Nigeria’s unity: negotiable or not? By Azuka Onwuka

Anytime a Nigerian leader – past or present – says that Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable, it indicates that there is something wrong with Nigeria’s unity. It means that the unity of Nigeria is shaky and uncertain. Leaders of countries that are certain of their unity do not regularly discuss the unity of such countries. It is taken for granted that the unity of such a country is not an issue.
However, that the unity of Nigeria is always an issue for discussion is a pointer that all is not well. For example, some countries that are not democratic sometimes have “democratic” as part of their name. Some agencies that are not independent sometimes have “independent” as part of their name. Like Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, said, a tiger does not proclaim its tigritude. The moment a tiger reminds everyone that it is a tiger, then there is something wrong with the tiger: it may be lame or seriously sick and therefore unable to show the stuff tigers are made of.
That is the case with Nigeria and its unity. Nigeria’s unity has been hanging in the balance even before Independence in 1960. There were always threats of pulling out by the regions. Consequently, during the debates over what would be in the Independence Constitution, the regions wanted a clause inserted that each region could pull out anytime it was no longer happy with the union. That argument was eventually defeated and dropped. But it did not stop the agitations. Seven years after Independence, Nigeria fought a 30-month civil war over the same issue. Since the end of the war in 1970, there have been agitations about the unity of Nigeria. The argument has been that there is a need for Nigerian ethnic groups to sit down and negotiate the terms of living together since the existing terms have not fostered peace, unity, and progress.
Therefore, when people talk about Nigeria and focus on Nigeria’s unity, they are simply putting the cart before the horse. The unity of Nigeria is not the most important or fundamental issue in Nigeria. The most fundamental issue is the welfare and well being of Nigerians: that is, Nigerians should have a good and safe life.
It is even insensitive and selfish to focus on Nigeria’s unity without first thinking about the safety, happiness, progress, and peace of Nigerians. It is like coming into a marriage where a man and woman fight every week, smashing each other’s head and destroying the TV, the car, house window, etc, and your primary concern is that they must live together under the same roof because you argue that divorce is abominable. What if you receive a call that one has killed the other shortly after you left? Don’t you know that you have a hand in that murder?
The first thing to do in such an ominous situation is not to hammer unity in their ears, but to keep the couple apart (even if temporarily), so as to avoid murder, and then look into their problem to find a lasting solution to the recurring crisis.
Nigeria was not created by God. It was created by the United Kingdom purely for British empire interests. So there is nothing sacrosanct about its unity.
I don’t pray about the unity of Nigeria. When I pray for Nigeria, I pray for wisdom and foresight to fall on Nigerians. I pray that whatever will bring peace and progress among Nigerians should happen. If it is total and honest restructuring that will transform Nigeria, let it happen. But if it is a peaceful separation that will solve Nigeria’s problem and give the different peoples of Nigeria a better life, let it happen. Unity is not the be-all and end-all of life.
That unity is important did not stop the Anglicans, the Lutherans, etc from disagreeing with the Roman Catholic Church and going their own separate ways. That unity is beautiful did not stop the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Winners Chapel, Charismatic Renewal, The Synagogue of All Nations, Christ Embassy, the Lord’s Chosen, etc, from emerging from the Anglican or Catholic Church and other churches and being on their own. Each one is running its affair in peace today.
The Jackson 5 (later known as The Jacksons) was made up of blood brothers – created by God. But when they felt they could no longer continue as one group of musicians, they parted ways. Michael Jackson became a superstar. Jermaine Jackson shone. Randy Jackson shone. Others shone in their own ways too. Janet Jackson came up later and shone too.
Similarly, The Wailers were doing well as a reggae band. But when internal strife became too much, they parted ways. Peter Tosh left and shone. Bob Marley shone and was crowned the King of Reggae.
The USSR, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, United Kingdom, India, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Sudan, etc were once respectively one. At certain points, each of them broke up peacefully or through crises. Some went on to do well, while some struggled.
One thing that has worked for countries is wisdom: either country is formed mainly on homogeneous lines or heterogeneous countries sit down to fashion out a wonderful working arrangement that recognises their respective identities and grants each component sufficient amount of freedom to pursue its dreams.
In this regard, Europeans have proved to be the smartest people in the world. Do you know that once you step out of the UK, there is no country whose indigenous language is English in Europe? Virtually every European country has its own language. It is only in Austria that you have German as its national language in addition to German being the indigenous language of Germany. But then Austria is “Germany” with a different name. Then in few countries like Switzerland and Belgium, you see them with two or three languages because of their peculiar history. Countries like Switzerland and Belgium have created a wonderful working arrangement that ensures that peace and progress reign.
Spain and Portugal lie side by side in the Iberian peninsula. Spain speaks Spanish, Portugal speaks Portuguese. Each minds its own business.
Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland are called the Nordic countries. Each is a country with its own language, including Iceland that has 360,000 people. All five Nordic counties have a combined population of 27 million. Germany is beside the Netherlands and is close to France, Czech Republic, Poland, Italy, and Luxembourg. Yet each of them has its own language and lives its own life in peace.
Even when countries like USSR, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia merged different peoples together to feel big, they eventually realized that it was not working, and dissolved into smaller homogeneous countries to give themselves peace and happiness.
Ironically, it is the same Europe that went round the world amalgamating peoples with different languages and opposing worldviews because of their business interests and ended up creating problems across Asia, Africa, and South America. Some of their victims have used wisdom to solve their problems. Others are still wandering in the wilderness, praying for a miracle to happen.
Nigeria is the biggest example of a country that was poorly merged together that has not tried to find a solution to its structural problem. Rather than confront it and solve it, it has continued to avoid any discussion on it with the hope that it will wake up one day and discover that the problem has disappeared. But rather than disappear, the problem has continued to worsen, with the future becoming uncertain and even frightening.
It is said that time and tide wait for no man. So as Nigeria continues to avoid discussing and negotiating its unity, the clock continues to tick.
Written By Azuka Onwuka