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MAGNUS ONYIBE

Magnus Onyibe is an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Massachusetts, USA and a former cabinet member of Delta state government. Since the return to multi-party democracy in Nigeria over 21 years ago, Onyibe has written and published over 200 opinion pieces on the Nigerian economy, business, politics, leadership, governance and foreign relations issues.

His Eminence, Sa’ad Abubaker lll, the Sultan of Sokoto’s admonition that God does not make mistakes must have struck strong chords in the hearts of members of both the Islamic and Christian Faiths in Nigeria. The assumption above is underscored by the fact that people of the two major religions believe there is one God. That is a fundamental and critical point of convergence and common ground.

The main point of divergence in both religions is that Muslims believe in Muhammad as prophet of God while Christians believe in Jesus Christ as son of God.

As individuals in our homes or offices, people differ in their views, opinions and beliefs, yet they, more often than not, remain same family or colleagues.

Apparently, President Muhammadu Buhari shares the belief because in his Sallah message, over the weekend, he entrusted the unity of Nigeria to God and made reference to the African proverb, which states, “A family tie is like a tree, it can bend but it can’t break”.

So, in my considered opinion, bringing the omnipotence of the almighty God into the issue of a united Nigeria by the Sultan is a masterstroke that’s bound to resonate with the protagonists and antagonists in the current war of words over the vexed issue of whether to restructure or break up Nigeria.

By inviting God into the matter of national unity and continuous existence of Nigeria as a sovereign entity, the ebullient sultan seems to have brought in a new perspective which could be referred to as a paradigm shift in the dialogue which has so far featured incendiary comments from both sides of the debate that have frayed nerves.

In a presentation during a recent Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) talk shop in Abuja , the leader of the Muslim Faith in Nigeria sued for a peaceful resolution of the schism through dialogue because the formation of Nigeria is divine by stating that, “Because we didn’t fall from the sky, we came from somewhere. We became Nigeria in 1914 through amalgamation. People are shouting that our coming together as a country in 1914 was a mistake, but God doesn’t make mistakes. If God doesn’t want such a thing as Nigeria to happen, nobody could ever have made it happen.”

He added, “If restructuring will make life better and convenient, then the think-tank, after their work, would call for stakeholder’s dialogue for the way forward”. In a nutshell, what the Sultan is advocating is that as a nation, Nigerians should celebrate what binds us, not what divides us as we are currently doing by driving a wedge between the multifarious ethnic groups and religions in the country through hate speeches.

On the first day of October every year, we celebrate Independence Day. That’s because on that date in 1960, Nigeria secured independence from British colonial rule. But in 1914, the northern and southern protectorates of the British Empire were amalgamated by fiat. And Sultan Abubakar lll has now dimensioned the union of the north and south by Britain as God’s design, which is quite refreshing. As earlier stated, the Sultan’s perspective is quite illuminating and offers a common ground for dialogue. As we say in Christian marriages “what God has joined together, let no man put asunder”. And that’s what the highly respected monarch appearing to be echoing. That makes a God focused and sustained path to peace in Nigeria, now open for exploration. To that effect, it behoves the religious leaders of the two major faiths practiced in Nigeria, as well as traditional rulers from both the north and south, to seize the initiative from some unscrupulous politicians, who selfishly exploit Nigerians by dwelling on what divides us more than what binds us as a nation.

To build on Sultan Abubakar lll’s introduction of God into the initiative for peaceful and sustainable existence of Nigeria, l would like to recommend the cementing of the marriage between the north and south, by proposing that Nigeria should start celebrating Amalgamation Day. Obviously, Independence Day celebration became a prominent annual event marked with pomp and pageantry in Nigeria because our former colonial masters, Britain, initiated it. Since more often than not, our leaders were led by the nose by the colonialists and are still caught up in a neo-colonial mindset, instead of having their own initiative of making 1914 an epochal occasion that marked our unification, October 1st 1960 Independence Day, has become one of the most important dates celebrated in our country. Meanwhile, 1914, being the day the north and south were joined in sovereign wedlock, and therefore a watershed as well as a divine date, as attested to by the sultan, has been relegated and neglected. Put succinctly, instead of Amalgamation Day being given a pride of place that it deserves and celebrated as it should, Independence Day from Britain has been taking centre stage in Nigeria. As a pathway to national unity, which most Nigerians are yearning for, the Presidency must without further delay send to the National Assembly (NASS) a bill to proclaim national Amalgamation Day to be celebrated by all Nigerians. That is one way we can focus on the chords that bind us which are aplenty, as opposed to dwelling on factors that divide us.

