Is the United Nations of Nigeria Our Answer?

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By AZUKA ONWUKA

Nigeria should disintegrate peacefully. No, a united Nigeria is the answer. A sovereign national conference is the only way. No, sovereign national conference is a euphemism for disintegration. We can’t have a sovereign national conference when we already have a national assembly. True federalism is the solution. We want resource control. We are marginalized. We want Sharia. Our share of the national cake is too small. We want more states. The cabal is the problem.

Welcome to Nigeria, a land of complexities and inexplicable ironies: a land so rich yet so poor, a land so big yet so small, a land so blessed yet seemingly cursed, a land so loved yet so pillaged. Nigeria is a land where a cacophony of strident voices from the various and varied ethno-religious groups has been getting louder by the day, with the political leaders believing that somehow and someday the voices will die down. But rather than die down, these voices are transforming into angry agitations and physical violence, making Nigeria stagnant (or in actual fact, retrogressive), at a time its contemporaries have dropped the “third-world” tag and donned the “first-world” tag. Only a chronic liar (especially someone who is part of the problem of Nigeria as well as a beneficiary of the unenviable morass into which Nigeria is mired) will deny that Nigeria is under-achieving and moving in the wrong direction, to the despair and frustration of many Nigerians and those who love Nigeria.

The perception that bad leadership, denoted by high-level corruption, is the problem with Nigeria has persisted. Renowned author Chinua Achebe said so in his book The Trouble with Nigeria. But what many people have not bothered to find out is what causes that bad leadership that has persisted from our Independence in 1960 till today. Are Nigerians naturally bad leaders when in charge of private, religious, communal or foreign organizations? The answer is no. Are Nigerians usually corrupt when in charge of private, religious, communal or foreign organizations? Again, the answer is no. The pitiable state of Nigeria, where the percentage of Nigerians living below the poverty line moved from 27.2 per cent in 1980 to 69 per cent in 2010, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (even though Nigeria is among the top oil producing countries of the world), may be caused by bad leadership or corruption. But there is something that is fueling the persistence of bad leadership.

The fundamental problem with Nigeria, which has been the cause of the worsening leadership in the nation, is a lack of belief in the nation. Nigeria literally belongs to no-one. Nigerians are not Nigerians first. Nigerians love Nigeria but they place their ethnic groups above their nationality. Issues concerning the nation are first viewed from ethnic standpoint before the national perspective. Nigerians are ready to fight and die for their ethnic group, but they sneer at anyone who wants to die for Nigeria or someone who wants to show integrity on issues regarding Nigeria.

However, the good news is that despite the various seemingly intractable and irreconcilable differences of the several ethno-religious groups in Nigeria, the proclivity of Nigerians to cling to their ethnic groups can be exploited to the advantage of the entire nation. Nigeria can therefore reap the benefits of having one country as well as the benefits of giving the various parts of the nation the opportunity to fully explore their peculiarities and diversities: a classical case of eating our cake and having it. How is this achievable? By having the United Nations of Nigeria.

Even though so many parts of Nigeria are disgruntled and disenchanted with what Nigeria has increasingly become, it is not in doubt that most Nigerians have a special attachment to the country Nigeria. It is also clear that most parts of Nigeria are frustrated that Nigeria is suffocating them by preventing them to fully explore their technological and industrial potential, or by dragging them backwards, or by bringing shame and disrepute to them through citizens’ acts of criminality and violence like kidnapping, internet fraud, drug-trafficking and terrorism, or by preventing them from practising their religion the way they want to because of the demands of multiplicity of religion or secularism.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has four countries inside it: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They participate in the Olympics as the United Kingdom, but participate at the World Cup and UEFA Cup as four countries. The United States of America participates in all competitions as one country but each state lives almost like a mini-country within the US, moving at its own pace and focusing on those things that interest it. For example, even though gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts and New York, it is outlawed in California and Alaska; death penalty is practised in Nevada, while it is outlawed in New Jersey. That way, people who hate gay marriage, for instance, are not made to subdue their personal and religious preferences by tolerating the sight of a man kissing another man whom he calls his “wife”, neither will those who believe in the sanctity of life have to bear the news of living in a state where the life of an offender could be terminated.

A similar political scenario was obtainable in Nigeria before the first military coup on January 29, 1966. The four regions (East, Mid-West, North and West) had a high degree of autonomy. Each region focused on areas that interested it and retained as much as 50 per cent of the revenue from its natural resources. There was healthy rivalry among the regions, with each region trying to beat the other in all spheres of development. But the proposed United Nations of Nigeria would be different from what obtained in Nigeria’s First Republic or what obtains in the UK or the US. I propose that the current six regions of Nigeria (North-Central, North-East, North-West, South-East, South-South and South-West) be transformed into six semi-nations or semi-countries. The details of their structure can be agreed upon but I will suggest a few of the details (which are not sacrosanct in any way).

The six semi-nations will each be run by a Vice President or Prime Minister. A rotational presidential arrangement among the six zones will ensure that each zone will present the President for a single term of 5 years. To prevent the loss of presidency by any zone because of death, impeachment or resignation (reminiscent of what happened during the President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua presidency), the Vice President or Prime Minister of the zone of the President will take over the presidency in the event of the President not completing his term.

