By Muhammad Garba
When in March, this year, the All Progressives Congress (APC) national leader and former Lagos State governor chose Kano for the 12th Bola Ahmed Tinubu Colloquium to celebrate his 69th birthday in the ancient and progressive city of Kano, Asiwaju purposely demonstrated not only the unity and oneness of the nation, but also identified with Governor Abudullahi Umar Ganduje, whom he said, represents the unity, peace and harmony of the country.
That was why one is least surprised when the APC Press Corps picked Ganduje to deliver a keynote address at its second lecture series organized in the light of the recent separatist agitation among groups and individuals in the country and to contribute to the institutional development of the nation’s democracy.
The much applauded paper presented by Governor Ganduje that thrilled participants, was discussed by a five-man panel that included the erstwhile governor of Imo State and Senator representing Imo West, Owelle Rochas Okorocha; representatives of the Minister of Works, Housing and Power, Babatunde Fashola; Minister of State in the Federal Capital Territory, Hajiya Ramatu Tijjani-Aliyu; Senator Peter Nwaboshi and Senator Opeyemi Bamidele.
Not only was the lecture incalculably successful with a rich assemblage of important dignitaries and first-class panelists in attendance, high quality ideas and recommendation thrown upon the pressing issue of unity and integration in the face of the country’s existential development was also highly praised.
In his presentation, entitled: ‘Sustaining United and Indivisible Nigeria: Myth or Reality,’ Ganduje said the event reinforces further his personal conviction to pursue every effort for peaceful, united and sustainable nationhood as well as bring us together to strengthen our unity despite our diverse rich cultures.
The lecture, held at Hilton and Towers Hotel, Abuja, is relevant, given the appropriateness of the time when the nation has been persistently experiencing security problems particularly agitation for secession or self-determination in some parts of the country.
While stating the aim of his paper, Ganduje said it seeks to x-ray the argument of the two schools of thought on the unity, integration and cohesion of the country and the issue of secession, disintegration and conflict in the nation; and to determine if a united Nigeria is a myth or a reality.
The governor started his presentation with a brief on the nation’s modern history as a political state comprising more than 400 ethnic groups of widely varied cultures and modes of political organisations, that dates from the completion of British conquest in 1903 and the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria into the protectorate of Nigeria in 1914, without much regard for pre-existing ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic divisions.
This is because, he said, even before Europeans arrived in the territory that is now Nigeria, a number of civilizations had existed whose presence is still felt today-predominance of Islam in the North; numerous Yoruba city-states with traditional system of governance; an Igbo Kingdom in the South East; and a collection of semi-autonomous towns and villages in the Niger River Delta or present day South-South. Such regions were linguistically, religiously, and politically distinct.
That was why despite getting independence in October, 1960, while anniversaries on this day are times for reflection, and given that today, over 117 years after amalgamation, the country is still grappling with its national identity.
Ganduje, who also spoke on Nigeria’s Civil War and the impact of the three-year bloody conflict following the secession of the Southeastern region of the nation on May 30, 1967, when it declared itself the independent Republic of Biafra.
Recent development, the governor observed, points to the fact that lessons haven’t been learnt from the war.
He cited the example of Rwanda, which has since its own brutal civil war acknowledged and integrated the memory of the war into its national perception, ensuring that all her citizens understand the price of war, and know exactly what led to the sad turn of events.
The paper acknowledged that it is part of democracy that people should air their views, but not translate grievances into violence and bloodshed. Those in the streets of South West or South Eastern states, carrying dangerous weapons, attacking security personnel and formations as well as innocent citizens, should be cautious not to become cannon fodders for mischief-making.
Going down memory lane, Ganduje spelt out the first major historical antecedent that would have occasioned the disintegration of Nigeria, including the civil war between 1967 and 1970 as mentioned earlier.
The second event occurred on June 12, 1993, when the election of MKO Abiola was annulled. Another remarkable one was the period of uncertainty that preceded and followed the demise of then President Umaru Yar’Adua, the 2015 general elections where a ruling party was defeated and most recently, increasing agitations for secession in the nation.
Noting that most clamours for secession seek their legitimacy from the right to self-determination preserved in international laws Nigeria has subscribed to, however, said the prevailing view seems to be that the international accords, which provide for this right, were not meant to be used as a tool for secessionist groups. Rather, they were designed as legal backing for de-colonization.