To confirm the socioeconomic linkages between Nigerians across the northern and southern parts, nostalgic stories have been told of Okonkwo and Sons shop – a trading point established by an lgbo man in Kano state – several decades ago. The shop grew to become a thriving commercial post that later transformed into a town now known as Kwakwanso. It is from that town that Musa Kwakwanso, a former two-time governor of Kano State and now a serving senator hails and is the origin of his name. As a news correspondent in Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) Newsline several years ago in the mid 1980s, l followed a cattle trail from the northern to eastern parts of Nigeria and met an Hausa man named Musa in Enugu who was born there when his parents were located there several decades ago, in the cause of trading cattle. He spoke flawless lgbo without a Hausa accent or inflections to the extent that, l could not have known that he was Hausa, if he had not been identified as such. He too had started bearing offspring that had become deeply entrenched in lgbo culture and way of life. If both Okonkwo in Kano and Musa did not find their far-flung locations from their native homes accommodating, they would not have flourished. It is thus very heart warming to learn that before the divisive politics of the north and south was being fuelled by policy shifts and sometimes outright breach of the 1999 Constitution by later day political leaders now threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria as it has been since 1914, people of the north and south co-existed harmoniously. And if the instances of integration between the Okonkwo in Kano and Musa in Enugu could happen without facilitation by government through any significantly coordinated effort, you can imagine how culturally blended Nigerians could have been, had strategic efforts been consistently made by the authorities to cement the relationship which Sultan Abubakar has declared as being divine.

And l wholeheartedly agree with the highly revered monarch, because l can relate to the fact that nothing happens without God’s knowledge. But l’m also aware that God can allow a break up, if we as a people rebel against Him by being unfair and unjust to fellow compatriots. To be fair, putting Nigerian youths through National Youth Service Corp (NYSC)  to blend culturally by being posted to areas different from their natural habitats, was aimed at getting them to understand and appreciate the lifestyles of fellow Nigerians in distant locations from home. But the policy, which was introduced in the 1970s now, appears to have been derailed from what the initiators had in mind because the principles have been compromised as youths now dodge it by bribing government officials who supervise the scheme. Also, it did not help that government later started getting NYSC members engaged in the conduct of political office election processes. The exercise exposed the lives of youths to danger and they have consequently faced the risk of lynching and other untold murderous incidents during and after elections in some northern states. As such, parents are justifiably, no longer releasing their children to serve in environments where their lives are endangered by intolerant religious bigots and some politicians who are sore losers.

It may also be recalled that the concept of Unity Schools where students from across the geopolitical zones were admitted into schools far from home, was also introduced to encourage cultural integration amongst Nigerian youths. But all those noble objectives and initiatives of the golden days of Nigeria have now become memories of the distant past. So it boggles the mind that authorities are acting surprised that our youths are spending their idle time cursing out each other on social media platforms. Do we need a rocket scientist to teach us that the way we make our bed is the way we will lie in it? What the foregoing kindergarten rhyme indicates, is that we are reaping what we sowed by not preparing our youths to understand and respect each other’s culture and beliefs. That’s partly accountable for the resort to trading of hate speeches in the social media platforms coalescing into lgbo youths Biafran state agitation and Arewa quit notice to the lgbo. At the height of their governorship of Delta and Bauchi states, some 10 years ago, Governors James Ibori and Ahmed Muazu, led traditional leaders from their states on cultural exchange visits. The initiative, which was a positive step towards building of friendship between people of both states was discontinued after both governors left the scene at the completion of their tenures in 2007. The governor’s forums of both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the two leading political parties, and the various regional governors’ forums, should consider reigniting that positive initiative by the pair of lbori and Muazu. If such forum for enlightenment was in existence, perhaps, the youths from across the north and south would understand each other better and not literarily be at each other’s throat as they currently are. It is disheartening to know that, it is the fallout of the negligence of youths that has so rankled the authorities, and as an antidote to the unedifying activities on the internet, government is now toying with the idea of stymieing of freedom of speech in the social media via monitoring by the military.

