OUR ethnic, religious, cultural and regional differences are the greatest demons confronting the development of Nigeria into a strong, united and progressive country. Nigeria is one of the most unsuccessful experiments in “unity in diversity”.
Sixty years after independence Nigeria is far less integrated than it was in 1960. At least at that time Nigerians lived happily in any part of the country that they chose to. But today, the indices of state of origin and the indigene/settler dichotomy have set Nigerians further apart from one another.
We repeat our mistakes because we never learn from them. We tend to justify the further maltreatment of one another with earlier maltreatments. The vicious circle continues.
This is why we wholeheartedly welcome the various efforts being made by our socio-cultural, intellectual and political elite to bring groups together to “shake hands” and foster unity.
The first time this took place was under the defunct Council for Unity and Understanding, CUU, comprising political and retired military/bureaucratic heavyweights of the South and Middle Belt, including retired Commodore Okoh Ebitu Ukiwe, Chief Bola Ige, Chief Anthony Enahoro, General TY Danjuma, among others.
This effort later became the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, when it was used to champion the de-annulment of Chief MKO Abiola’s presidential mandate between 1994 and 1998. Unfortunately, the onset of democratic rule in 1999 dissipated the platform.
The need to continue engagements among the leaderships of the three Southern geopolitical zones and the Middle Belt has birthed the South and Middle Belt Leadership Forum, SMBL, which, among other achievements, has played the leading role in halting the enforcement of the RUGA policywhich aims to confiscate indigenous lands for the benefit of herders.
It is in this light that we salute the leadership of the Yoruba and Igbo nations for the spirited efforts they have been making to strengthen ties among the South’s biggest ethnic blocs through their various “Handshake Across the Niger” initiatives.
These efforts have been boosted by the “Never Again” conferences championed by Nzuko Umunna, a foremost Igbo think tank group, usually in league with their Yoruba like-minds and other non-governmental coalitions.
The theme for this year celebrated in January was commemoration of 50 years after the Civil War. The event for 2021 which will be a zoom session has been scheduled for January 14.
Let these acts of “handshake” continue without cease. They have helped in dousing ethnic tensions and fostering friendship, the most recent being the massive burning and looting by hoodlums that trailed the #EndSARS peaceful protests in Lagos. Some evil-minded politicians failed to ethnicise it to fuel conflicts.
These “handshakes” must continue until we achieve a balanced federation and eliminate sectional domination. It will help to secure Nigeria’s future.