By Fred Eno
This year we are celebrating the centennial anniversary of Nigeria, with its rich conglomeration of nations, creeds and tongues, all united in a common determination to live as one in a country they call their own. And before you take your seats, could we please take a moment of personal reflection in solidarity with our fellow citizens who at this very moment are still in captivity, abducted from their homes and schools, particularly our young sisters and daughters from the Chibok Secondary school for whom today marks Day 194, and those most recently abducted.
We also pray for speedy recovery of all those in our hospitals and clinics who have suffered various injuries, both innocent citizens and members of the armed forces as a result of terrorism, just as we pray for the peaceful repose of the souls of thousands more who lost their lives. We wish a quick and dignified return home for the over six million and counting, of our fellow citizens; women, children, the sick and the elderly who have had to flee, displaced from their homes, towns and villages and are now living a life of misery in camps as Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, or as refugees in neighbouring countries.
All these as a result of the insurgency activities committed by Nigerians against fellow Nigerians. The activities of Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’ Awati Wal-Jihad, aka Boko Haram, as appalling as they may seem today, are only symptomatic of our collective failure by letting conflicts fester between and amongst us.
Today, October 25th 2014 marks exactly 10 years since our dear friend and brother Hayi Mark Godwin, HMG, departed to be with his Creator. To us, Mark’s departure was sudden and too soon, as a result of an accident. But to his Creator, it was no accident. Our Creator neither makes mistakes nor does He do anything by accident. Mark’s life and time with us was ordained to be so. He served his purpose while on earth.
The reason we are gathered here today in his honour is to talk about our true purpose as citizens; for ourselves and for our dear country. To talk about our common desire for peace, for love and for unity in our land. Weather it was by the hand of Lugard, God in His wisdom created Nigeria and put us here. It was no mistake.
My dear friends, we began this glorious moment with applause and praise for Nigeria and a great statesman, Gen. Gowon. During his time leading this country through the civil war and half a decade thereafter, the paramount objective of his administration was captured in just two slogans; ‘To keep Nigeria one, is a task that must be done,’ and ‘Go on with on Nigeria’.
Given our current demography, the vast majority of Nigerians living today, over 67% of our current population were not even born at the time, and it is sad and unfortunate that this majority is being taught little or nothing about this important period in our nation’s history. The negatives of corruption, bad leadership, insecurity, religious and ethnic bigotry have so dominated our narrative as a nation that we have accepted them as the new normal. It is only natural that the positive things that we share suffer. Peaceful co-existence, tolerance, integrity in public service, credible elections and love, one for another, are no longer given prominence.
The good news, at least, is that the task of keeping Nigeria one was done. This group of young men in their twenties and thirties salvaged Africa’s greatest hope and restored Nigeria’s unity as one nation, and if I may add, indivisible under God. But the true heroes were the millions on both sides of the war whose blood was sacrificed that we may be one nation.
However, we cannot afford to be oblivious of the challenges we continue to encounter and endure as a nation united in blood and ordered by God. Even with the hope and great expectations of the post civil war era, and the verve and dynamism encapsulated by Dora Akunyili’s era of ‘Great Country, Good people’, we are yet to find the perfect elixir for harmonious co-existence.
Our promise as a nation, what I call ‘The Nigerian Promise’, remains a distant dream for too many of our compatriots today. We are citizens, yet settlers in the same space we are supposed to protect and preserve as one. How we continue to function as indigenous citizens of Nigeria and yet cannot be indigenes within the same territorial space called Nigeria because I moved from point A to point B is truly the biggest oxymoron of all times. Yet we claim to be building one Nigeria.
I am neither an alarmist nor a pessimist. Far from it. I am and will remain a firm believer, self-assured of the eventual realisation of the Nigerian Promise. The promise of a strong and united nation at peace with itself.The promise of a nation whose commonwealth, human and material, are equitably and efficiently utilised to serve the best interest of all the people.The promise of a nation whose citizens will serve her with dignity, pride and fairness.
That is the Nigerian promise, and I believe we can make it happen in our own life time, if we so choose.
My assurance of the promise of a great Nigeria, however, is constantly heightened and re-enforced by such interactions with Nigerians. Rather than be overwhelmed by the seemingly endless killings and destruction occasioned by the current wave of fundamentalist extremism, or even the feverish political rhetoric that is only aggravating an already bad situation, we must focus now like never before on what unites us a people. We must think, pray and speak to one Nigeria, rather than speaking in separate tongues.
The disconnect and breakdown of trust plays a significant role in the proliferation of conflicts in our land. The birth of armed and violent militancy in the Niger Delta was just as much a result of the decades of neglect and deprivation as it was of the petty minded, selfish and un-inspiring leadership of the elected officials of the region at the time.
Now Boko Haram, or Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’ Awati Wal-Jihad as they would like us to call them, their ascendancy and monstrous brutality in the North-east is exactly the same. The governors, legislators, (federal and state), emirs and politicians in the north east share a reasonable amount of responsibility for the escalation of this mayhem, just as the government at the centre. Peace and unity form the core of our most noble ideals. They are the fountains from which all patriotic zeal must flow. Our religions preach them. Our tribes and ethnic nationalities advocate them. True leaders and statesmen and women strife for them. Even our politicians, the good, the bad and the ugly mouth these words. Yet peace is gradually eluding us, while the state of our unity as a nation can scarcely be described as excellent.
Fred Eno, Executive Director at the International Crises Communicators Network in Geneva-Switzerland, can be reached via email@example.com