Since the Break out of the Nigeria-Biafra war in 1967, one theme has remained recurrent- Unity of Nigeria. General Yakubu Gowon harped on the theme: "To Keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done".In the long expected speech from the President last week after his long medical vacation, the central theme of his very short address was: "Nigeria's unity has been settled and all the trouble makers who are threatening the unity must be summarily dealt with".
Gowon was the Head of State when the war broke out. I am not sure if he has written his memoirs because it will be nice to know if he showed any humility by admitting that some of his actions contributed to the disunity of the Country and the subsequent civil war. Perhaps one may be charitable to assume that he did not deliberately take those decisions with the aim of precipitating the war. But after a cold and unbiased review of some of his actions, he must have realized that those actions helped to precipitate the disunity of Nigeria rather than promote unity.
For example, it will be nice to know how his support for the counter coup of July 1966, that decimated the senior military officers of Igbo extraction on the ostensible reprisal for the January 1966 coup promoted Nigeria's unity? It will be good to know how his unilateral refusal to implement the 'ABURI accord' which he freely entered to in order to avert the war contributed to Nigeria's unity. It will indeed be important to know how his preference for military action as against political action for the resolution of the dispute helped to keep Nigeria united. Because if it did, we will still not be talking of Nigeria's unity 47 years after the war ended.
The question is as a Nation, what lessons have we learnt? May be we have not learnt many lessons. But I will like to draw out a few. First,is that Unity is built and Not forced. Forced unity does not last. As I had said in the past, the unity between a slave master and a slave does not last, nor that between a kidnapper and his hostage. Though we have read the story of how an ISIS female hostage fell in love with her captors but eventually it unraveled. Enduring unity comes from mutual love and mutual willingness to see the benefits of being united. In every human relationship, when one party feels that he is carrying a disproportionate cost for the relationship, he begins to see either how to balance the cost or if that fails, how to walk away from such a debilitating relationship. It may happen by physical separation, or by recalcitrance or by full resignation. Relationships endure when all sides are enjoying proportionate mutual benefits.
Secondly unity in a relationship must not only be built by willing partners but they must continue to service the relationship. It is in the nature of human relationships to suffer from the law of entropy which naturally affects physical( material) relationships. Without any deliberate efforts to continue to renew the relationship, most relationships will gradually drift apart and may eventually terminate. Even the marriage institution which God Himself set up and which in my faith is expected to last through life, often begin to fall apart, for several reasons but mostly when one party or some times both, begin to feel that they do not derive any more joy, happiness or benefit from the marriage or when one party becomes cruel or negligent to the other party or even when one party begins to take the other party for granted.
Thirdly, relationships have been saved even when people thought that such relationships are said to have broken down 'irretrievably'. One party who wishes to continue the relationship makes the undue effort to try and understand what is actually causing the problem, first starting with himself and then goes out of his way to find ways to rebuild the relationship including seeking external help. Some times, after such effort, the relationship is restored, often rekindling better affection,love and unity than was the case ante bellum. Therefore every quarrel must not end in a divorce, if one or both parties are willing to make sacrifices to restore the unity of the relationship.
Fourthly is that bellowing out orders and issuing threats can frighten some criminals or those intent on causing trouble but it never fully resolves issues, quarrels, misunderstandings or deep seated feelings of alienation between parties in a union. Rather than solve problems, they help to harden positions. And so the unity of a Country can not be achieved by threats or even military options. That is why even after wars, peace and unity are only achieved by negotiation and the attainment of acceptable terms which make all sides comfortable.
President Muhammadu Buhari is the current President of Nigeria and it is not surprising that he wishes Nigeria to remain one indivisible united Country. What is more, he fought in the Nigeria-Biafra war which in my book- "The PortHarcourt Volunteer" published in 2015, I called "Nigeria's war of unity". For those two reasons, his position and constant harping on this indivisibility theme is not only understandable but is justified .Indeed if I were in his shoes, I would probably hold the same position.
However where we differ markedly is that I would not be bellowing threats when I see people protesting and complaining and wanting to divide the Nation, more so when the people complaining or protesting are not violent.I would call the people protesting and complaining and find out what their problems are. I would dialogue and negotiate with them and agree on an amicable solution. If I find them unreasonable I would invite other Nigerians to help me sit with this group or groups and work out amicable settlement. This is because If I want the unity of the Country so badly, I will do all in my power and ability to achieve it, realizing that I can not force it. In addition to not threatening, I will not deliberately discriminate against any group in the Country nor make any group feel unwanted or unloved.Because I want the unity of my Country, I will ask Nigerians who are talking of restructuring of the Country to come forward with what we need to do to restructure the Country to achieve unity and peace. Because I want unity, I will at least mandate the National Assembly to do the minimum possible to begin to respond to the demand of Nigerians for the devolution of power to the federating units and to make other constitutional adjustments that will create a true and balanced federation. Because I want a united and happy Nation, I will speak to Nigerians after a long medical vacation abroad in re-conciliatory tones and show by words, body language and actions that I need all Nigerians to feel happy and comfortable to belong to one Country. That is the challenge confronting President Muhammadu Buhari as he fully resumes from his long vacation, that is if Garba Shehu's 'Aso Rock rats'will not constitute a new danger. History is beckoning.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR