Saturday, January 11, 2014

AMALGAMATION: What Now For Nigeria's "Forced Marriage"?


photo AMALGAMATION: What Now For Nigeria's "Forced Marriage"?
By Mary Isokariari
The late Nigerian political leader, Sir Ahmadu Bello, famously branded the unification of his country's Northern and Southern provinces as "the mistake of 1914." But 100 years on from the merger that was overseen by British colonialist Sir Frederick Lugard, the nation dubbed the "Giant of Africa" is still standing in the face of adversity.
Recalling Bello's words in his New Year's Day speech, President Goodluck Jonathan made his position clear: the birth of Nigeria was "not a mistake, but an act of God."
He added: "This is a moment for sober reflection and for pride in all that is great about Nigeria. Whatever challenges we may have faced, whatever storms we may have confronted and survived, Nigeria remains a truly blessed country."
The journey has not been easy for the former British colony since gaining independence in 1960.
It suffered years of oppression under previous military governments, and tensions between regions and ethnic groups have been a constant.
The formation of the Republic of Biafra and the attempt to become an independent country sparked the 1967 civil war, which will be brought to the silver screen in the upcoming film Half of a Yellow Sun, based on the novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Up to three million people were massacred during three years of violence and famine.
The recent emergence of the terrorist group Boko Haram who want an Islamic state has heightened fears of more devastation.
Though some critics have labelled the country a "failing state," economist Jim O'Neill, a former chairman of Goldman Sachs, said Nigeria was one to watch in terms of growth with "enormous" potential, provided "good, determined and corruption-free governments" were in place.
Nigeria has the largest population in Africa - 169 million people and growing – and one of the youngest as the vast majority is under 30.
It is rich in natural resources such as oil, pumping roughly two million barrels a day.
O'Neill said: "The place is complete madness, of course, and one can't be 100 per cent sure, given its challenges, that it will be one country in four years. But after India, it's the best in the world in terms of useful population."
International financial expert Dapo Ladimeji, the first black partner of a City firm, agreed with O’Neill: "Nigeria is an emerging market. To walk around Lagos is to be surrounded by economic energy and dynamism."
OPTIMIST: President Goodluck Jonathan
"However, the challenges it faces are: how to diversify away from oil for a world where energy will once again be cheap given the emergence of shale oil and the coming new energy technologies?
"Others are, how to harness the energy and talent of the people through reforms of the education system and public administration? Also how to ensure that all parts of the country and all classes share in the benefits of growth?"
Oluseyi Ogunlana, publisher of Fiesta International Magazine – which focuses on events, entertainment and fashion – frequently travels between Nigeria and the UK said celebrations were "unneccessary."
He said: "I consider the amalgamation as a fundamental error as far as the country of Nigeria is concerned. It wasn't in the best interests of the people and was made without good foresight.
"Nigeria is a massive country that has over 250 languages and each has at least five different dialects. There are vast cultural differences and religions between the different regions. When two people don’t agree they can’t exist naturally together."
Ogunlana viewed the milestone as a stark reminder of the economical struggles and turbulent times the country has gone through and how much further it has to go.
"I would say the people of Nigeria have been enduring one another. It's not based on the fact that there is oneness or anything they just want to struggle to live in peace… there is no common interest," was his sobering assessment.
Ogunlana also highlighted the discrimination that exists between certain ethnic groups and that people were "forced to live with each other as a nation regardless of the many things that divides us."
He said: "We have been deprived. Nigeria is a nation that is suffering in silence. I travel to Nigeria frequently and I see tension, I see anger, I see neglect. People are feeling neglected every day."
But Ladimeji said it was important to highlight that it was only after the civil war that Nigeria truly became one nation – not the one Lugard created to serve British interests.
He explained: "The people and not the leadership - this is important - chose to stay as one country and it is from that experience that Nigeria became a country rather than a collection of states.
"Having said that, in looking back we need to tell a story as every country has to tell a story, for its children and that country is now back dated to the amalgamation of the states - its is just as important as the story of an accidental meeting of a couple that later get married, however accidental or artificial the original encounter. It is the parties that go on to make a marriage of it. So it is with countries.”
Bimbo Roberts Folayan, chairman of the Central Association of Nigerians in the United Kingdom (CANUK), the umbrella body of all 250 Nigerian organisations, considered the anniversary an achievement.
He said: "In spite of all the political, security and economical problems, Nigeria still remains one, unlike others that have split such as Sudan and Russia. There is bigger hope for the future, that if the political leaders get things right then Nigeria will become a beacon of hope [for the global black community]."

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