To establish and maintain national cohesion, national identity and stability on equal participation of the peoples of Nigeria based on equity, justice, fairness and merit towards integrating Nigerians to form a nation has been difficult.
This is not far from the lack of; positive political orientations, good leadership and patriotism. Institutions established to promote national cohesion have regrettably become institutions promoting the fault lines.
Is Nigeria searching for national cohesion? Can a nation be built out of people who do not share common aspirations or development, education and technology goals, culture, or a common goal to build a nation?
Answers to these questions and more should dominate national conversations but it often revolves around which ethnic group or region gets what, when and how or how each political office holder from a group is treated in comparison with another.
The lack of cohesion and national agreement based on the various socio-political, ethno-religious, socio-economic complexities challenging Nigeria has generated serious suspicion, distrust, and antagonism among its people.
National cohesion is a process of reducing cultural, ethnic, regional and religious identities to create a national identity that reduces rivalry and social tensions and enables the citizens to have a sense and feeling of being members of the same country and facing shared goals and challenges.
What happened before, during and after independence, laid the foundation on which Nigeria is still searching for national cohesion in her sixty-one years.
With constant reminder that Nigeria was created not in consultation with the peoples that make up the country but by British colonial power that brought people together without asking for their mandate and with constant reminder of the differences in cultural, ethnic and religious identities, national identity has been taken over by a struggle for ethno-religious supremacy and control of power at the centre.
Every ethnic group or region struggles to be in control of the power at the centre, have control of resources within their region or be treated fairly. These struggles have led to protests, conflicts, pogroms, secession and civil war.
To try resolving this faulty foundation, ‘Federal Character’ principle was enshrined in Nigeria’s Constitution. It includes a provision for “appointments to public service institutions to reflect the linguistic, ethnic, religious, and geographic diversity of Nigeria.”
This principle aimed to resolve the fundamental issues but it has been grossly abused. It has been mismanaged and has done more harm than good. It has suppressed meritocracy. It promotes nepotism and representative bureaucracy.
People are hired and promoted, not because they are better talented and on merit, but because of ethnic and religious identity leading to more polarization of the country where merit is destroyed. It has promoted mediocrity as public service delivery is weakened and rendered inefficient.
Instead of concentrating on the efficiency of the service delivery in the public service which the output weakens the working of the government, people have become more interested in how their ethnic or religious groups are represented and the numbers of staff are compared with others.
Power sharing structure, end to quota system, ethno-religious supremacy, economic class difference, true federal system, revenue generation and allocation, and a peoples’ constitution, among other factors, have remained integral factors for the struggles in Nigeria to which many think can be resolved through restructuring – which there is yet to be a common definition among the proponents.
Restructuring is believed by many to resolve these fundamental differences where each region is allowed to make their policies, laws, generate and manage revenue in a semiautonomous democratic setting and a federal political structure where power is shared among the regions on a rotational basis and a workable constitution that is very appropriate and adopted by the peoples of this country.
Such an arrangement will reduce power struggle, friction, distrust, suspicion and social strife. Agitations will reduce and with a loose centre, development will be more of the concern of the regions and also brought closer to the people.
Regional government was once experienced. That period of time saw the regions in a healthy competition that brought development. The economies of the regions were primarily based on agriculture.
The differences in the understanding of restructuring and the resistance by some individuals may point to some power brokers and groups fearing to lose the power they have over the years secured in the centre and have been benefitting from the skewed state of the country.
Several national conferences have been organized; the latest was the ‘2014 Confab’ which the report is resting in the federal archives, untouched by the Buhari administration.
Resistance by the politicians and power brokers will make the search for national cohesion to continue. As Nigeria keeps getting older and keeps maintaining the status quo in the way of doing things, and having these fundamental issues unresolved will continue to polarize the country and that could lead to the balkanisation of the country.