Thursday 20th September this week Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), a pan-Nigerian institution throws its weight on the side of efforts at finding solution to the current security challenges facing the nation with a summit under the inclusive theme of Labour for Peace, Unity and Development of Nigeria. The summit which attracts inter faith chieftains that include His Eminence, Sultan of Sokoto and President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is expected to be declared opened by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. The hope is that this singular historic initiative of NLC under the leadership of Abdul waheed Omar will alter Nigeria’s narrative from despair to hope, from insecurity to stability, from poverty to wealth generation and prosperity. As its organising committee rightly articulates, in the last one year the Nigerian populace has been subjected to apprehension living in fear and uncertainty over their lives and property because of palpable insecurity.
The pain, anguish and losses this has brought cannot be overstated. It is therefore clear today that the nation needs the vision and drive of tested nationalistic tested individuals and institutions like trade unionists and NLC notable traditional rulers and clerics as well as elder statesmen to pull the polity away from the brink of hopelessness.
Patriotism is certainly out of fashion nowadays. No thanks to the elitist slide back to regionalism, parochialism, narrow-mindedness, corruption, shameless chauvinism, serial violence and neo colonialism as political leadership uncritically joins the bandwagon of globalization via cancerous neo-liberalism and wholesale importation of even policy ideas .
In the history of the country’s development, the Nigerian Labour movement has played very important roles at critical moments. Indeed, NLC at the height of the militant activities in the Niger Delta did organize a similar historic platform in Asaba. Subsequent application of the suggestions, contributions and resolutions from that conference, like amnesty formed part of peace and social justice package that has stabilised the Niger Delta with almost 3 million barrels per day of crude oil.
The objectives of thursday summit are clearly spelt out as follows:
· Provide a space for exchange of idea, information, experiences and mutual guidance towards Peace, Unity Security and Development of the country.
· Facilitate a People Driven re-engineering of the polity for peace, unity and security and good governance.
·Develop common positions and strategies among the elite and the mass of our people so as to pursue a common vision for peace, unity, security and development.
· Examine recent happenings across the country and their consequences on the Nigerian people and their development.
· To project a strong and coherent voice towards the resolution of the current security challenge in the country.
· To showcase our belief in a united, prosperous and peaceful Nigeria which will outlive its challenges.
Whatever the outcome of this patriotic initiative, it should strive to enlighten Nigerians about the strenghts of unity and size in nation building. To achieve this the summit should expose the limitations of what late Dr Bala Usman of ABU, a great pan African patriot called “myths” and misrepresentations about Nigeria’s history and contemporary reality.
The first myth was that Nigeria’s history started with the amalgamation in 1914 by Lord Lugard. 1914 had become the reference point for those who suddenly found it fashionable to question the viability of Nigerian state and doubt the process of national integration.
Paradoxically those who promote this distortion of history include those who without “amalgamation” would not have been known for what they are today. I recall that one notable distortionist was Chief Richard Akinjide, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and former Attorney General of the Federation. According to him, Nigeria “cannot work” because of the “mistake of 1914” through which the British “wanted the poor man of the North to marry the wealthy lady of the South”. Late Dr Bala showed with indisputable data that contrary to the received wisdom, 1914 itself is a product of serial amalgamations of diverse Nigerian communities (not geographical laagers called North and South) dating back to 1893 with respect to Niger Coast Protectorate, 1906 with respect to colony of Lagos and 1900 with respect to the protectorate of Northern Nigeria (made up of autonomous emirates like Sokoto caliphates, kingdom of Borno, Jukun and Igala kingdoms among others).
The import of this historic insight is that the Nigerian project predated 1914. And that Nigeria had been a reality well before the so called amalgamation.
The second myth deals with the simplistic categories bandied around to describe the complex reality of Nigeria; namely “North”, “South”, “Hausa-Fulani”, “Igbo”, “Yoruba”, ” etc upon which we formulate dangerious exclusive and increasingly murderous policies. We must courageously problematise these social labels as late Bala did. We should stop taking them as “fixed” and “immutable”. By doing so we will discover that these categories as convenient and handy as they may be only “… obscure the mosaic plurality of Nigeria and Nigerians and the processes of fusions, diffusions, intermeshing, formations and transformations, which have marked the history of the peoples of the Nigerian area for millennia”
The last is the myth of Nigeria’s arbitrary creation. Agreeing with the findings of notable historians like Emeritus Professor Ade Ajayi and Professor Alagua, Dr Bala reminded us of the natural “geographical compactness” of Nigeria which made not only colonial amalgamations imperative but which explains the age long interactions between the diverse peoples of Nigeria. The summit in summary must focus on bigger picture beyond the current frustrations; the bigger picture of unity in diversity and above all unity in development like India, China, European Union, Brazil and United States of America. Paradoxically Nigeria with its celebrated 160 million people is still miserably smaller than any of these eminently leading countries of the world in terms of population and Gross domestic product (GDP). Evidently there is strength in size and economic performance, not in disintegration.
Issa Aremu mni