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Nigeria as a coat of many colours – part 2

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AFP PHOTO / STEFAN HEUNIS

It must be said that even at the time we cherished the coat of many colours, the union was not perfect. It had its contours, its patches, and its unevenness. Yet we endured because we were hopeful. The will to live together was great. At the end of the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War in January 1970, after the bloody tears had cleared, after we could now see clearly somewhat, the spirit was ‘never again’. Never again would we call out our brothers to a war of attrition. Never again would we starve children in the name of war. Never again would we give the impression that some constituent parts of the Federation were vassals or conquered territory. The coat of many colours, it seemed, could be beautiful, could be harnessed and when properly managed could provoke envy from enemy forces, both within and outside the continent of Africa. The war slogan To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done, seemed to have triumphed, seemed to have etched something in the consciousness of everyone.

Perhaps I should rewind a bit and say a few things about the Biafran occupation of Midwest. It was not a tea-party. They grabbed ladies and anything they liked. They terrorised us. Some prominent citizens were taken away and some returned only after the war. They killed at the slightest provocation. One of the casualties of that period was Mr. Ughubetine, a goldsmith who was killed a few weeks or month after his wedding. His offence? He was seen outside his house within the compound after 7 p.m. He ran into his room when he heard the voices of the soldiers and in the presence of bride he was gunned down through the door! She wept till dawn.

And so the war ended and we started a long romance with soldiers. The ‘coat of many colours’ could bestow leadership on Nigeria and indeed the world. During the war Britain is reported to have supplied arms to both parties in the conflict. Some other scoundrel nations and individuals did same. Nigeria began to be strong and spearheaded the anti-apartheid struggle as a ‘frontline state.’ Some people in the power corridors of international politics did not like this. So the Nigerian state had to be manipulated, confused and then destroyed. Why did those five American military officers predict a doomed Nigeria after the 2015 election? Unwittingly some forces within the country started the journey into self-destruction!

Within the country a perception emerged: real political power had been grabbed by the Northern elite. Another perception also emerged: the north contributed ‘little or nothing’ to the national economy yet controlled the levers of political power. Whether by design or default all the coups and counter-coups from July 1967 to 1985 were led and dominated by soldiers of Northern extraction. The attempted coup against President Babangida was essentially an anti-north coup. Indeed one of their demands and which was also crucial to the failure of the coup was the order that excised certain parts of the north from Nigeria. Believers in the coat of many colours approach were aghast. Some of the soldiers from the Middle Belt and other minorities in the country opined that they were fed up with being dominated in the Army by northern officers. And I remember General Alli’s book ‘The Federal Republic of Nigerian Army: The Siege of a Nation.’ The dominant narrative even in the Nigerian Army was that no non-Northerner could aspire to rule the country without the full support of the North establishment.

It did not matter that the northern officers and officials who held power in the centre did nothing to radically transform the infrastructure in that region. The same poor infrastructure which the south suffered could be found everywhere in the North. Maiduguri? Sokoto? Kaura Namoda? How was Bauchi better than Benin in infrastructure or education? So what did they do with the so-called northern control of the establishment? Not much, I’m afraid. So rather than unite the entire country in prosperity the common denominator became poverty. That is the reason I wonder why the poor people across the country – Christian or Muslim, North or South- never see the unifying factor in this coat of many colours. The elite on both sides have effectively buried the hatchet in the head of a common enemy.

Hunger does not know religion. It does not know ethnic group. Poverty does not visit one religion or one ethnic group because of the religion. This coat of many colours has been mutilated by the men and women charged with the responsibility of harnessing the beauty of the coat. Primordial emotions and sentiments have been whipped up to undermine the beauty of the coat. Each time I took my wife to Mile 12 in Ketu, I see the coat of many colours in action. On the football field during international matches I see the coat of many colours in action. When abroad and I ran into a Mosun or a Musa or an Emeka in faraway Houston or Vienna or in Uppsala I see the coat of many colours in action. When Murtala Mohammed was assassinated in 1976 the coat of many colours swung into action. Hatred as a result of ethnicity or religion is a surface thing. It is the result of myopia and ignorance.

It follows that with a proper harnessing of the coat of many colours Nigeria is possible. What is lacking is justice. Equity is in abeyance in producing and dispensing the national cake. Highly-placed mischievous persons manipulate the coat and turn it into a reason for betrayal, for selling the nation to slavery. The patches in the coat serve different purposes. Diversity can be beauty. Diversity can be harnessed. Our geographical combination is NOT the problem. It is what we have done with the geographical proximity that is the problem. Be sure that within homogenous ethnic units, sub-groups still emerge and remain enemies. As we write, some families, siblings of same parentage are in court fighting over the inheritance from their father. As we speak, there is anger raging within families, within clans, within churches, within mosques over trivial issues. Homogeneity is not enough armour against intra-group squabbles and divisions. What is happening to the coat of many colours therefore is that we are not managing the tapestry very well. As Wole Soyinka once opined: Justice is the first condition of humanity. Nowhere was national injustice so blatant as how the South-south has been treated in this now-shaky tapestry.

We can as regions in a Federal State or even in a confederation or as separate nations live and make progress. But the truth is that there is something to be said for collective strength, for a group activity and numerical strength. It was Chinua Achebe who wrote in Things Fall Apart: “A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to redeem them from starving. They all have food in their own houses. When we gather together in the moonlight village ground, it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together physically and enjoy the power of togetherness. Let’s smile not because we don’t have problems but because we are stronger than the problems!

To be concluded next week.



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