‘’In less than 200 years, this great country, USA was wielded together by people of so many diverse backgrounds. They built a mighty nation and had forgotten where they came from and who their ancestors were. They had pride in only one thing – their US citizenship. I am a changed man from today. Until now I never really believed we could be one united country. But if the Americans could do it, so can we’’. Rt. Hon. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. 1955.
In the beginning, we had visionary leaders, great men with unparalleled commitment to the unity and development of Nigeria. They were not perfect beings. They did make mistakes. But in all, they were absolutely sincere in their commitment to the Nigeria project. We had Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the focused, principled, incorruptible visionary leader as our first Prime Minister. A pious and devoted muslim. We had the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello. He was the first Premier of the Northern region. The Sardauna was absolutely committed to the development of the North and its people irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliations. Some of his key aides were Christians and from the minority groups. He made giant strides towards bridging the educational gap between the North and the South. The economy was well diversified. We had the sustainable groundnut pyramids, textile industries and great tertiary institutions such as the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
From the East, we had the Zik of Africa, Sir Nnamdi Azikiwe. An orator per excellence and the first President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He was unparalleled in his commitment to a truly united Nigeria. He was equally the first Premier of the Eastern region. He saw to the true greatness of the Eastern region in all sectors. The palm oil and coal industries thrived well. The first indigenous university, University of Nigeria, Nsukka was established.
From the West, we had Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the first Premier of the Western region. He was an excellent manager of human and material resources. He was well described by Chief Emeka Ojukwu as ‘the best President Nigeria never had’. Chief Awolowo established many firsts in Nigeria and Africa: television station, Oodua conglomerates, Liberty Sadium, Cocoa House, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Muslim pilgrims welfare board and many others. His free education programme helped a lot of Western indigenes to have unparalleled access to educational growth and career development.
True federalism was in practice. The regions competed with one another for good. They did not depend on the largesse from the centre. State of Origin was not a major issue. Sir Herbert Macaulay (from Lagos) handed over the leadership of the National Youth Movement to Sir Azikwe (from the East). PLEASE TAKE NOTE: In the first republic, Umoru Altine from Sokoto State and Dr Bashorun Balogun from Ogun State were mayors of Port Harcourt respectively and Ebube Dike was a member of the Western House of Assembly.
Then came military interventions. Democracy went on suspension. Successive generations of political elites (military/civilian) became more committed to wealth acquisitions for themselves and their cronies. They allocate oil blocks to themselves. Public agencies or institutions such as the Nigerian Railways, Refineries, NEPA, NITEL that could make life easier for the common man were gradually destroyed. The political elites preferred importations of fuel products, trailers and allies, generating sets and others to making the much needed public institutions work. When we complained that we wanted better services. We were told the agencies can never work as public institutions. Privatization is the only way out. The public agencies were sold off at take-away prices to the same political elites that destroyed them in the first place.
To maintain their continuous hold on power; they introduced divide and rule tactics with ethnicity and religion as the bait. We became hooked and lost in self socio-political delusions. They kept amassing wealth! We kept honouring them for the destructions they have brought to the polity with more votes so long as they are of our ethnic or religious groups. They tell us that they epitomize our interests. When they disagree amongst themselves over the spoils of office, crises are instigated to show that they are powers that must be pleased! They cry marginalization! We troop to the streets and kill ourselves! Afterwards, they meet and resolve their differences. More of the same political elites are appointed into positions. They learnt to make use of the religious leaders. They publicly seek their blessings. Zakat, sodaqot and tithes become well oiled. Their nominees are appointed to public positions. The Sheikhs, Alfas, Prophets and Pastors can no longer tell the political elites the truth!
The result is the mess we have found ourselves today. Systemic corruption is firmly entrenched in the polity. Billions of dollars are either stolen or misappropriated. Our educational system is in shambles. Power Holding Company of Nigeria has lived to expectations of holding power without releasing it! Inherited tertiary institutions are shadows of former selves. Nigerians are sharply divided along ethno-religious lines. Some say all regions complain of marginalization; and we are better off if broken into different nations. Youth unemployment is at tickling explosive state. Nigerians are losing hope in the nation!
Which way forward? The greatest obstacle to fighting poverty and impunity of our leaders is primordial attachment to ethnicity or religion. When we are ready to clearly look inward in each region and discover how our political elites who cry marginalization and say they are fighting on our behalf contributed significantly to the present level of poverty and infrastructural deficiencies. When majority of Nigerians are able to shed the toga of primordial attachment to ethnicity or religion, which makes all critical issues reduced to nothing; then a new Nigeria is born. Then we shall be ready to vote for a visionary leadership irrespective of the ethnic or religious group of the candidate.
Furthermore, Nigerian youths must completely resolve not to be used for the selfish interests of political elites anymore. We must demand for accountability in governance. We must make efforts to replace State of Origin with State of Residence through a national legislation. We must make efforts to reduce to the barest minimum the high cost of running government at all levels. Why do we need non-sustainable 36 states? How do we ensure that all ethnic groups have a sense of belonging through legislated zoning arrangements? We must insist on true electoral reforms and the establishment of a truly Independent National Electoral Commission. When votes count, the dividends of democracy shall come on board.
We must help create a sustainable database in –order to face our civil or criminal challenges. The Nigeria Communications Commission must be purged of its intrinsic corrupt system, Why can’t the NCC with wasted 6 billion naira help create a useful database of phone users? Why can’t the Nigeria Immigration Service create a database of holders of international passports? When you apply for a new international passport, the NIS ask you to pay #16 – 20,000. No receipt is given. They choose guarantors who are not known to applicants to stand in for the applicant. How can the NIS create a useful database for tracking international passport holders this way?
I have absolute faith in a one united Nigeria. We must know clearly that the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable. We must face an obvious reality: each region has self-imploding features and breaking up into pieces can never bring peace to any of the regions. Rather, the big umbrella provided by Nigeria to cover up our intrinsic micro differences shall be blown off in case Nigeria breaks up. We must understand that Nigeria cannot break up easily long ethnic nationalities. We have just too many ethnic nationalities! None of the regions is self-sustaining. We all need ourselves to move on. It is in our mutually agreed interests that Nigeria remains one.
Yes, we are in a state of despondency. Yes, we are suffering amidst abundance. Yes, we are starkly faced with challenges of insecurity, poverty and infrastructural deficiencies. Yes, nothing will change unless we are ready to change. We should not be cowed into subjugation. We must rise up and face our challenges with sincerity of purpose. We can then see clearly that there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel. A new Nigeria where things work. A more prosperous united Nigeria. Arise ‘O’ Compatriots. Nigeria Calls Obey!!! God bless Nigeria. Amen.
Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.