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The elders and Nigeria’s unity


Prof. Ango Abdullahi

Prof. Ango Abdullahi

As the national debate on the sovereignty, unity and structure of Nigeria gets feverish, the position of some of the nation’s supposed elders is somewhat uninformed, their tone unnecessarily strident and in some cases, downright divisive. This is not only wrong, it is a disservice to Nigeria.

One of such divisive contributions came the other day from a former vice chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Prof. Ango Abdullahi who carelessly and arrogantly said, “Nigeria can break up, it is not indivisible.” From such a highly placed Nigerian and member of Northern Elders Forum (NEF), this is unacceptably irresponsible.

At a book launch in Abuja, Abdullahi noted that, “if Nigerians have found it difficult to live together in peace, the component units should find it convenient to go their separate ways.” He was also quoted as saying that if the amalgamation of the country in 1914 by Lord Lugard was a mistake, “each region should go separately.”

Yes, there is nothing non-negotiable about Nigeria’s sovereignty but the continued discontent in the polity calls for a dialogue with a view to fostering unity, not division. The Muhammadu Buhari-led government should therefore constructively encourage the peoples of this country to be positive as they debate its structure. Of course, it appears the only people who do not understand the import of the debate on the future of Nigeria are those cocooned in the seat of power. And many of those who have been contributing to the debate on “federalism” or “restructuring”, interprete those terms to mean a political ploy to break up the country, a notion that is dubious, self-serving and unpatriotic. With all the benefits of the practice of federalism, including the fact that all the regions in the country have one competitive advantage or the other to exploit in strengthening the concept of fiscal federalism, the seeds of discord in the debate being sown by some elders suggest crass ignorance or outright mischief.

This newspaper hereby reiterates that elite imperviousness to reason and lessons of history will continue to endanger Nigeria’s unity. And such disposition as seen in the present government so far to the issue of restructuring will do more damage to the progress of the country than anything else.

The Nigerian federation will actually be strengthened by restructuring, contrary to all fears and the discontents in the current arrangement are as a result of poor structure as well as woeful governance. What should be debated therefore is how to reform governance institutions to reflect a true federation whose federating units will be fiscally autonomous and viable enough to run their own affairs.

A decentralisation of the nation’s governance structure will ensure healthy rivalry among the component units. This is however, not the same as the divisive and puerile position that the country should be broken up as being suggested by the likes of Ango Abdullahi who anchored his argument on alleged “political instability” caused by politicians and the elite.

The nation’s elders who join in the ongoing debate must understand that Nigeria, certainly, cannot make progress with the current centralised arrangement which encourages indolence on the part of some while they feed fat on the sweat and resources of others.

Again, a centralised revenue aggregation and then allocation formula, whereby the central authorities collect all resources only to turn around and dole out some to the federating states every month will continue to make the constituent states beggarly and unviable.

Nigeria’s current centralised police system cannot deal with the nation’s internal security challenges. Moreso, there are clear examples in federations such as the United States, Canada, Germany, Australia and even the United Kingdom (UK) where a decentralised police system is the norm. In Nigeria’s First Republic, when the regions were autonomous before the military destroyed federalism, state police was part of the success of that era.

Nation-building is not a task for simpletons or irredentists. Which is why all the leaders and elders in the country should raise their voices in educating those who pretend or actually do not understand history that unity and sovereignty are better when peacefully negotiated than when forcibly foisted.

Forced nationhood is not only wrong, it breeds evil and serves no useful purpose to the people. Within one generation, the forced Soviet empire collapsed like a pack of cards into different entities. Yugoslavia disintegrated into a collection of warring states and municipalities. Germany was once forcibly divided but eventually evolved into one country from two.

Eritrea came out of Ethiopia even as Menelik II had sold Djibouti to the French almost 116 years ago to fund the modernisation of Addis Ababa. Sudan was forced to let Southern Sudan go after years of war as a result of injustice from centralisation.

India, the world’s largest democracy, evolved from one territory into three countries (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) within just a quarter of a century.

