Editorial: The Basis For Nigerian Unity

In the heat of the current debate on the prevailing social and economic crisis in the country, certain views are been expressed by words that fuel and may derail the commitment to solutions. One such view is the one that says that Nigerians are a disparate people and the amalgamation of 1914 was a mistake. This is mistaken and ahistorical.

That the British colonial masters joined the Southern and Northern protectorates in 1914 for administrative convenience is correct. But it is not true that the amalgamation brought together ethnic nationalities with separate, unconnected backgrounds. And because of this, Nigeria has not known peace!

Assuming it were true that the 1914 experiment was a mistake as some want us to believe, would it not be indicting on their part that they can see only mistake and prove incapable or unwilling to find solution? Or are there Nigerians without basic knowledge of social engineering, calculated risks, strategies and tactics to find answers to our condition, if given the chance?

Unbelievably, a certain professor of diplomatic and peace studies in one of our national universities made such a mistake in an television program in which he appeared recently. Turning to the anchor during a discussion on the above subject, he said to effect, “I am Yoruba and you from a tribe in Delta, you can see we have no connection.”

Indeed!. Such reductionism and imbecilic statements make you wonder how he got his PhD and what set of the next generation of leaders he is grooming in his department at his university. And there are many views like his catching the headlines these days

On the contrary, there are strong prevailing mores from our past to suggest the basis for Nigeria unity; vital social, political and economic customs and conventions that transcend our different identities which even the unpatriotic and pragmatic political and business elite have found hard to eradicate from our psyche through the invoking of religious and political symbols and mercenary motives. Many of us realize the importance of these mores and values when we are depressed and have to find lasting answers quickly. We run to their custodians.

Well, it may be argued that our youths are cut off from this subculture and are looking more Westernized and Internet savvy to make too much of its influence among the citizenry. That may be too exaggerated. In fact there is a ready answer too close to cite.

Putting it in context, it is easy to say that over 80per cent of Nollywood actors, actresses, producers, directors and marketers are youthful and what they produce are 99 per cent Nigerian in content. They are reflecting the common pattern of thinking and doing that are buried deeply beneath our skins.

First is the sociological and political framework. Most of Nigeria’s over 235 ethnic nationalities are patrilineal with one or two being matrilineal, such as Ohafia in the southeast. Ancestor worship, respect for the elderly and the dead, communalism are still very strong among our people despite the impact of westernization and the increasing anomie in city residents. Politically, monarchy was and is still very strong with us.

This is not just about the roles and influence of Obas, Obis, Baales, Serikis play in our lives but the continuous championing of the traditional institutions by our leaders who hanker after one chieftaincy title or the other and many, even among our democratically elected representatives who do not often see the contradiction in prefixing their names and titles with Prince and Princess. It is thus easy to see why republican and royalist values have co-existed in our country for long.

The powerful kingdoms of Benin, Oyo, Kanem Borno, Zauzau, Itsekiri, Kano, Wukari, to name a few have left their mark on our political systems. In fact the royal connection between Benin and Ife on the one hand and Lagos, Itsekiri, Owo Nupe, Igalla and Onitsha on the other cannot be overemphasized. So too it is between the Hausa Bakwai in the upper north and the so-called Hausa Banza, found mostly in the now middle belt.

The Yoruba Ifa divination system, called Igwega in Benin, with its affiliations in Nupe and Igala is another example of the cultural tie holding ethnic nationalities together. This worldview, as earlier mentioned, is where many of us run to for succor when we are in distress, regardless of our modern religious belief systems. Their devotees are scattered through the lenght and breath of the country and their patrons are mostly from the business and political elite who must search and look before they take or run for any office. Besides, the syncretism churches and movements across the country are but the modern form of our traditional form of earth worship.

Moreover, almost all Nigerian people have a story of migration from some distant place to their present locale. So in a sense, we all came to from somewhere, within or without, to populate this corner of the earth called, in modern term, Nigeria.

Interestingly, the commercial aspects of our past have also had impact on our relationship. Right from the Niger Delta, through the Benue, our forefathers were known to have passed trade routes to engage one another in some form of trade. From Kano came kola nut traders through the Bida-Mokwa routes to the modern day Lagos to participate in the Atlantic Trade. Indeed, kola nut is grown by the Yoruba, sold mostly by the Hausas and revered mostly by the Igbos in their ritual!

It was these ethnological details, according to historians, that decided the British in coupling our peoples together. Note the word, coupling. It would have been a different matter if the peoples had realized their similarities and on the basis of that formed a community. Would that have ever happened.? Perhaps.

Elizabeth Isichei in her book on Nigeria History talks about the pains of an emir in the northern part who waged an unsuccessful war against the British in the early 1900s. He had heard too late about similar struggles in the southern part, (the 1890s Akassa Raid, the battles of Oba Overanwen of Benin Kingdom and that of Nana of Itsekiri) and sent a horse rider to solicit assistance. ‘My brothers I need your support to drive the infidels from our land,’ he was said to have written to monarchs in the south. The British of course intercepted the messenger but the mimeograph copy of the message is in the British museum. Such early knowledge among the people facing the same enemy at a point in our history could have forged some solidarity no doubt.

Still, there is no doubt that the British pulled every tricks in their books to divide and blackmail Nigerians, especially when it was discovered to be seating on a goldmine of natural resources. And they are still doing it today with their lackeys in the country.

The point is that Nigerians have similar mores, shared values, even under the cover of modernity, to chart a common course as a people. This basic structure, a shared foundation, is co-existing with Christianity, Islam and westernization.

Nonetheless, this is not an argument for the sustenance of the structure of inequity, nepotism, vandalism, corruption, poverty and barbarism, prevailing in the county today. It is to say that the view that we are a separate people is shallow if we forget to see the shared values, mores and interconnectedness that had existed and is still strong among our people.

We believe that Nigerians as a people are not strangers to themselves as some viewpoints have been canvassing as a reason to terminate the country. Rather it should be seen as a foundation, removed from ethnic arrogance or ego trip of some self-serving, divisive characters, to sustain it as an egalitarian commonwealth.