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Nigeria and challenges of national unity: Way forward

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By Maureen Ikpeama

NIGERIA marked her 62 Independence anniversary on October 1,2022. At 62 years of independence and at 108 years of her amalgamation, Nigeria still has serious problem of unity, linked to her diversity.

   Nigeria has had different administrations both military and civilian administrations since after the independence in 1960. All regimes since independence made national unity their important agenda.

Programmes, policies, institution meant to unify the country were introduced, including institutionalisation of the federal character principle, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), unity schools, national symbols, National Orientation Agency (NOA) and mantras such as “the unity of the nation is not negotiable’, among others have been adopted to facilitate national unity in Nigeria.

  Chigozie  Okonkwo, a social analyst, noted that despite all the programmes introduced to bridge the gaps of marginalisation in Nigeria ,” the gap between the various groups seems wider as the nation is still plagued with ethnic rivalry, religious intolerance, political exclusion, quest for self-determination, power sharing and violent agitations to mention a few.

  Scholars, Wani , Suwirta, 2013;Onah, Diara,  Uroko, 2018;Vinson, 2018; Eme-Uche ,Okonkwo, 2020), in their separate write-ups, noted that the 21st Century Nigerian state has witnessed devastating conflicts that have been attributed to numerous factors including, poverty, unemployment, environmental injustice, religious affiliations, political differences and ethnic diversity.

   There have been ethnic and religious conflicts in the middle belt, militancy in the Niger Delta region, Boko Haram insurgency in the North, the Independent People of Biafra (IPoB) secessionist movements in the South East, the herders-farmers conflict, and recently, banditry in the North and unknown gunmen, kidnappers

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  A Professor of Political Science, Jideofor Adibe, observed that Nigeria seems to struggle with the skill to conclusively resolve grievances by several groups in the country. One of these is that many groups appear to have consequences of  institutionalised memories of hurt or perceived sense of injustice, which they popularly express as “marginalisation.” 

   Ethnicity is often used by the elites to mask their intra-elite and intra-class struggles over power and resources. Over time, though, in Nigeria, ethnicity has acquired a more objective character, tending towards more or less an ideology and a prism through which most government measures are filtered.

 It is also a potent instrument of mobilisation. For instance, the fact that Nnamdi Kanu was detained for a long period of time and denied bail despite court rulings for him to be so released stoked ethnic solidarity, even from people averse to his brand of rhetoric.

The more his ethnic brethren use the refusal to grant bail as another instance of we against the Igbo or more evidence of Buhari’s alleged hatred of the Igbo, the more Buhari’s “kith and kin” from the north feel compelled to defend one of their own. The dominant ethnic groups routinely use threats of secession as bargaining tools when things are not going their way.

  Nduka Eyah, a Senior citizen, member National Constitution Conference, 2014, held that for Nigeria to move forward as one united nation, the recommendations of the national conference should be implemented.

  In the views of Chigozie Okonkwo: “United nation is one that can manage these diversities so that the different competencies and endowments of the different parts are utilised and harnessed for a higher national goal which benefits everyone and all the parts of the whole.

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  ” This is the challenge of leadership, to direct and articulate the vision and mission and how the sub-visions of the different parts contribute to the larger goal.

Leadership directs different components of the whole to see the progress of a component as the progress of all because it manages the interlocking interests and challenges to produce a win-win situation for all.

  The recent outburst by the Attorney-General and Chief Law Officer of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, sets the context of this discourse.

  The challenge in this context is that because of poor leadership, Nigerians of different backgrounds see themselves as different and have set different goals and objectives due to the absence of an overarching national goal and vision.

In this example, the herders after fattening their cows will eventually need a market to sell them while they will need to buy tubers, cereals, and crops for food as well. So, the two can co-exist without their rights being placed in the context of either the herders or the farmers. This is where unity of purpose through the leadership comes to play.”

  In unity, the acts and omissions of groups and individuals take into consideration the interests of other groups and individuals. Where this is not the case, leadership moves in to secure the balance through law and policy. But this must be a leadership that sees the entire nation as its constituency.

The leader neither sees himself as a northerner, southerner,” easterner, or westerner but as a Nigerian acting for the common will. There is a national dream, a national vision, a flag, and anthem everyone can be proud of.

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  The challenge of unity is not new to Nigeria. We have fought a civil war over the challenge. But since then, no administration has strained the bonds that hold the nation together like the present one.

  Nduka Eyah said that federal administration engages in hate action and yet complains of hate speech. Hate action is exemplified in the exclusion of some parts of the country from appointments and benefitting from various government activities and the overall resources of the country. It is this hate action that is giving rise to the surge in ethnic nationalism.

  President Buhari should reach out to various segments of Nigeria, fight insecurity to a standstill without favour to any groups. This will lay the foundation for the economy to be revived and jobs created.  Projects should be evenly distributed across the federation.

Competent persons from all parts of the country should be appointed to oversee various parts of the economy, and the world will know that Nigeria is back and ready for business. All these will bring peace and unity in the country.

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