Uniting this country is one of the most difficult things to do today, for obvious reasons, especially the fact that poverty now reigns, and when people are poor, they are very easy to split and disunite against each other. Also politicians have exploited the unity of this country to get into positions. Most of them tell us proudly about how they are first from their tribes and religions before being Nigerians. Being a Nigerian is all about what benefits one can get from holding a passport, grabbing businesses or getting appointed into offices. We have behaved till date, as people who don’t need a country. We have damaged this franchise and I have personally not seen our leaders – since the return to democracy in 1999 – act profoundly like they really care about the country’s unity or as if they know the value of unity and how it can leverage a country to greatness.
Today, we have worn the fabrics of national unity to paper-thin status. Tribal groups are now more important than governments in the lives of our people. They even get more news coverage. Nigeria is not the most diverse country on earth. We just seem to be one of the laziest at working on uniting themselves and finding strength in diversity. We have never needed more intellectual leaders than today. We need our leaders to speak to this issue which is tearing Nigeria apart, and to honestly work towards creating structures that can uphold this entity.
I have listed a few points here which Buhari could have worked on to help Nigeria’s unity but which haven’t been done till date:
- The first thing to do to unite a people is to run a very good government with pro-poor policies that lift the people from poverty. Democracy itself is said not to thrive in an atmosphere of poverty. Socrates and Plato said as much. What we have seen instead under Buhari so far, is increasing poverty, inequality and more exploitation of the poor by the wicked few. We have also seen more corruption even if coded. The acquittal of Danjuma Goje, for merely acceding to step down for Lawal, and the appointment of ministers with corruption baggage are sources of shame and slowdown to this government which tries to claim to have anti-corruption focus. The more people see that governments are living a lie, the more disunited they are. They just know that it is all man for himself. Their minds become fertile for all sorts of things tribal, religious or otherwise. So, let us fix government with the remaining time on our hands.
- Unity squads. I have always pushed this idea of using young Nigerians to unite this country by forming them into gangs like used to be in the days of MAMSER, only that now, we can learn from the lessons of the past, and this is now much more needed. We need MAMSER raised to power. We need these young men and women, who will be briefed on the need for unity among our people, to take the message to the villages and every nook and cranny of Nigeria. The youth corps system is not quite achieving this in a punchy manner, though I am not one of those asking for a cancelation of the NYSC. The idea of having permanent volunteers, trained to preach unity, show kindness, and help our people who don’t see government apart from during campaign season, is not even something that will be unique to Nigeria. It forms one of the major planks of poverty eradication in China, India and some of the countries that have had positive impact on their people in recent times. Thankfully, one incoming minister mentioned this.
- Speak to unity. Apart from being someone accused of exploiting the disunity of Nigeria over time, Buhari has not bothered to reinvent himself as a true uniting leader. I just read elsewhere how Brazil’s leader, Bolsonero, does a Facebook live broadcast EVERY WEEK to his people. Not only is Buhari taciturn, he has altogether stopped speaking to Nigerians and when he does, it comes off in the wrong way. I recall him asking ‘what do the Ibos want?’. As a leader in a country, you must understand everyone is under your leadership. You no longer have the liberty to vent your parochialism and biases, especially along the lines of tribe and religion.
- Act Unity. Not only should a leader constantly speak to the question of unity in a country such as ours, but your actions should also typify unity. A leader in a country that centripetal and centrifugal forces are pulling apart should be visible about the importance of unity. He should live and breathe unity and should not make the subject all about sound bites at carefully choreographed occasions. For instance, he should wear clothes from every constituent parts of the country, off the election cycle. He should be seen eating their food and behaving like everybody in the country because he is the father of all. Perhaps more importantly, such a leader must be active in showing hands-on impact. I have seen clips of President Xi of China as he toured the hills of China, entered the huts of some of the poorest Chinese people, tasted their food and their water. As he did that, he documented the issues they have and evolved a strategy for making their lives better. Poverty will be eradicated among the 1.4billion Chinese people by next year 2020. Why will they not be united? This same hands-on strategy has been used in every great country on earth. The idea of insular leadership that barricades itself behind battalions of soldiers, tinted armoured vehicle speeding as if on the way to Hell, which is the style unfortunately continued under Buhari, will never work. I hope he listens. But can Buhari change?
This is really not about Buhari though. Obasanjo is said to be pro-Nigeria but I believe he didn’t do enough in this department and should have foreseen that Nigeria will get here today. IBB created MAMSER and it worked to a large extent. Yar’adua was a decent gentleman but what happened, happened. Jonathan had no perspective in this area too and wore his Niger Delta get-up everywhere for almost the entire time he spent as president, only trying to remake himself – as Buhari now does – around the election period. However, many will say Buhari is the most overtly-parochial of the lot, what with the skew of his appointments, which they say is biased in some specific ways. He should however feel the pulse of the nation and ensure it all doesn’t come tumbling under his watch. I personally believe that we can be one, and we are indeed one. We are members of the human race and we have enough problems that can unite us, than this idea of splitting ourselves in different directions only for us to come to Nigeria only to loot and rape her. Unity will continue to be extremely important to any serious nation that has a vision of her own continuity. Underpinning unity of course will be a readiness to do justice and be fair to all as much as possible. Are we ready?