The Nigerian Constitution says in the first paragraph “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria having firmly and solemnly resolve, to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation under God, dedicated to the promotion of inter-African solidarity, world peace, international co-operation and understanding. And to provide for a Constitution for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our country, on the principles of freedom, equality and justice, and for the purpose of consolidating the unity of our people”.
Section 1(2) says “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed, nor shall any persons or group of persons take control of the Government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution” This section shows that not even religious groups are permitted to take control Nigeria by any means. The power to fight any other means of taking control of Nigeria except through the ballot box is obvious and vested in the commander in chief. So declaring a state of emergency where the unity of the country is at stake should be considered as aptly right and should be supported by all who want Nigeria to remain as one united entity.
The unity of our dear country has been fought for and lives lost to keep us as one unit. It is glaring that we have problems of understanding ourselves and there have been numerous agitations of break up which is on-going. Historically this was seen even among our founding fathers as each of them attempted to take something to their people by fighting for central control. Our founding fathers realized this trend early also and started making efforts to avoid what we are facing today. Symbols of our unity include the Armed Forces, the establishment of unity schools and NYSC among others.
The Federal Government College Sokoto was one of the first three unity schools established. On the old students’ association website is an insight into the establishment of Unity Schools. “Shortly after independence in 1960, the then Federal Government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, Alhaji (Sir) Abubakar Tafawa Balewa realized that most of the problems in Government and Parliament were due to mistrust and ignorance of the backgrounds among the people governing the new Nation. The political crisis that erupted in the Western Region after the 1964 elections further strengthened the government’s perception”. Drawing from the example of Argentina, in 1966, the Federal Government decided to establish what was then known as “Inter Regional Secondary Schools” and later called Federal Government Colleges.
Among the reasons of establishment were: to bring together young boys and girls from all regions of the country, irrespective of their social or economic background to learn, play, work and live under one roof in order to remove the virtual mysteries surrounding the evolution of the people who made up the regional citizenry, thereby creating a homogeneous family devoid of rancour, suspicion or distrust. Another reason was to breed detribalized citizens needed for the good management of resources at all levels of governance of the Nation.
Many persons in government or working as pressure groups today, whether state or Federal have attended a unity school or are part of the idea. Some of them have also served in the Armed Forces. I am however unable to see the positives that our founding fathers envisaged so far. So where are we going wrong?
I recently read the statement attributed to the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) about President GEJ waging war against the north by his declaration of state of emergency; I thought to myself that with all due respect these well-known and important elders could not have said so. I fervently believe if it is true that they did, they may have decided to ignore the constitution which many of them were part of writing up.
It would appear that it is not only NEF and AREWA Consultative Forum who are discountenancing our constitution in the name of regional pressure groups. Others include Afenifere and Yoruba Elders. Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Igbo Elders, Ijaw National Congress and Ijaw Elders among the many. I know that people will tell me to get lost and that the constitution allows for groups coming together as part of human rights. But I dare say that the first of all guidance in the constitution of Nigeria is our living together in unity. Once that is thrown away we are no longer Nigeria as specified in the constitution.
When the NEF visited President GEJ before the amnesty committee was set up, one of the issues raised and in their press release stated inter alia was “the elders wish to observe that there is a resurgence of inciteful sectional, ethnic and religious rhetorics by persons, some of whom are holding high positions in society, condemning or disparaging whole groups or sections especially from the North. This creates ill feeling and disharmony, capable of injuring and eroding the unity of the country”. I therefore believe that they do have the unity of Nigeria at the background of their minds and did not mean exactly that the President who most of them helped to become President is now waging war against them.
Any group be they from the north, south, east or west that pronounces inciteful statements is going contrary to the tenets of our constitution as regards keeping us united as a country. When individuals talk about war in Nigeria, I believe it can be easy to bring them to book. If however sectional groups say similar things, it is obvious how difficult managing such insinuations can be. If Nigeria breaks up no part will have any benefit as we do not have any homogenous part in Nigeria.
I am keen to understand how the Northern Elders see the President. Is he seen as President of Nigeria or a regional President? Same question is being asked of the Ijaws? How do they see the President? Is he an Ijaw President or President of Nigeria? Our country has been so polarised and divided along ethnic lines that the constitution has become meaningless.
For regional pressure groups to be useful to the unity of our dear country, they must be seen and work functionally. Functional pressure groups would usually be defined as those pressure or interest groups whose activities are not limited or restricted to the promotion and protection of parochial interests but who are vocal and determined in pursuing policies and goals that have relevance to citizens in Nigeria as a whole. Functional groups work towards sensitizing and mobilizing the populace against unpopular acts of government not acts that will keep us together united.
It is obvious that these regional pressure groups are negatively impacting the democratic process in Nigeria and have contributed to the problem of democratization in Nigeria, either overtly or covertly. When these pressure groups behave functionally, they are to very large extent necessary and healthy for a thriving democratic culture to evolve. Regional pressure groups should not seek responsibility for the direct management of government, but reflect the concerns of the society in which they operate.
Borrowing from the words of Oba Akenzua II in 1963 and applying these words to Nigeria I say who ever does not want the unity of Nigeria will be condemned by the future generations. Even those who die while working against the unity will be the condemned in the other world; if they die with the bad intention of working against or persuading people to work against the unity and solidarity of Nigeria. Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.