There are two basic questions that must be answered by all of us Nigerians. One, do we want to remain as one country, Nigeria? Two, if the answer is yes, under what conditions?
Chief Bola Ige
Re-arranging my library for activities of the New Year, I stumbled on the book ‘Nigeria is negotiable’ by prominent journalist and essayist, Chido Onumah. I have previously read some essays in the book, I must say that this profound writer and essayist is one of kind with the way he captures the issues of the Nigerian community in politics, education and nation-building. He writes from the perspective of a neutral observer who is not an ordinary observer but a nation-builder, a progressive thinker and embodiment of intellectual gifting and of course a person of powerful oratory.
Away from the writer, the book has a beautifully designed cover with an inscription of the above question quote by late Attorney-General, Chief Bola Idowu Ige. The question is one that the Nigerian people has shifted the responsibility of answering to younger generations from decade to decade and as we begin a new decade, it is imperative that the Nigerian nation and society embarks on a quest to answer this question that is germane to our progress and collective development as individuals, nationalities and a ‘country’ if we decide to remain together.
The Northern and Southern Protectorates of the Niger area British colony were amalgamated in 1914 by the then Governor-General, Lord Fredrick Lugard. Although there are no publicly available information or documents about the amalgamation edict, that does not alienate us from reasonable questions such as who are the witnesses to the edict?, who signed on behalf of the north?, who signed on behalf of the South?, under what conditions were the agreement made? The absence of answers to this questions will undoubtedly make one conclude that it is either there were no Nigerians present at the amalgamation or maybe as the slaves they were taken to be, they had no right to be informed about a decision that will later affect their future and generational existence. This unproven fact continuously pose threats to the existence of this country and to the unity of her people. Realistically speaking, the nationalist of this country who agitated for our independence could not have been present as they were far too young to be considered entities in the decision making process of the British colonial government. As at the time of the amalgamation, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was only five years old, Azikwe was 10, and Tafawa Balewa was just two years old. They obviously could not have been present at the signing of the edict.
This unveils Nigeria as a British experiment created to ease governance and administrative duties of the then slave masters with no intention to fraction out or create an indissoluble state or national entity out of it. Although the trial was made, the idea started falling apart before independence and a little after regaining freedom from colonial masters. This idea of one nation Nigeria continues to fall apart by the day and many political actors of our current polity have left this question unanswered, myopically clinging to the statements of the ‘fraudulent constitution’ which so far has not successfully brought about peaceful co-existence and national integration.
Without mincing words, there is no peace in the land, there are no patriots who are genuinely concerned with the growth and development of our country without ulterior motives, everybody goes about his/her business with a sense of ethnical belonging and tribal bigotry other than true nationalistic values aimed at building integration with our brothers of different languages and this continually reminds the country of this profound question of whether we want to continue to live together as one country and under what conditions.
In recent times, those who have stood against secession are not necessary patriots and nationalists, most times, some of them are terribly corrupt people and or government officials who profit greatly from the forced marriage of Nigeria not minding whether the resources of the land directly profits the indigenous people of it or not. One the other hand, some other group who do not want a divorce are power drunk and ethic bigots amongst our sick northern brothers who thinks that Nigeria is a private enterprise handed over to them in 1960, they think that the South is a conquered territory and for this reason, they were born to rule and must remain in power for ever not minding the provisions of the constitution and the sanity of their opinions in a twenty first century world where people have the right to choose where they want to be and who will be their leader. Many of these uninformed opinions are the reason why we have deliberate weaponisation of poverty and illiteracy, state sponsored terrorism, unrest and disunity in the country.
Regardless of whatever anybody thinks, the Nigerian project has failed and is still failing. Although there are people who genuinely want to make Nigeria work for her own people, I think they are yet to come out from the disillusionment that the British plunged us into as a people. Nigeria cannot work under the unseen and unknown terms under which it was created by people who no longer exist in this century. A question of whether we should rethink our conditions of being together must be answered in no time to secure a place in the daily transforming African socio-economic polity and not to be left behind by the rest of the world.
