Now we’re Talking

Nigerians are finally having the discussion denied and forbidden us by a National Conference we have not had; and we have Yar’Adua, his wife Turai and her cohorts to thank for it. The president’s ill health, the power intrigues it has occasioned and the resistance of the latter by others, have ripened the rumour mill, which has now burst into open discussion. It is no longer treasonable felony – real or imagined – to wonder aloud if Nigeria as presently constituted will survive for long. Up till now, you and I have thought thoughts, but now we are speaking words, though prudently attributing them to others, for fear of being accused as the author.

The resistance to allow a Southerner be president has confirmed the existence of a real polarity in Nigeria. There is a “we” and there is a “them”. North and South. Moslems and Christians. Never mind that there are Christians in the north and Moslems in the South. Never mind too that should this country ever divide along the north/south lines, it would probably not be the end of the divisions for the West and the East must needs agree to allow one of them rule. We are all thinking thoughts.

But it has been a healthy discussion all told. When water is allowed to flow freely, it does not get putrid. Frank dialogue is refreshing, easing mutual understanding. Thanks to this “dialogue” we now know that it is naïve to equate the geographical north with the political north. This open and informal “national conference” (albeit on the pages of newspapers and on the internet) has revealed that the so-called northern cabal is nothing but a bunch of rascals, who do not enjoy the sympathy of the rest of the north.

We have for too long been afraid to discuss, to call anything to question. The Nigerian Senate (call them what you will: rogues at times, power and money hungry) has unwittingly shown us the way. By amending a section of our half-baked 1999 Constitution in record time, the Senate has proven that not everything is as it should be. It needed a stress and strain test on our collective existence to move them to take this simply but necessary step. I did not realize it was that easy to amend the constitution, and so this simple move should convince us that nothing in our present makeup is actually “untouchable”.

Undoubtedly, there is strength in unity, and so Nigeria will do well to remain intact. That is, if the bonds are real. Bonds can be forged but the consummators have to act in mutual freedom, establishing ahead the terms of this tie. We have to discover the ‘fault-lines’ and either seal or break them. We are grateful to the nature of the times we are living now which is helping to stress test these fault-lines. If we survive it, we will be the stronger for it.

It is nice to be called the “giant of Africa”. If a huge population is the measure of a giant, we surely are; if it is having stable and exemplary leadership, we still have some distance to cover. Some Europeans have even dared to accuse us of being more pompous that we are actually worth. Not to worry. As Africa is equated with wars, massacres, coups and counter-coups, we now stand a good chance of standing out from the crowd, if we survive these turbulent times.

During our mutual ‘national conference’, a friend remarked that should Nigeria break apart, he would surely miss the shape of the map of Nigeria, being attached as he is to the horns on the map and all that. “Isn’t our map just beautiful?” he asked. I replied that when Bendel State was split into Edo and Delta states, I too missed the old map of Bendel State but that I soon adjusted. Not that I can now draw the new map of Delta State.

We need to talk frankly to each other. When a wound festers because it was covered up, it leads to gangrene and we know what happens to a gangrenous foot – it is chopped off. There are too many silent people in Nigeria who should be talking. Heaven forbid that their silence is broken too late.

We have tomatoes; they have oil. “We” – “they”. Would that the divide disappears (for it truly exists); or that we, at least, re-define the terms of our co-existence. Many names have been given to the possible antidotes to these divisions: true federalism, resource control. That may perhaps weaken the centre a little, making it less attractive to a do-or-die effort at controlling it.

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