than not, our leaders were led by the nose by the colonialists and are still caught up in neo-colonial mindset, instead of having their own initiative of making 1914 an epochal occasion that marked our unification, October 1, 1960 Independence Day, has become one of the most important dates celebrated in our country.
Put succinctly, instead of Amalgamation Day being given a pride of place that it deserves and celebrated, as it should, Independence Day from Britain has been taking centre stage in Nigeria. As a pathway to national unity, which most Nigerians are yearning for, the presidency must without further delay send to the National Assembly, NASS, and a bill to proclaim national Amalgamation Day to be celebrated by all Nigerians. That is one way we can focus on the chords that bind us which are aplenty, as opposed to dwelling on factors that divide us. To confirm the socio-economic linkages between Nigerians across the northern and southern parts, apocryphal stories have been told of Okonkwo and Sons shop-a trading point established by an lgbo man in Kano state-several decades ago.
The shop grew to become a thriving commercial post that later transformed into a town now known as Kwakwanso. It is from that town that Musa Kwakwanso, a former two times governor of Kano state and now a serving senator hails from and origin of his name. As a reporter in Nigeria Television Authority, NTA Newline in the mid 1980s, l followed a cattle trail from the northern to eastern parts of Nigeria and met a Hausa man, named Musa in Enugu who was born there when his parents were located there several decades ago, in the cause of trading their cattle. He spoke flawless lgbo and without Hausa accent or inflections to the extent that, l could not have known that he was Hausa, if he had not been identified as such. He too had started bearing offspring that had become deeply entrenched in glob culture and way of life.
If both Okonkwo in Kano and Musa did not find their far-flung locations from their native homes accommodating, they would not have flourished. And if the instances of integration between the Okonkwo in Kano and Musa in Enugu could happen without facilitation by government through any significantly coordinated effort, you can imagine how culturally blended Nigerians could have been, had strategic efforts been consistently made by the authorities to cement the relationship which Sultan Abubakar has declared as being divine. And l wholeheartedly agree with the highly revered monarch, because l can relate to the fact that nothing happens without God’s knowledge. To be fair, putting Nigerian youths through National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) to blend culturally by being posted to areas different from their natural habitats, was aimed at getting them to understand through integration and appreciation of the lifestyles of fellow Nigerians in distant locations from home.
But the policy, which was introduced in t 1973, now appears to have been derailed from what the initiators had in mind because the principles have been compromised as youths now dodge it by bribing government officials who supervise the scheme. Also, it did not help that NYSC members were engaged in the conduct of political office election processes as it endangers the lives of the youths who have suffered lynching and other untold murderous incidents during and after elections in some northern states. As such, parents are justifiably, no longer releasing their children to serve in environments where their lives are endangered.
It may also be recalled that the concept of Unity Schools where students from across the geo-political zones were admitted into schools far from home, was also introduced to encourage cultural integration amongst Nigerian youths. But all those noble objectives and initiatives of the golden days of Nigeria have now become memories of the distant past. So it boggles the mind that authorities are acting surprised that our youths are spending their idle time cursing out one another on social media platforms. Do we need a rocket scientist to teach us that the way we make our bed is the way we will lay on it? What the foregoing kindergarten rhyme indicates is that we are reaping what we sowed by not preparing our youths to understand and respect each other’s culture and beliefs. That’s partly accountable for the resort to trading hate speeches in social media platforms coalescing into lgbo youths Biafran state agitation and Arewa quit notice to the lgbo. At the height of their governorship of Delta and Bauchi states, some ten years ago, Governors James Ibori and Ahmed Muazu, led traditional leaders from their states on cultural exchange visits. The initiative which was a positive step towards building of friendship between people of both states was discontinued after both Governors left the scene at the completion of their tenures in 2007.
The Governor’s forums of both the APC and PDP, the two leading political parties, and the various regional governors forums, should consider reigniting that positive initiative by the pair of lbori and Mu’azu. If such forum for enlightenment was in existence, perhaps, the youths from across the north and south would understand each other better and not literarily be at each other’s throat as they currently are. It is disheartening to know that, it is the fallout of the negligence of youths that has so rankled the authorities, and as an antidote to the unedifying activities on the Internet, government is now toying with the idea of stymying of freedom of speech in the social media via monitoring by the military.
Clearly, curtailing the freedom of youths on social media platforms is a threat to their fundamental human rights. Democracy is fragile, so we can’t afford to handle it harshly with military force. As Thurgood Marshall, one time Supreme Court Justice of the United States of America, USA once posited “We must dissent, be cause America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better” It is high time authorities eschewed militaristic governance style reflected in their crude and poorly formulated draconian policies. Our leaders must start engaging in critical thinking with a view to coming up with democratically acceptable and sustainable solutions for progress in the society and prosperity for all Nigerians. Why don’t we dig deep to see how our leaders past steered the ship of state from falling off the precipice of prejudice and inequality?
For instance, the NYSC and Unity schools were formulated by Nigerian technocrats and l believe such people are not in short supply in today’s public service system, so they should be engaged. President Buhari and the ruling party APC should make it part of the change they promised Nigerians. Not many people remember that several years ago, Japan colonised China. That’s simply because it has remained a sore point which the Chinese are not proud of, so the experience is bitter, and as such, it is not celebrated. On the other hand, the example of Germany, which recently reunified after tearing down the Berlin Wall that hitherto separated the West from East Germany, is worthy of emulation by Nigeria.
In conclusion, Aso Rock villa in collaboration with the NASS must dedicate time and resources towards nurturing the peaceful and egalitarian Nigeria that most of us are clamouring for. Merely romanticizing it by our leaders won’t make it happen. Only purposefully designed and implemented policy actions that reflect equity and justice will make peaceful co-existence happen because equity, justice and peace go paripasu. So our leaders should stop equivocating and do what they were elected to do-put on their thinking caps in order to come up with ‘out of the box’ solutions and stop being pedantic.
• Magnus Onyibe, a development strategist, USA is a former member of the Delta State Cabinet