I will start with my conclusion. This phase will pass – very soon. It shall be well with the people of Nigeria. Nigeria will survive. I won’t add a caveat to it. There is no if about it. I can see Nigeria’s survival and victory in its energy and potentials. I can see it in its determination, perseverance, resilience, pride, independent-mindedness, self-worth, vivacity and desire to lead and create a better definition for the black race.
Thankfully, the present calls are not in reality about the cessation or the redrawing of the country’s physical map, but the redefinition and re-delineation of the boundaries of unification. Though, when stated in economics, the calls come in the form of cries for resource control, even distribution of the benefits of unification and equal contribution to the national purse and, in a political language, they are expressed in the form of agitations for power devolution or decentralization of authority and responsibilities and degree of independence for the state that will enhance their freedoms of choice of the path of socio-economic growth, and adoption of policies that are closer and definitive of the cultures and social dynamics of the peoples of the states or, in social terms, in the form of demands for freedom, equality and justice. In concrete terms, the overarching call is for government much closer to the people for effective governance and the maximisation of the gains of unification. The challenge for the political leadership is how to actualise that trade-off between the Federal Government and the states.
The people that constitute the southeastern states of Nigeria are, to my mind, too entrenched and economically rooted in the larger Nigeria to earnestly want to experiment with the proposed State of Biafra. They generate part of the energy and unyielding industry for which Nigeria is famous. A call for the return to the tent of Biafra is antithetical to their economic expansionist nature. They personify the biblical death and revival philosophy. They are capable of turning water into wine and squeezing water from stones. With little or no money after the civil war, they boast of the highest number of self-made billionaires today in Nigeria. That is not a retreating spirit but that of conquerors of adversities of any kind. Indeed, if their story were to be in the form of a novel, I would have included in the choice of titles “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck, not because I consider them to be migrants; far from it, but because I am convinced that great ideas will continue to grow and be expressed from the history of Nigeria’s Southeasterner, who has benefitted from Nigeria and has benefitted Nigeria.
This is not to say that there is any ethnic nationality in Nigeria with a Little Golden Book Plot. The story of Nigeria itself is a horrible plot. Be that as it may, I insist that Nigeria’s Southwest has invested too much in Nigeria to forgo its benefits and potentials because of its present challenges. Nigeria’s numbers and diversity favour its art, intellect, politics, corporate management skills, competitiveness and location. In return, besides being a unifier and symbolic home for rainbow Nigeria, Southwestern Nigeria has entrenched Nigeria in the world’s mainstream music and reputable art forms and religions.
Besides its wealth, the states in the South-south of Nigeria have contributed their sweat and blood for the unification of Nigeria. No region of Nigeria has been more Nigerian than the South-south region. The People of the region bear the trauma of witnessing unjustified political and economic battles being fought over their resources. Indeed Nigeria’s national question can be told in a shorthand version by telling the story of the peoples of the South-south of Nigeria. Admirably, they have been mature and accommodative of the irritations and provocations of those fighting over their resources. If they believe in Nigeria and are not calling for a cessation from Nigeria, then the job of any other region to make an unimpeachable case for cessation is made harder.
The case of the middle belt or North-central region is similar to that of the South-south region. It comprises hardworking and highly productive independent ethnic minorities who act as the golden bridge between the predominantly Muslim cultures of the north and the predominantly Christian-influenced cultures of the southern part of the country. No other region in Nigeria is better prepared for its independence than the North-central region. Its economy is rooted in agriculture and its people are not distracted by its abundant mineral resources.
Northeastern Nigeria brings to the discussion table a very intriguing slant. The region is as ethically, culturally, socially and religiously diverse as its north-central neighbour. It is the place inhabited by people who, through a referendum, chose Nigeria over Cameroon and became Nigerians on June 1, 1961. It may be noted that the English speaking Christian majority people of present-day Southern Cameroon rejected Nigeria for Cameroon whilst their Muslim Counterparts rejected Cameroon for Nigeria. The region is, therefore, a symbol of love and preference for Nigeria. That it is today enmeshed in a war of survival by terrorists who want to dismember it from Nigeria is by no means indicative of the people of the region’s doubt about their love for Nigeria. If for anything, they are shedding their blood to stay in Nigeria.
The story of Northwestern Nigeria may be the easiest to write, but its lessons are complex and hard to draw – a predominantly Muslim region with diverse ethnic composition but wrongly characterised as Nigeria’s Hausa-Fulani region. There is hardly any place in Nigeria – indeed, Africa – that is richer in cultures than the Northwest of Nigeria. There is also hardly a place that has assimilated Nigerians from other parts of the country than this region. If Nigeria is to disintegrate, the Northwest will be the last to leave, not because the option to go its way is adverse and onerous, but because of its love and investment in Nigeria.
Irrespective of the label you place on Nigeria, the country still stands in a better place to pilot the aspirations of the black race. Nigeria will surely survive the present challenge and will come out of it as a better and more focused country.
– Kargbo is an Abuja-based lawyer