By Churchill Obinna Okonkwo… With the amalgamation of Northern and Southern protectorate of Nigeria in 1914, a new entity with strangers in an unfamiliar society was born in an atmosphere with deferred abrasion. I know Lord Lugard must have known that his new found “Niger Area” was not going to be a serene retreat for quiet meditation. And it has not been. In this piece, I will attempt to market Unity in Diversity to my fellow countrymen and women even though I have been forewarned that my mission will be as difficult as selling ice to the Eskimos. This difficult task has been made more challenging by the promotion of ethnic and religious dichotomy on social media by the political class and citizens that could and should be doing better.
The use of the phrase unity in diversity and similar concepts is not a new phenomenon. Its roots reach back hundreds of years in non-western cultures such as indigenous people in North America and Taoist societies in 400-5—BC. In Nigerian context, this concept of unity in diversity was captured in the original National Anthem in the stanza “Though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand”.
True comrades that recited this lyric in their aluta years can recall a sense of mission, togetherness, high spirit and determination to push through the cause at hand irrespective of the challenges. The political and social climate that prevails in Nigeria today however, emphasizes difference, disunity and destruction rather than the qualities of unity and constructive energy that are required to sustain any human society. These negative forces including Arewa Consultative Forum, Ohaneze, Afenifere, OPC, MOSOB, IPOB, Boko Haram, herdsmen, Niger Delta Avengers, etc. have perpetuated our alienation form the basic material root of our existence – brotherhood. So, the pertinent question in today’s Nigeria is; how unified are we in our diversity?
The reason why unity in diversity is not marketable in Nigeria is simply because these groups claiming to be representing various ethnic nationalities and interests have found it easier to walk away from friendship rather than addressing the serious conflicts arising from multiculturalism. Negative attitudes and explicit bigotry by one ethnic group against other ethnic groups are increasingly visible in public discourse throughout Nigeria. Regional ethnic-political champions have strengthened their positions by focusing on the ‘fear element’ from other groups.
Concurrently, the Internet has provided and facilitated a space where chauvinistic attitudes towards other ethnic groups are easily disseminated into the public debate, fuelling animosity. The most dangerous element is the legitimization of these acts of racism by intellectuals and political actors who strengthen these xenophobic views within mass media. Worse still, any dissenting opinion within the same ethnicity is treated as an act of sabotage (that should be singled out and extinguished). These pseudo ethnic champions forgot that unity generates a spirit of community while diversity is not only inescapable but also enriches and contributes to the wellbeing of the society. So, how do we return back to the root of our cohesiveness – unity in diversity?
A multinational society like Nigeria can reconcile unity and diversity only if it does not confuse unity with uniformity. The fact is that the nature of our multiculturalism implies that uniformity does not go beyond Local Government Areas. In some cases, there is cultural differences within villages. In the Southeastern Nigeria for instance, you have the old Imo-old Anambra divide. This scenario is also applicable (and in some cases even worse) in other geopolitical zones in Nigeria. So, how do you define the boundaries of uniformity in such a setting?
Mind you, these subdivisions cut across language and traditions. So, even when a common front is being presented in the agitation for Baiafra, the dirty sub ethnic politics and bickering between Imo and Anambra people (and the future war) will make the Southern Sudan infighting look like a child’s play. Nigeria should therefore, evolve its unity out of its diversity by encouraging its cultural communities to evolve a plural national culture that both reflects and transcends to them.
The government should find a subtle way of managing sectional/youth’s restiveness without disrupting their disruptiveness. That’s why the people of Southeastern Nigeria should be allowed to protest over “marginalization” without constituting themselves into a nuisance. Also the people of Niger Delta has the right to protest over economic and environmental situation without committing acts of terrorism. In essence, a friction that will turn the light (after the heat) rather than heat alone should be harnessed in other to build a strong vibrant society where everyone will be free.
To create a multicultural society in Nigeria, the central government should take these steps, first of which should be not to subject the ethnic nationalities to intended or unintended discrimination. Rather it should show then equal respect and give them equal opportunity to flourish. Secondly, the government should ensure social justice and equal access to political power to its minority ethnic. Thirdly, the institution of the state, especially the civil service, the army, the police and the judiciary should be completely impartial and insulated against ethnic and religious pressures. If they are corrupt or partial, the minorities are tempted to take powers into their hands. The society should be so defined that it belongs to all its citizens and not to its dominant ethnic or religious society.
After everything has been said and done, we have to still see conflict resulting from our differences as inevitable. That is the reality of life in a multicultural society like Nigeria. Combat in the face of these conflicts is however, optional. I will thus, ask everyone to purify their hearts and develop forgiveness skills. The lesson from resolving conflict in other multicultural societies around the world is the need to increase communication and trust among neighbors in all circumstances and at all levels. It is not just enough to bicker and call for the destruction of the temple, the serious business of doing whatever we can to promote unity should be the concern of all well-meaning Nigerians. That’s what governance and citizenship calls for.
I have to admit here that for some time now, I have been promoting Nigeria’s multicultural character at a great personal risk. I am however fully committed to this cause based on the conviction that the politics of hope will prevail over the politics of fear. I will only give up on the “conviction of honor and good sense”. Presently, it’s all senselessness. So I am boldly standing up in these times of communal madness to say that what unites us (including corruption) is more than what divides us as a nation.
Ripples Nigeria…without borders, without fears
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