Still a Divided Nation


Independence Special

Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Shola Oyeyipo write that the Nigerian dream of her founding fathers has suffered many setbacks

Tobechukwu Anazonwu was a teenager when his parents were forced to flee Kano, which he had considered home until then. The mob that attacked them came at night. They were lucky to have received a hint from a kind hearted indigene, a few minutes before their home was surrounded and set on fire. With little or nothing, his parents and three siblings managed to make their way back to their homestead in the South-east. That dastardly incident left very bad memories on his impressionable mind. For his parents, it was the second time they were experiencing a pogrom in Northern Nigeria.

To be sure, ugly tales of violent riot aimed at the massacre or persecution of an ethnic or religious group abound in every section of Nigeria. Every section of the country is guilty of having poured the venom of hate on their compatriots. Nearly every ethnic group in Nigeria has suffered from it.

Fifty-Nine years after Nigeria attained independence, one cannot really say that the country is united. The damnjng verdict is that Nigeria is terribly divided. Nigeria and Nigerians are divided. The people can hardly talk with one voice without their primordial sentiments setting in. National cohesion is threatened by various sentiments.

Ordinarily, the founding fathers of Nigeria were never pretentious at the onset about the fact that the nation they were forging was divided along various fault lines such as language, ethnicity, religion, socio-cultural backgrounds and other factors. This grim reality is etched on the country’s coat of arms: ‘Unity in Diversity.’

At independence on October 1, 1960, the leaders were hopeful and jubilant that if the diversities in Nigeria were properly annexed and placed on the global table for economic and political negotiations, the country would rank among the most developed in the world. Sadly, the Nigerian dream has suffered many setback.

Tony Uranta, Executive Secretary, Nigeria National Summit Group (NNSG) agrees that Nigeria is far from becoming a nation. His worse fears are that the country is right now fragmentised into zones, with forces of disunity at play than even during the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-1970.

He noted that the previously held notion of a homogenous Northern Nigeria was a ruse as recents events have revealed. He said, “The Middle Belt region appears adamant on being recognised as a distinct entity separate from what many are now calling the core North.

Prince Osibote, President of the Oduaa Peoples Congress (OPC) explains why the world view of the average Nigeria is limited by ethnicity. “Nigeria as a nation is the product of colonialism, a collection of multi ethnic and religious groups merged together by imperialists without consultation, without consent. As a result of these, Nigeria despite her God given potentials in being rich in natural and human resources has experienced and continues to suffer different forms of challenges ranging from political corruption, underdevelopement , insecurity, nepotism and ethno religious strife.

The challenges are real, with over 250 ethnic groups and because every group is jostling for recognition and prominence,they employ all manners of method to agitate. Some of the approaches used often pose a great threat to our corporate existence and development as a nation. Most of the crisis that pervade our space today are ethnic by nature but are often disguised as religious. What about the seeming imbalance in government today? The south east region is shouting marginalization, the south-south is talking about under developement and environmental degradation.”

The increasing revolt from the South-east, with a greater number of its population pressing for a chance to opt of is strongly presented by Mr. Elliot Ugochukwu Uko, President of the Igbo Youth Movement (IYM). He argued, “Nigeria made it impossible for her citizens to assume nationalistic posture in their thinking through the undeserved punishment meted out to Ndigbo since 1970. Everybody knew that millions of Ndigbo whose bank accounts were seized (and a paltry £20)allowed them in 1970, were not informed by Nzeogwu, Adegboyega, Ifeajuna and co about a coup in January 1966.Everybody knew that they were slaughtered all over northern Nigeria and in Lagos, Ibadan and Abeokuta in their thousands all through the repulsive and horrendous well planned pogroms of 1966 that inspired secession and outright war. Yet everybody tacitly approved or at least condoned the war of attrition and scorched earth policy visited on Ndigbo by successive governments since 1970.Both the oppressed and onlookers know for a fact that, there is no justice in Nigeria. It against the law nature for the oppressed to patriotic and nationalistic. The oppressed will only remain aggrieved, bitter and angry until Justice and equity is enthroned. Even the oppressor himself and the minorities are not nationalistic because the winner takes all attitude of the oppressor ensues a dog eat dog culture of every man to himself. A great bane of nation building.”

In an April 2012 research titled, ‘A Historical Survey of Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria,’ published by the Canadian Center of Science and Education, a Nigerian scholar, Mr. Ray Ikechukwu Jacob, traced the history of ethnicity and ethnic conflicts in Nigeria back to pre-colonial era and the “transgressions” that forced the ethnic groups of the northern and southern provinces to become an entity called Nigeria in 1914.

