Saturday, October 1, 2011

Nigeria at 51: An Invention to Understand.

While an undergraduate of history, I was always forced to write on Nigeria as a patriot. My lecturer will always ask me to discuss Nigeria before the amalgamation of 1914, an endeavor that must reflect my acceptance of its existence even before its conception. But then, I longed for a day I will be able to write objectively, and that this piece is affording me on a platter of gold.

At 51, Nigeria seems to me an invention yet to be understood by her citizens. As a nation, we are still bewildered by scores of problems, many of which we should have been rid of, if only we understand what Nigeria is. Perhaps things may take a positive turn if we re-configure Nigeria to address the present challenges; but if the present configuration is what we still intend pushing then there may be no end in sight to the heartache of this nation.

In 1914, the British government invented an antidote, Nigeria, to a headache experienced in one of her many colonial possessions in West Africa. This possession transverse the four corners of Niger and Benue River area, which influenced British reporter Flora Shaw’s suggestion that the “country” be named Nigeria. At the peak of this invention process was the amalgamation of the constituent regions in 1914. Welcome Nigeria!

Disheartening however is the fact that, while it seems on the surface that the amalgamation was done in the interest of Nigerians, it was actually done in the sole interest of the British government. Historians in my mould will tell you the amalgamation of Nigeria was nothing more than a fiscal measure. During the colonial period, the Northern Protectorate of Nigeria constituted a financial burden on the Imperial Treasury. With a large area of land, high population, no direct access to the sea, the North could not generate enough revenue to fund the railway construction and river dredging projects needed. The Imperial government has to part, always, with grant-in-aid running into millions of naira. The South on the other hands possesses multiple streams of income from her coastline, ports et al. So it was thought that the amalgamation would make it easier to utilize the revenue and wealth of the Southern Protectorate for the development of the whole country. Coupled with this also, was their intention to avoid the duplication of technical and administrative departments such as treasury, railways, surveys, post and telegraph, and audits, which means more personnel requirements and financial commitment. Whatever be the case however, we have Nigeria at hand.

Important for us to note here however as Nigerians is that, the British government never lumped all the constituent parts into one because we so desire to be treated as one. Consequently, the difference in socio-economic, religion, and political beliefs and institutions of these constituent parts were not taken into consideration. They created Nigeria, a people with no common philosophy and objectives. What we know we as Northern Nigeria today is known in history as the Sudan regions of West Africa. Every constituent part existed then as a State. So, it is not enough for us to just say we are one. Ahmadu Bello once told Nnamdi Azikiwe “…let us not forget our differences. Rather, let us remember and respect them. I want to remember you are a Southerner, a Christian and respect that; while you also remember that I am a Northerner, a Muslim and respect that…”

It still beats me till date, why we are still selling Nigeria, even though the factors threatening our existence from inception are still present. Factors such as: perpetual mutual suspicion, ethnicity bitterness, and sectarian nationalism to mention but few. I still wait the day our leaders will explain why they so much dread the proposed Sovereign National Conference. I do not the white men who lumped us together, knowing that the resultant friction from the imbalance created by the amalgamation will always make us a pawn on their chess board; I blame our leaders for not spotting that, and liberate us. I do not blame the “Aboki” who lives with me in constant suspicion because he felt I will attempt exploiting his perceived inferiority; I blame our leaders who failed to realize that Chukwudi, Obisesan, Ahmadu, Tega and all others treated as minorities need be summoned to town hall for meeting, where all must express whether they want this or not.

Though it is a fact always seen by many Nigerians as unpatriotic, but that does not stop us from being reasonable. We have options on our hand here; options such as: outright peaceful disintegration of Nigeria in case of continual irreconcilable differences; Sovereign National Conference where both the big 3 and others regarded as minorities come to a table for discussion, making a commitment or otherwise as to whether Nigeria should stay or not, adopting the best form of government for Nigeria. They must decide whether it is best to opt for Federalism or Unitary system. The Federalism in question here does not connote the usage of federal principles to incorporate some levels of decentralization in system of government as presently practiced by Nigeria. Rather, it connotes federalism in its full vigor. And in case of Unitary system, all must hold out to sacrifice all things necessary for its success.

The aim of this reflection is not to arouse unnecessary agitation from Nigerians; it is to help politicians, technocrats, social strategists, policy makers, and Nigerians alike decide what the real task should be. Is it project re-brand Nigeria or re-calibrate Nigeria? In my candid opinion the Nigeria we presently projects is still that British invention. We must recalibrate it to suit our will.

Long live Nigeria.

Alamu Samson.

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