The North and South protectorates that make up Nigeria were amalgamated in 1914. Next year marks 100 years and questions are being asked.
There are Nigerians who feel the country should click glasses and celebrate with cakes and candles, when the day official breaks. Some are saying the “marriage of convenience” should end while others are too busy, trying to make a living, to care.
But the Federal Government has commenced activities to commemorate the big event. It’s also possible that some top politicians and big business people are stacking away choice wines and awarding contracts to mark the occasion.
Face2Face sought the opinion of a veteran professor of history, Prof. Ukachukwu Damian Anyanwu, of the Department of History and International Studies – Imo state University, on the issue at stake as the amalgamation clock ticks100.
“Asking whether we should dissolve the Nigerian Federation this year or some time in 2014 is not the issue. There’s thinking in some quarters that the country is a foreign creation, some use the expression ‘artificial’ – highly responsible nationalists. By artificial, they imply that the country, as it is today, constituted geographically and culturally, was not born out of dialogue between the various sub-nationalities, ethnic groups and, so once in a while, they remind us that this is not a natural creation. God does not perfect creation. Countries evolve, respecting certain principals of equity, history, culture and diversities,” the 63-year old academic said, passionately, digging into history for examples.
“Nations can be born out of diversity – USSR, China, US even the UK – they are not homogenous in terms of their sub-nationalities. They had their crisis and fought for becoming one. France fought, Germany fought, eventually under certain leadership became what we know them to be today, enduring stability, rule of law – practices that can now be defined as world best practices in economic management, social life, education, in the handling of even emergencies and national disasters.”
“Countries have acquired reasonable stability in these areas, they still evolved. Unfortunately, after 100 years, if we now want to conclude that Nigeria started in 1914, we have not made our country natural. There’s need to bring people closer, respect their feelings, being frank and sincere, accepting there is a pluralism and those who should be in charge of the affairs of this country are those who are sufficiently plural minded and cosmopolitan. If not, they are going to protect the artificial basis and once you do that, one aspect of it may blow up in a manner that it may be out of control.”
The Obowo-born Professor said there is need to make Nigerians feel at home in their country.
“I don’t think the expiration or non- expiration in 2014 can be a product of some people’s opinion or even something that will become essentially legalistic, what will determine what it will become is what we do to make the country more natural, more acceptable and more representative of the various interests and component persons that make up the country.”
He explained that ‘State Creation,’ ‘Federal Character,’ ‘Zoning’ and even the ‘NYSC’ were various attempts to solve problems.
“For long, we operated on a tripod Federation made up of the north, east and west, which were restructured into states, especially during the crisis period. First we had 12, 19, 36 or more states. Each of these efforts was meant to reduce tension,” he added, noting, however, that the problems persisted, cutting across the nation.
There is discontent even among the same people group.
“Some insisted that even within their states they were minorities; others try to prove cases of marginalization or oppression by one group or the other. Quite often, the claims were on the basis of ethnicity or tribe but as the nation grew up, we also began to have cases within the same people or groups that were of the same ethnic contest. You began to have things like Northern Zaria or Southern Kaduna. Not too long ago, the same thing started in what was then East Central State, dominated by a class of Igbos – the zoning mentality, political zoning- you can’t say that has solved this kind of problem,” he also noted.
“In other words, from 1914 through the colonial period unto the independence, if you look at our various operations, we continue to manifest elements of artificial creation in our party politics, attitude to elections, in our developmental strategies, in implementation and so on. There are still people who still interpret disadvantaged areas in terms of one or two groups as if to say a particular kind of people or some parts of the country have a birthright to remain disadvantaged,” he added.
“Nearer home, I come from Obowo. There’s a community in Obowo called Ikenanzizi. When you go into the history of western education, that part of our land has a large population of western trained people. Consequently in terms of statistics, Ikenanzizi has the largest number of trained elite. It is not therefore surprising that those who have had to occupy positions of leadership and of privilege in the Obowo system have tended to come from there. This image is a stereotype of what applies in the whole of Igbo land whether in war or peace times.”
Still reminiscing on the Nigerian situation, he concluded that the country could no longer blame colonialism for its problems.
“There is no way after 53 years Nigerians will continue to blame their positions in national issues especially in terms of development either on the external people called the colonial authorities or this other external people who they say they live with. It means we have not been able up to now to cultivate and cut down the excesses that come down from what we call artificial creation. Up to now, we have not been able to define Nigeria as something of our own. We have national orientation and so on, we have the national youth service – all intended to promote integration but once in a while something happens to remind us that in a globalised world, we are still thinking about ‘we’ versus ‘them’.”
He said the idea of ‘we’ versus ‘them’ has endured for too long in Nigeria, so much that nobody is ‘thinking Nigeria,’ anymore.
Prof Anyanwu called for a national conference so Nigerians can fashion out the kind of country they want to live in.
“If we claim that the British who put us together, put us together in an artificial form, what have we done overtime to find a natural reality? We haven’t done enough to get the real mind of Nigerians. Each time the nation reaches a point where you can call it a sovereign national conference, people get afraid and that’s what the colonial authorities didn’t do so why shouldn’t we do it?”
According to him, Nigeria’s problem is not ignorance but low morals and a refusal to match what is known with what is done.
“Having identified corruption and electoral malpractices as evils, what is required is to have the heart to implement what you know. That’s where we have a problem. The countries we call advanced have learnt a lesson that negotiation and dialogue are more important than a violent culture. I am not convinced that we have learnt that to a reasonable percentage,” the professor said, regrettably.