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One (nation) from many

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Whenever you see an American President standing between the podium bearing the Seal of the President of America and the flag that bears the motto of the United States of America besides the star-spangled banner—the flag of America—you cannot but marvel at the majesty.

The motto, “E Pluribus Unum” or “One from many,” proposed by the American statesman, Benjamin Franklin, and two American presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, summarises the essence and spirit of the people of America.

Every American president stood between the presidential seal and those most significant pieces of cloth aware that they represented the spirit and the will of the people of the US.

The motto speaks to the harmony forged by America’s founding fathers at the “Boston Tea Party” on the waters of the Port of Boston City and the pages of America’s Declaration of Independence document.

These two events forever won America its independence from the King and people of Great Britain. At independence, Nigeria’s motto was “Unity and Faith.” But somebody, who probably thought it wasn’t wordy enough, decided to expand it to “Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress.”

America is a smorgasbord, a quilt made up of members of practically all the tribes of the world, a country of several nations, all of whom are united under one single aspiration and common destiny.

Apart from the now dissolved Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, only the Commonwealth of Nations, recently inherited by British King Charles III from his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, has the numerous nations and diversity as the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

But Nigerians couldn’t rightly claim the lie that “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, having firmly and solemnly resolved to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation.”

The (dis)honour of the pledge to convert the disparate people of Nigeria into one country belongs to British colonial officer, Lord Frederick Lugard, who joined the Northern and Southern Protectorates around River Joliba, into one country and the military who decreed the 1999 Constitution.

The people of America hold the franchise to the claim of giving a Constitution unto themselves. They were the first to say: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union… do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

However, those six individuals, representatives of the nations conquered by Britain, who signed the unification document of 1914, could be regarded as some manner of founding fathers, even if they were victims of gunboat diplomacy.

The more than 200 different cultures and tendencies that makeup Nigeria demonstrate the diversity of peoples, some of whom hardly have anything in common with others. Obafemi Awolowo, first Premier of Western Nigeria, puts it in a rather dramatic fashion: “Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no ‘Nigerians’ in the same sense as there are ‘English,’ ‘Welsh,’ or ‘French.’ The word ‘Nigeria’ is a mere distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria and those who do not.”

Lord Lugard, the man who sutured Nigeria into one country, also observed in his book, The Dual Mandate, “It is essential to realise that tropical Africa (and indeed, Nigeria) is inhabited by races which differ as widely from each other as do the nations of Europe and that some of the principal racial types present even greater divergence than those of Europe and parts of Asia.”

Even more than Old World Europe, the New World of the Americas and the relatively homogeneous Asia-Pacific, Africans and, for that matter, the people of Nigeria are a mixed bag of ethnic and even religious tendencies though they are mostly of the Negroid race.

Today’s reality is that all the nations that live in the geographical expression called Nigeria have a responsibility to themselves, their ancestors and their posterity to keep the peace and weave themselves into a giant, peaceful and prosperous country.

All they need to do is to acknowledge and accept their diversities, agree that each nation can live according to its culture, mores and aspirations, and go on to develop according to its group aspirations and ambitions.

As the 2023 general elections approach, Nigerians should resolve to take advantage of the renewal of vows that it offers and create a new and greater future for themselves. You will agree that Nigerians have a right to live decently and happily, in safety and with good provisions.

That certainly is not too much to ask for. Every Nigerian deserves a good life. And the good news is that this is absolutely attainable and possible to achieve. It’s very, very easy to achieve this very low-hanging fruit.

It’s probably time for an intentional involvement of traditional rulers, custodians of the cultures and spirit of the nations of Nigeria, in the job of building Nigeria and making it into the great nation that it should be.

Dein Benjamin Ikechukwu, the King who ascended the throne of Agbor in Delta State as a mere three-year-old, has indeed come of age. And to demonstrate that reality, he has suggested that the gap between the traditional rulers and the political elite should be bridged.

Though he doesn’t want to encourage monarchs to engage in partisan politics, endorse or disagree with politicians in public, he thinks the monarchs can at least whisper their counsels in the privacy of their chambers.

The point to take out of Dein’s intervention is that the peoples of Nigeria should recognise their differences but seek to cooperate with one another. This position, incidentally, was the view expressed by late Sardauna Ahmadu Bello of Sokoto, who was also the only Premier of Northern Nigeria.

In order to help forge an accommodation between the different peoples of Nigeria, Dein Ikechukwu and some of his brother monarchs, like Olu of Warri, Ogiamen Atunwase III and Emir of Kano, Aminu Ado-Bayero, have embarked on several interstate visits between themselves and others.

The idea is to demonstrate goodwill and solidarity among themselves, with the hope of encouraging their peoples (and maybe the politicians too) to accommodate each other’s differences and work together as one people.

The Nigerian state is too plastic, unfeeling and distant from the people and it will not be able to adequately aggregate or express the will and desires of the diverse peoples of Nigeria. But the monarchs can bridge the gap.

The National Council of Traditional Rulers of Nigeria should go beyond being a mere society for people with mutual admiration but transit into what the Afghans call “Loya jirga,” an assembly of leaders that makes decisions by consensus.

Just as the Afghans use the Loya jirga to settle disputes, ratify a Constitution or find solutions to critical issues (and sometimes elect a new ruler), Nigeria’s traditional rulers can help articulate and set new and acceptable paths for Nigeria.

This suggests that efforts must be made to involve the various peoples of Nigeria in redefining the essence of the country so that every wholesome tendency will find expression within the political, social, cultural and economic space of Nigeria.

While the diversity of Nigeria must be maintained, the people must be One Nation Under God.

Twitter: @lekansote1

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