A FEW days ago, President Muhammadu Buhari was quoted as telling a group of agitators from the Niger Delta region of the country that “Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable”. He went further by pulling from a former Head of State; General Yakubu Gowon, most popular quote while the Nigeria/Biafra war lasted to buttress his point. That quote said:“to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done”. I want to convince myself that the President meant this “clarion” call of “non-negotiable of the Nigerian nation’s unity” for the attention of all militant groups or agitators in the country. This is necessary because what is good for the goose of the Niger Delta geo-political region of Nigeria is even better for other and all geo-political zones of the Country.
Of course, this slogan of “Nigeria’s Unity not negotiable” is not new; it is an age-long and over-used phrase by most political leaders in Nigeria. Proof at hand is that this slogan has failed the test of time. It is time for us therefore to go to the other side of the current bargain of “non-negotiable” in finding solution to the peculiar and perilous challenge that may likely put Nigeria asunder sooner than expected by exploring the benefits of “negotiating the unity” of this geographical enterprise called Nigeria. First and foremost, there was no country by the name Nigeria until 1914 when the amalgamation took place under the watchful eyes of Lord Lugard. He happily adopted the name ‘Nigeria’, a loudly pronounced thought of that British journalist; Dame Flora Louise Shaw [1852 – 1929], who later became Lady Lugard – the adoption itself was negotiated.
In a well-researched lecture given very recently  by one seasoned and old British Scholar in the Nigerian House, London, under the chairmanship of Dalhatu Sarki Tafida; then Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, the revelation on the reason for the 1914 amalgamation by the British Empire was laid on the table. I was there at the lecture just by co-incidence of events. The two separate protectorates of both south and north coming together in 1914 was “based on the economic consideration of running the protectorate of the north which could not pay its bill”, according to the scholar/researcher, adding that “while the south protectorate was economically self-sufficient, the north protectorate was not”. It is in the face of this reality that the decision was taken by the Home office to fuse both north and south protectorates together “so that the ‘unified’ country would be self-sufficient economically. We, the people of this “area of the Niger”, as opined by Lady Lugard, were “negotiated” into a nebulously packaged unity by powers and influences out-side, even the continent of Africa, purely for the economic exigency of the British.
I want to submit therefore, that a clarion call for the survival of this fraudulent unity that is operational in Nigeria presently should be negotiation-based, by the Nigerian people. Any opposition to this is begging for rapturous disaster. Let us pull from one major historical event of the past to be surer of the most likely profitable route, in enduring national survival, which we need to follow in this matter. Sometime in the past, in one of the conferences to the build-up of Nigerian independence, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who became the first Nigerian President [though ceremonial], told his colleagues, mostly the northern delegates to that meeting that “let us forget about our differences and forge ahead, living together in one country”. Sir Ahmadu Bello; the great Sardauna of Sokoto, however countered him, wisely and firmly though, saying “let us understand our differences so that we will be able to know how to live together”.
To me, that wise counsel of the Sardauna of Sokoto would remain a manual in interpreting the benefit of negotiation for ever. If l may be permitted to read the mind of the Sardauna properly, he probably understood where his journey into the “Nigerian unification” started from; in terms of cultural heritage, jihad-based religious concept, imbalance in educational pursuit between the south and the north, inequality in political development, plus many other things, than the Great Zik of Africa; who had wanted his contemporaries “to forget our differences and forge ahead”. The philosophy of negotiation introduced by the Sardauna and accepted by the Colonial Master, though loop-sided to very large extent, brought sanity to the Federation of the First Republic through the practice of properly integrated fiscal federalism, with its hold on resource control by the federated regional units. This concept remained beneficial to the Nigerian Enterprise until the military incursion to the polity and its subsequent eradication of all norms and ethos of a properly defined fiscal federalism. We have, since this incursion of 1966 and until date, resulted into practice of unitary system of government [which is the truth] or a distorted and disjointed federalism.
If the truth must be told therefore, there is no way the unifying nationalities can continue in this type of “damaged” federalism. The good news however is the fact that there are more prospects, gains and advantages in negotiating living together within legal rules without breaking-up and this can be achieved by “negotiating” the continuous flow of the Nigerian Unity. We can as well refuse to negotiate, with this arrogant expression of “non-negotiable slogan”, and end up into terrible arms hostility amongst the nationalities within the Nigerian entity with the inevitable sad reality of the country breaking into irretrievable pieces. Nigeria as a country would vanish into oblivion if we allow this to happen – God forbid bad thing.
Etakibuebu, a veteran journalist, writes from Lagos