The issue of unity in Nigeria’s diversity over the years has been given various interpretations. In fact, recent developments in the country have proved that most frequently, the term “unity in diversity” is only remembered when the need arises for the one to take undue advantage of the other.
A good example is the esoterically contradictory interpretations of former Head of State, Gen. Mohammadu Buhari (rtd), of what Nigeria’s multilingual enclave should be, deducible from his declarations as Commander in Chief of the country, and his recent frustrating outbursts.
As a Head of State (from the eve of 1984 to August 1985), like others before and after him, he had preached unity in diversity to the highest heaven. But following his failures at the April 2011 polls, he now deems it fit to throw Nigeria’s unity to the dogs, going as far as threatening bloodbath to a nation he should rightly assist to steer towards the right path as an elder statesman.
It is in this light that the recent stance by former Heads of State, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo and Gen. Ibrahim Babangida becomes commendable, in spite of their contributions in inadvertently planting the seed that has germinated thus far during their tenures.
Though arch-enemies, they suddenly realised what is expected of them as elder statesmen, and came up with a joint statement denouncing the present in- security in the country. In their statement, they noted thus:
“Unfolding events in our dear motherland, Nigeria, over the last few years are threatening to unravel the nearly a century old labour of our founding fathers and subsequent generations in building a strong, united, peaceful nation that can accommodate and cater for the needs and aspirations of our diverse communities.
“Internecine crises are raging across the land unabated with damaging consequences on the social, political and economic life of the nation. And in the process untold hardships are being visited on all citizens in one form or another on a daily basis.
“The lost of innocent lives being experienced by the day across the nation is simply unbearable. Currently, the nation is gripped by a regime of fear and uncertainty that virtually all citizens have difficulties going about their normal day-to- day lives without great anxiety and trepidation. This cannot be allowed to continue.
“A deeply worrying trend that is emerging from this terrible situation is that a pervasive cynicism is beginning to set in, so much so that millions of true Nigerian patriots are starting to question the platform upon which the unity of this country rests. This is simply untenable.
“The people of this country must not allow whatever sense of frustration, fear and despair we are experiencing now to supersede our hopes for a collective destiny which lies in our continued existence as a Nation. For us, and we believe for millions of other Nigerians, the continued unity of this nation is not only priceless but non-negotiable.
“We, therefore, urge all governments in the country, starting with all the 774 local councils to comprehensively engage their communities at the various levels including: elders, youth organisation, trade union and associations, women bodies, the clergy and other community stakeholders.
“We also call on the Federal and states governments not only to encourage these grassroots engagements for peace and beneficial coexistence, but should work out the framework to sustain the engagement. In all these efforts, it is important to emphasise that our diversity is a course for celebration not a cause for lamentations.
“Finally, we need to reiterate that no meaningful development can ever occur in an atmosphere of violence and hatred. History has shown that any society that is built on the structures of violence and intolerance cannot prosper.
“We need to appreciate that, God in His infinite mercy, has blessed our country with abundant resources and talents, but we need peace and harmony to harness them not just for our own wellbeing but also that of our children and grandchildren. We owe this future generations of Nigerians this much.
“On our part, we are ready to do whatever is possible to promote the quest for peace and harmony. And are ready to join hands with all patriots to sustain and further enhance the unity and progress of this country.”
orrying trend that is emerging from this terrible situation is that a pervasive cynicism is beginning to set in, so much so that millions of true Nigerian patriots are starting to question the platform upon which the unity of this country rests. This is simply untenable”.
Presenting an address titled “Nigeria’s unity and regional groups: Influence and impact of Northern Governors Forum”, at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, London, last month, chairman of the Northern States Governor’s Forum (NSGF), Dr. Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu harped further on Nigeria’s unity, with emphasis on efforts made by the NSGF for the sake of Nigeria’s unity in diversity.
The well articulate address, which was compartmentalised into Protocol, Fuel Subsidy, Religion/Regulation, Peer Review Mechanism, Economy, Mobilising Socio-Cultural Groups and Traditional Institutions for National Unity, Overcoming Socio-Political Challenges, Security, Violence and Islam, Nigeria: A Historical Reflection, Regional and National Unity, Lessons, The Niger State Example, and Conclusion, touched on virtually all aspects of the Nigerian society, but for the apparent politics of unity.
Specifically, Dr. Mu’azu, who is also the Governor of Niger State, noted under “Protocol” that “the Northern States Governor’s Forum does not believe in the break-up of Nigeria. Hence, the unity of Nigeria is sacrosanct in spite of the current (security) challenges”. Yet he gives undue credit to the NSGF for obeying Nigeria’s constitution at critical moment of the nation’s democracy.
“For instance, we initiated and supported the adoption of the ‘doctrine of necessity’ by the National Assembly and Nigerians in confirming the then Vice President as the Acting President to resolve the exploitation of the prolonged illness and absence from office of the then President, Umaru Musa Yaradua despite Section 144 subsection 1(b) and subsection 2 of the Nigerian Constitution.
“The Constitution provides that when the President is incapacitated, administrative power to act be transmitted to the Vice President to avoid vacuum in leadership.
“The problem of formal transmission came to the fore when members of the National Assembly demanded for the letter by the ailing president before legitimising the acting capacity of the then Vice President. To date there is no certainty about what happened to the letter and whether or not it was written.
“In honouring the Constitution, the forum supported the making of Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Acting President that was subsequently endorsed by the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) at the national level in spite the antagonism originating from the South-south region.
“Notwithstanding such antics, he was confirmed by the National Assembly and sworn-in as Acting President paving the way for peaceful transition on the death of President Umaru Musa Yaradua on May 5th, 2010 and President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR sworn-in on May 6, 2010 as substantive President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”
The NSGF, as represented by Dr. Mu’azu also seeks to be noted as having done the extraordinary for standing against the zoning of the presidency by the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), contrary to the 1999 constitution which states in section 131 that “A person shall be qualified for election to the office of the President if- (a) he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth; (b) has attained the age of 40 years; (c) he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party; and (d) he has been educated up to at least school certificate level or its equivalent”.
It might therefore be pertinent to state that, acting according to the constitution in this context can only be seen as an extraordinary feat when it is already viewed as an abnormality.
But Mu’azu also showed his knowledge and acknowledgement of Nigeria’s peculiar socio-political challenges when he said “We have our peculiar problems and challenges; a fundamental one being leadership deficit. There is a gap of committed leadership that understands the nuances of governance and that which is conscious of the sensibilities of the political environment.
“Leadership deficit has over the years exposed Nigeria to high-level of corruption, bad governance, political instability and a cyclical legitimacy crisis. Consequently, national development has been slow and the political environment uncertain.
“Indeed, surmounting the challenges of today World requires a leadership with moral compass – character, vision, integrity and courage to take difficult decisions to enhance socio-economic development, irrespective of whose interest is at stake”.
This, among others, implies that the Boko Haram sect, which is currently the cause of the insecurity pervading the country, particularly the north, should be openly denounced by such respected traditional rulers like Sadauna of Sokoto, the father of Islam in Nigeria, and former Heads of States from the north. Incidentally, that region has a majority among former Heads of States in the country .