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Britain and Nigeria’s unity: Matters Arising


Despite founding a Nigerian nation that is standing on a faulty foundation, it is preposterous that Britain is more interested in Nigeria’s unity than its constituent population. I state in clear and unmistakable terms that Nigeria’s unity is threatened by the structural and historical imbalances which Britain instituted in Nigeria during colonialism.

In his remarks in the Punch newspaper of Friday, December 15, 2017, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Paul Arkwright, rehearsed the usual refrain of the British government which emphasised the need for a united Nigeria. According to Arkwright, “We are in favour of a united Nigeria; we do not support IPOB, we do not support secessionists.

Equally, they have a right to be heard because the constitution provides for freedom of expression, even as restructuring is going to be a major factor in the 2019 elections.” Arkwright is not alone in the call for Nigeria’s unity. In fact, in more recent times, the call for the preservation of Nigeria’s unity has become a daily phenomenon.

The call for the preservation of Nigeria’s unity at all cost is the passionate response from a section of the country over calls for the breakup of the country. Besides, the call for the preservation of Nigeria’s unity is a response to the spate of heightened agitation for self determination since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office.

With its level of enlightenment, development and civilisation, one had expected Britain to be more interested in impressing it on the minds of Nigerian leaders that the best way to lay a solid national foundation that will usher in the expected level of peace and development is to build a nation that is anchored on justice and equity.

In expressing its desire for the unity of the Nigerian nation, the British government closes its eyes to the inequities and injustices that have become the norm in Nigeria. Can Arkwright claim that he is not aware that Britain crafted a Nigerian nation that is characterised by injustice? Can he claim that he does not know that Britain singlehandedly lumped disparate groups of nationalities, with multicultural background, into a single entity called Nigeria without their consent? To worsen matters, Britain deliberately empowered a certain section of the country politically, to lord it over the rest of the country since 1960 when Nigeria gained political independence.

The seed that Britain sowed has germinated, grown and reproduced it- self in the form of injustice, and the pursuit of ethno-religious hegemony, among other problems. I am sure that Arkwright and those eminent Nigerians calling for the unity of the Nigerian nation are aware that injustice gives room for agitations and the desire for self-determination. Should anyone with a right sense of justice actually blame IPOB for calling for the breakup of the country? Arkwright and those calling for Nigerian unity are putting the cart before the horse.

Agitations have become an integral part of Nigeria’s developmental challenges. The present government of Buhari has worsened the fragile unity of the Nigerian nation and has heightened the spate of ethnic agitations by the lopsidedness of his appointments. Yet, Britain with its influence and power did not condemn the President’s action.

That Britain’s relationship with Nigeria is based on primordial and imperialist interests and not in institutionalising the values of good governance: justice, equity, accountability and transparency, is not in doubt. The forgoing are institutional values that are cherished in Britain, yet Britain is not concerned about their institutionalisation in Nigeria. Is this not a case of double standard? As its former colonial power, the British government should have assumed the role of an unbiased umpire in monitoring the affairs of the country.

It has rather decided to carry on with its imperialist mentality by dictating to Nigerians why they should live together. Was a referendum conducted by Britain before she lumped together the various ethnic groups? Historically, Arkwright is aware that some of the nations hastily crafted together by British imperialism, have gone their separate ways because the foundation upon which they were brought together was faulty.

Nigeria is a country that is replete with agitations, agitations emanated from the structural imbalances fostered on Nigeria by British imperialism. The agitation for fiscal federalism; for devolution of power to the states; and the reintroduction of the 1963 constitution are historical evidence of the unhealthy and unworkable framework instituted by the forceful nature of the Nigerian federation.

This unworkable framework is also report of the quest for unity which is unconnected by constitutional, cultural and historical realities. As presently constituted, the Nigerian nation is a contraption that is largely unworkable or so it seems.

As is often said, those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable. Those who are against peaceful change in this country are those who are beneficiaries of the present status quo that is inherently unjust, oppressive and exploitative, yet they are calling for unity.

For Nigeria to move forward, it must embrace restructuring to give way to a national rebirth, where every Nigerian would be given a sense of belonging. The constitution which is the operating document for governance must be fundamentally amended to create room for Nigeria to practice true federalism.

Nigeria must get it right constitutionally and structurally before it can operate as a workable union. So much reforms are needed to get things right in Nigeria. Apart from constitutional reforms, institutional, ideological and ethical reforms are needed to re-orientate Nigeria on the right path.

Unleashing the military to suppress opposition and agitations is only postponing the evil day. Surely, problems of nationhood cannot be swept under the carpet. Resolving the problems of a multi-ethnic nation like Nigeria requires tact, sincerity, compromise and a sense of purpose.

Problems of nationhood are like the waves of the ocean that cannot be quietened. Just as the waves of the ocean can torpedo a ship, so the problems of nationhood can plunge it into a crisis and precipitate its disintegration if not tactically and sincerely handled. Those who are against restructuring do not wish Nigeria well. They are the ones who want the country to disintegrate.

Thus, there doesn’t seem to be light at the end of the tunnel, but a drift to the precipice. Regrettably, Nigeria is still at the primordial stage, more than four decades ago, when the late Pa Awolowo referred to it as a mere geographical expression. It has remained at this stage because of the insincerity of Nigerian leaders, yet they want unity at all cost.

Unity is not an ideal that is realised mechanically. Unity is an ideal that should be laboured for and achieved through a deliberate plan of action that is anchored on justice. In fact, Nigerian leaders should thank God that despite the monumental level of injustice and oppression in the country, Nigeria has not witnessed a revolution and eventual disintegration.

The attainment of Nigeria’s developmental ideals has remained a looming mirage because the constitutional rigidities and institutional failure of the Nigerian nation have stifled the prospects for development.

Restructuring will unleash the potentials for development and create the necessary conducive environment. Those who are crying more than the bereaved concerning Nigeria’s unity like Arkwright and other highly placed Nigerians should think twice about their duplicitous stance and toe the path of moral rectitude or keep quiet perpetually if they are not prepared to speak out and condemn the injustices that are bedevilling the nation instead of calling for national unity. According to Albert Einstein, peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.

• Nwogbo works with the National Open University of Nigeria, Abuja.

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