By Ezinwanne Onwuka
Daily, we hear our leaders pontificate on the unity of Nigeria. The campaign of ‘Unity in Diversity’ and the claim of ‘One Nigeria’ resounds high. I find such claims amusing; reason being that Nigeria is not near to being a united country.
The existence of the persistent conflict between the North and South explains the division in the country. There are palpable fears of ethnic cleansing in the country by Fulani janjawed warriors masquerading as herdsmen; and even a greater fear that what is happening is a prelude to the full Islamization of the country.
The Igbos (South) is clamoring for secession. The present government has not helped matters through its criminal silent. Nigeria is toying with the risk of perishing as a corporate entity. Not even the most committed advocate of ‘One Nigeria’ can wish away the thick cloud of doom hovering over the country now. The big question then is: How did we get here?
It would interest us to know that before the British conquest of the different ethnic nationalities and kingdoms that today make up Nigeria, there were independent ethnic nationalities such as the Ijaws, Igbos, Urhobos, Itsekiris, Yorubas, Hausas, Fulanis, Nupes, Edos, and so on. There were also independent kingdoms like Oyo, Lagos, Calabar, Benin, Opobo, Sokoto caliphate etc. These ethnicities and kingdoms were independent of each other and independent of the British empire.
Thus, the creation of Nigeria involved forcing several ethnic, cultural and religious groups into one political structure and over the years, this has turned out to be a grave mistake which has cost many lives and will probably continue to do so unless the fundamental structural problems of the country are urgently resolved. The reason is that a certain group believes that the geographical entity called Nigeria is their private estate and every other group exists at their mercy. That group is the Hausa/Fulani.
Uthman dan fodio, who could rightly be regarded as the forerunner of Fulani settlement in the Northern part of Nigeria once said that Nigeria should be “an estate of our great grandfather”. This is the mindset of the Hausa/Fulani about Nigeria and other Nigerians; and generation after generation of the Hausa/Fulani in Nigeria are primed to pursue this agenda. For instance, eleven days after Nigeria got her political independence on October 1, 1960, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello (former premier of the Northern region and a Fulani irrendentist) said, as was carried by the Parrot Newspaper on October 12, 1960: “The new entity called Nigeria should be an estate of our great grandfather, Othman Dan Fodio. We (i.e Hausa/Fulani) must ruthlessly prevent a change of power. We must use the minorities in the North as willing tools and the South as a conquered territory and never allow them to rule over us and never allow them to have control over their future.”
Furthermore, Sheikh Abubakar Mohammed Gumi, a Muslim leader and teacher said: “Once you are a Moslem, you cannot accept to choose a non-Moslem to be your leader, so it is not the leaders who are cooperating but it is a difference in religion. So if you want to be a good country, to join hands, we have to follow one faith.” The pursuit and the brutal enforcement of this vision have contributed to the many crises Nigeria has faced for more than fifty years. The connivance of Western powers such as Britain at different stages of our history for the sake of protecting their interest has been a recurring scenario that has just refused to go away. This dates back to the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates.
The reason for the British Government to amalgamate the two incompatible territories was purely financial or economical. The Northern protectorate was not economically viable. On the other hand, the Southern protectorate was not just economically buoyant; it was producing surpluses every year. The British design, therefore, was to remove the North’s financial burden from its own neck and hang it on the neck of the hapless Southern protectorate. The intention, then, was to unify the administration of the two protectorates and definitely not its peoples.
Hence, the amalgamation could be rightly said to be a form of arranged marriage, with the North as the man and husband, and the South as the woman and wife.
It was a deliberate and deadly serious matter, with the game plan being to bring the two parties together in order to give the North political power over the South and permanent control over Southern resources. All the woman’s property and resources became the husband’s. The woman could not enter into a contract in her own right. Her husband had to conclude all her contracts on her behalf. This marriage has had devastating consequences on the South, no doubt.
The Northern politicians understood the plan perfectly and have implemented it faithfully and fervently since then. They are well focused on how to cling to power, for they know that it is the route to Southern resources. How have they retained power? The formula has been an amazingly simple one: control of the Army and consistent manipulation of Census figures. These, combined with the help from British Administrations of Nigeria right up until now, have assured the North of permanent political power and control of Southern resources.
This is the reason the coup of January 15, 1966 was a devastating blow to the Hausa/Fulani North, the major beneficiaries of the colonial legacy. In truth, it would be wrong to assume that their shock and pain was on account of the death of such men as Balewa, Ahmadu Bello and their military officers. Their main grouse actually was what they perceived to be a loss of power to the South, particularly the Igbos. This, in strict terms was how the North perceived Ironsi’s ascension to power.
The characterization of that coup as Igbo coup was not an accident. It was a deliberate strategy by the North to cast the Igbo in the role of a felon and dispense with the Igbo nation accordingly. Was that coup the only coup to have taken place in Nigeria? No! General Yakubu Gowon, alongside other northern military officers organized and executed the counter-coup of July, 1966. What do you call that one? General Murtala Muhammed and other northern military officers organized the coup that toppled Gowon. How do you characterize that? Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babagida, Sani Abacha and Abdulsalami Abubakar are well known coupists in Nigeria. How do you describe their involvement in coups? Would it be proper to characterize their coups as Hausa/Fulani coups? So you see the idiocy and shallowness in the venal assumption that the January 15, 1966 coup was an Igbo coup? That coup, as other coups in Nigeria, was a purely military affair and had nothing to do with the Igbo nation. Branding it as an Igbo coup was deliberate and designed to achieve an evil purpose.
All these point to one conclusion: that the country is sick and terribly so. This sickness did not start today. It is a sickness inherited from birth. Professor Chinua Achebe must have had today’s Nigeria in mind when he chose “Things Fall Apart” as the title of his epic novel. For indeed, things have fallen apart in Nigeria and the center can no longer hold. Against this backdrop, I want to ask: Is ‘One Nigeria’ feasible or are we heading towards disintegration?