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#NigeriaAt57: Nigeria Independence And The Need For National Unity



June 12: Nigeria celebrates democracy day

Nigerian nationalism asserts that Nigerians are a nation and promotes the cultural unity of Nigerians. Nigerian nationalism is a territorial nationalism, emphasizing a cultural connection of the people to the land — in particular the Niger and Benue rivers.

It first emerged in the 1920s under the influence of Herbert Macaulay who is considered the founder of Nigerian nationalism. It was founded because of the belief in the necessity for the people living in the British colony of Nigeria of multiple backgrounds to unite as one people in order to be able to resist colonialism.

The Nigerian nationalists’ goal of achieving an independent sovereign state of Nigeria was achieved in 1960 when Nigeria
declared its independence and British colonial rule ended. Nigeria’s government has sought to unify the various peoples and regions of Nigeria since the country’s independence in 1960.

Nigerian nationalism has been negatively affected by multiple historical episodes of ethnic violence and repression of certain ethnic groups by the Nigerian government between the various peoples has resulted in multiple secessionist movements demanding independence from Nigeria.

However, aside from instances of extremism, most Nigerians continue to peacefully co-exist with each other, and a common Nigerian identity has been fostered amongst the more-educated and affluent Nigerians as well as amongst the many Nigerians who leave small homogeneous ethnic communities to seek economic opportunities in the cities where the population is ethnically mixed. For instance, many southerners migrate to the north to trade or work while a number of northerner seasonal workers and small-scale entrepreneurs go to the south.

Herbert Macaulay became a very public figure in Nigeria, and on June 24, 1923, he founded the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), the first Nigerian political party. The NNDP won all the seats in the elections of 1923, 1928 and 1933. In the 1930s,
Macaulay took part in organizing Nigerian nationalist militant attacks on the British colonial government in Nigeria.

The Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) founded in 1933 by Professor Eyo Ita was joined in 1936 by Nnamdi Azikiwe that sought support from all Nigerians regardless of cultural background, and quickly grew to be a powerful political movement.

In 1944, Macaulay and NYM leader Azikiwe agreed to form the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) (a part of Cameroon was incorporated into the British colony of Nigeria).

Azikiwe increasingly became the dominant Nigerian nationalist leader, he supported Pan-Africanism and a pan-Nigerian based nationalist movement.

Nigerian nationalism radicalized and grew in popularity and power in the post- World War II period when Nigeria faced undesirable political and economic conditions under British rule.

The most prominent agitators for nationalism were Nigerian ex-soldiers who were veterans of World War II who had fought alongside British forces in the Middle East, Morocco, and Burma; another important movement that aided nationalism were trade union leaders. In 1945, Michael Imoudu who along with order trade union figures became prominent nationalists organized a national general strike.

However Nigerian nationalism by the 1940s was already facing regional and ethnic problems to its goal of promoting a united, pan- Nigerian nationalism.

Nigerian nationalism and its movements were geographically significant and important in southern Nigeria while a comparable Nigerian nationalist organization did not arrive in northern Nigeria until the 1940s.

This regional division in the development and significance of Nigerian nationalism also had political implications for ethnic divide – southern Nigeria faced strong ethnic divisions between the Igbo and the Yoruba while northern Nigeria did not have strong internal divisions, this meant northern Nigeria that is demographically dominated by the Hausa was politically stronger due to its greater internal unity than that of southern Nigeria that was internally disunified.

The south that was ethnically divided between
the Igbo and the Yoruba, though the region most in favour of Nigerian nationalism; the north that was suspicious of the politics of the south, creating the North-South cleavage that has remained an important issue in Nigerian politics. In 1960, Nigeria became an independent country. Azikiwe became the first President of Nigeria.

However ethnic tensions and power struggles soon emerged and became a crisis in 1966 when Nigerian military officers of Igbo descent overthrow the democratically elected government of Tafawa Balewa who along with the Northern Premier Ahmadu Bello and others were subsequently assassinated.

The killing of Northern politicians enraged Northerners resulting in violence against the Igbo by northerners. The military government sought to end the ethnic unrest by dismantling the federal system of government and replacing it with a unitary system of government, however this reform was short-lived as the government was overthrown in another coup by Lieutenant
Colonel Yakubu Gowon. By 1967, many Igbos had lost faith in Nigerian nationalism and in May of that year, Igbo separatists formed the Republic of Biafra that demanded secession from Nigeria.

The Biafran crisis was the most serious threat to the Nigerian
unity since Nigeria became independent in 1960, as other ethnic groups threatened that they too would also seek secession should Biafra successfully secede. Nigeria responded to the separatist threat with a military campaign against the Biafran government, resulting in the Nigerian Civil War from 1967 to 1970. The war ended with the defeat of the Biafran separatists. Between one and three million Nigerians died in the war.

Nigeria as a nation that is endowed and blessed with abundant natural resources and has worldwide been known for its unity during the days of our founding fathers who stood and fought tirelessly and un-relentlessly to give us freedom as described above, it is crystal clear that for the past years and currently Nigeria has been facing disharmonious grief of insurgencies and terrorism from one part of the country to the
other, between 1967-1970, Nigeria lost its population by a figure not less than 3million as a result of the civil war, which the then Biafrans (IPOB) can be accredited as the primary orchestral of the then crises as can be seen above.

The Boko Haram insurgency which has unsympathetically claimed the lives of many innocent citizens of our dear country has also create tensions in the minds of the people that some times and currently many Nigerians are still timid of exercising their freedom of movement as enshrined in the citizen’s right act as one of the provisions in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended.

It is with a heavy heart beclouded with anguish and or pang though with an unassailable and incontrovertible optimism that I made this write-up on a very important day for Nigerians to recall how it used to be, how it is now, and suggest how it should/will be in the nearest future.

I humbly call on; All Nigerians (Home and Abroad), Government Agencies, Corporate bodies, and individuals of various classes to reflect on the need and pertinence of a united Nigeria.

Let us all disregard our Ethnic, Religious, Political/Social  differences and embrace ourselves as one to proffer solutions to other needs and challenges of the citizens for a united and one Nigeria.

I beg all those who aided and abetted, those who orchestrated any form of terrorism, human trafficking, corruption and injustice to surrender ourselves, put back our swords to its scabbards in a bid of achieving a greater nation with one people.

Martin Luther King jnr wrote: “And I say to you, I have also decided to stick to love. For I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about
it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today.

I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love, I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. And I have seen too much hate. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear.

I have decided to love” The Unity of Nigeria is sacrosanct, incontrovertible and not negotiable and therefore, I urge us all to be an instrument of change I every place we find ourselves.
Be the change you wish to see.

Comrade Francis Ebeshi writes from University of Abuja FCT.
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