Those who directly inherited Nigeria from the British colonial masters did not hope for long that Nigeria is a workable project. Although, the first prime minister is regarded as a nationalist, he was not optimistic about the future of Nigeria as an indissoluble entity. As a matter of fact, he clearly expressed his dislike for the people of the Igbo tribe which is unpatriotic for a national leader and also expressed his discontentment about what he referred to as just the British intention for the people.
Since 1914, the British Government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any sign of willingness to unite. Nigerian unity is only a British intention for the country.
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, 1949
Still speaking at the Northern House of Assembly in 1952, Sir Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who later became the Prime Minister of Nigeria (1960–1966), dismissed the amalgamation of Nigeria by the British Government. He declared as follows: “The Southern people who are swarming into this region daily in large numbers are really intruders. We don’t want them and they are not welcome here in the North. Since the amalgamation in 1914, the British Government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people are different in every way including religion, custom, language and aspiration. The fact that we’re all Africans might have misguided the British Government. We here in the North, take it that ‘Nigerian unity’ is not for us.”
Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Northern House of Assembly, 1952
Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Western Region also wrote in 1947 what could be explained as not only a discontentment about the Nigeria structure but also an advocacy for a review of the constitution (the terms of which they were united) that unless Nigeria is re-wired through its laws, it may just be a definition of a territory and not a united people.
“If rapid political progress is to be made in Nigeria, it is high time we were realistic in tackling its constitutional problems.
“Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no ‘Nigerians‘ in the same sense as there are ‘English‘, ‘Welsh‘ or ‘French‘,” Chief Awolowo in his book, Pathway to Nigeria’s freedom, (P. 47-48), said.
Although, there is hardly a statement doubting the unity of Nigeria traceable to the prominent nationalist of the Eastern Region, Dr Nnamdi Azikwe, the Igbos of the modern day have continued to agitate for a republic of their own following the unacceptable marginalisation of their tribe and hate speeches and ethnic rivalry the North has consistently raised against them. Many incidents that we have experienced in the past years and the attitude of the government towards responding to them also points to the urgency needed in answering the question. For example, the sluggish approach to defending the people of the East and Middle-belt, their farmlands and their homes from the brutal invasion of the Fulani herdsmen of the North. The failed RUGA project, the unnecessary Sharia implementations, the proscription of the IPOB as a terrorist organisation even though the Fulani herders is the third deadliest in the world, one of the greatest threat to the unity of the forced-amalgamation in recent times, is the brutal and brutish barbarism of the Fulani herdsmen whose madness does not have rhyme or rhythm. All they know is to spread grief, anguish and dreadful pain wherever they choose to display their unbridled cruelty and impunity. All these points to one fact. Although obscure, the fact is that some people think they are more entitled to Nigeria than others. This set of people promotes the course of a tribe and ethnic above national interest and integrational development. This people will stop at nothing to achieve their dream of political supremacy and royalty even if the approach will cost lives, shed bloods and desecrate the constitution and peaceful co-existence of the country.
Let us assume that there were Nigerians present to sign the 1914 amalgamation edict, it’s been more than a hundred years and many of those who lived around that time if not all are dead and no longer available to witness the genocidal ambitions that the edict has sprout up. The agreement was informed by the surrounding circumstances and now, we have an entirely different situation, and according to a statement by former America President, Abraham Lincoln.
The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.
Our present occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion, we must think a new and act a new. If a forcefully united Nigeria worked 1914, the hazard it poses to the African people is obvious and unacceptable in 2020. Chief Tola Adeniyi said and I paraphrase; Peradventure any tribe or section of the internally re-colonised and oppressed contraption called Nigeria wishes to opt out of the yoked marriage, it should be allowed to go in peace. The inevitable breakup if we do not go confederate, should be allowed without undue and mindless bloodshed which invariably will result in the same breakup.
As we usher in a new decade, we must be aware that the societal development goals we may be building are mirages if we do not unequivocally spell out the conditions on which we want to be together as a people. The inhabitants of the geographical location called Nigeria must be allowed a referendum to decide on whether they want to remain as one country and if the answer is yes, they must also decide under which conditions they intend to do that.