What Nigeria needs today are leaders with open minds, who would not see those calling for restructuring of the federation as rebels who are out to break up the country. Nigeria needs level-headed elders who will contribute to the debate of restructuring within the context of building a strong federation, not the ones who will advocate forcible break-up when there are more things that unite the people than divide them. What is needed is honesty of purpose and a dynamic leadership which will guide the process of restructuring.

Once again, proponents of authentic federalism are the patriots who want a solid foundation for a united and prosperous Nigeria. The parochial irredentists who interpret a proper federation as breaking up Nigeria are the real enemies of the country.

In this article:
Northern Elders Forum
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  • Ukachukwu

    Am happy that some northerners are beginning to realize that Nigeria will never be great in its present socioeconomic structure. I thank Prof. Ango Abdullahi for being so courageous to state that Nigeria under the present lack of unity, understanding and peace can breakup into it’s component regions. It shows that the North has an alternative mode of thought than the prevalent “unity of Nigeria non-negotiable ‘ team led by BUHARI and the likes of Aminu Tambuwal, the illustrious Gowon. I realized since 1993, the year I left secondary school that Nigeria will never make any tangible progress politically, economically and otherwise. That year I travel for the first time out of my state Imo to visit a relative living in Lagos. That remarkable day I took a night bus to Lagos, while I waited for the bus to depart for the 400 miles journey. I saw over 100 buses laden with people from Aba journeying to Lagos or towards the northern States was the answer I got from fellow travelers when I inquired about the mission of commuters in those buses as well as several scores of buses leaving Owerri to other destinations far away from the southeast. I suddenly realized that our people from the southeast are made to undertake difficult journeys far away from home to access the wharf in Lagos to clear their goods, set consular services, access airports to journey overseas. It was then I realized the magnitude of the hatred the rulers of Nigeria have against we of the southeast. It is this hatred that lead every successive administration to come up with policies to further alleniate the Ibos from enjoying the political and economic benefits of being citizens of Nigeria which in turn hindered the political and economic capabilities of Nigeria as a result of centralization. That night I asked myself that billion naira question, why can’t we have an international airport in Owerri, a wharf at Egbema-Oguta or Onitscha , a cluster of foreign consulates in Enugu to provide for the multifaceted needs of people from the southeast? The Northern rulers of Nigeria and those they appointed had the opportunity to provide for every Nigerian including those of us from the southeast buy failed, for years they had these policy of alleviating those of the southeast from political and economic processes of Nigeria. The result is the current quest for Referendum in the old southeast of Nigeria of our future in or outside Nigeria. They call us agitators but we have legitimate right of self determination and so are political activists and freedom fighters. No good roads in the southeast but there are roads in the north on the same par with roads in western Europe, the USA and Canada. It is good the rulers of Nigeria in the last 50 years have shown the model of Nigeria the envisaged, a Nigeria riddled with greed, nepotism, corruption from the top-down, they have led Nigeria into the point of no return, that they are in dire need of rescue. Nigeria will not recover from this downward plunge because it is founded on fraud of the British and every other foundation built on it becomes faulty and flunders. Nigeria can only be great after it disintegrates into it’s component regions and maybe renegotiate it’s reintegration into an entity like the EU to complete for influence internationally. Those who have been benefitting from the faulty Nigeria structure cries out the loudest each time anyone suggests Nigeria should disintegrate into it’s component regions. I very much support Prof. Ango Abdullahi’s view and would be pleased to see more northerners that have his mindset. The component regions of Nigeria could be competitive, progressive, peaceful neighboring nations whose citizens can be the pride of the black world. Prof. Ango Abdullahi should be encouraged and supported because he is sincere and matter of factedly frank in his opinion on the way forward for Nigeria.

  • Mr. A

    The message is spreading. Perhaps Aso Rock would be the last to see the futility in continued pretence that all was well with this Federation.

  • Okoro Tonye

    I disagree with you -The Guardian Editorial Board- Professor Ango Abdulahi, and indeed, any other Nigerian should be free to bare his /her mind now.
    It must not conform to what you want it to be, but let it be HOW THE NIGERIAN TRULY FEEL.


