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The Lingering Question of National Unity

Historical realists have often dismissed the entity called Nigeria as a mere expression with no core, while the detractors of secession will tell you that in our differences reside our strength and that the quest to attaining national unity is always a work in progress. The debate on the holistic implications of the 1914 amalgamation will continue to linger. However, one thing we all agree to is that we have to incessantly nurture our fragile national unity.
Events over the past few weeks have led to a reawakening of the unity puzzle and forced us to question and redefine the brotherhood we profess as a people. While it is true that our democracy is still teething, the obvious steer from the electoral votes across the country especially at the presidential elections leaves a lot to be desired. The votes were sharply divided across ethnic lines. It is true that part of the reason for this could be the political scheming of the gladiators but it insults reason to think that the votes were absolutely an expression of everyone’s choice on the sheer basis of meritocracy. It is not in anyone’s place to probe the rationale behind the vote of an electorate, but it requires no stretch of the imagination to see that many voted solely on ethnic sentiments. That the PDP couldn't wrestle a single state from the core north, and same for the APC in the South South/South East, tells you all you need to know. There is no denying of the fact that we are all prejudiced, and try as you may, some of our sentiments will always kick in. However, if we must progress this thing called Nigeria, then we must begin to tell ourselves some home truth.
The diatribe from the Oba of Lagos some weeks ago before the Lagos governorship election has already received its fair share of condemnation. Going forward however, one must seek to annihilate the seat of thought, from which the Oba conceived such nonsense. Many have tried to dismiss the Oba’s threat to the Igbo as mere ranting of one man, but I chose to differ. As Chimamanda Adiche noted ‘The Oba is not an ordinary citizen. The Oba’s words matter. He is not a singular voice; he represents traditional authority.’ Thus, anyone that dare suggest that the Igbo people took the issue too far, questions the right of an individual to feel aggrieved and further ‘commonize’ a sensitive subject. We must kill that thought that any group of people by default of which part of the country they come from, are most entitled, or less privileged.
Too often than not, some will rather prefer that we ignore the ‘citizenship’ and ‘identity’ question and move on. But therein lays the problem. As a country we have often pretended to ‘move on’ with too many things while in actual sense, we have only just prolonged the evil day. Ethnicity, as expressed in our country still thrives on primordial sentiments. For many, they are first Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa etc. before they are Nigerian. This fundamental point should not be lost on anyone. The truth remains that we can never dismiss this part of our identity, especially in a turf where language and culture are very polarized. However, one thing we can begin to do is drop the ethnic identity at times of national need or urgency and quit making ethnicity the primary lens with which we view what is to be considered as the ‘National good.’ We have to continually insist that all Nigerians matter equally, irrespective of their ethnic group.
In mending the disparities that currently exist, we must begin to redefine citizenship and what it entails to be called a Nigerian. To pass pre-conceived judgment on any individual in the country based on hear-say, antecedents or a notion about his ethnic group is to further stretch the ties of disunity. Nigeria’s democracy is by no means a finished article but we the people must make a choice to gain traction in our journey of national unity. Particularly, our history is foisted with cases of ethnic sentiments that have degenerated into several instances of violence, chaos and chief of all, a 30 months bloody civil war. It’s time to learn the lessons of the past to avoid the mistakes of the same past. For the new president-elect, his early actions and inactions will do a lot to either keep our unity fledgling or further strengthen it.


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