Nigerian map

We aren’t as different as some think

By Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim

In the contest for power and resources in history, people always try to outdo each other by creating divisions around race, ethnicity, or faith. People do this to enlist group support for otherwise private agenda or whip support for personal disappointment or loss, as it presently is. Sometimes when faith and ethnicity are the same, demagogue explores doctrinaire differences as it was in Europe in the 17th century, where European kings fought a 30 years’ war dividing themselves into Catholics or protestants between 1618 and 1648.

Europe never emerged significantly as a powerhouse until it overcame that era of darkness, only then was it able to march into renaissance (Enlightenment), Industrial Revolution and Democracy. Ethnically and religiously homogeneous Somalia, whose war lords divided it along clans, has yet to escape from the ruins and darkness of her own division. Rwanda to the contrary is matching forward, having buried the Ghost of hatred, making development a focus.

When I was a young student both at A’ levels and the University, it was our aspiration to seek the unity of all of Africa into one country in the manner America as espoused by Kwame Nkrumah (the first Prime Minister of Ghana), and Sekou Toure (the first President of Guinea), and other great Nationalists. Some of our mentors in Nigeria, such as Alao-Aka Bashorun, worked as Pan Africanist in drafting the constitutions of many newly independent African countries, in a clime when Nigeria’s Justice Akinola Aguda served as Chief Justice of Botswana. We saw all Africans as same, and we perceived any attack on any group of Africans as an attack on the rest of us. It was in that spirit that on January 6, 1988, Rotimi Ewebiyi, Olaitan Oyerinde, Chris Ayaze, Sylvester Odion, and my humble self-all students of the University of Lagos-were arrested and detained after the massive protest we staged alongside Nigerian workers and students, following Prime Minister Thatcher of Britain’s visit. We were protesting in Nigeria against her pro-apartheid policy in South Africa.

Where we are coming from is of course very far from where we are now, where people are demonstrating to break Nigeria. In the days of yore, it was unimaginable for us that there will come a time that advocacy will become fervent that we break Nigeria into separate countries. Nigeria, which we considered then as one of the small 52 States of Africa-just the size of California. Everything from farming practices, pastoralist Vs farmers, differences in dressing, climate and land are being thrown in the discus to magnify our differences. The methods are even regrettably pedestrian, in what seem to be an argument that it is needless to save the unity of the country. Tragically, those who have held high offices in Nigeria at one point are stoking the current embers of disunity. The truth, very stubborn truth, is that we are the same people, more than the magnifying glasses of separatists want us to see.

Nigeria may have diverse languages, but the cultures of most Nigerian ethnic groups are the same, pointing to the same roots in distant history and here is why. The Cosmogony, religious rights, history and cultures of most Nigerians (Pre-colonial and Pre-Arabic influence) are largely the same, despite diversity in language. The African American scholar, Chancellor Williams has already done justice to this question in his seminar work “The destruction of African civilization: Great issue of a Race.”. Williams explained that two major factors account for why Africa, though account for less than 3% of global trade, is home to the highest numbers of languages and dialects in the world, but same culture. These factors are first, the migration that occurred in prehistoric times because of the dry up (desertification) of the areas of the Sahara, which was home to a previously thriving culture and life.

The second was forced migration, owing to various wars of conquest, according to Professor Williams. When people flee, they go in small bands in different directions, carrying the memory of their cultures and cosmogony, but often lose their original languages as they travel far. In Nigeria, it is possible to decipher a definite relationship in the pre-colonial and pre-Arabically influenced cultures of western and Northern Nigeria. These are presumed to be cultures whose ruling classes migrated from Meriotic Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt. The same practices in the Hausa Bori cult of worship, exists in the Sango(Yoruba) cult of worship. Similarly, the same practices are found in the Amadioha worship circle amongst the Igbos, who, though, are associated with the Bantustan stock. The details of these assumptions should have by now been a subject of a detail study in archaeology, history, linguistics, using modern technology of historical reconstruction.

Cheikh Anta Diop, who I consider the most outstanding African scholar (historian, physicist, Archaeologist and Chemist) has done some pioneer work on this subject and planned a perspective for historical reconstruction of Africa cultures which establishes that Africans are essentially the same people, not different people and can live together and must ever break from been sliced into tiny groups for easy conquest. This was his preoccupation with his books. “Cultural unity of Africa”, “Africa pre-colonial”, “The African origin of civilization, myth or reality”, “Civilization or Barbarism”. And last, “The Economic and Cultural basis for a Federated African State”. I recommend these  important works for advocates of separatism, who constantly repeat the false doctrine that “we are different people we cannot live together, let everyone go their ways”.

Africans everywhere are of the same ancestry, all human beings are of the same ancestry, and so says the Bible in Act of Apostle, 17:26; “And hath made of one blood all nations of men for dwelling on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;” Let us resolve our economic and political challenges in Nigeria in the political turf. Let us keep ethnic division and religious bigotry out of it. Ethno-religious confrontation are conflicts no one can ever win, as all are always losers in that field.

Nigeria is a beautiful country, the most formidable promise of the African people. It started well at independence and her people had learnt to live together peacefully well until the setback of the civil war triggered by the 1966 military coup. The fantastic testament of our peaceful co-existence and integration includes such occasions as when the mainly Christian voters of Gboko elected a Kanuri Muslim man, Abubakar Imam, to represent them in the Northern State Assembly. It includes when Chief Obafemi Awolowo campaigned for Ernest Ikoli, an Ijaw man in the Lagos elections, against a fellow Ijebu man, Akinsanya. In the early 1960’s right to the Seventies (‘70’s), Easterners like Kalu Anya served in Borno Judiciary, as well as justice Olagunju a Yoruba man from Offa, who trained many Jurists in the Sokoto Division.

Today’s setbacks are not conclusive evidence of our inability to live together, but challenges we must overcome, as even the most advanced countries of the world such as United States of America, United Kingdom, Spain, and France still grapple with issues of identity.

Nigerians up till today are still more tolerant of each other than the separatist’s propaganda want us to believe. Even as we write, the only seat allocated to Kebbi State at the Supreme Court is occupied by a Jurist originally from Delta State, who practiced in the old Sokoto State and married from Argungu, Justice Amina Adamu Augie. Kebbi people do not regard her as a foreigner but a loyal daughter of Kebbi. It is time to talk a little more about the prime point in our journey to National integration rather than our low points. Nigerians can live together peacefully and in prosperity once we regain our minds to do some of the right things, including decentralizing more powers to the States and Local Government; electing focused leaders with clear vision for economic and social development with character and antecedents that show they can deliver on promises; and embarking immediately on a policy of national reconciliation and inclusiveness. These are what Nigeria needs, not division!

  • Olawepo-Hashim, businessman, politician is a former presidential candidate .