Iyobosa Uwugiaren in Abuja
A political-economist scholar and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, has said that Nigeria is in dire need of real federalism, not as a magical solution to all the country’s problems, but as a platform for an honest and robust engagement with ethnic and religious differences.
He said stressed the need to give the federating units a deep sense of belonging on the basis of which they can willingly, and hopefully buy into the national project.
The PDP chieftain warned that to continue to ignore a federal system of governance is to play the proverbial Ostrich with head in sand even as its vast body is embarrassingly exposed, and urged the media to rise up to the challenges of nation building.
‘’It is like pretending that our ethnic and other differences do not exist or that they will quietly fade away if we ignore them,’’ he said, while giving keynote address at a colloquium organised by the Enugu State Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Enugu during the weekend.
“Today, Nigeria is troubled; we are faced with uncertainties. We are tackled from all fronts by security challenges including food security, social security, housing security, territorial security etc.
“Nigeria is pummeled from every side by habits that seemed alien to our environment. Sometimes, Nigerians wake up wondering if they will still have a country by evening. The challenges are enormous but the labourers are fewer. This where the media is needed more than ever before.’’
In a paper titled ‘Media and National Integration in Nigeria,’’ Okonkwo argued that national integration is the recognition and awareness of a common identity amongst citizens of a country, along with deliberate and sustained effort to nurture such an identity in pursuit of national unity.
He said it starts with the recognition of entrenched differences in society and how such differences can be coalesced towards a common identity and interest to help foster a united, strong and prosperous nation.
‘’Most nation-states like Nigeria are composed of multiple languages, ethnicities, races, religions, cultures, among others and national integration strives to find ways to reconcile all diversities to forge strong national solidarity.
“In practical terms, how for instance, do we get Igbos, Yorubas, Hausas and other groups to prioritise their identity as Nigerians over their ethnic and regional peculiarities? Attempting to square this circle is the challenge of national integration efforts the world over.
“In reality, various countries have tried to resolve the perennial tension between the National and the Regional by embracing some form of Federal system of government unique to their situations’’, he further argued.
He blamed the Military for distorting the nation’s political structure, saying through decrees, the military eviscerated the autonomy of the regions and retained federalism in name only.
‘’Unfortunately, this has remained the situation ever since, despite 20 years of uninterrupted civilian governance since 1999.
‘’As previously observed, nation-states with vast diversities have often found federalism an effective political tool in managing differences because it starts with the particular/regional and builds out to the national. Put differently, Federalism strives to forge a national character out of individual character which perhaps, helps explain the political aphorism- unity in diversity’’, he added.
Taken into context, Nigeria’s journey towards national integration, the political science expert said that it is as old as independent Nigeria and said that it was for reasons of integrating the people of the northern and southern protectorates that the people of both ends were amalgamated in 1914 by the Lord Lugard administration.
He argued that events have shown that it will be difficult to force unity on a people, adding that a people desirous of unity must work for it and agree to form a united front.
Explaining many initiatives like, state creation; the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC); federal character principle; establishment of unity schools; relocation of the Federal Capital from Lagos to Abuja; revenue sharing formula; establishment of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and others, the PDP’s chieftain said that Nigeria has never been lacking in efforts at national integration, saying it would seem that the harder it tried, the less success it achieves.
He attributed the major impediments to national integration in Nigeria to include, hunger for power and primitive accumulation of wealth by elites which continues to generate deep seated animosity and lack of trust in political leaders at all levels, especially at the centre where power is overly concentrated.
He added, ‘’The pervasiveness of corruption in Nigeria is broadly linked to poverty, hunger illiteracy, unemployment, lack of access to resources, cronyism, marginalisation, among others which contribute to the perennial tension and disaffection among ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.
‘’Exploitation of ethnicity for personal (political and economic) reasons by elites, especially political leaders who routinely use divide and conquer strategies to achieve their goals.