A Long Road to Nothing?
Denial works like a powerful drug. If you adopt it as a form of daily defense against reality and the pains it is known to serve, it can appear to prove quite effective. Denial though is never the solution to anything. It serves as a palliative at best. Palliatives, in essence, help to quell the symptoms of a condition or situation, they do not address the cause. There is no use comparing this to the ‘palliatives’ conversation around the removal of fuel subsidy. It serves the same meaning in that sense. Nigeria has mostly been in denial about the unity of its people. It has designed political palliatives through the years to ease the symptoms of the apparent disunity amongst its people, these, if you look closely or even from afar, have not exactly worked out as planned.
Nigerians are not united. It is that simple. Nigeria is in denial of this unwholesome reality. We play political correctness and try our best to play around its edges, just so we can force the union along. However, we are far from a united people. We are as separate a people as we were before Lord Lugard happened, as we are over a century after. It is an objective reality. More real than ‘Nigeria’ as a country.
As we have seen through history, countries have come and go, their existence or disappearance largely manifested by documents. Ethnic groups differ. The quest for unity cannot pretend about the reality of that difference. We are different in truth, diverse in our essence and culture and unfortunately, divided to the core. We cannot do much about our difference, we have to see our diversity as a form of strength and even if we do not, it is a literal reality that no form of denial can wish away. What we can and must look to address is our division.
In a sense, this mirror’s Africa’s attempts over the last half-century or so to unite its countries. The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was a political design to help seed, nurture and bring about that unity. It largely failed on that front. African countries looked individually more friendly and ‘united’ with non-African countries even while African leaders gathered every year and their technocrats met every quarter to iron out the various mechanisms of the continent’s unity.
With the African Union (AU), things have evolved from a strictly political design. There is a general acceptance now that if we manage to make the continent trade within itself, its chances of unity will increase. The pressure and motivations of trade have now instituted more open borders starting out with ‘visa on arrival’ and now, ‘no visa’ for African nationals as already started by the likes of Kenya and Rwanda. That’d likely be the norm across the continent before the end of this decade.
Nigerians of course do not require a visa to visit any part of their country. They require security and infrastructure. The former hasn’t always been lacking, the latter has always been. You cannot just pick your luggage in Dutse and say you want to go spend your weekend in Benin. There are many factors that’d cause you to hesitate. Should you look to go by road, your primary consideration is how safe such a journey would be and then how good the roads are to ease your travel. Individually, they are enough to discourage you, taken together, both will often easily combine to help quench that thirst. The cost of travel is another factor, it is not always the main factor in this case.
If you choose to fly, the cost of travel takes precedence, even though many Nigerians remain wary of flying locally. That is despite the fact that the country hasn’t recorded any major commercial plane crash incident since 2012. Those years are not long enough for anyone to assume that the skies are now that safe, examples abound of near misses since then.
With these challenges in mind, you’d find that most Nigerians not only live close to where they were born, they work just as close by and have built their entire existence within the geographic and cultural confines they have known since birth. Those who have ventured beyond both confines haven’t explored the rest of the country enough to feel at home or at peace elsewhere. The dearth of transport infrastructure and the challenge of insecurity aren’t just about the direct costs of both, they are at the root of our division. We are divided because we do not trust one another. We do not trust one another because we do not know one another enough. We do not know one another enough because we are confined within the Nigeria we were born into. Movement doesn’t just drive commerce and prosperity, it is the foundation of national unity.
The quest for Nigeria’s unity is a long road, a marathon. When addressed within the confines of politics alone, it’d likely end up being a long road to nothing. We must build bridges and roads — literally and figuratively — to advance the cause of our unity. As we have come to find out, if we do not address other root causes of anger between various warring ethnic groups, we’d continue to deploy soldiers to quell unrests across the country. The deployment of soldiers is always going to be nothing more than a palliative.
I doubt any Nigerian hopes for anything other than a united and prosperous country. As it is, the planetary bodies appear more likely to be in syzygy every other day than we are to meet these ideals. That said, our pursuit isn’t exactly celestial. We just need a little pragmatism; an acceptance of where it is we are, what it is we need to do, and how it is we want to move ahead. We already know the ‘why’, or may be some don’t. There is little or no chance of collective prosperity without a commitment to advancing to the future as one. The collective needs not travel in denial of its differences, but it must do so aware of the fact its diversity can and should be its strength.