By Ikemesit Effiong
My morning routine usually consists of waking up, greeting the Lord and setting the agenda for the day with Him, freshening up, battling with my hair (not like the ladies do), go through the confusion of what to wear and then dash off to the car port only to dash back into the house to pick up something I need.
And note that I always dash back to the house. Always!
In the midst of the melee, my television is always humming in the background to either the sound of CNN’s World Report moniker followed by the faces of my faithful friends, John Vause or Rosemary Church or the banter of Channels Television’ Sunrise team (Is it only me who likes Suleiman Aledeh’s baritone?).
Recently though, I have revisited an old habit, watching Kakaaki on Africa Independent Television (AIT). It was on one such morning, during a sometime worn out conversation on the North-South dichotomy, that AIT’s Senami Omionokhae made quite a profound statement. She asked one of the well attired men in the studio who had ascribed the title of expert to himself, if part of Nigeria’s problem was that we see the nation’s many ills as ‘their’ problem and not ‘our’ problem?
The question of who is that indeterminate ‘their’, the ‘their’ who will finally release ‘our’ dear motherland from its present malaise and take ‘us’ to the everlasting light of concrete social, economic and political development has been a most perplexing one. Why this question has abided with us for so long is that it feeds off the popular perception of the masses that ‘their’ saviour would soon arise.
Nigeria has always been a fractured society and its strictures are made more glaring when you apply your mind to the circumstances of our corporate birth. While I won’t necessarily circumscribe to the opinion of one of my colleagues when he said that Lord Frederick Lugard is a … and launched into a bag full of expletives, in hind sight, the actions of Lugard seem bereft of wisdom or sound judgment from a post-Independence perspective.
But for how long will we blame the colonial legacy for our present woes? I circumscribe to the school of thought which essentially posits that my generation will not have the moral excuse of telling our children that “it was the British who did all this to us”. That argument has simply run its course and is now officially expired. We are the sole architect of our present dilemma. Let’s admit that fact.
The Jonathan administration has in its unquestioning wisdom decided to mark the centenary of our formation as a nation and while that idea is in itself insulting to our present circumstances and forgetful of our historical antecedents, it is indeed time we dwell on some pertinent questions that still remain unanswered a hundred years after Nigeria as an idea was born.
What is our identity as a nation? What do we stand for? Are we truly a nation in every sense of the word? Why do we make the same or similar comments to the one that Sir Ahmadu Bello made in 1953 when he said that the North is in danger of being swallowed by the South? If any part of our nation is apprehensive of its subjugation by another, it simply means that we still haven’t broken from our colonial mode of appraising national issues. It presupposes that we have not dealt with the central question of what it means to be a nation.
Why should a section of Nigeria leave another part of the country and say “That is their problem”. “They are the cause of all this”. “We have done all we can do”. If it is Boko Haram, “The North is responsible”. What about corruption. “All of them in power are responsible”. Militancy: “Those people in the Niger Delta are greedy”.
I was appalled beyond my senses when a senator from the North said that a solution to the Boko Haram insurgency would be to grant amnesty to the terrorists, “just like they did to their own people in the Niger Delta”. I agreed with the idea of amnesty in part – I have in an earlier piece said that it has been done in several other conflict hot spots globally – but the phrasing of the argument was disgusting.
It implied that the lawmaker wanted amnesty offered to murderers just because it had been done to an earlier set of murderers from another part of the country. On that score, the argument lost a lot of goodwill.
Do we really want this country to be divided? Do we really want to go our separate ways? I must caution here that history is not on our side. Out of the three great British amalgamations in history, two have broken up – violently. India in 1947 broke up into modern India and Pakistan which further subdivided in a civil war in the early 1970s to Pakistan and modern Bangladesh. Sudan is now the State of Sudan and South Sudan with the western part of the country bloodily campaigning to secede. We are the third amalgamation.
It is instructive to note that these countries divided along either ethnic or religious lines. Pakistan, Sudan, Bangladesh are all Muslim or Muslim dominated entities. India and South Sudan are societies with an admixture of ethnic, religious and social affiliations but are notably non-Muslim with a strong adherence to ethnic roots. Nigeria is not so different. My cousin in the middle of a heated political exchange once said that it is a miracle that Nigeria was still one.
The prospects of a divided Nigeria are best imagined. We seem to have developed a collective amnesia to the unique context we occupy. There are an estimated one and a half billion people of Negro extraction in the world today. Of that number, we are the single largest black political entity in the world. In other words, we are an example to an entire race. If we fail, we have in effect failed every member of the black race. India is not the largest Asian country, China is. Pakistan is not the largest Muslim nation of its kind in the world, Indonesia is. The same applies to Sudan. Do you get my point now?
We have to take collective ownership for the failings of our past and set the course for a more hopeful future. The first thing we have to do is eliminate ignorance. The ignorance of our neighbor; the ignorance of the person from the other ethnic group; and the ignorance of the person from the other geographic side of the country.
In writing this piece, I struggled with the direction I wanted it to take until my friend; Olanlokun Daramola said something that jolted me. In his words, “We have to stop fighting ourselves and realize we aren’t our enemies. It is frustration that makes us monsters”. Indeed, ignorance is often times, the child of the past, the friend of today, and the enemy of the future. It is not about ‘They’, ‘Them’, ‘Their’ or ‘We’, it is about ‘Us’.