– A SPEAKER'S CAMPAIGN FOR UNITYTHISDAYLIVE – THISDAY Newspapers
Femi Gbajabiamila canvasses unity among Nigerians, writes Justin Osawe
Depending on whom you ask, there are varying stories to the effect that Nigeria has changed – for the better or worse. But it seems more folks that witnessed pre-independence Nigeria talk of a country where things worked and people thrived, mostly in harmony with one another. Religion or ethnicity didn’t conflagrate societies like it has become in recent times.
However, over the years, it seems the polity has been heated up with suspicion whereby more Nigerians suspect each other’s every move. Somehow, factions came up among citizens, pitting people against each other, waning unity across the land and heading towards the precipice.
Hence, when the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, delivered the keynote address at the 112th Founder’s Lecture of the King’s College Old Boys Association (KCOBA) on Saturday, September 18, 2021, it presented another opportunity to revisit our togetherness as a people. Gbajabiamila used the lecture which was held in Lagos and themed ‘Unity in Diversity, Stronger Together’, to urge for unity, saying that the duty of uniting Nigeria falls on every Nigerian.
“We did it through citizens moving from one end of the country to another, acquiring education, building businesses, making friends, falling in love, and marrying,” he said.
“We did it through the joy of shared victories and the mourning of communal loss.
“We took ownership of our country by sacrificing blood, sweat and tears to secure democratic governance and make Nigeria into a place where grand visions can be made real by determined effort and where hope can thrive. As in the words of our old national anthem, we have made of this nation where ‘though tribes and tongue may differ in brotherhood we stand’.”
I fell in love with the Speaker’s viewpoint on uniting Nigeria. To say that Nigeria has been split along ethnic and religious lines over the years, resulting in social, economic and political backwardness, is not news. It’s been a reality how ethnic and religious attachments daily confound daily lives in the country. But we, as Nigerians, have to work on ourselves to make things better.
Speaking on the country’s ongoing constitution amendment, Gbajabiamila said: “In the House of Representatives, we are currently in the process of a substantive review of our nation’s constitution. Our objective is to deliver a constitution that more effectively organises our politics to make it more inclusive, enshrine efficient mechanisms for holding the institutions of state to account and put an end to the debilitating conflicts that continue to tear our nation apart.
“We will not produce a perfect constitution; no such thing has ever existed in the world. However, together we can, by the choices we make and our actions, use our constitution as the foundational document of our nationhood to give life to the best promise of Nigeria.”
While crafty people can take advantage of loopholes in any document and a ‘perfect constitution’ may be impossible, there is a need to ensure currency and the constitution is constantly addressed to reflect the people’ will.
But, beyond having a constitution to serve as a book of codes, perhaps Nigerian life needs a reset point to when many citizens act according to the Golden Rule – Do unto others what you want to be done unto you. You see, I doubt one needs to read a big book of rules in order to do good to one’s neighbours. Most likely, one just needs to do the right thing. In Nigeria, especially in the public sector, many people are not doing the right things. And it is great that the speaker said that mechanisms would be put in place to hold state institutions accountable and “put an end to the debilitating conflicts that continue to tear our nation apart.”
I like that. There should be institutions that are checking institutions. And to be frank, such is not new in the country. In the police for instance, there is even a unit set up to check and arrest fraudulent highway patrol officers. Other agencies have this too. But it seems a general apathy to corruption has pervaded the system that this checking mechanism is often too inundated to be effective. However, the government can deploy the tactic of using ‘Mystery Shoppers’ – whereby an anonymous member of the public goes through the system just to check errant government workers across all its establishments. The United Kingdom regularly does this to keep its workers on their toes and let them know they can be held accountable for their actions anytime.
But not one to just harp on problems, the speaker also advocated three ingredients to foster unity among Nigerians in his speech.
“The first is to ensure that the government respects, protects and guarantees the fundamental rights of all citizens, without exception,” he said. “The second is to provide a society where our people are free from want and have the resources to pursue their dreams and achieve their best aspirations. The third is by freeing our people from the abject terror and accompanying limitations of wanton insecurity in all its forms.”
The speaker also advised that: “We cannot continue to assume and act in the assumption that every criticism, political action and governing decision, for good or bad, is the product of ethnic, religious or other such considerations. We need to begin once more to extend to ourselves the benefit of kindness and the assumption of good intentions. We are capable of this.”
It is interesting that Gbajabiamila addressed the issue of unity at the founder’s day event of Kings College, Lagos. Founded in 1909, Kings College, Lagos attracted brilliant Nigerian male students from far and wide. Queens College, Yaba was also established in 1927 for females. Their success at integrating students did not go unnoticed, later birthing the glory of unity schools, otherwise known as Federal Government Colleges. Over time, these schools dotted the country and were accessible to qualified Nigerian students. Of course, concessions for quota systems were and are still given to some states designated as ‘Educationally Less Developed.’
But aside from qualitative education, the icing on the cake was how students from virtually all states congregated and lived and schooled as one. The unity exhibited by alumni of these unity schools is testimony of the experiment’s success. Today, alumni of unity schools are perhaps the few that as a group, I can say are more unified as Nigerians. And other Nigerians surely can learn a thing or two from these privileged sets of Nigerians.
Anyway, in considering strategies for engendering unity, I would advise Gbajabiamila to encourage his colleagues at the House to reimagine Nigeria along the implications of ‘States of origin’ as well as ‘Residency’. A scenario where a Nigerian is born in or has lived in a particular state for many years but is denied certain rights or privileges only because he bears a particular name or a different ancestry is definitely not fair. The structure doesn’t even take into account whether the person has served the state and paid his or her taxes into the state coffers. This does not reflect fairness. In the US for instance, everyone automatically belongs to the state of their birth or the state whey they must have legally resided for a number of years.
This suggestion, on the surface, would sound incredible to the ears of the present-day average Nigeria, but like Gbajabiamila said, perhaps these are some of the hard truths we should be telling ourselves.