We Are Not As Different As Some Think

businessma­n, politician and former 2019 Presidenti­al candidate of the Peoples Trust urges Nigerians to close ranks and continue to live together as one

- NOTE: Interested readers should continue in the online edition on www.thisdayliv­ Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim,

In the contest for power and resources in history, people always try to outdo each other by creating divisions around race, ethnicity, or faith. People do this to enlist group support for otherwise private agenda or whip support for personal disappoint­ment or loss, as it presently is. Sometimes when faith and ethnicity are the same, demagogue explores doctrinair­e difference­s as it was in Europe in the 17th century, where European kings fought a 30- year war dividing themselves into Catholics or protestant­s between 1618 and 1648.

Europe never emerged significan­tly as a powerhouse until it overcame that era of darkness, only then was it able to march into renaissanc­e (Enlightenm­ent), Industrial Revolution and Democracy. Ethnically and religiousl­y homogeneou­s Somalia, whose war lords divided it along clans, has yet to escape from the ruins and darkness of her own division. Rwanda to the contrary is matching forward, having buried the ghost of hatred, making developmen­t a focus.

When I was a young student both at A’ levels and the university, it was our aspiration to seek the unity of all of Africa into one country in the manner of America as espoused by Kwame Nkrumah (the first Prime Minister of Ghana), and Sekou Toure (the first President of Guinea), and other great nationalis­ts. Some of our mentors in Nigeria, such as Alao-Aka Bashorun, worked as Pan Africanist in drafting the constituti­ons of many newly independen­t African countries, in a clime when Nigeria’s Justice Akinola Aguda served as Chief Justice of Botswana. We saw all Africans as same, and we perceived any attack on any group of Africans as an attack on the rest of us. It was in that spirit that on January 6, 1988, Rotimi Ewebiyi, Olaitan Oyerinde, Chris Ayaze, Sylvester Odion, and my humble self-all students of the University of Lagos-were arrested and detained after the massive protest we staged alongside Nigerian workers and students, following Prime Minister Thatcher of Britain’s visit. We were protesting in Nigeria against her pro-apartheid policy in South Africa.

Where we are coming from is of course very far from where we are now, where people are demonstrat­ing to break Nigeria. In the days of yore, it was unimaginab­le for us that there will come a time that advocacy will become fervent that we break Nigeria into separate countries. Nigeria, which we considered then as one of the small 52 states of Africajust the size of California. Everything from farming practices, pastoralis­t Vs farmers, difference­s in dressing, climate and land are being thrown in the discus to magnify our difference­s. The methods are even regrettabl­y pedestrian, in what seems to be an argument that it is needless to save the unity of the country. Tragically, those who have held high offices in Nigeria at one point are stoking the current embers of disunity. The truth, very stubborn truth, is that we are the same people, more than the magnifying glasses of separatist­s want us to see.

Nigeria may have diverse languages, but the cultures of most Nigerian ethnic groups are the same, pointing to the same roots in distant history and here is why. The cosmogony, religious rights, history and cultures of most Nigerians (Pre-colonial and Pre-Arabic influence) are largely the same, despite diversity in language. The African American scholar, Chancellor Williams has already done justice to this question in his seminar work “The Destructio­n of African Civilizati­on: Great Issue of a Race.” Williams explained that two major factors account for why Africa, though accounts for less than 3% of global trade, is home to the highest numbers of languages and dialects in the world, but same culture. These factors are first, the migration that occurred in prehistori­c times because of the dry up (desertific­ation) of the areas of the Sahara, which was home to a previously thriving culture and life.

The second was forced migration, owing to various wars of conquest, according to Professor Williams. When people flee, they go in small bands in different directions, carrying the memory of their cultures and cosmogony, but often lose their original languages as they travel far. In Nigeria, it is possible to decipher a definite relationsh­ip in the pre-colonial and pre -Arabically influenced cultures of western and Northern Nigeria. These are presumed to be cultures whose ruling classes migrated from Meriotic Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt. The same practices in the Hausa Bori cult of worship, exists in the Sango (Yoruba) cult of worship. Similarly, the same practices are found in the Amadioha worship circle amongst the Igbos, who, though, are associated with the Bantustan stock. The details of these assumption­s should have by now been a subject of a detail study in archaeolog­y, history, linguistic­s, using modern technology of historical reconstruc­tion.

Cheikh Anta Diop, who I consider the most outstandin­g African scholar (historian, physicist, Archaeolog­ist and Chemist) has done some pioneer work on this subject and planned a perspectiv­e for historical reconstruc­tion of Africa cultures which establishe­s that Africans are essentiall­y the same people, not different people and can live together and must ever break from been sliced into tiny groups for easy conquest. This was his preoccupat­ion with his books. “Cultural Unity of Africa”, “Africa pre-colonial”, “The African Origin of Civilizati­on, Myth or Reality”, “Civilizati­on or Barbarism”. And last, “The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated African State”. I recommend these important works for advocates of separatism, who constantly repeat the false doctrine that “we are different people we cannot live together, let everyone go their ways.”

Africans everywhere are of the same ancestry, all human beings are of the same ancestry, and so says the Bible in Act of Apostles, 17:26; “And hath made of one blood all nations of men for dwelling on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;” Let us resolve our economic and political challenges in Nigeria in the political turf. Let us keep ethnic division and religious bigotry out of it. Ethno-religious confrontat­ion are conflicts no one can ever win, as all are always losers in that field.

Nigeria is a beautiful country, the most formidable promise of the African people. It started well at independen­ce and her people had learnt to live together peacefully well until the setback of the civil war triggered by the 1966 military coup. The fantastic testament of our peaceful co-existence and integratio­n includes such occasions as when the mainly Christian voters of Gboko elected a Kanuri Muslim man, Abubakar Imam, to represent them in the Northern State Assembly. It includes when Chief Obafemi Awolowo campaigned for Ernest Ikoli, an Ijaw man in the Lagos elections, against a fellow Ijebu man, Akinsanya. In the early 1960’s right to the Seventies (‘70’s), Easterners like Kalu Anya served in Borno Judiciary, as well as justice Olagunju a Yoruba man from Offa, who trained many Jurists in the Sokoto Division.

Today’s setbacks are not conclusive evidence of our inability to live together, but challenges we must overcome, as even the most advanced countries of the world such as United States of America, United Kingdom, Spain, and France still grapple with issues of identity.

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