Each zone will be run virtually as a separate nation with its own police, legislature, ministers, civil service, etc. The central government will be in charge of the military, a national intelligence/investigative unit, immigration, currency, Supreme Court, etc. The central government will have a legislature (perhaps on a part-time basis) that is made up of about six people from each zone and they will be concerned with only issues that concern the central government. The bottom line is to make political offices within the zones more attractive and prestigious than those in the centre to avoid the mad rush to the centre.

Each zone will be entitled to create zones/administrative divisions, but will not be funded even by a kobo from the central government. The resources derived from each zone will be owned hundred per cent by the particular zone, with an agreed percentage of tax paid to the centre. Despite the discovery of oil in the 1960s and its massive exploration from the early 1970s till date, it is crystal clear that even though Nigeria of the oil era is richer than the Nigeria of the agricultural era, Nigerians of the oil era are much more poorer than Nigerians of the agricultural era, because of the massive looting that has been going on in the nation by public office holders. The sharing of proceeds from oil has made the states lazy and politicians’ appetite for graft even sharper. The money that comes from oil seems too easy that there is no need among the states to make any serious efforts to generate revenue through any other source. There is a title of a book that is Come Easy, Go Easy. In addition, the zones will pay handsome taxes to the centre for the maintenance of the military and other central institutions.

In sports, we could copy the UK example by allowing each zone to participate in the African Nations Cup and the World Cup, but participate at the Olympics as one body. But whether this aspect is upheld or not, there must be various sports championships among the six semi-nations. Each zone will run its own football league. To determine the team that will represent Nigeria at the African Champions League, the top team from each semi-nation will compete in a mini tournament. Each semi-nation will also maintain a national football team. Every two years, a Nigerian Nations Cup will be played among them to determine the champion. There will be other competitions in education, technology, sports, entertainment etc, among the semi-nations.

The reason for these competitions is to engender a spirit of healthy rivalry among the various semi-nations, so as to make each of them vibrant and strong. Such vibrancy will uplift each zone and also Nigeria at large.

If it is also acceptable, each zone should be known by a peculiar name like Yorubaland (O’odualand), Igboland, Kanuriland, Deltaland, Hausaland, Richland, etc. Even though some may fear that this will bring about a rise in ethnic nationalism, yet such ethnic nationalism will be to the advantage of Nigeria, because it will increase the patriotism of the citizens to their fatherland.

There are many advantages that a United Nations of Nigeria will bring. First of all, the reason why the embezzlement of public funds is on the increase is because there is a strong conviction among Nigerians that the money of the nation belongs to nobody: “public funds.” But could you imagine a man embezzling the hard-earned money of the Yorubaland or Hausaland? Such a person will either run away from the nation or commit suicide, because he will be made to feel so much shame that he will be better dead than alive, unlike now when such a person is celebrated with chieftaincy titles for going to Abuja to get “our share of the national cake.” If Richland (Middlebelt) uses its hard-earned money to put street light in Gboko or Lokoja, I pity the thief that will ever contemplate stealing those street lights. Everything within each semi-nation will no longer be “their own” but “our own” and it is the absence of that spirit of “our own” that has been our greatest undoing as a nation.

Another advantage is that it will make skilled Nigerians who were frustrated out of Nigeria by misrule and retrogression to return in droves to help build their respective semi-nations and by extension the country. Rather than only a handful of cities developing as is obtainable now, all the parts of Nigeria will experience massive and simultaneous development. The country’s economy will grow and expatriate skilled people and investors will be attracted to the different sections of the country.

Each semi-nation will be free to make laws that will take care of its religious, cultural, educational and social needs. The indigenous languages will become official languages within the semi-nations. For example, even though Igbo or Yoruba each has up to 20 million speakers, none of them is as globally popular as Afrikaans (with about the same number of global speakers), or Swedish with 10 million speakers, because our indigenous languages are currently subdued under English as a result of a need to make compatriots who can’t speak the same indigenous feel at home. But in a semi-nation like Yorubaland or Igboland, the indigenous language will be used as the official language in the legislature, law courts, universities, offices, etc. Each semi-nation will be free to promote its indigenous languages as it deems fit. Locals will stop feeling disadvantaged because of lack of knowledge of the English language. Non-locals who want to live and do business in such areas will be encouraged to learn the regional language. But that does not mean that English will die in Nigeria, as it will still be the means of communication on the national level or within the semi-nations whenever necessary.

But perhaps the best advantage of having the United Nations of Nigeria is that the feeling of marginalization, domination, and subjugation that has led to constant strife, suspicion, uneasiness, violence and deaths of millions of Nigeria in the last 50 years will be eliminated. Each semi-nation will feel happy that it has control over its lands and resources and that it is living the type of life it desires without constantly trying to live the way other compatriots want just for the sake of peace. Any Nigerian who desires to live in any part of Nigeria will be aware that even though he is a Nigerian, he must subject himself to the laws that govern his area of residence.

In the final analysis, the semi-nations will attract tourists, investors, skilled professionals and foreign investment based on their ability to make their areas habitable and hospitable.

I believe that if this proposal is accepted and adopted by Nigeria, the United Nations of Nigeria will be the biggest economy in Africa and one of the top 10 economies of the world in ten years, the most attractive place to visit or do business in Africa and the pride of the black race and Africa. It is possible. We can do it if we choose to.

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