But old attitudes, particularly the political attitudes among the elites, die hard, especially in the context of parochial sentiment of regionalism at the expense of national unity and cohesion. Nigeria elites have again failed where it had made some progress through the ongoing national conference in developing cooperative and mutually respectful relations with all federating units with a view to breaking away from the past. But the climate of fear and apprehension foisted on citizens by the contentious resource control and derivation debacle and the renewed agitation for more states was one of the major challenges for former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in unlocking his agenda for a united Nigeria.
Interestingly, since the start of oil production in the late-fifties, Nigeria has become one of Africa’s wealthiest nations on a gross domestic product basis but also one of the most corrupt and least transparent in the management of its resources particularly oil and gas receivables in the last fifty years. The debate which centered on resources sharing and state creation has always been a contentious issue in previous national conferences and the current dialogue again is unable to resolve it in the spirit of nationalism and patriotism. It should be noted that a nation that is not guided by sense of history, justice and equity, but driven by short-term, local political goals, without an eye to a future is likely to miss the true essence of national unity and development.
In contemporary political discourse, it is generally recognised that national integration and cohesion is a fundamental guarantee for true nationhood on the basis of oneness and common values. But as long as each region continues to ignore their commonalities for a true nation, each struggling for communalism and regionalism and perhaps community driven states, not only will the quest for national unity fail, the task for genuine reconciliation efforts is doomed and indeed the task of freeing ourselves from the mistrust and the colonial imposition of divide and rule would be extremely difficult if not impossible in the years to come.
The fundamental question in the mind of many Nigeria and indeed this writer is: can Nigeria really unite in the face of its primordial diversity? Nigeria at this time of our nation- building efforts through the national conference needed a collective and undivided approach in resolving our contentious issues and differences that have held us back in the last 5 decades of flag independence. One of the long standing impediments in my view to harmonious development and human progress is the unresolved issues of resource management and the derivation principle that is skewed in favour of the ubiquitous and irresponsible centre that is over trading with the welfare of the people and the continued resolve by the few self – seeking elites to control political power through rent seeking and corruption. Indeed the monopolization of economic and political power by the treacherous elites driven by selfish desire to control a larger percentage of revenue for sharing at the centre at the detriment of the resource bearing regions will bring about suspicion. In addition, the demand for the creation more state is also a reflection of regionalism and a craving for power that would benefit a few at the detriment of minority of minorities!
Indeed, the most critical building blocks towards the resolutions of the acrimonious revenue sharing mechanism from oil and indeed other natural resource exploration and management is that each region must have the absolute right to canvass their economic and political destiny no matter how any other region feels particularly in relations to matters which are of exclusive concern to them. This in my view is one of the dimensions of decentralisation which include fiscal federalism, devolution of power and the obnoxious land use act has been an impediment to our national aspirations. The feeling of oneness can only be strengthened by economic and cooperative interdependence.
If the issues of natural resource particularly oil are logically debated without ethnic and regional colourations the lingering derivation and the resource control matters between the federating units and a clearer understanding of competitive versus a cooperative federal structure would stimulate even development beyond oil and the power struggle among the elites will be a thing of the past.
Furthermore, as a people we must work out arrangements for inter- region or inter- state cooperation in which we recognise that no one state or region will have resources just as they want or like. Therefore, each state or region would have to make compromise with the needs and desires of the others. Unfortunately, in the wake of the current discussions at the national conference, we forget our national identity and started behaving like strangers that we are in the face critical national issues. The hatred and jealousy towards the people of some regions in the country would pose a threat to national integrity and harmony.
Therefore, national identity should be the rallying point to moving the country forward and should be seen as a simple tool for political bargaining and also a unifying factor for an enduring social and political structure. In principle, federal systems protect groups from repression and ensure social justice amongst its people.
Regrettably also a genuine nation- state may not emerge from this conference that is driven by mundane and regional loyalty rather the national interest. Nation building efforts are essentially driven by compromises, trust, integrity, loyalty and openesness. The pursuit of regional interest which is a negative and parochial feeling towards the people of other regions will make mockery of the conference aims and objectives.
The way forward in the enthronement of national unity is fiscal federalism through equality, fairness and above all, the implicit desire to purge ourselves as nation from the politics of sharing and looting to a new mind set of contributions to the national treasury. Again history beckons!
Orovwuje, founder Humanitarian Care for Displaced Persons, writes from Lagos.