The above was the first stanza of Nigeria’s National Anthem at her independence in 1960. It emphasized nationality and brotherhood. It no doubt took note of our diverse tribes and tongues but never stressed them. But what do we have in “our own dear native land” today? Unfortunately those values our fore-fathers up-held are the ones that are hardly emphasized today; rather differences in ethnicity and religion are what some of our so-called leaders harp on, in order to achieve their selfish ends.
In the beginning was a country which did not emphasize much of tribe and religion. People lived freely and happily in any part of the country they chose to live in. People intermingled and respected each other’s religion, tribe, culture and values. The period between 1951 and 1963 saw Nigeria developing and growing in the desired and ordered direction. Having newly gained political independence from Britain after more than half a century of colonial rule, Nigerians and their leaders alike focused on the task at hand which was to develop the country as fast as possible.
Nepotism, bribery and corruption as well as religious intolerance could be said to have been in their embryonic stages when compared to what obtains nowadays. It was not until 1963 that words such as discrimination and marginalization began to sound loud in Nigeria’s political family, more especially in the then Western Region. This led to the creation of the Mid-West Region in July 1963. However the minorities of the Northern and Eastern Regions were not so lucky to be carved out as separate regions, though they were also victims of “discrimination and marginalization”.
Though Nigeria witnessed a measure of political crises especially in the then Western Region between 1963 and 1965, what is being witnessed today goes beyond mere regional political disagreement. The entire political class appears to be in conflict with itself. Politicians put religion forward in order to achieve their personal interests. They fan the embers of tribe and religion so as to cause trouble or put pressure on the system in order to achieve selfish objectives.
It was a similar trend that led the country into a thirty month civil war which seems to have taught nobody any useful political lesson. Today armed groups have sprung up, rising from the ashes of abandoned thuggery gangs which politicians deploy during elections only to jettison soon after. What has become obvious is that many Nigerian politicians could not mind the country going into flames if it becomes certain that they may lose out in the struggle for power or relevance or both. Some people may argue that some of our fore-fathers were tribal jingoists themselves but none was a religious bigot. They played up tribalism to the extent that it could bring development to their backward regions and people. None discriminated against any Nigerian on the basis of religion. For instance, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, though a champion of equality for the North, did not see himself as religious leader but a political leader. Same for Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
These foremost Nigerians lived and died for the unity and oneness of Nigeria. Even in the face of obvious threat to the unity of the nation, our fore-fathers never succumbed to tribal pulls or personal interest to the detriment of national cohesion or interest. There was healthy competition among the regions. Every region pursued economic development in order to give the people good life and security. Our leaders of old placed communal interests above self or family interests. Rather than have inter-tribal political crises, what obtained in the days of yore was that we had intra-tribal political crises within the regions, not across the regional lines.
The reason why Nigeria went into a civil war was not so much attributable to inter-tribal, inter-religious or inter-party disagreement but a fall-out of events that took place after the first military coup of 1966. The leader of the first-ever military coup in Nigeria, Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu no doubt said part of the reasons for the putsch was and I quote: “to bring an end to gangsterism, disorder, corruption and nepotism”, but the ills of yester-years remain a far cry from what the country is witnessing today. The problem of gangsterism, disorder, corruption and nepotism has more or less become part of the culture which nearly four decades of military rule could not eradicate. Corruption which was one of the major reasons why the military took power from the political class became their own albatross and why they were literally booed out of office. And till today, gangsterism, disorder, corruption and nepotism have not reduced but rather have been in ascendency. What constituted acts of corruption and nepotism fifty years ago can qualify people for national honours today. There is no doubt the coup plotters would have regretted their actions if they lived long enough to see what goes on today, fifty years after.
Nigeria went into a senseless civil war where millions of its citizens lost their lives for the hasty actions of a few ambitious military officers. The war was as a result of the ceaseless killings of mainly people of Igbo descent whose brothers in the military were said to have masterminded the coup seen by northerners as anti-north, due to the fact that more political leaders from the north were killed in the process of the coup. With the war over, Nigeria descended into many years of military dictatorship which brought with it little economic development but no political growth. Draconian as the series of regimes were, they however ensured relative peace, at lease more peace than is available in the country today.
During the years of military rule, Nigeria witnessed much less kidnappings, insurgency or suicide bombing. There were no doubt agitations from tribal groupings but hostage taking and petroleum pipeline vandalisation were unknown to the people of Nigeria, no matter how aggrieved. There is a popular saying that: “the worst civilian regime is better than the best military government”. This is however debatable especially if a civilian regime is not democratic and not able to protect the rights of the people as well as lives and property. And these are the main purposes of government.
Nigeria’s political leaders need to see and conduct themselves as servants of the people and not pay lip service to it. Much of the agitations for separation and resource control stem from the fact that past and present leaders have not been able to successfully execute policies that could ameliorate the sufferings of the masses. Many Nigerian leaders have not been their brothers’ keepers, but rather have gone into government to acquire wealth for themselves alone.
In the present circumstance or predicament that the country finds itself; Boko Haram insurgence in the North-East, Fulani-Birom conflicts in Plateau State; kidnapping in the South-East; breaking of pipeline and oil theft in the South-South and general insecurity in the country; talk about brotherhood can only succeed if government and leaders change their style. They must change from impunity and selfishness to total service to the people. The wealth of the people should be deployed for the service and benefit of the whole people and not just for the few running the bureaucracy. That way, strike and strife are sure to cease so that the spirit of brotherhood can return. Few Nigerians will vote for separation or dismemberment in a just and well managed Nigeria.