Making Real Our Yearning for Unity in Diversity By Jibrin Ibrahim

This week, the State Security Service held a National Seminar on the theme – Unity in Diversity: Security and National Development. In his keynote address, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo lamented the fact that so many Nigerians who had been born shortly before or after the 1967 civil war are making hate speech, especially in the social media, that is disrupting the peace. He made the argument that: “We must guard what comes out of our mouth. It is a big mistake to link freedom of speech with hate speeches”. Osinbajo also added his powerful statement he had made earlier that: “We are greater together than apart”, a message we must continue to strive to convince the younger generation about. He also criticised the attitude of the elite who make arguments about the marginalisation of their people simply as a strategy for seeking appointments.

I was privileged to be a discussant for General Martin Luther Agwai’s excellent paper ona review of Nigeria’s national security architecture and the imperative for peace and stability. The fact of the matter, he argued forcefully, is that we have ad hoc security architecture and the core of the Nigerian problem is the lack of respect for the rule of law and the total disregard for prioritizing the developmental needs of the people.

The motivation behind our security crises is frustration, especially amongst the youth, he contended. For their part, the elite is focused on capturing power and for them the utility of security is for the sole purpose of insulating, protecting and enriching themselves. He added that in their lack of wisdom:“the elite have attempted to package and sell the illusion that once they themselves are secure, then by the transient property the public is secure. This misconception however is quickly dissipating under democracy and the advent of social media with the attendant results being the recourse to violence and calls for separation. “

With the numerous security challenges Nigeria is facing today, ranging from resurgent secessionists, Niger Delta militants, religious fundamentalists, and General Agwaipoints out that threats came from both sides, Boko Haram terrorists and so on, the country now finds itself at a juncture in its history where there are very few unifiers as opposed to the plethora of barriers to national unity. He made the point that the fact that Nigeria has not imploded under the pressure of the aforementioned security challenges can actually be counted as a positive in its favour and provides grounds for optimism.

It was in this context that many participants at the Seminar made the plea that more of us must become peace builders and advocates for making real our yearnings for unity in diversity. In his contribution, former Inspector General of Police Solomon Arase lamented the absence of a comprehensive threat analysis to peaceful coexistence and called for more proactive responses that would nip threats in the bud rather than wait for the threats to overwhelm us. He reminded the Seminar about the disfunctionality of the Nigerian Police Force, which he admitted was not fit for purpose. He recalled that the Danmadami Police Reform Committee had made extensive recommendations that would have made the police more efficient, Government in its Whitepaper had accepted the key recommendations but nothing has happened in terms of implementation. He was quite forthright in his comments that the role of the Inspector General of Police is standards and quality control but as more operational duties are centred in the police headquarters, we cannot expect things to work efficiently.

General Agwai had also questioned the rationality of sending the Service Chiefs to Maiduguri to tackle the resurgence of Boko Haram terrorism pointing out that with the military engaged in operations on 28 States, the solution cannot be to be posting service chiefs without operation responsibilities to the conflict theatres. Those with operational responsibilities must be made to perform creditably or lose their commands.

A participant, maybe tongue in check, posed the question whether there is a difference between loyalty to the President and loyalty to the State. The response from former Senate President Ken Nnamani and General Agwai was categorical; loyalty is to the Constitution and the laws of the land. Senator Nnamani drew attention to the recent revelations by Governor Foyose that former President Obasanjo had said he should be dealt with for scuttling the third term agenda. That is the crux of the matter he explained. No one should be loyal to a President who has engaged on the path to violating the Constitution.

Since Independence, the Nigerian State has evolved from a federal polity characterised by three politically strong regions, each controlled by the elite of a majority ethnic group – Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo, to a highly centralised system in which the so-called federating states have no real autonomous powers and are at the beck and call of a strong centre in which enormous powers are vested in the hands of one person and one institution, the President. This political transformation was carried out mainly under military rule in a context in which excessive corruption and primordial issues of ethnic, religious and regional political domination have become central elements in the country’s political culture. The contribution of the Forth Republic to political culture has been to transform State Governors into despots and tin gods in their States. Nigerians have nowhere to hide, except in opportunism.

As great opportunists, the Nigerian elite has become world champions in ethnic, religious and regional mobilisation, not for the national interest but for their own selfish purposes. Primordial identities have become problematic in the country because they have become associated with perceptions of discrimination and the inability of some groups to exercise certain rights. As insecurity continues to grow, fear becomes a major factor. The physical fear of violence is growing as more of the country gets sucked into rural banditry, kidnapping, militancy and terrorism. There is also the psychological fear that one’s group is being played out of the political equation and the fight for survival has become necessary. We must all strive to push back these fears and go back to the path of building our unity in diversity.