Book Review: Voluntary Union, Reshaping Nigeria With A Harvest Of Home Truths
By Armsfree Ajanaku
Suddenly, 100 years after the historic colonial exertion of 1914, discussions about the future of Nigeria have assumed a feverish pitch. First, there is the ongoing National Conference, which is providing Nigerians across the country’s six geo-political zones the opportunity to vent their spleen about the direction of the country, and proffer ways to arrest the drift of a perpetually potentially great nation. The fear of the unknown enveloping the Nigerian space, accentuated by the latest challenge of state authority by the audacious onslaught of Boko Haram is eliciting a range of conversations in far flung corners of Nigeria.
The fundamental questions revolve around the age-long issues, most of which have been left unattended to, due to a combination of fear, and the fact that across board there is a critical mass of beneficiaries whose clout and influence ironically overshadow the most consistent and forthright voices that have pushed the call for a change.
This new firmament of frenetic discussions defined, not just by the centennial epoch, but also by the bumbling nature of the Nigerian federation, on account of its instability and its divisive inter-group relations, is getting a close attention from a broad spectrum of statesmen, scholars, civil society activists and much more importantly, young Nigerians, who have the ultimate stake in the survival, well being and prosperity of the entity called Nigeria.
Significantly, the question about whether Nigeria is to be a single, monolithic and indivisible entity, seems to have been unanimously answered by a vast majority in the affirmative. Of course, there still exist the unyielding and unrepentant irredentists, who really cannot come to the front of the podium to advance their arguments for the disintegration of the world’s most populous black nation. Ironically, irrespective of the fact that the proponents of the dismemberment of Nigeria have some cream of logic to oil their divisive advocacy, the logic of the pro-unity camp has been further bolstered by the sentiments about the place of Nigeria in Africa and the world, as well as the compelling nature of its manifest destiny. Nations are not built on logic; nations are built on sentiment, which then coalesce into a form and dimension of national logic. Moreover, the proponents of the sweeping adventure to dismember Nigeria to such a shape, which is not fathomable to hundreds of country men, are easily put down by the counter logic and sentiments of unity, which remain overwhelming at the moment. However in the Nigerian context, whatever the sentiments of unity are, they have to be necessarily backed up by certain crucial patriotic actions. This is where the proponents of unity have fallen short by failing to understand that the rhetoric of unity, standing alone is vain. The rhetoric of unity must link up with other discernible action points in bridge building across the hundreds of ethnic nationalities that exist within Nigeria. These actions points would necessarily include efforts to disembowel history in order to meticulously rectify the lapses of the past, and thereafter chart a just and equitable path to the future.
Chuks Akamadu’s 198 page treatise, Voluntary Union: A Centenary Imperative is one representation of the unity side of the Nigerian discourse that calls on all actors to go beyond the rhetoric of unity. Through personal narratives, and astuteness in projecting the realities of the Nigerian condition, Akamadu calls on the rest of his countrymen to take responsibility for the future of their country. The author stridently condemns the tendency for quick fixes to the nation’s intractable challenges. Leaning on the facts of history and contemporary realities, Akamadu stresses the well noted point that Nigeria is not yet a nation, but a country of several nations (p.8). It is on this premise he advocates for a “voluntary union” entered into by all Nigerian ethnic nationalities by choice, (p.48).
He therefore coaxes Nigerian statesmanship to begin to rise above the limitations of tongue and tribe to position Nigeria as a national brand of great repute in the comity of nations.
More importantly however, the unique selling point of Voluntary Union is the fact that the author ensures that his suggestions about possible ways out of the drift do not end with talking and pontificating. He takes it as a point of duty, through his own experiences to practically demonstrate how citizens can intervene and help with their own initiatives to help address the national crisis that is currently stifling Nigeria’s march to its rightful place in the sun.
Akamadu all through the book shows himself to be a conscientious student of history. For instance, the preface of the book is preceded by a poignant quote, wherein a message from the British crown is relayed through Nigeria’s first Governor General, Frederick Luggard to express good wishes and shower blessings on the involuntary marriage of the two sides that formed Nigeria.
The poignancy of the message is in the sentence by the English king George R.I, expressing his “earnest hope that great prosperity may be in store for them (the peoples that had been arbitrarily joined together via the amalgamation of 1914). The prosperity in question must have been framed in terms of stability within the context of inter-group relations. From the book, it is crystal clear that the best wishes from England have not translated into what they should have been. The author with this quote implies that the responsibility for getting things to work falls squarely on the peoples who were compelled by the forces of history to dwell in one country.
In the first chapter of the book, the author talks about how Nigeria’s colonial masters conceived the amalgamation idea to suit their administrative needs, and not because they cared about the welfare of the numerous ethnic nationalities they had lumped together. He also contended that there is no historical evidence to show that the British sought to cobble together the Nigerian edifice on a weak foundation.
“Truth is that the imperialists, at some point, got fed up with routinely running northern protectorate’s government on a deficit economy and sustaining it with subsidy accruing from the southern protectorate’s surplus. Their logical response to the festering imbalance was to fuse both north and south into one. Hence, Nigeria!” These are some of the arguments that would continue to engage scholars of Nigerian history for a long time. Akamadu helps situates the discourse by undertaking a relay through the tracks of Nigerian history. By so doing, he attempts to explain and interpret some of the well known stories in ways that point to the possibility of Nigerians working out a harmonious living space.
