The elders and Nigeria’s unity

Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper

As the national debate on the sovereignty, unity and structure of Nigeria gets feverish, the position of some of the nation’s supposed elders is somewhat uninformed, their tone unnecessarily strident and in some cases, downright divisive. This is not only wrong, it is a disservice to Nigeria.

One of such divisive contributions came the other day from a former vice chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Prof. Ango Abdullahi who carelessly and arrogantly said, “Nigeria can break up, it is not indivisible.” From such a highly placed Nigerian and member of Northern Elders Forum (NEF), this is unacceptably irresponsible.

At a book launch in Abuja, Abdullahi noted that, “if Nigerians have found it difficult to live together in peace, the component units should find it convenient to go their separate ways.” He was also quoted as saying that if the amalgamation of the country in 1914 by Lord Lugard was a mistake, “each region should go separately.”

Yes, there is nothing non-negotiable about Nigeria’s sovereignty but the continued discontent in the polity calls for a dialogue with a view to fostering unity, not division. The Muhammadu Buhari-led government should therefore constructively encourage the peoples of this country to be positive as they debate its structure. Of course, it appears the only people who do not understand the import of the debate on the future of Nigeria are those cocooned in the seat of power. And many of those who have been contributing to the debate on “federalism” or “restructuring”, interprete those terms to mean a political ploy to break up the country, a notion that is dubious, self-serving and unpatriotic. With all the benefits of the practice of federalism, including the fact that all the regions in the country have one competitive advantage or the other to exploit in strengthening the concept of fiscal federalism, the seeds of discord in the debate being sown by some elders suggest crass ignorance or outright mischief.

This newspaper hereby reiterates that elite imperviousness to reason and lessons of history will continue to endanger Nigeria’s unity. And such disposition as seen in the present government so far to the issue of restructuring will do more damage to the progress of the country than anything else.

The Nigerian federation will actually be strengthened by restructuring, contrary to all fears and the discontents in the current arrangement are as a result of poor structure as well as woeful governance. What should be debated therefore is how to reform governance institutions to reflect a true federation whose federating units will be fiscally autonomous and viable enough to run their own affairs.

A decentralisation of the nation’s governance structure will ensure healthy rivalry among the component units. This is however, not the same as the divisive and puerile position that the country should be broken up as being suggested by the likes of Ango Abdullahi who anchored his argument on alleged “political instability” caused by politicians and the elite.

The nation’s elders who join in the ongoing debate must understand that Nigeria, certainly, cannot make progress with the current centralised arrangement which encourages indolence on the part of some while they feed fat on the sweat and resources of others.

Again, a centralised revenue aggregation and then allocation formula, whereby the central authorities collect all resources only to turn around and dole out some to the federating states every month will continue to make the constituent states beggarly and unviable.

Nigeria’s current centralised police system cannot deal with the nation’s internal security challenges. Moreso, there are clear examples in federations such as the United States, Canada, Germany, Australia and even the United Kingdom (UK) where a decentralised police system is the norm. In Nigeria’s First Republic, when the regions were autonomous before the military destroyed federalism, state police was part of the success of that era.

Nation-building is not a task for simpletons or irredentists. Which is why all the leaders and elders in the country should raise their voices in educating those who pretend or actually do not understand history that unity and sovereignty are better when peacefully negotiated than when forcibly foisted.

Forced nationhood is not only wrong, it breeds evil and serves no useful purpose to the people. Within one generation, the forced Soviet empire collapsed like a pack of cards into different entities. Yugoslavia disintegrated into a collection of warring states and municipalities. Germany was once forcibly divided but eventually evolved into one country from two.

Eritrea came out of Ethiopia even as Menelik II had sold Djibouti to the French almost 116 years ago to fund the modernisation of Addis Ababa. Sudan was forced to let Southern Sudan go after years of war as a result of injustice from centralisation.

India, the world’s largest democracy, evolved from one territory into three countries (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) within just a quarter of a century.

What Nigeria needs today are leaders with open minds, who would not see those calling for restructuring of the federation as rebels who are out to break up the country. Nigeria needs level-headed elders who will contribute to the debate of restructuring within the context of building a strong federation, not the ones who will advocate forcible break-up when there are more things that unite the people than divide them. What is needed is honesty of purpose and a dynamic leadership which will guide the process of restructuring.

Once again, proponents of authentic federalism are the patriots who want a solid foundation for a united and prosperous Nigeria. The parochial irredentists who interpret a proper federation as breaking up Nigeria are the real enemies of the country.

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