Home column - Friday APC’s unity-in-uniformity vs Nigeria’s unity-in-diversity, By Isaac N. Obasi

APC’s unity-in-uniformity vs Nigeria’s unity-in-diversity, By Isaac N. Obasi

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu (left), APC 2023 presidential candidate and his running mate, Kashim Shettima

The issue of the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the forthcoming 2023 presidential election will be difficult to go away from public scrutiny no matter how hard its proponents want it to be wished away. More issues would definitely be raised as the election dates draw nearer. But for now, one issue of interest is the interrogation of the philosophy behind the ticket beyond the boisterous noise of merely seeing it as a political strategy for winning the election. For example, this same-faith ticket knowingly or unknowingly is going to promote an agenda of unity-in-uniformity, as against Nigeria’s long cherished philosophy of unity-in-diversity

Before proceeding further, I must acknowledge and fully appreciate that I came to hear the concept of unity-in-uniformity for the first time well over four decades ago, from one of my erudite lecturers, Prof. J. A. A. Ayoade of the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan during our undergraduate course on Nigerian federalism. There is a difference between unity-in-diversity and unity-in-uniformity. The former promotes tolerance and mutual respect and accommodation and reduces fear of domination, while the later promotes resentment, acrimony and division among the heterogeneous groups that make up a federation. The fear of the minorities being dominated by the major ethnic group(s) which is always palpable, is heightened when the philosophy of unity-in-uniformity is promoted through any public policy design. Minorities in this context may be in terms of ethnicity, religion, language or cultural affiliation.  

Among federations in the world, there are rock-solid foundational principles that sustain their heterogeneous existence and some of these are: principle of mutual respect and accommodation, principle of equity (i.e. justice and fairness), and the principle of inclusiveness. The potency of these principles is that they altogether promote the much desired peaceful coexistence in a heterogeneous society. This is achievable because the principles have the power to assuage the fears of ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious minorities, supporting the saying that ‘if you want peace work for justice.’ 

Given the heterogeneity of a federal society, there are always two forces at play to determine its survival and these are the centripetal forces and the centrifugal forces. On the one hand, the centripetal forces engender and promote the stability of the centre in such a way that the diversities (or what is called fault lines) are carefully managed to promote mutual co-existence. And on the other hand, the centrifugal forces pull the heterogeneous society away from the desired unity by increasing the fault lines. 

This article contends that in the last seven years, the Nigerian heterogeneous society has experienced the worst of the centrifugal forces which have exacerbated the fault lines and are presently posing existential threat to the country. Consequently, the article further argues that the Muslim-Muslim ticket is a centrifugal force and which in addition aims subtly to impose unity-in-uniformity. The APC is perceived as promoting the principle of unity-in-uniformity regardless of whether it accepts this or not. The driving force of its national appointments is provincialism making some public officials form other ethnic groups for example to be behaving in ways to be interpreted as politically correct. Take for example the case of some people from different minority ethnic groups (who want to be seen as politically correct and accepted) wearing kaftans and their fitting caps as a way of ‘promoting national unity’. But does this mean that these people are united in their minds with the major ethnic group which is mainly identifiable with such attire? No, they are far from being united because this is a case of uniformity of dress driven mainly by eye service. You can also see some of our political gladiators from some ethnic groups who put such caps on (even without kaftans) in their own native dress in order to be accepted by their political masters even though they look somehow odd in such appearance. 

But let us take this example further. The wearing of the Igbo traditional Isiagu dress by our president when in Owerri, Imo State or in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State for example, does not in any way change the views of the wearer or that of his critics on certain fundamental differences for which his ethnic group and the Igbo nation are known for. But these known fundamental differences (in religion and culture) can be mediated politically by the principles of inclusiveness, mutual respect and accommodation, and ultimately by the principles of tolerance and peaceful co-existence which are all embedded in the principle of justice and fairness. This goes to show that in unity-in-diversity which is mediated by equity, the higher goal of peaceful co-existence can easily be promoted more than the attempt to look alike in the same dressing (reflecting unity-in-uniformity) but resting upon a foundation of injustice which itself further promotes acrimony and division.  

The proponents and supporters of the Muslim-Muslim ticket think that the forcing of unity-in-uniformity will achieve real unity not knowing that it will achieve the opposite result. Their hope that the ticket will unify Nigerians is a strategic miscalculation. Yes it can superficially ‘unify’ Nigerians only to the extent that it will be forcing unity-in-uniformity as against Nigeria’s cherished principle of unity-in-diversity. Put differently, the Muslim-Muslim ticket is a centrifugal force pulling Nigerians away from being united because first and foremost, it ignores religious sensibility of Christians. Secondly, it is subtly aiming at foisting a melting point philosophy which is presently unworkable because Nigeria is not yet a nation or even working towards it. The reality is that Nigeria is yet to achieve national integration which promotes oneness in spite of the heterogeneity of its society. 

Fortunately, national integration can easily be achieved within the framework of our well-cherished unity-in-diversity embedded in a foundation of equity. And the existence of these will in turn promote tolerance, mutual respect and accommodation, and above all, peaceful co-existence. This is the way to go if Nigeria is to survive rather than forcing upon Christians a Muslim-Muslim ticket which is a centrifugal force that promotes unity-in-uniformity rather than unity-in-diversity i.e. the rock-solid foundational basis of our being together in the first instance. 

•Prof. Isaac N. Obasi can be reached via: [email protected].  

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