“The creation of Nigeria involved forcing several different ethnic, cultural and religious groups into one political structure. In retrospect of forty years, it is clear that this was a grave mistake which has cost many lives and will probably continue to do so” – Sir Peter Smithers, London Times, July 15, 1998.
Nigeria is an African powerhouse blessed with a large growing economy, huge reserves of oil and natural gas, the largest population in Africa, a rich cultural diversity, and powerful regional influence. With over 250 ethnicities and over 500 distinct dialects, Nigeria is recognized as one of the most diverse nations in terms of ethnic groups and linguistics.
Undoubtedly, it is colorful when these various ethnic groups come together to display the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the country but we cannot lie that it has been a threat to the peaceful coexistence of Nigeria, and this is partly because the numerous ethnic groups still maintain a higher allegiance to their tribal interest than to the state, let alone national interests that would be beneficial to everyone. Thus, there is a stereotype of thinking of ourselves as coming from and belonging to one part of the country before seeing ourselves as Nigerians.
Nigeria is both a mosaic of tribes, related or allied ethnic or ideological groups, and nations now linked economically and politically under a common government in a colonially imposed territorial unit. That Nigeria is a country created by colonial fiat is not in doubt. That Nigeria is an amalgam of disparate ethnic nations is a statement of fact. That Nigerian leaders are bereft of ideas to weave a nation out of the welter of ethnicities that constitute the Nigerian political space is stating the obvious.
I decided to start the article with the remark of Sir Peter Smithers. Sir Peter Smithers, who died in 2006 at the age of 92, was a British diplomat, politician and distinguished administrator; who served as Conservative MP for the District of Winchester for 14years. It is on record that he played major part in the evolution of Nigeria as a country.
But several years after, he would regret the lumping together of many disparate ethnic nationalities into one country. History will remember him favourably for acknowledging that Nigeria was a mistake and should not have been created by colonial fiat. He was prophetic when he remarked that this mortal mistake has cost many lives and will probably continue to do so unless the fundamental structural problems of the country are urgently resolved.
It is very easy to mark the year 1914 as the year when the northern and southern protectorates of Nigeria was amalgamated but we need to ask ourselves one question, what efforts did we, as a nation, make to complement our amalgamation with respect to unity? The answer is obvious. We made little or no efforts and that birthed the 1967 Civil War that further deepened the disunity. The existence of the persistent conflict between the North and South explains the division in the country
Yes, we adopted mantras such as “the unity of the nation is not negotiable” but we have failed to prove it. The old dictum “United we stand, divided we fall,” is more likely to pass off as a boring cliché to an ignorant mind, but through the prism of factuality; one will indeed come to understand and appreciate its gravity in the affairs of our great nation, Nigeria where violence, birthed by ethnic jingoism, has become a cheered trend in our society and unity, on the other hand, is booed. The existence of Nigeria as a unified state is in jeopardy.
If one were in the know and up-to-date with the events unfolding in the country – the rising spate of religious and ethnic conflicts overwhelming the country – one would accept the bitter truth that Nigeria is on the brink of collapse. A thread of faith and grace holds us. But how long can this thread hold us? Aren’t we expending our last breath of grace? The forces that balance Nigerian unity are fragile and may yet fatally fracture Nigeria’s polity and state integrity.
It is really unfortunate that the five-letter word, unity, has prevented us from getting to where we should be. Though badly bruised by the absence of national unity, we’re yet to conquer. We are yet to achieve this dream of oneness, a state of tranquility and togetherness. Maybe we just don’t understand the significance of national unity and the important role it plays in the sustenance of democracy especially as we are an internationally recognized republic. Seeing as unity has been our age-long problem, it has become a thing of worry.