Clearly, curtailing the freedom of youths on social media platforms is a threat to their fundamental human rights as it is tantamount to zero sum solution to the challenge of youth restiveness online. Does Nigeria want to descend to the level of North Korea where its citizens are locked out of the social media? Democracy is fragile and delicate, so we can’t afford to handle it roughly with military force. As Thurgood Marshall, one time Supreme Court justice of the United States of America (USA) once posited, “We must dissent, because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better”.

I’m aware that power without control is dangerous, but democracy must be allowed to blossom. It is high time authorities eschewed militaristic governance style reflected in their crude and poorly formulated draconian policies. Our leaders must start engaging in critical thinking with a view to coming up with democratically acceptable and sustainable solutions for progress in the society and prosperity for all Nigerians.

Why don’t we dig deep to see how our leaders past steered the ship of state from falling off the precipice of prejudice and inequality. For instance, the NYSC and Unity schools were formulated by Nigerian technocrats and l believe such people are not in short supply in today’s public service system, so they should be engaged. This brings to mind a wisecrack about India, another country that was colonised by Britain. The pun is that India retained the technological skills introduced to them by their colonial masters and built on it, while preserving their own traditional Hindu religion to the Englishman’s religion, which they discarded. The benefit of which is that Indians are now one of the world’s leading countries in technological advancement with Bangalore, being that country’s equivalent of Silicon Valley in California, USA. Her nationals also constitute one of the highest crop of chief executives in information technology firms across the world. Conversely, Nigeria failed to capitalise on British technological prowess that could have been bequeathed on her and instead, preferred to adopt hook-line-and-sinker, the British religion and her cultural orientation. This is why most Nigerians are said to be more ‘religious’ than the Archbishop of Canterbury and more English than the Queen of England. How many Indians bear English names? Very few. But most Nigerians, especially from the south, (including yours truly) bear English or Western names simply because our forbears failed to retain their African consciousness and got ensnared in colonial mentality. Even Ghanaians, who are just down the road from Nigeria, bear more local Ashanti, Twi, Ga and Fanti names than we have lgbo, Edo, Kanuri, lbibio, Fulfude or Urhobo, Ika, Jukun, Tiv, Calabari and Idoma names in Nigeria. To the best of my knowledge, the Yoruba fair better in Indigenisation and the Igbo and south-south people are worse. But the Hausa/Fulani are not different from their other compatriots with strong Arabic influence in their names and culture.

Nigeria must stop being the proverbial slave who loved his chains by continuously revelling in the shackle and being enamoured by the period that Britain and other foreign powers enslaved us. We must make concerted efforts to truly be independent. It must be part of the change that President Buhari and the ruling party APC promised Nigerians. Not many people remember that several years ago, Japan colonised  China. That’s simply because it has remained a sore point which the Chinese are not proud of, so the experience is bitter, and as such, it is not celebrated. On the other hand, the example of Germany, which recently reunified after tearing down the Berlin Wall that hitherto separated the West from East Germany, is worthy of emulation by Nigeria.

In conclusion, Aso Rock villa in collaboration with the NASS, must dedicate time and resources towards nurturing the peaceful and egalitarian Nigeria that most of us are clamouring for. Merely romanticising it by our leaders won’t make it happen. Only purposefully designed and implemented policy actions that reflect equity and justice will make peaceful co-existence happen because equity, justice and peace go pari passu. So our leaders should stop equivocating and do what they were elected to do: put on their thinking caps in order to come up with ‘out of the box’ solutions and stop being pedantic.

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