He said, “In the case of Nigeria situation, disturbing history of colonialism, this generated hatred and conflict among different ethnic groups. The task of addressing this seed of conflict planted by the British has been a complex one.

“After weakening the former diverse kingdoms and emperors now called Nigeria and reordering the groups’ politics, the colonial powers failed in nation building and providing for the people’s basic needs. Hence, unemployment, poverty increased and with these, conflict over scarce resources. The Southern and Northern protectorates were also being amalgamated into a nation. Thereafter, the merging of different colonies into one country called Nigeria was forcefully done without the people’s consent. This was a major seed of conflict that is still troubling Nigeria today.”

Nothing can be more factual than this extrapolation.

Uko regrets the missed opportunities. He argued that Nigeria held better promise than Philippines, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, South Africa and Ghana by 1960.
These hope were dashed by self-inflicted malaise like ethnic divisions, military intervention, poor governance and emergence of a predatory political class that thrives on the sheer exploitation of religious and regional differences to cover their mindless mismanagement of our collective future, has regrettably been our lot as a people.

“Mutual distrust, unending suspicion and an unhealthy desire to dominate others fuelled an unhelpful political and social culture that has finally given the giant of Africa an unenviable image in the world,'” Uko said.

“Her citizens are disrespected globally, at every Airport, dominate population counts at prisons all over the world and feature prominently amongst floating corpses of migrants found on the Mediterranean every week, whereas her elite club( who represent less than 5% of the population, but control 90% of her resources) celebrates the “good times ” with glasses of choice cognac in Ikoyi,Victoria Island, Lekki, Maitama and Asokoro.

These same gluttonous and coscienceless elite, whose kids notoriously paint red the night club circuits beside every ivy league institution, even as they shamelessly sustain every unreasonably super expensive health care facility in the world with their unearned Nigeria oil wealth cash, will undoubtedly take over our media space this week to tell us how well Nigeria has done and is doing.”

In the first republic, when Nigeria was divided into three geopolitical regions; Western, Eastern and Northern regions, the political parties that emerged were not nationalistic. They operated mostly within the confines of their regions.

The Nigerian People’s Congress (NPC) represented the Hausa/Fulani, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) was basically and Igbo Eastern party, while the Action Group (AG) took its root and stabilised in Yoruba speaking Western region.

There were others such as Borno Youth Movement (BYM), Democratic Party of Nigeria and Cameroon (DPNC), Dynamic Party (DP), Igala Union (IU), Igbira Tribal Union (ITU), Midwest Democratic Front (MDF), National Independence Party (NIP), Niger Delta Congress (NDC), Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), Northern People’s Congress (NPC), Northern Progressive Front (NPF), Republican Party (RP), United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC), United National Independence Party (UNIP) and the Zamfara Commoners Party (ZCP), but they all had their ethnic colourations.

When after independence, the north, which already had more population strength, won more seats in federal parliament than the combination of the West and East, a development that laid the foundation for northern domination in Nigeria’s political space up till present time, it gave birth to political chaos in the country.

That late prominent Yoruba politician and leader back then, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was the Premier of the Western region, was accused of attempting to overthrow the government, gave birth to resentment between the AG – Yoruba government and the central government and Awolowo was eventually convicted and imprisoned.

The political unrest that characterised that period obviously led to Nigeria’s first military coup of January 15, 1966. It was perceived as tribally motivated. It was led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna and their fellow rebel soldiers who were mostly southerners. They violently took over government and Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa; Premier of Northern Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello; Prime Minister of the West, Samuel Akintola; Premier of the West; Finance Minister, Festus Okotie-Eboh were all assassinated.

There are still suspicions that the President back then, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe may have deliberately ‘fled’ the country because he might have been informed about the impending coup by his kinsmen.

What came to be known as ‘July Rematch’, a retaliatory coups led by late Lt. Colonel Murtala Mohammed, was a revenge by many northern military officers against the killings of northern politicians and officers by mostly Igbo soldiers and eventually, the first republic collapsed with the secession quest of Igbo Biafras and the ensuing civil war from 1966–70. The rest is now history. But it’s more of an history waiting to repeat itself because the leaders don’t seem to learn from it.

The second republic was relatively short and rather uneventful. It lasted just between 1979–1983, but the politics of the era was not necessarily devoid of the usual sectional and tribal sentiments that shaped the first republic.

