“The election of Barack Obama as president-elect has finally broken the greatest barrier of prejudice in human history.” Preident Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, November 5, 2008 – As Americans went to the polls last November, the world literally stood at still. This can be explained by the fact that the US is the world's super power and command
tremendous influence politically, economically, socially, diplomatically and militarily hence the outcome of the election will surely affect all countries of the world directly or indirectly.
In Nigeria, greater percentage of the citizens followed the election for one reason or the other; some were interested in the election because of its effects economically, politically and diplomatically to Nigeria state and Nigerians. Some were also interested in the election for security and energy reasons. Of course, those who were glued to opinion polls, newspapers and television stations based on security reasons were worried because of the raising cases of insecurity and local terrorism in Nigeria.
However, the bulk of Nigerians who followed that election in Nigeria had a "favorite" candidate in mind long before the actual election kicked off. It was evidently clear that most Nigerians wanted Barack Obama to be re-elected at all cost as they believe that his re-election translates into the “arrival of the Blackman” to world’s politics; put in another way, the re-election of Obama was their own re-election, a permanent victory against colour in the affairs of man and a signal that human prejudice would become history. Thus, it became an unofficial “official” racial battle for the white House in Nigeria and amongst commentators. And in the final analysis, Obama won the election; in reality, however, Obama's re-election had no racial colouration as Americans were more interested in electing a man who shall uphold their core national values, re-awaken the economy as well as create wealth in a country where the middle class is gradually going extinct as a result of the economic recession which caught the world in 2008.
As the celebration and jubilation for the re-election of Obama resonates in all nooks and cranny of the world and his second innauguration today, there is indeed a great need to x-ray the significance and implications of that election vis a vis the current practice and institution we have come to operationalize in Nigeria. Realising the challenges posed by the election of Barack Obama on November 5, 2008, late Preident Umaru Musa Yar'Adua had decreed: "The election of Barack Obama as president-elect has finally broken the greatest barrier of prejudice in human history. Prejudices arising from various differences in tribe, zones and regions— actually we should examine ourselves in the light of this experience and conduct ourselves purely as Nigerians to serve Nigeria and to serve humanity".
The late President Yar’Adua happily charged, "When we find ourselves in positions of responsibility, when we take decisions we should take decisions as Nigerians in the best interest of the country and not try to bring about issues of where I come from or which area I come from or which tribe I come from. That is the old world; that is the old era. Its coffin has been nailed throughout the world and we have entered a new era."
With the above statement, late President Yar’Adua challenged Nigeria and all Nigerians and set a roadmap for national cohesion and real nationhood in Nigeria; however, ill-health and subsequrntly death did not allow the president to march words with actions and we continued as if all is well with Nigeria until the re-election of Obama in the face of all impossibilities and racial sentiments.
Presently, we have a Nigeria that is centuries behind nationhood; divided permanently by poverty, tribe and religion in variance with what our founding fathers had in mind when they abandoned personal comfort and wealth and fought the colonialists to a standstill during the heady days of nationalism to achieve our independence. Indeed, our independence did not come after the wedging of war or militia activities; however, it came with high cost which demands that its founding vision shall ride the crest at every turn in our national life.
The fact is that as we celebrate the “double dethronement” of the “greatest barrier of prejudice in human history” with the second swearing in of Obama as the US President today, we must draw inspiration from the Americans to question why an Okafor who was born, bred and grew up in Kano should head eastwards-Abia State to be precise-any day he is of age and wants to serve his country in the capacity of a governor even while it is crystally clear to us that the son of a Kenyan is today the world’s most power man and president of US. Similarly, it should bother us that a Tunde who had left his family and relations to settle in Enugu as a law abiding citizen cannot rise to become the Head of Service in Enugu State civil service even though he might be the most qualified and experienced civil servant in the state. Based on Obama’s re-election, it is now a national burden that Adamu and Edet who were born in Abeokuta can never stand to be accepted as “fellow countrymen” in Ogun State.
