By Abdulrazaq Magaji
One of the best told narratives by Nigerians about their country revolves round the possibility of break-up of their country along ethnic and/or religious lines. What this means, in the opinion of tale-bearers, is that Nigeria should be three or more countries and not the ‘contraption’ of one, united country put together some 98 years ago. Two years before Nigerians celebrate one hundred years of the amalgamation of the north and south, the already hot air over a possible break up is getting hotter.
We must concede that many misrepresentations about Nigeria are hatched outside the country’s shores. But the unlikely talk of ‘there was a country called Nigeria’, either now or in the immediate future, is a home-grown fallacy, a bad product Nigerians successfully exported abroad. The funny idea that a north-south religious divide exists in Nigeria is a myth, a lazy thesis forced down the throats of Nigerians. At best, it is a deliberate distraction from the crass incompetence of the political leadership. Today, attempts to correct the impression are not attracting the desired results because the Western press has fine-tuned it. And the misnomer is fast gaining converts: even Al Jazeera regularly talks of Nigeria’s Christian south and Muslim north. God! Am I the only Nigerian bored stiff by this fallacy?
The narrative is so robust, so repeatedly rendered and made to sound so sweet to the ear, to have interested late Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi. Himself a strong advocate of one, indivisible United States of Africa with one central government, Gaddafi once advocated, though he later admitted it was from an ignorant position, for Nigeria to be dismembered, Sudan style, into two: one, supposedly, for the Muslim north and the other, supposedly too, for the Christian south. God! If truth be told, I have heard such beer parlour talks from Nigerians, some of whom one expects to be better informed than the late Gaddafi. Yes, I have heard some Nigerians, admittedly out of genuine frustration, suggest that a break up is ‘the only’ solution to the problems of the country. Curiously, you are likely going to draw blank if you posed that pertinent question: along what lines do we break up?
We should not delude ourselves that some Nigerians fear a break-up, Czech or Sudan style. Hell no! The worry is that some of those who clamour for a break-up see the north as a major drawback, an albatross of sorts, around the neck of Nigeria. And why not? An increasingly clueless, criminal and inept political leadership in the north, rather than exploiting the abundant non oil resources in the region, prefers to cast lustful glances at and parasite on monthly federal allocations realised from oil revenue from the Niger Delta. And most of the monthly federal allocations end in the pockets of these ever-complaining, ever-insinuating and ever-lamenting political leaders anyway. This is painful because in the early 1960s, the defunct northern regional government relied on non-oil resources to transform the region and had enough to contribute to the federal purse for the exploration of oil in the Niger Delta. Today, the political leaders in the north have turned the vast plain of the north into a bastion of despair and destitution and northerners are now disdainfully viewed by their contemporaries as lazy and parasitic.
Problem here is that each time we talk of a break-up, Nigerians do not take into account God’s own hand in the historical events that gave birth to the ‘contraption’ called Nigeria in 1914. Take the 17 states that today make up the so called Christian south; can we, in all sincerity, carve out a country from there to reflect the Christianness of the south? Can the predominantly Yoruba speaking south west, where there are as many Muslims as there are Christians, be genuinely referred to as part of Christian south? Even if the average Yoruba Muslim is liberal with their religion, they are very unlikely to succumb to the idea of a Christian Republic of Oduduwa. The Muslim population in Yorubaland is not a minority group. In the whole of southern Nigeria, it is in the south south and the south east geopolitical zones that we find indigenous Christian populations in the majority. But again, there are indigenous Igbo who are Muslims just as we have indigenous Muslims in Rivers and Edo states whose interests must be considered when we glibly talk of a Christian south.
Up north, only the north west may be described as predominantly Muslim of the three geopolitical zones. And even in the there, just like the south east and south south, there is a significant indigenous Christian population whose interests must be considered too. The north east and north central geopolitical zones are a different kettle of fish as there is no state in the two zones where Christians could be referred to as an insignificant minority. None. In fact, in at least two states in the north central, Muslims are a clear minority. And, by the way, which state in the north east is, in the real sense, predominantly Muslim? Is it Taraba, Gombe, Bauchi or even Borno? Yet, we still talk of a Christian south and a Muslim north.
Each time people marshal an argument in support of a break-up, the impression one gets is that the position emanates largely out of frustration. And frustration denies man the ability for rational thinking. The frustration, especially among Nigerians, is the result of the parlous state of the nation’s economy, especially in the north, where the problem of deficient leadership, comparatively speaking, is more pronounced. All the killings in the land which we attribute to religion or politics have more to do with the economy. Very few Nigerians will resort to any form of violence, be it religious or political, if the economy is working and if more people are engaged in one form of trade or the other. A lot of the frustration results from a situation where a few find themselves in government, mostly through means that are foul, violent and criminal, and corner the common wealth. What do we expect when we bolt the door against peaceful change?
Make no mistake about it: all the hot air of a possible break-up would cease if political leaders, especially in the north, get their acts together. To a lesser extent, government at the federal level should capture the whole country for an urgent rehabilitation drive similar to the ongoing one in the Niger Delta. Fear is, such effort may be thwarted by the present crop of leaders in the north who are busy building formidable financial chests to capture the presidency in 2015. And, for God’s sake, we do not have to wait until another insurgency rears its head to spur us into action. Our message to all thieves in the land should be: steal less and spend more in fixing the economy.
Abdulrazaq Magaji, journalist, author and former history lecturer, lives in Abuja and can be reached at [email protected]