By Niyi Odebode, Fidelis Soriwei, Abuja; Emmanuel Obe, Awka; and David Attah/Punch
Major socio-cultural organisations in the country have expressed opposing views on the plan by the Federal Government to embark on an elaborate centenary celebration of the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914 by the British.
Nigeria became a nation when the then Governor-General of the country, Lord Frederick Lugard, merged the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria with its Northern half in 1914.
President Goodluck Jonathan had said that the FG would mark the nation’s 100 years of existence during an official visit to Jamaica, where he attended the Caribbean country’s 178th Anniversary of Emancipation and the 50th anniversary of its independence recently.
In separate interviews on Friday, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Action Congress of Nigeria, the Ijaw National Congress, and the Ndigbo Unity Front, opposed the planned celebration. This is in contradiction to the position of the Arewa Consultative Forum, which says the event is worth celebrating in spite of the challenges facing the nation.
Former Governor Bisi Akande of Osun State said that while the centenary anniversary of the nation’s existence could be marked, it should not be celebrated.
Akande said that it would be wrong for funds to be provided for the centennial celebration since it was clear that the nation did not have anything to celebrate.
Akande called the citizenry’s attention to the prevalence of crime, violence and insecurity in the land.
“It doesn’t make sense to budget money for it,” Akande said through an aide, Mr. Lani Baderinwa. “What is there to celebrate about the country’s amalgamation when everything is upside down?
“There’s massive unemployment among the youths, crime is unbearably high and characteristic violence is prevalent all over the land.”
On its part, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo stated that while the unity of the nation could not be negotiated as it marks 100 years of its amalgamation, it was necessary to ensure the component nationalities that make up the nation were given fair treatment as “against the prevailing situation where some groups like the Ndigbo are made to feel like second class citizens in their own country.”
The President-General of Ohanaeze, Dr. Ralph Uwechue, said that issues like the rotation of strategic national offices like the presidency must be entrenched in the constitution so that every zone or group could feel a sense of belonging.
Uwechue said recognition must be given to the fact that Nigeria is made up of several nations which must find accommodation. “We must allow for what (former Prime Minister) Tafawa Balewa described as unity in diversity,” Uwechue added.
He called for devolution of powers to the states as it was at independence when “the attraction was at the regions, not the centre.”
But another Igbo organisation – the Ndigbo Unity Forum – said that there was nothing to celebrate about the amalgamation, as it has worsened relationships rather than bring about the peace and progress of the constituent nations.
The NUF president, Mr. Augustine Chukwudum, told SATURDAY PUNCH that the proposed celebration by the government would lead to another wide scale looting of public funds.
“Nigeria has nothing to celebrate because we have failed as a nation and our successive leaders have failed us too,” Chukwudum said.
He, however, said the National Assembly should be courageous enough to take up the issues that are critical to the survival of the nation and discuss them so that the people would not have to find options like taking their destinies in their own hands.
Similarly, the Ijaw National Congress kicked against the move to celebrate the nation’s amalgamation. It described the amalgamation as an action that brought strange bed fellows together.
The INC National Secretary, Mr. Robinson Esite said, “The amalgamation is what has brought the woes to Nigeria; it brought strange bed fellows together and so, celebrating it will amount to celebrating the evil day. So, it is not worth celebration; it should have been a period of sober reflection, a period of regret rather than celebration.
“We have always insisted on a national conference for Nigerians to sit down and chart the way forward and to decide on the modality for our continuous existence. We are agreed that we should continue to remain a united Nigeria, but the modalities for our continued existence should be discussed.
“For the several years the North ruled this country, no ethnic nationality from the South has insisted that those who must be leaders must be Christians. This is the only time a South-South person is president of Nigeria.
“They call themselves born-to-rule, the question we ask is, ‘To rule who?’ So, it is expedient that a national conference is called for us to decide the modality of our existence and until that conference is called, we continue to see avoidable crisis.”
However, the pan-northern socio-political organisation, Arewa Consultative Forum, said that the FG had cause to celebrate the 100 years of amalgamation of the country despite the security challenges in Nigeria.
The National Publicity Secretary of the forum, Mr. Anthony Sani, told one of our correspondents in Kaduna on Friday that Nigeria was not the only country saddled with security challenges.
“You may wish to know that many countries face security challenges. Examples include India, which experienced bombings in Mumbai more than seven times last year. Norway, of all countries had violence; Cyprus had its own share. We also know Thailand has an equivalent of Boko Haram, which started way back in 2004,” he said.
The forum noted that Nigerians should not question its existence based on the current security challenges, instead “we must discuss how best to overcome the collective challenges for national good.”
“That the country is facing some challenges now is not to vitiate the benefit of one big united Nigeria in which individual and group aspirations can find expression, especially in the future,” he added.
He insisted that to celebrate the concept of nationhood, which holds a lot of promise for generations yet unborn, could not amount to a waste.
“Nigeria has been more than a geographic expression, especially when regard is paid to the wide and deep interdependence among constituent parts of the country which make divorce impossible or more difficult.
“Nigerians should remember that this nation is not about the only country put together with religious and ethnic diversities. We should mimic other countries by working hard in order to overcome those differences that divide the people, and in favour of core values of humanity that unite the people.
“And this is because it is very possible to make the most of our God-given diversities, to respect them and honour them,” Sani said.