“Under the Nigerian Constitution, no part of Nigeria has the power to form its own independent government or secede from the country. In fact, the word ‘secede’ does not appear in the constitution,” he said.
“The nearest answer to this is found in Article 2 of the constitution, which states that Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state to be known by the name of the ‘Federal Republic of Nigeria.’
“This means the only way to legally grant such an option is through an amendment to the law. Agitators would be required to follow established guidelines, while protecting the sovereignty of the nation-stat,” he added.
The presentation also observed that issue of sustainable unity and development in the country is apt because the nation is endowed with great physical and human resource.
In Africa, according to the governor, Nigeria has almost unrivalled record of leadership changes and ethno-religious crises which are often difficult to explain why the country has made a very slow progress in her development programme since independence.
“Unfortunately, there were no unifying symbols that could induce the desired integration, and the task was left to the post-independent leaders. It is therefore difficult in dealing effectively with the crisis of sustainable development confronting the nation through disunity,” said him.
He urged that the Biafran agitators and a small section of the Yoruba nation agitating for Oduduwa Republic should therefore always have this at the back of their minds in their political calculations and transformations.
“It is on record that the great Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria, was an Igbo man and also a perfect negotiator and foremost champion of Nigeria’s unity. The same for the great Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He never agitated for secession. He was loud and clear on restructuring of the federation,” he told the gathering.
“And that demand is even louder and the debate is on and no one is troubling agitators for agitating for restructuring of the federation.
“What is more, the governing party, the APC has a working document already on this (restructuring). This is the way we should all go. There should be no secession distraction at this time,” he said.
“Let me repeat here that Nigeria is a united and indivisible country. Our constitution has taken care of that. I don’t see secession as the way out of the current challenges afflicting the nation. Instead, advocates of secession should have a change of heart and I recommend dialogue as a crucial option for addressing their problems.
“Besides, there is a National Assembly where some of the grievances can be addressed, because dialogue is a far better alternative that costs less than consequences of the wedge that has been erected to frustrate more flow of conversations between the government and citizens to arrive at a national consensus.
“And the sooner we face issues such as the huge infrastructure deficit, our shrinking oil revenue, looming food insecurity as a consequence of insecurity in our agriculture zones, the better.
“Seriously, we need to focus on diversification of the economy, out-of-school children shame, rebuilding of our tertiary institutions to boost knowledge development for 21st century challenges and other sustainable goals for this great country – instead of applying energies on self-determination agitation that will only diminish us as a people.
“It is very important at this time that we should use the media for the promotion of peace and stability and change the viewpoints that could alter public views and sentiment toward a more peaceful resolution of our multi-faceted current crises.
“I have a feeling that the crossing of redlines by some media organizations in recent times has impacted negatively on the nation’s unity, harmony and integration. The media should not be used to promote fake news and hate speeches.
“And in the cause of its duty, the media should ensure strict observance of the ethics of the profession. And in the event of deviation, the full weight of the law should be brought to bear on any erring working journalist.
“So, Nigeria will remain united. Let’s not entertain any fear. We have become too fused to be divided. Where do you want an Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man whose net worth is more than $15.9 billion with his business headquarters in Lagos to go? He is more of a Lagos person than Kano. What of his brother of the BUA Group, Abdussamad Isyaka Rabiu who owns a Nigerian conglomerate active in cement production too? He too is entrenched in the South. Do we see them in Kano as much as we see them in Lagos and the South?
“Similarly, what do we do with the likes of Rochas Okorocha, former Imo State governor and now Senator representing Imo West Senatorial District in the South East? His investments are in Northern Nigeria and other parts of the country, providing free education for many years now. So also the Sarki (Oba) Yoruba in Kano, Engr. Murtala Alimi Otisese, a business magnet, an entrepreneur and philanthropist. He is from Ibadan in the South West but with flourishing business in the North.
“Sustaining this unity is possible and it is a reality! We may be historically different in our religion, beliefs and customs, our unity may have been a British invention, but if we are willing and ready to shun bitterness, hatred, suspicion and imbibe equity, fairness, brotherly love and tolerance, we will succeed,” said the governor at length.
Garba is commissioner for Information, Kano State.