    Ukachuckwu. I don’t thing you know what you are talking about. What stops your region from having Intrenational Airport and stuff like that. Afterall Pa Ekuweme was Vice President for four years and various individuals of Igbo extraction have held one important position or the other over the years that were in positions to influence decisions. What did they do to better the lots of an average Igbo man. I think it’s about priorities.

  • lord of jaspers

    restructuring 4 true federalism is d simple solution to nigeria’s economic nd political woes!

  • Lemmuel Odjay

    It is an old tool often deployed by Nigeria’s reactionary political elite to call the bluff of whoever dares to challenge their privileged authority. It is both dated and unacceptable to have to be dictated to by a group of people who, since the 1960s when they assumed governance, have had nothing but failure written on their national service scorecard. They have become wealthier and more comfortable than the country whose good they swore to uphold. Permit me to ask a pertinent question again: Who is afraid of true federalism in Nigeria? Of course, politicians and the oligarch, particularly of the North. They have everything to lose under a well structured federal system of governance that ensure equal opportunity for every Nigerian or federating unit. They prefer and are bent on retaining this centralized and very, very retrogressive and skewed “monkey dey work, baboon dey chop” system that was imposed on the rest of us by the military. They prefer that the country’s economy remain uncomfortably rooted and dependant on the fortunes of a mono product such as oil and the vagaries of its prices, as long as they continue profiting financially by it and at the expense of the Nigerian masses. This attitude has been the reason behind our backwardness and is a major cause of the perennial militancy and challenges facing the country. Whenever the country faces any serious challenge that question its existence, these so-called elders, rather than proffer credible solutions as is the case elsewhere, resort instead to the use of provocative and divisive utterances aimed at scaring dissent. To them, any dissenter of a federalist hue is at once an imminent danger to their collective interest to keep Nigerians under servitude perpetually. By this we know that their hearts are not after the wellbeing of this country as a unit, but after what they can get out of it only. They have surrounded Buhari and are whispering endlessly in his ears. He should beware before it is too late…

  • Mazi JO

    Federate the peoples’ minds first. I have always asserted that all blue-prints have elements of ills. If you go the highway of any federalism, the constituents are still the people you are escaping in the old one. What we truly need is that moment when majority of Nigerians will atone for one Nation under God. The Country is not wholly only for the Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba or the attendant ethnicities. Even foreigners who can truly buy into the doctrine are welcome. It you look into organisations you see people, says a management expert. There are a myriad of ideas, feelings and what have you more so in the present dispensation of democratic idylls. I have always pointed to the American model where all the peoples of the world have some kind of representations. Is that impossible for that to happen in Nigeria of our dreams? Of course not. The moment we cannot make things work out for everyone, look out for bloody contentions. And even if God Almighty or Allah comes down and institutes a frame-work, we will still be looking for answers. Let us reach down in our minds as Nigerians and get down to National business. We have wallowed enough in hatred, corruption, nepotism and foolish selfishness.

  • Basil Ogbanufe

    1. I totally agree with Prof. Ango Abdullahi. But he needs to enlighten us on the foundation of his current reasoning and the sudden deviation from the former mentality.

    2. The first republic was a total failure with its corruption, nepotism, impunity and other vices. The military intervention was the salvation the country needed then but was hijacked by the politicians with support from their British colonial cronies.

    3. Rivalry is never healthy, particularly, among family members. If Nigeria is a family, and Nigerians members of that family. The watchword then should be collaboration and never rivalry whether under any colouration.

    4. Amalgamation is not the same thing as Union. Nigerians must address the issue of amalgamation and correct it. It is a fraud foisted on us and has served as foundation for the wobbling and visionless movement of the country. Marriage and friendship are never by force nor are they a must but voluntary and of free will.

    5. It is only parasitic relationships that don’t have the option of exit. Every symbiotic relationship always have the option of exit (divorce, separation etc.)