“We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, having firmly and solemnly resolved, to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation under God…”
The above is the preamble to the Nigerian constitution. It is one part of our constitution that has come under heavy attacks by constitutional jurists but its correctness or otherwise is not the subject of this discourse.
And before I go on, it is important I set the records straight. My name is Oluwaseun Alade and I come from a long line of Ekiti descent. There is no Igbo blood in me. I’m not here to speak for Igbos or to speak against them. I’m here to speak for Nigeria. I believe that Nigeria can work but we need to be sincere and put in the work.
Where we are.
More than ever before in our recent history, the drumbeat of Igbo secession is getting louder. While some might be fast to discard the call for secession as the wailings of a people who are not happy with the outcome of the last general elections, the wise would deep further. As all structural engineers know, a crack on a wall is not the real problem, rather it is the sign of a problem. You might decide to take a short cut approach to dealing with the crack by plastering the wall or you could take the arduous but reasonable approach of looking for the root cause and fixing it.
It’s true I wasn’t around during the Biafran war. I came sixteen years after it ended but my interest made me read all the books I could find about that period of our nationhood. I read stories from both sides of the war. As a Yoruba, I grew up hearing about how the Igbo people made a huge mistake by taking arms against the mighty Federal side and how our father, Awolowo played a great role in quashing the rebellion. I believe in the Latin maxim of fair hearing- audi alterem partem, so, I read more narratives from the Igbo sides to balance what I grew up hearing. Amongst many others, I read Chinua Achebe, who was Biafra’s minister of communications. I also read Chimamanda Adichie, who like me was absent from the party but who came to know about the war so well she wrote about it like she witnessed it.
One fact is incontrovertible, Nigeria failed as a nation to fully integrate the Igbo people after the war. The much mouthed 3R’s of Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation were not carried out to the letter. The Nigerian civil war, as opposed to the popular catchphrase, ended with one side being victorious while another was vanquished. While we may say all is fair in war, we should not be quick to forget that this was a war for unity and it therefore means that steps should have been taken after the war to entrench unity, but the reverse is the case!
One unhealthy sign of this false sense of unity that got me digging deep into our history was when I realised that an Igbo man would almost always build his first house in his village before buying a bag of cement in the city where he lives. It was not always like that, the civil war taught them that, because after the war, Igbos who had all their investments outside of Igboland lost everything! Once bitten, ever shy.
Almost fifty years after the war, we still resort to name-calling, side-taking and all such divisive tactics. As it seems, Nigeria is like the bus in the opening chapter of Ayi Kwei Armah’s ‘The Beautyful ones are not yet born‘ which was held together by rust. Truth is, if care is not taken, this bus will fall apart. The Yorubas say a house built by spit will be crushed by dew. It is high time we stopped playing lip service to our unity and we start working it out. It might seem belated but I believe in the mantra – better late than never.
NB: This is the first of a two-part piece. You can read the concluding part here.
I am @seunalade