Bridges Over Phantom Lakes, By Aniebo Nwamu

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Once again, unscrupulous politicians are beating the drums of secession. It’s not new. Whenever the political atmosphere seems charged, one potent way of extracting concessions from the other side is to play the ethnic or religious card. Reputable academics, professionals and politicians have been implicated in this crime of creating phantom lakes and rivers.

While it may be true that the nation is divided, it’s also true that this division exists only in the minds and thinking of the political elite. Ordinary Nigerians – the silent majority – are not worried about the stereotyped classifications of people of other tribes and religions as good or bad. I have listened to conversations in which people of the south-east praised the humility and kindness of their brothers in the north. Several villages in the north are populated by Igbo people who speak and dress like their hosts. And Segun Nweze born and bred in Ibadan does not really understand the gospel of separation he occasionally hears on the radio or reads on social media. So do Abdullahi Momoh, James Abubakar and Chuwang Agbese. By now, the number of Nigerians bearing cross-cultural names must have risen to millions.

By their votes on June 12, 1993, Nigerians proved that tribe and religion were the least of their considerations. Chief Moshood Abiola won the presidential election across the country on a Muslim-Muslim ticket. He defeated his opponent, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, even in the latter’s own ward. It’s unfortunate that the cabal of that era truncated what would have been Nigeria’s golden age. Since then, the country has not been the same and may never be the same again.

The real threat to the nation’s existence (not the nation’s unity), however, has been poverty. It is the mass poverty and ignorance in the country today that have enabled these disgruntled politicians to ply their trade openly. That’s why the UN report that Nigeria has 13.5 million street kids or the World Poverty Clock which says it has 92 million poor people should worry all patriots. And the trend of schools yearly churning out more than a million young people who have no hope of finding jobs or even being employable should cause all right-thinking leaders sleepless nights. Wrong education and its collapse partly inspired Boko Haram – Western education is forbidden. The “bandits” and cattle herders from Niger, Mali, Libya and other countries are those fleeing climate change.

As I said, the occasional threats of secession have been creations of the political class. The ordinary people recruited to fight and die in the civil war of the late 1960s, for instance, did not even understand why they had to fight and kill their brothers. Most were brainwashed to fight the enemy they did not know. Politicians also threatened secession during the June 12 struggle. Those who predicted that Nigeria would not survive the annulment of the presidential election of 1993 are still in politics. Some of those prophets of doom are today envisaging “disintegration ”, unless they received political appointments. It’s all politics!

Nigeria’s greatness lies in its unity in diversity. Regardless of the messages of hate we read daily, ordinary Nigerians love one another. The two major religions, both of which took roots from the Middle East, canvass love and peace. So, anybody using religion as an excuse to hate other people must be dishonest. Often, those who discriminate against adherents of other religions are poor, ignorant or malicious politicians. I’m sure that, if jobs had been available for many and the nation’s economy prospering, only a few Nigerians would have been interested in knowing what goes on in Aso Rock or the state government houses. Just as in the United States: Americans have a greater interest in the weather than in what Trump and Congress are doing. When people are busy, when they can feed themselves and their families, they care little about what political parties and politicians are doing or saying.

Several times in this space, I have recounted the dreams of Nigeria’s founding fathers, and the frustrations of those of them that lived up to the 1990s. All that the present politicians are doing is climb to fame and riches using the names of these founding fathers. On campaign grounds, they keep mentioning Azikiwe, Sardauna Bello, Awolowo, Tarka, Aminu Kano and others. You see these sages’ photos even on campaign posters in 2019. But one thing today’s politicians cannot do is live by the examples of our heroes past.

To win independence for Nigeria, Zik (who spoke Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo fluently) knew he could not fight alone. Until he died in 1996, he never stopped giving the credit for Nigeria’s independence to all his teammates. He often decried the lack of unity and the quest for material things among the leaders that succeeded them. I wonder what Zik’s generation would be discussing on the other side, seeing what we‘ve got today.

Our real heroes are these leaders of the First Republic and earlier. It was in their era that tribes were respectable; it’s not like today that almost everyone speaks dogo turenchi – in fact, languages like Igbo are vanishing because “enlightened” parents do not speak the “ancient” language to their children. Yet, our founding fathers got along very well with one another. The famous exchange between Zik and Bello – “Let’s forget/understand our differences” – was a mirror of true nationalism at its best.

Apart from speaking the three languages, Zik also gave his children Yoruba and Hausa names. He was not alone: We know the famous mathematician that gave birth to a former MD of AMCON, Mustafa Chike-Obi. I have read and heard how Sardauna travelled to Ilorin in 1962 to congratulate the present emeritus Catholic archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, when he excelled in the WASC exams of that year.

The inter-ethnic marriages of three and four generations ago – like between the parents of (retired general and later senator) Ike Omar Sanda Nwachukwu, between Yoruba and Tiv, between Angas and Fulani – show that ethnicity was never an issue. More than a century ago, Fulani nomads settled in Ibagwa in present-day Enugu State. Their progeny today speak not just Igbo but the Ibagwa dialect; you cannot distinguish the Fulani from the Igbo of Ibagwa except that the former worship mainly in mosques. It’s the same story in parts of Kwara State where you find Fulani that cannot speak Hausa or Fulani anymore but speak Yoruba fluently. I have no better way of describing these full-blooded Nigerians than “bridge builders of modern Nigeria”.

It is hoped that attachment to tribe or religion will disappear from this blessed land in the nearest future. They can only make us miserable. There is more than enough for everybody to enjoy in Nigeria – a nation blessed with human and mineral resources. Only greed and selfishness have not allowed us to enjoy these bounties.

Until we enthrone good conduct like selflessness and honesty, we would keep lamenting the state of the nation. It’s not enough to agitate for “resource control”, “power shift” or “our turn to rule”. Even if all the oil in the Niger Delta were left for Niger Deltans alone, poverty and squalor would persist in the area. Cows, rams and goats reared in the north-west, and the yams, onions, ginger and groundnuts cultivated in the north-central and north-east contribute more to the nation’s GDP than oil. Similarly, if presidents of northern extraction remained in power for 100 more years, the poverty and hopelessness in the area won’t disappear.

Only when people of conscience begin to use the human and material resources we have for the benefit of all would Nigeria witness peace and prosperity. Nobody is suffering today because of the sins of people from another tribe. Let those with wisdom understand the game of the selfish elite. We need each other.

•Nwamu, an entrepreneur, is the CEO of Eyeway.ng

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