In a Nigeria where the zoning almost brought Nigeria to its “kneels” in the build up to the 2011 presidential elections, the re-election of Obama challenges us to look inwards and negotiate a Nigeria where the state or zone of the president should count less in the election of the best man to lead the country. Indeed, state of origin has a way of making the best Nigerian a “tribalist” since he’s going to play in a Nigeria where who he is does not matter in public life but his state of origin. By “tribalist,” I mean healthily electing to protect anything from one’s place of origin. If indeed the Federal Government of Nigeria uses State of origin as basis for sharing and distribution federal resources, patronage and offices, why should we crucify the man who says he is this “state” before being a Nigerian?
During the struggle for Independence, Zik preached one Nigeria and urged us to forget our differences but the great Bello insisted that the recognition of our differences in tribe, tongue and creed would make us a healthier nation. I do not know between Zik and Bello who was right but I certainly know that the 'weting' of Zik in the Western Regional Assembly dealt a blow in our collective attempt in collapsing our differences and building a Nigeria of prosperity and prgogress in 21st century.
Long before the election of Obama in 2008, Umoru Altine from Sokoto State and Dr Bashorun Balogun from Oyo State had emerged mayors of Port Harcourt and Enugu respectively under the first republic in domains largely Igbo; at the same time, an Ebube Dike and Zik graciously served in the Western House of Assembly and the Nigerian nation was already on its way to nationhood and cohesion. And the question for today is where did we get it all wrong; when did we abandon and lose the elements of nationhood which we already had before independence?
In a bid to weaken the old Eastern region and win the war he started, Lt Col Yakubu Gowon balkanised Nigeria into "States". Subsequent military government moved ahead to politicise and created more states which are unviable and national burden. In essence, the issue of State of origin polarizes more than it unites us. Ordinarily, Mama Okiyi who shares a shop apartment with Mama Kayode at Balogun Market, Lagos, gives no thought of their background. Similarly another Ahmed who lives with Alabi in an apartment in Yenegoa has no quarrel with the religion of Ahmed, what matters to them is that they are running the “AA ticket”. Another Femi who serves with Emeka and Danjuma in the blighted town of Sabon-Gari, Kano state, has no issues with the tongue of his fellow corps members. What matters to them all is that they are all Nigerians and must live in unity to achieve individual and group interests.
History tells us that we had no Caesar, be it Augustine or Julius, neither were we blessed with the experience of “russification” of Eastern Europe to chisel Nigeria into one along with communality as was the common stamp of Greco-Roman Civilization. But in time, we can elect to be Suhto who employs the positive elements of the society to alter cultures and on whose values the vestiges of the conquering Arga Khan were altered for good and empires of goodwill built. In other words, we can build our own “US” to encourage an Obama to emerge in Nigeria too.
We can easily ignore our differences in tribe, tongue and creed through orientation and re-orientation to build a better Nigeria if we deal with naughty issues as state of origin, tribal interest, marginalization, leadership, etc. Whether we like it or not, the issue of federal character, revenue formula, zoning and state of origin must be debated and resolved conclusively in the best interest of Nigeria as it sometimes leads to ethnocentrism; the more we shy away from it, the greater the disservice to Nigeria.
At this stage of our national life, we should be more concerned about the Project Nigeria after Obama’s election and what happens politically in 2015. 2015 will surely come and go, but Project Nigeria will never die and it is ours to build it. Let us therefore rise up to this challenge that threatens our nationhood and cohesion, let us constitute a vanguard that will pressurize the NASS to legislate State of origin out of existence by replacing it with State of Residence and other obnoxious laws and principles which keep Nigeria and Nigerians perpetually on ground without progress as we continue in our struggle to build a Nigeria we shall all bequeath posterity with all sense of pride and accomplishment. The NASS should use the ongoing constitutional amendment to create a Nigeria of our dream.
This is my own thought for a strong, united and prosperous Nigeria as the world focus its attention on Obama as he takes his oath of office in Washington today.