The organisers of this programme wanted me to speak on Nigeria’s unity and development. I wonder what else is left to be said about Nigeria’s unity that has not already been said. The greater wonder is that we have been speaking on this one thing since independence and not much progress appears to have been made. We even fought a bitter civil war to show for it at the very high cost of nearly two million souls. One would have thought that by now our unity should be a given. Unfortunately, it is still a subject of very bitter, and sometimes, unreasonable debate.
We can quarrel as siblings of the same family from time to time, that would be okay. That happens everywhere even in the nuclear family. That would not mean we are not united. But if someone resurrects the ogre of biafra, then that would be going beyond the pale. The name biafra represents war, blood and death. It also represents the carrying of arms against the Federal Republic of Nigeria and if anyone thinks he can bring biafra up again after it had been defeated without consequences, then he or she must think Nigeria is a jungle.
Let anyone stand up in Germany today and attempt to resurrect the Nazi party and Hitler’s Nazi Germany and see whether that person would survive it. The biafran nation belongs only to our museum and should be consigned to the saddest part of our history. That is why I always write biafra with small letter “b”.
The biafran war has been fought and won. Even Odumegwu Ojukwu himself, the originator of biafra, came back from exile and was pardoned and even contested to be president of Nigeria. Small minded people should not be allowed to take us back into war and bloodshed simply because they are getting money from it.
My position on Nigeria’s unity is clear and settled. I believe in the first sentence of our constitution that states that Nigeria shall be “one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation under God, …”
I not only believe it, I also think that is the right position to take. I also believe that in spite of the noise of a few people (very few people indeed) most Nigerians want Nigeria to remain one big, strong united country.
For the avoidance of doubt, I do not believe in one Nigeria because of oil; no. Oil has become less strategic than it used to be and oil will soon be useful only for nations to power their own economies because almost every country will soon have oil.
Any oil producing country that still has not seen that coming is in for a shock. I cherish the idea of one Nigeria for the simple, even if simplistic reason that I love the idea of belonging to a big and strong country. All of us know that when we travel out of Nigeria, we all walk tall because we know we belong to a consequential country that cannot be taken for granted.
I also love the idea that Nigeria is a rich country even though we are not there yet. I’ll rather be a Nigerian than any other country’s national in this world in spite of all our current problems.
One of my proudest moments was a few years ago when my daughter was travelling abroad for boarding school. One of the things she asked me to buy for her to take along was a large Nigerian flag. I asked her what she needed it for and she said she wanted to paste it on her wall in her room in school.
Nigeria will continue to be united and it will get better every day. But we must all work at it and force our leaders to work on it even harder. We must insist on good governance, justice and fairness to all. We are already making progress in this direction, but we must insist and force the leaders of this country at all levels to do even more.
The importance of unity to any country cannot be over-emphasized. For the leader of any nation to really achieve the very big things that will change his nation, he or she must unite the nation first. And no nation can be among the first tier without doing the very big things.
And talking about development in Nigeria, we have no excuse not to be among the most developed and richest nations of the world today. There is no state in Nigeria that cannot exist as a rich nation on its own. God has given us everything that He needs to give a nation. Only very few nations are as blessed as Nigeria. We have vast land, very fertile soil, good weather, a long coastline, rainforest and savannah tropical land all within the same country and even the temperate climates of Plateau State and Mambilla Plateau to boot.
We also have solid minerals of all sorts, large oil and gas reserves, very smart, well-educated and energetic people. What more do we need?
The answer to the question is that we need good leaders at all levels of government and not just at the level of the presidency. And as we can see, the kind of people we elect to be governors and even local government chairmen have become very critical at this point. As we can also see, easy money from Abuja is no longer that easy. It is getting tougher by the day.
States now need very serious and effective governors to start converting the resources in their states into real wealth for the benefit of the people. States that do not see an emergency here will soon collapse. It is now time for an elite consensus in Nigeria about the caliber of people we elect as governors. As we must have noticed in our system of government, there is a limit to the control that even a very good president can exert on an errant governor. That is why for meaningful development to take place in Nigeria, we must all pay attention to what’s happening in the different states.
It is for this reason that I advise all of you today to get interested – and involved – in the political process.
By staying away from politics because “it is a dirty game” as many of you are wont to say, you would be only making it easier for the wrong people to get to power. And like I have said elsewhere, because you are not interested in politics does not mean that politics will not be interested in you. You will be affected by political decisions, good or bad.
This is my message to you today: Be proud to be a Nigerian and let’s all insist on the caliber of leaders we want by our active participation in the leadership recruitment process.
Thank you and I hope I have planted a seed in you today.