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On our common bond

Published by The Nation on Fri, 02 Apr 2021


By Segun GbadegesinAsiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu just turned a new age and in a tradition established twelve years ago, his birthday was marked with a feast of ideas on a topical subject titled Our Common Bond, Our Commonwealth: The imperative of national cohesion for growth and prosperity. This is a most important subject for these times, and it has received requisite attention from discussants since the event. No doubt, there will be more contributions in media and scholarly forums as should be. There should be a renewed and focused attention on this issue which is rightly considered as foundational in the quest for national advancement.Over the years, we have devoted scores of pages of this column to the question that the Asiwaju Tinubu Birthday Colloquium addressed. These include, among others, To build a nation (October 3, 2008), From plurality to what' (August 23, 2013), National integration and the challenge of origin (May 2, 2014), Zones of disaffection (1 & 2) (October 30 and November 6, 2015), What makes a nation' (June 24, 2016), Politics of principle or division (March 8, 2019), On Tinubu and the bridging of division (March 29, 2019), A nation divided (November 20, 2020), and Seeking common ground (December 11, 2020). Needless to add, our common bond as a nation has been an obsession of this column as it is with numerous compatriots.In To build a nation, we made copious references to historical precedents in nation building, from the city states of Greece to Rousseaus adored Geneva. We compared the experience of contemporary Switzerland in nation building with the artificial unity that Tito imposed on Yugoslavia and the disaster that befell it. The point of those examples was to reiterate the importance of adequate nurturing with openness and transparency in nation-building. It took the Swiss three centuries to establish common citizenship for all their cantons. It was as a result of the voluntary will of the people, not an imposition from an emperor or a dictator.In What makes a nation' we lamented the fact that more than one hundred years after the birth of modern Nigeria, there can be no credible denial of its tottering steps to true nationhood. I observed that even if we dismissed Boko Haram as a fanatical Jihadist insurgency without an ethnic coloration, both IPOB and NDA have not been ambiguous in declaring the objective of their struggle. Neither of these groups feels a sense of belonging to the Nigerian nation.In what has now turned out to be prophetic, I warned that it is a terrible mistake to think that these two groups are outliers in an otherwise assembly of patriotic groups in the Nigerian nation space. I observed that this country has never enjoyed a total commitment and patriotic sense of attachment to the nation. Now this is being confirmed anew by the declaration of Oduduwa Republic. As we also know, on several occasions, between 1953 and 1966, and recently, the Fulani have also indicated their willingness and readiness to quit. If no ethnic nationality is completely at ease with the nation as it stands, where is the common bond that glues them together'Focusing on the history of our ethnic nationalities, compared with that of European nations, including France, England, Italy, and Spain at the time of their creation, we are not far from where we should be. Germanic invasion of Europe created these nations. What helped them was the decision of the invaders to assimilate and take over the language of their victims. It was what Dan Fodio and Oduduwa also did. Their hegemony took hold and nations were born.The British came and left intact the languages, cultures, religion, and customs they met. But they did more, and unless we acknowledge this point, we are not moving forward, despite our rhetorical flourish. The British divided and conquered. They believed it was their interest to sow discord and division. A common bond was anathema to their mission. They favored one nationality over others. Inter-ethnic nationality mistrust was the fruit of that policy.Ernest Renan suggests that the memory of a historic past, of ancestral sacrifices, of common suffering and common joy are integral to the spiritual principle that constitutes the nation. Every ethnic nationality has these in abundance, but not the Nigerian nation. The Ogoni have a memory of the Ogoni 9 and the common suffering of environmental disaster. The Igbo have a common memory of human disaster during the civil war. The Fulani have a memory of January 1966. The Yoruba do not forget June 12. These are sub-national common bonds. Where is the national bond'As I argued in that piece almost five years ago, if memory does not unify, or if it serves to divide, then we need the mental attitude of forgetfulness. If memory doesnt serve our purpose of national integration, we must forget the past and move on. But as I also observed with concern in that piece, the challenge of genuine nationalists, who dont prioritize ethnic loyalty behind a facade of pan-Nigerian nationalism, is that many citizens who would otherwise choose to forget the past and move on, feel that they are still being forced to remember:Many now have problem of forgetting the past and joining others toward the writing of the Nigerian history as a nation that we want to be. They feel that at every point they are still being reminded of past atrocities even when they try to forget. They feel like second-tier citizens. Whether in reaction to policy decision and implementation, appointments and deployments, a feeling of helplessness and betrayal is hardly a positive factor in instilling the national consciousness that is needed for nation-building. This is still true today.I should conclude. But let me also note that ethnic and religious diversities are in themselves not critical to our understanding of the parlous state of national cohesion. As I observed in A nation divided (November 20, 2020), difference is not division and sameness is not unity. Identity is neither good nor bad. It is value neutral. But it can be mismanaged when it is deployed and exploited for political advantageOur story has been one of mismanagement of what many have come to decry as the artificial character of our national existence.Truth be told, we cannot experience the joy of a common bond if leaders present nationalistic outlook in public while they not only nurse and project ethnocentric sentiments in private, but they also defiantly act on such sentiments. As I also observed in A nation divided, we are divided now more than ever because we have abandoned the original purpose of building a nation where no man/woman is oppressed. We have failed to honor our flag as a symbol of truth and justice. And peace and plenty have eluded us.Let every national or state leader look into the inner recesses of their consciousness. What drives their actions and policies' Do they pretend pan-Nigeria nationalism while really advancing ethnic agenda' Our people are not stupid and hate to be perceived as such. You cannot advance an ethnic or religious agenda and preach national integration and expect Nigerians to believe you. This is the crux of the matter. Privileged citizens must refuse the temptation to be greedy. Promote health, knowledge, and prosperity of all, and you can expect that they will see the country as their own to cherish and to love.It is fitting that Tinubus special day is headlined by the issue of our common bond and our commonwealth. Since the early 1990s when he served in the Senate through the trying years of military rule, to the struggle for civil rule, his service as the first citizen of Lagos State, and his post-governorship efforts for a strong democracy with effective party system that cuts across our natural fault lines, Tinubu has positioned himself as a bridge builder, an agent of national unity. Heres wishing him many more years of selfless devotion to the cause of a true democracy which doesnt negate the spirit of brotherhood/sisterhood, and no one is oppressed.Happy Birthday, Asiwaju. Igba odun, odun kan.
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