The six political parties of that era; Greater Nigerian People’s Party (GNPP), National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Nigeria Advance Party (NAP), Nigerian People’s Party (NPP), People’s Redemption Party (PRP) and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), though with relatively larger national spread, were still strongly tailored along the interests of the various sections of the country where they have greater influence and support.

With a northerner, Alhaji Shehu Shagari at the helm of affairs, it was only some vocal westerners such as late educationist, Tai Solarin and a professor of Mechanical Engineering, Ayodele Awojobi, who openly castigated the election that produced the president back then. Shagari’s northern elites simply considered the government as theirs. This continued to polarise the nation further.

General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (rtd) and his late second-in-command, General Tunde Idiagbon were the main actors in military junta that gave birth to the third republic.

Their attempt at reintroducing democracy after seizing power from the current civilian president, who was then a military head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari, did not really see the light of the day.

Babangida, a Hausa-Fulani, annulled the 1993 presidential elections believed to have been won by a prominent southerner of Yoruba extraction, in what majority of international observers considered as the fairest and most-free election ever conducted in Nigeria.

In some quarters, the perception was that the annulment was simply part of ploys to perpetuate of the Hausa-Fulani hegemony in power, and that as such, it was ethnically motivated.

If not annulled, the June 12, 1993 election was considered as capable of correcting the sectional sentiments that come with Nigerian political parties and elections. There were just two political parties; National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Nigerians voted without all the sectional considerations that shaped previous elections.

When IBB annulled the election, the country was thrown into chaos. There were sustained protests in the South, especially in the South-west. Many Yorubas who have been disgruntled by the continued domination of Nigeria’s political space by the Hausa-Falani ethnic group took to the streets in wild protests. They were initially jubilant that one of their own, Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, was coasting to victory before the election was annulled.

IBB bowed out of office on August 23, 1993. Ernest Shonekan, a Yoruba business man, and the head of IBB’s transition team, assumed the office as the president as the head of the interim national government as a way to manage the South west agitation.

After the death of General Sani Abacha in 1998, General Abdusalami Abubakar who took over from him put in place a transition programme gave led to the fourth republic in 1999. There were the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), and Alliance for Democracy (AD).

Former military head of state and a southerner, Olusegun Obasanjo was elected on the PDP platform. On 29 May 1999, Obasanjo was sworn in as President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Many observers of the Nigerian politics knew a southerner had to emerge because if not, the chaos would not have ceased. The southerners felt cheated, hence they were pacified.

Presently, there are various crises in Nigeria, including ethnic-religious crisis, agitation for resource control, demand for break-up of the country, religious disunity instigated by Boko Haram insurgency, communal clashed, politically motivated polarisation, sectional interests, massive corruption and the combination of all these and more, is threatening the country’s unity and national development.

The situation is further worsen by the incumbent leadership of President Buhari, who has shown no iota of remorse for his penchant to give priority consideration to his northern kinsmen in the most sensitive appointments. This is even made worse by the fact that in the build up to his first term election, religious and ethnic sentiments were freely deployed during campaigns.

Most of his service chiefs were northerners, precipitating outcries from other sections of the country, and despite the heinous crimes committed by Fulani herdsmen, who are his people, there are not many cases of arrest, prosecution and punishment of perpetrators of the killings that were attributed to the herders.

Rather than address these germane issues, particularly, restructuring, not only has the government been fiddling with the Inland Water Ways Bill rejected by the 8th National Assembly, the government faced heated debate from across Nigeria when it attempted to introduce cattle settlements called RUGA for Fulani herdsmen in all 36 states of the federation.

However, all hope is not lost. Uranta believes that true patriots know that a united Nigeria is still very possible. He said, “We will use every platform and channel available to cement this country together, since there are more commonalities to glue us in unity, than there are differences to tear us apart.”

The OPC Leader Osibote thinks it is still possible to work for national unity and Pan Nigerian consciousness through an organisation like his. According to him, “OPC is not out to erode national unity. You will recall that our Late leader, Dr Fredrick Fasehun was at the forefront of the agitation for a Sovereign National Conference, SNC. The OPC had gone to the rooftops to exclaim, agitate and mobilize, invested all manner of resources to shout both home and abroad that the survival of Nigeria as a nation and the survival of her democracy lies in the convening of a SNC where Nigerians will forge a federation based on mutual trust and agreement.”