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Nigeria unity – Myth, mirage or reality?! By PROFESSOR ECHEFUNA’ R. G. ONYEBEADI

Map of Nigeria

The aims and objectives of United people of Nigeria Initiative are quite laudable and very good dream that any well meaning Nigerian can not wait for its actualization.

In the midst of the very precarious situation of the present day Nigeria, the importance of coming together as a people with unity of purpose and a common destiny anchored on Equity, Fairness and Justice under God Almighty can not be overemphasised.

At Independence in 1960, when those at the forefront of championing the independence of Nigeria ceded the position of Head of Government to those who claimed that they weren’t ready for independence and settled for a mere ceremonial position of Governor-General which was later redesignated (ceremonial) President in 1963, the focus then was the Unity, Peace and progress of Nigeria.

Under that arrangement, the late Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of the NPC became the first and only Prime Minister of the newly independent Nigeria to date, while the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of the NCNC became the nation’s Governor-General in a coalition government that took over from Great Britain at Nigeria’s independence in 1960.

Surprisingly, less than two weeks after Nigeria’s independence, precisely, October 12, 1960, a defunct newspaper, THE PARROT, published a shocking comment by the then Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, where he was quoted to have said: “The new nation called Nigeria should be an estate of our great grandfather, Uthman Dan Fodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power. We use the minorities in the North as willing tools and the South as a conquered territory and never allow them to have control over their future.”

This very comment of the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, though shocking and negates the very basis of Nigeria’s unity at independence from Great Britain, was somehow dismissed with a wave of hand but has become evident in our contemporary history as a country Nigeria.

Ever since then, Nigeria has been going from one turbulence to another till date.

For instance, May 21, 1962 the Governor of Western Region, the late Sir Adesoji Aderemi, the then Ooni of Ife, removed Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, the then Premier of Western Region following unhealthy rivalry between supporters of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and that of late Chief Ladoke Akintola, which heated the polity. In his place, Sir Aderemi appointed Alhaji D.S. Adegbenro, a leader in the Action Group (AG) as the new Premier but, Chief Akintola challenged his removal in a law court.

By May 29, 1962 Alhaji Tafawa Balewa declared a state of emergency in Western Region following the breakdown of law and order in the aftermath of the removal of Chief Akintola as Premier of Western Region.

September 11, 1963 the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment by Justice Sobo Sowemimo, after he was found guilty of treason for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa to which Justice Sowemimo said: “My hands are tied.”

May 25, 1965 violence erupted at the Western House of Assembly in Ibadan, the then Capital of Western Region in which both supporters of Chief Awolowo and Chief Akintola engaged in free for all culminating in the destruction of government properties.

October 12, 1965, the widespread irregularities that marred the regional election of October 11, 1965 in Western Region, sparked off violence, tagged ” Operation Wetie”, an act that earned the region the appellation: Wild, Wild, West!
The AG leader then announced the formation of an interim government in Western Region.

January 15, 1966 Nigeria experienced the first military coup d’état led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu.
This coup led to the end of the First Republic in which many prominent Nigerians including Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Ladoke Akintola, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh and many others lost their lives.

July 29, 1966 there was a counter coup plot by young army officers from the North which led to the assassination of General Aguiyi-Ironsi who was the then Head of State with Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi who was the then Governor of Western Region.

Between July 30-31, 1966 there was leadership vacuum in Nigeria as there was dissension among military officers over who should succeed the slain Head of State, General Aguiyi-Ironsi.
While Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who was then the military Governor of Eastern Nigeria insisted that the most senior military officer then, Brigadier-General Babafemi Ogundipe should be installed as Head of State, Northern officers refused.

By August 1, 1966 after two days of contention, Northern officers resolved to and installed Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, who was then a young army officer and a bachelor as Nigeria’s second military Head of State.

The first statement that Yakubu Gowon made in that capacity as Head of State was that: there is no basis for Nigeria’s unity which was later recanted or so it seems.

Between January 4-5, 1967 Aburi Accord was reached in Ghana in an attempt to prevent the break away of Eastern Nigeria and keep Nigeria united but, the accord was observed more in the beach and wasn’t implemented.

The Republic of Biafra was subsequently proclaimed and by July 06, 1967, civil war ensued which lasted for about three years and ended by January 13, 1970 to which Yakubu Gowon, the then Head of State of Nigeria declared ” No Victor, No Vanquished”. The rest is now history!

Suffice it to state for now that, Nigeria is yet to recover from the effect of the first and subsequent coups including the maladministration of the political elites!

I have taken time to catalogue the few aforementioned for us to appreciate the fact that, Nigeria has a long history in the struggle for National Unity particularly since independence in 1960, after the long forced amalgamation of 1914 of both Southern and Northern Protectorates to become Nigeria by the colonial masters.

You can now appreciate better my opening statement that the initiative of this Forum is a good dream that many Nigerians still awaits its actualization!

Never before has this country Nigeria been so divided along ethno-religious and other lines than now.

Never before has our diversity as a people become an albatross than now!

Never before has the yearnings for national unity of Nigeria become more of a mirage than now!

The ideals which the founding leaders of Nigeria lived and died for appears to have since been eroded going by the happenings in the country.

Nigeria has become a grave yard in which her citizens are buried daily on the alter of ineptitude, lack of vision, bad governance, terrorism, nepotism and anachronism.

It is no longer news that Nigeria has since become the poverty capital of the world! So, why wouldn’t a hungry man become an angry man?

Therefore, the mission of this forum is a tall order in the midst of rampaging separatist agitations across the country to which human lives in the country have become so degraded so much so that, the killings of Nigerians today have become mere statistics.

How then do you preach unity to persons whose ancestral homes have been invaded by seemingly government aided terrorists that dispossess them of their heritage, kidnap, rape, maim and kill them?

How do you now convince the ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria who are daily treated as second class or even no class citizens in their own country to buy-in into a united people of Nigeria initiative at this point in time?!

These and many others are food for thought for this conference.

I leave you all to ponder and proffer solutions on these issues!

Thank you.

Professor Echefuna’ R. G. ONYEBEADI


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