Talking about Nigeria’s politicians and the entire debate about how they institutionalize the destabilizing politics of ethnicity, the author goes back to history to provide a insight into how actions of politicians aimed at dividing Nigerians due to desperation tend to be taken as the actions of the people they supposedly represent. An example is the famous cross carpeting incident on the floor of the Western Region House of Assembly in the 1950s
Akamadu notes that: “Till date, many still regard this as unjustifiable back-stabbing and point often to its impact on the politics of Nigeria as well as other spheres of life, even when facts on ground suggest no connection between that unfortunate event of 1953 (which hit its climax on January 7, 1954) and the issues that are at hand; a case of stereotyping the Yoruba, one would say. Was that truly a Yoruba “coup”? Or an Awo “coup”? What is the difference between the two?
“It should however be noted that Dr. Azikiwe, having been out-politicked in the Western Region, so to speak, hurriedly left for the East, where he fell back on the position his party had hitherto reserved for Prof. Eta. This again, some historians insist, was manifest tribalism, since many believe Dr. Azikiwe had his way because Ndigbo (Dr. Azikiwe’s kith and kin) were the dominant tribe in both NCNC and the entire Eastern Region.”
The astuteness of the author in being able to balance all of the actions of politicians across ethnic groups, and rightly identify these, not as the extant position of an ethnic group, but as a manifestation of the desperate stratagems of politicians trying to play their games at the expense of the nation. Akamadu therefore gives context to the inter-ethnic squabbles in Nigeria, depicting them as wars designed to advance not the course of the ethnic group, but the selfish aspirations of the elite. In the next one hundred years of Nigeria, when it eventually overcomes all of its structural deficiencies, the above point is one lesson that Nigerians across all ethnic divides must learn to ensure national unity and harmonious inter group relations.
On the whole, Akamadu’s central argument in Voluntary Union is that it is possible for Nigerians of all ethnic nationalities to live in peace and harmony and voluntary unity. He illustrates this point with experiences about how he worked with great Nigerians from different parts of the country to achieve civic and social goals. The logic here is that if this distinguished array of Nigerians could work selflessly to find solutions to problems of common national concern, then it is possible for all Nigerians, irrespective of their ethnic differences to rally in the course to find lasting solutions to the nation’s problems.
Nonetheless, the author contends that the right quality of leadership is crucial for Nigeria to find its place in the sun. It is on this basis he flays bad leadership as exemplified in his lacerating lashes reserved for the dictatorship of the late General Sanni Abacha. In his analysis of the June 12 debacle the author narration captures the history of betrayals and back stabbing that have characterized nation building in the Nigerian context.
He writes of Abacha: “Before the coming of Gen. Abacha, he had successfully sold himself to the populace as an extremely apolitical and disciplined officer, an impression that encouraged Chief Abiola to reach an understanding with the infantry general to the effect that the latter would sack the ING and invite the former to form and head a National Unity Government—an option that appealed to most democratic tendencies in the land at that material time.
“Contrary to expectations, however, Gen. Abacha quickly consolidated his hold on power. Betrayed and with a terribly bruised ego, Chief Abiola in 1994 took his destiny in his own hands by declaring himself ‘president’ in Epetedo, Lagos State. Hence, the now famous Epe Declaration.”
However, beyond identifying the multifaceted dimensions of the Nigerian problem from by keeping a close eye on the fact of history, the author devotes sufficient space to the realities of the contemporary times reflecting how history retains its nexus with the present. He undertakes an analysis of such problems as the generational disenchantment of young Nigerians, Boko Haram and other manifestations of the Nigerian contradiction with the passion of the concerned. Cutting through all of these is the theme of unity, and Akamadu concludes that while it is commonplace to see Nigerian leaders, past and present, “sermonize on the imperative of national unity. Curiously, they would rather keep Nigeria together than promote unity amongst the diverse peoples of Nigeria. This is a classic case of playing the ostrich with the destiny of a country of diverse nations.”
Akamadu implies that Nigerians do not need to obliterate their differences. His dose of medication for Nigerian unity is that the people should enjoy their diversity, and work together to lift the country from its current doldrums. Using the wordings of Nigeria’s present and previous anthems as evidence, the author spotlights the fact that Nigerian leaders have tended to run away from the realities of the country’s diversity, instead of understanding and deploying them for progress. The author therefore calls on Nigerians to face the problems of nation building frontally, and defeat the divisive factors of ethnicity, sect and creed, insofar as they stand as obstacles to nation building.
In chapter 8 of the book, the author addresses some poetic missives to what he designates as Nigeria’s 36 orphan states and Abuja. He delves into a rumination on the realities and peculiarities of the states. Specifically, he bemoans the degeneration of a once prosperous Borno state to an epicentre of Boko Haram violence, just as he praises the giant strides made in Akwa Ibom, “where the roads smell good.”
Consequently, with the proliferation of new media technology in an era of revolution in information technology, the book also incorporates the views of a broad spectrum of Nigerians commenting about the future of the country on the ubiquitous space known as social media. This is an acknowledgement of the fact that the conversation about Nigeria as carried on by the youth, no longer goes on through the traditional channels of yester years. It now happens through online platforms with multiplier effects that reverberate across boundaries, social categories and many hitherto undefined spaces. In all, Akamadu challenges us to reach within and tap the seeds of our greatness. Creating the template for the evolution of a “voluntary union,” the author posits is one of the most important tasks before the ongoing National Conference. If heeded, this is a call that would definitely catapult Nigeria to its place in the sun.
Armsfree Ajanaku writes from Abuja
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