While some Nigerians posit that the country will and must stay together, and others insist that we should go our separate ways, a third group is of the view that we should stay together but on the condition that we do the right things. This is the group that argues that we should squarely face our challenges. Many years ago, Chief Bola Ige( the Minister of Justice who did not receive justice) declared that the two basic questions facing Nigerians were whether we wanted to remain as one country and if so, under what conditions? The third group actually feels that the answer to the first question is positive and goes ahead to address the second question. The extant constitution declares that we have solemnly agreed to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons on the principles of freedom, equality and justice. Some in this group argue that the constitution has not lived up to its billing and rather suggest that we should go back to the 1963 constitution and the parliamentary system.
Cardinal Onayekan holds that we can disintegrate if we continue to behave the way we do( recklessness, impunity and acute selfishness) and that If we want to stay together, we should arrange our affairs in such a way that we stay together to achieve our deserved greatness and provide leadership for Africa(70th birthday press briefing, Guardian, 18/1/14). Chido Onuma believes that negotiating or renegotiating Nigeria is more important than fighting corruption or providing infrastructure because these are only possible if and when there is a nation. He was actually moving for a discussion of Nigeria’s future by the people of Nigeria, the same position taken by Bishop Adewale Martins that various ethnic groups and stakeholders must agree on the best way to leave in peace and harmony.( Guardian, 8/6/13, p24). Oby Ezekwesili also believes in a united, big and vibrant Nigeria but insists that we should rather renegotiate our values; renegotiate our vision to be united and renegotiate the integrity of Nigeria.
Indeed, the National Conference appears to be programmed for Nigerians to work out how to stay together. The Presidential Advisory Committee declared that ‘the choice before our country is either to stick with our present political arrangement, which favour over centralization of government and resources or recognize our irrepressible pluralism and the necessity for voluntary integration. Coercive integration-integration by force or intimidation- has failed all over the world’. Whether the ongoing dia-ference( dialogue and conference) would satisfy the yearnings of those who believe that talking is the solution will be seen in due course. I note however that the conferees have gone into everything; confusing the operational and strategic issues and that the usual ills of Nigeria have reared their ugly heads.
Professor Elaigwu is of the view that we are stuck here together and the way forward is to work out conducive compromises which would prevent the federal pendulum from swinging furiously between centripetal and centrifugal forces, find commonalities amidst our differences; we must recognize the truth in our diversity in unity while exhorting unity in diversity and show greater commitment to finding solutions to our problems. It has also been argued that while there are always separatist tendencies in many countries, what keeps countries together is a deliberate contrived or negotiated policy of unity designed to emphasise points of identity of interest and the maximum freedom to practice diversity. It is proper for us to collectively confront and combat philistinism, cowardice, unbridled aggressiveness, complacency and arrogance. In this regard, Ben Lawrence believes that we should be thinking of a more viable means of coexistence in a widely divided nation where the center hardly holds now and where several ‘unknown soldiers’ are on the prowl(The unknown Soldiers’ legion, Tell, 3/6/13, p61). These unknown soldiers include the Boko-Haramists, unemployed[and at times unemployable] graduates, poverty stricken Nigerians who observe the opulence and squander-mania of the rich, Niger Delta environmentalists, and other groups like Lagos area-boys.
So, do we break up, break down or talk seriously and genuinely on how to move ahead as a united entity? Those who argue that we should divide because we have nothing in common should note that the all-Moslem, all-Arabic Middle East is in total disarray both as individual states and as a region. The crises in the India-Pakistan-Afghanistan axis and the experience of South-Sudan have shown that separation does not solve all problems; at least, not automatically and not immediately. Switzerland has also shown that people ‘who have nothing in common’ can also live together, peacefully and in macro and micro abundance.
Those who use the marriage metaphor also do not get it. Marriages contain provisions for divorce and even the legendary Catholic marriage contains conditions for the declaration of nullity and for annulment. Those pleading long period of togetherness should remember USSR of those days and the UK of today. Those who want us to stay together because of the advantages of size also fail to realize that size per se is not the key determinant of corporate progress and success. China and India are big. But while China has a GDP per Capita of $7800, in India, it is $1700. Norway, Estonia and Zimbabwe are small, but while Per Capita Income is $104000 in Norway, it is $18260 in Estonia and $$210 in Zimbabwe. Singapore, Hong-Kong and Dubai are also very small.
For those who want us to stay together or go our separate ways because of oil, I refer them to a World Bank report on Wealth of Nations which sought to measure the relevance of natural assets[natural resources], produced assets[accumulated productive capital] and intangible assets[human and institutional strength] in the national balance sheet. The report concludes that countries become prosperous because of their intangible assets and not due to tangible assets[natural or produced] . These intangible assets are the skills and knowhow embedded in the labour force, ability to efficiently invest the rent extracted its natural resources, natural trust which exists among members of the society, ability to work together for a common goal to which they strongly adhere and in which they firmly believe, quality of formal and informal institutions, savings and maintenance culture, the extent to which the citizens have confidence in the laws of the land and abide by them and patriotism: both the extent to which citizens trust and support their government and the extent to which the government trusts and supports the people. So those betting on oil are backing the wrong horse because the oil curse is real! So, where do we go from here?(next week)…