-By Ike Abonyi
“For unity to be meaningful it has to be creative, not the unity of Jonah in the whale but the unity of holy matrimony. The first can only lead to defecation, the second to procreation” – Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu
The idea of Southern and Northern protectorates coming together in 1914 to be a country called Nigeria was muted by the British colonial masters to possibly limit their financial involvement to the new colony. The burden of the North was such that London must have to deep into their treasury to keep it going administratively.
So from inception they knew that by bringing the Northern and Southern protectorates together, they were solemnizing a very difficult marriage but went ahead selfishly ostensibly to use the vast potentials of the South to sustain the vast land mass of the North.
Although the British had in mind two strong political blocs check mating each other for the marriage to survive but it did not turn out so as the South broke into two formidable blocks, the East and West.
This division was facilitated by the two foremost political leaders they produced, the first President of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Premier of the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
While Azikiwe fresh with his pan-Africanism saw the whole South as his operational area and even won election in the Western House, Awolowo who wouldn’t take any underdog position injected high ethnic sentiment that sent Azikiwe out of the Western Region. Zik was forced to return to the East where he also pushed aside another person. Political historians believe these actions became the foundation of ethnic politics in Nigeria.
While the South could not manage their political kitchen, the North helped by their feudal system held on to their oneness irrespective of their socio-political, religious and ethnic differences.
The great leadership provided by the Premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, aided greatly as he played down on their differences by accommodating the non-Fulani and non-Muslims in the region in strategic positions. That was how the Sunday Awoniyis and Joseph Tarkas among others became critical players in the region’s politics even as Christians from minority tribes.
This strategy continued to give them advantage over the South who already has been weakened by their East and West division notwithstanding their clear edge in human capital resources.
Even when the Premier of the North was invited to the centre to form government at independence he felt consolidating the North was more important than going to the centre, instead he sent one of his lieutenants, Tafawa Belewa who became the first and the only Prime Minister of Nigeria.
By the time the first crisis came soon after the independence there was no united South to checkmate the North, who had successfully and tactically induced a divide and rule system in the politics of the South. The West quickly allied with the North to suppress the East who were seen then as overwhelming the other two regions in the federal bureaucracy.
The unholy alliance between the West and the North continued into the civil war as strategically, incarcerated Awolowo was released from prison to come and be the Vice Chairman of the federal cabinet. The role of Awolowo during the war especially the hunger strategy as a war weapon and the now over flogged conversion of every Biafra money into £20 helped to ensure that the gap between the West and the East remained a gulf.
It was as a result that when Awolowo was campaigning as a presidential candidate in the Second Republic he was stoned at Aba when he muted the idea of banning stock fish and second hand wears. Political observers saw Awolowo’s undiplomatic statement as ill-timed because it quickly brought back memories of the war. He was chased out of the city by the angry Aba traders. The Eastern politicians followed it up by ensuring that anybody joining or working with Awolowo in the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) was treated as an outcast almost in the class of those who fought on the side of Nigeria during the war.
Since then the voting pattern ensured that West and East voted differently. This unhealthy rivalry continued to be to the advantage of the North who never failed to maximize it. Even during the over three decades of military rule, the pattern continued and never stopped up to the return to democracy in the land in 1999.
On returning to democracy from Second Republic, the North found the East a better partner than the West notwithstanding that they were allies during the war. It was a deliberate political move to ensure the East/West division continued. The West maintained their opposition status and guaranteed its relevance in the polity.
In all the constitutional conferences aimed at finding a workable formula for the country, the positions showed clearly along the division. While the North always bury their differences and come up with one stand on critical issues, the South never as they always come divided to the apparent excitement of the North.
The closest the South came to take one position on major national issues at a national conference was in 2014 Confab, but it ended up being dumped by the North not until last week when the exigencies of the time forced the Nigeria Senate to revisit it.
The first ever attempt by the West to have a successful political romance with the North since after the war was 2015 when the West led the gang up that threw away Goodluck Jonathan and his ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for a hurriedly assembled All Progressives congress (APC) that produced President Muhammadu Buhari and Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as the incumbent President and Vice President from the old convention of North and East alliance. As it is turning out both the North and the West are not enjoying the marriage and the effect is so glaring in the nation’s polity. What is still holding the marriage is the delay from the adjudicate to pronounce a divorce sooner than later.
I have taken time to go through this historical journey to carry my beloved readers along in appreciating the strategic importance of last weekend’s meeting of Southern leaders to discuss the affairs of the country.
This is actually not the first time as the late Biafra hero Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu had tried the hand shake across the Niger but it never materialized. Ojukwu had desired such romance and had to forgive late Awolowo’s role during the war and even left a great epitaph when he died “this is the best President never had”.
So the question: Is Southern Nigeria politically achievable now? Is it desirable? Can it help save an embattled nation? How far can this new political romance in the South go? Can it led to a strong formidable South that can withstand the manoeuvres of the North?
Alł that would depend on a number of variables. The leaders must be ready and willing to make huge sacrifice and appreciate the importance of such relationship to their people. They must also be ready to put aside their individuality and be willing to let the ugly past be sent to the trash can by playing down those divisive tendencies.
A politically strong Southern Nigeria certainly would make for a strong viable and progressive Nigeria. Even the North would benefit greatly from it as they would be more galvanized for development than the current intrigues that benefits only the very few Northern elite.
Argument of equals brings out the best in a debate and at long last Nigeria may be the best for it. By so doing those pushing for status quo that has not improved anything for 57 years would begin to realise that they have been on the wrong path.
A Canadian musician Jane Siberry was apt when she said that: “Harmony is when the sum is greater than the parts”.
The challenges of the time make it imperative that the South must come together not just to save themselves but to save the country from herself. This is the time to come together and have a reasonable creative unity not a union of Jonah in the belly of the whale as Ojukwu once described Nigeria’s unity. Injustice anywhere, great minds say, is a threat to justice anywhere. God help Nigeria.Re