By Chief Olabode George
I talk to you today not as a politician, not as a PDP man, not as a Lagosian, not as a Yorubaman, but as a Nigerian and as a Patriot.
I talk to you today as one who fully believes in the Nigerian dream. I am a committed Nigerian. My commitment to the Nigerian Nation cannot wobble. On this platform I hold, on this platform I reside faithfully, this is my promise, this is where I stand.
There is a certain disturbing divisive temper across our nation today. Everywhere, there is an unfortunate passion of ethnic fixity. From the North to the South, there is that befuddled and reckless upsurge of ill conceived provocations towards the abyss.
From every nook and cranny some people are hurrying and stampeding everyone else to a disruptive agitational campaign.
From the Biafran young crusaders to the young Arewa reactive promoters of disunion and the Yoruba presumptive withdrawal into a fanciful Oduduwa republic, they are all wrong. We are all living in unpleasant economic season.
We must all step away from the abyss. We must all sheathe our swords. Enough of this unrealistic war clamor. Enough of these provocations of national destabilization.
It is true: There is indeed no perfect Union. A nation is always a work in perpetual rebuilding and reformation. A nation is never a finished product. There are always rough edges. There are always areas of rectifications and amendments.
But the ills of a society are not to be cured on the fields of war or the muddled recourse to the wielding of the cudgel.
Nigeria as a Union has existed for 103 years since the 1914 momentous amalgamation of the North and South. Sure, we are all disparate and very diverse people with unique culture, with unique languages and with unique values and varied historical beginnings.
But our strength and our invaluable profile as a nation lies in the collective totality of our size and in our various normative cultural portraits.
We must talk to each other. We must listen to each other. We must encourage an appreciation of each other’s unique asset.
There is no strength in disunity. There is no value in the rupturing of our national fabric.
I do not say that there are no problems in the present composition of our union. But I insist that these problems are not unresolvable. The perceived wrongs and the inequities in our national union must be resolved on a roundtable and never in the trenches.
The last civil war which provoked millions of deaths and incalculable destruction both in physical and in the moral psyche of the survivors must never be repeated again. The American Philosopher, George Santayana told us that “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it” We must never repeat the darkness of our past. We must move forward with truth and certainty.
There is no single nation in the history of the world that has survived two civil wars. We must stop and reflect. We must halt all these desperate agitations for mushroom ethnic colonies. The balkanization of our nation will not bode well for anyone. The former Yugoslavia and the defunct USSR are classic examples of ill-conceived peripheral pigmy states that can hardly survive on their own. Is this really what we want?
The greatness of America and Canada are invariably reflected in their diversity and in their enriching plural identities. For instance, the Continental United States, from the freshwaters of the New England states to the Redwood forest of Northern California, from the Allegheny mountains of Pennsylvania to the thickets and the swamps of Louisiana, America is a huge sweeping ambience of variegated norms and practices wherein a unifying national portrait of excellence, fairness and equitable fixity has emerged.
Yes, the American collective value did not develop overnight. It was like a planted seed, well nurtured, consciously cultivated before it emerged and grew to a matured, sustainable presence.
This is what we must emulate. A nation is never built in immediate, prompt perfection. It will always have its contours and its rough edges.
But we cannot and we must not campaign for the dismantlement of our nation because we are not happy with certain aspects of our national union. No. That is not the way of progressive enlightenment. That is not the way to build a sustainable society.
It’s about time that we shed and remove our ethnic toga. It is about time we remove our tribal fixation. I will never even support any supposed alliance of some tribal groups against another. Never! I stand for one, indivisible nation! Our primary advantage should reside first in our Nigerian identity instead of the recourse to provincial tribalism.
Yes, I do agree that Nigeria can be an effective and successful project when everyone has a sense of belonging, when the Hausa/Fulani, the Yoruba, the Igbo and other ethnic groups are all given equal opportunity to realize their dreams; when everyone, regardless of tribal origin perceives himself in equitable accommodation within the Nigerian Union.
The vast, instinctive accommodating nature of my home state is an instructive lesson to the larger Nigerian polity on the need for tolerance, friendliness and the embrace of fellow Nigerians.
Here in my home state and my native root of Lagos, there is no ethnic group in Nigeria that is not represented from Isale-eko to the most distant outreach of Badagry. Lagos is the Nigerian giant melting pot where everyone is given equal opportunity to realize his ambition.
There is no discrimination or bigotry here. Everyone is welcome with open arms to contribute to the centrality of our commercial vision. As a trading post and the commercial nerve of our nation, the progress of Lagos with over 26 billion Naira monthly internally Generated Revenue, is a collective contribution of everyone who calls Lagos home.
That ought to be the essence of the Nigerian dream. The recourse and the withdrawal to ethnic jingoism is not only retrogressive, it is flawed and downright benighted.
The younger generations of Nigerians who are shouting and hollering for some ill-digested tribal paradise are too young to appreciate the immense sacrifices the older generations paid both in blood and sweat to ensure that our Nation is one and indivisible entity.
The current consultations that our government has embarked upon across the tribal divide is laudable and exemplary. But they should do more. They should widen the consultation efforts by inviting the formidable elders and statesmen who were active participants, and managers of our Nation during the dark drama of our civil war.
The chastening voices of General Yakubu Gowon, General Obasanjo, General T.Y. Danjuma, General Alani Akinrinade, General Alabi Isama, General IMB Haruna, General Babangida, General Abdulsalam, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, Gov. Udenwa, Col. Iheanacho Rtd, Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu and many others on both sides of the divide at that time, will go a long way in tempering the flight of fancy of the intemperate agitators who have never heard a gunshot in anger.
The experiences of these statesmen and builders of our nation should be more than enough to caution those who are presently preaching politics of division.
Our collective alliance now should be how we can remodel and restructure our nation for the collective benefit of all our people.
I will equally suggest that as part of our remaking and rebuilding of the Nigerian project, each major tribe should be encouraged to learn the language of other tribes as a compulsory curriculum in our primary and secondary schools. The Hausa/Fulani pupil should be compelled to learn Yoruba and Igbo and vice versa. Respect and appreciation of other people’s culture often emanate from the knowledge of their language.
Our Nation is rich in culture, rich in the National nutrients of the earth, and rich in human talents. We are blessed by God. We can be greater than what we are now.
But we must be fair to each other. We must be governed by the strictest sincerity of purpose and be genuine and truthful in our collective interactions.
We must be tolerant of our differences. We must encourage peaceful debate among ourselves. We must learn to trust each other. We must protect this growing heritage of democratic practices.
We are a great people. We are a great nation. We must trust in God. We must trust in each other. We must transcend the destructive ethnic divisions. We must remain one united people, strengthened in fairness, moulded in equity, hallowed in that pristine purity of common brotherhood and of common cultivated heritage.
The Nigerian dream must be protected. It must be defended. It must never die. May God bless our Nation.
• Chief Olabode George
Atona Oodua of Yourbaland
22nd June, 2017