It was not for nothing that President Goodluck Jonathan, at the inauguration of the national conference this month, urged delegates to not venture into areas that would put the unity of the country in jeopardy, but focus on issues that would foster peaceful coexistence and mutual trust among its peoples. The president’s speech hit the nail on the head as at the mention of a national conference, most people’s minds were agitated that the sovereignty of Nigeria is about to be renegotiated.
Indeed as the president noted, our ability to stay together despite our acknowledged differences, when other countries are finding it difficult to meet that challenge, is a powerful statement by Nigeria to the world on the virtues of tolerance and unity. Those who speak in favour of the country breaking up merely react to spontaneous issues that crop up at certain times, and not due to a holistic appraisal of the benefits or otherwise of staying together. That is why immediately such concerns are addressed, the issue dies down and the aggrieved forget their agitations only for another section of the country similarly affected, to raise the matter until it also attracts attention.This could also explain why the demand for the breakup of the country keeps shifting from one side to the other proving further, that emotion, borne by anger and other such sentiments fuel such agitations.
At a time, it was the Northern part of the country that made the demand for a breakup of the country in the well-known ‘Araba’ protests, followed closely by the Igbo’s Biafra secession bid. Later after the annulment of the June 12 1993 elections, the Yoruba in the South West pained by the action also demanded a Sovereign National conference to discuss terms for remaining within Nigeria. Recent happenings at the conference, however, have drawn attention to the fact that we must tread cautiously so as not to give in to the naysayers who do not see the larger picture that a one united country presents.
Indeed, as somebody observed, the benefits of remaining as one indivisible nation, far outweighs the negative being peddled about. We are witnesses to how the once united Sudan bowed down to such pressures and carved itself into two countries in a process it thought would assuage ethnic and religious agitations, but no sooner had they finished with that than they began to have problems even within the components that days before were jubilating over the breaking up of the old Sudan. This should serve as a lesson to all that differences must occur at any level of human cohabitation and that the issue is not about succumbing to the easy prey of fragmentation but in making sacrifices that would lead to harnessing the bigger benefits.
One country which seemed to have realized this early enough was Germany which overcame the ideological divide and came together as one nation. To say that Nigeria stands out today because of its human resources is to put it mildly, as many nations of the world have come to envy where we are and regard us due to the economic advantage derivable.
Nigeria as well know presents an economic advantage to investors due to its human potential and we cannot lose sight of that advantage. That is why delegates at the national conference must not allow themselves to be carried away by emotion but must remain statesmanlike and true to their calling as elder statesmen. The Lamido of Adamawa apparently irked by what has been termed the ‘blackmail of northerners’ at the National Conference recently had cause to say that he and his people are not afraid of Nigeria’s disintegration.
His words:“If something happens and the country disintegrates, God forbid, many of those who are shouting their heads off will have nowhere to go. But I and the people of Adamawa and many others have got somewhere to go. I am the Lamido of Adamawa and my kingdom transcends Nigeria and Cameroon. The larger part of my kingdom is in the Republic of Cameroun and a part of that kingdom is in Chad Republic. Mr. Chairman, a part of that kingdom, in Cameroun there is a state called Adamawa presently in Cameroon. So, if I run to that place, I will easily assimilate”.
Predictably, his comments provoked a lot of comments with many in support and many others against. But while we struggle to comment, the bottom line should be that there is a need for us to have respect for one another, build on the positive aspects of our togetherness and exploit areas that would harness the potentials that this blessing bestows on us. Just as the President in his speech said, “We must begin to see ourselves as one community. We are joined together by similar hopes and dreams as well as similar problems and challenges. What affects one part of the community affects the other and urged the delegates to seize the opportunity of the conference to do more to further turn our diversity and plurality into unique national resources for strength and greatness.”
Saleh Ashaka is a journalist with the Voice of America.