One’s religion should remain one’s private matter. It should play no role in the development of a nation or even individual expression of kindness. I will be discussing these topics in a way that relates to the Nigerian narrative. I have always maintained that, for us to succeed in the future, we need to go back to the past and examine where we got it wrong so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes in the future. Let’s start with
RESOURCE CONTROL.We cannot talk about resource control without mentioning how this particular subject was partly responsible for the civil war of 1967 till 1970, lasting three years. Resource control put a halt to the mediation that attempted to prevent an all-out civil war. This mediation attempt is popularly known as the Aburi Accord and was held between January 4 and 5, 1967, in Aburi, Ghana.
At the time the accord was reached, the Federal Government realised that the agreement would not favour the nation as a whole. The Aburi Accord was based or structured on a loose federation giving more power to the regions. Seeing as the Federal Government would have had little control over the major resources of the nation if the accord was followed to the letter, the Gen. Yakubu Gowon-led military administration decided not to accommodate the accord, if it meant relinquishing autonomous control of the resources it had begun to develop a taste for. Instead, it was re-interpreted to suit their purposes.
Following the re-evaluation of the accord, a major part of the entire eastern region of Nigerian (which was later known as Biafra) objected strongly to the Federal Government’s interpretation of the accord.
Resource control led to the origin of what we know describe as insurgency, particularly in the Niger Delta. Let us keep in mind that the whole of Eastern Nigeria that was to become Biafra was where most of the crude oil of the country was located and still is located. If Biafra had succeeded in occupying (the then) Bendel the way it was intended, the entire oil resources of the country would have been under the control of a foreign land. Foreign because the secession that Biafrans were fighting for, if gotten, would have meant they would no longer be a part of Nigeria. Nigeria would then have little or no oil to call its own.
The civil war might have ended but the issue of resource control have not been addressed and many of the problems that followed the exploration of oil, like the pollution of rivers and water bodies, negative health implications, unemployment and crimes such as robbery and kidnapping are still with us today.
Isn’t it time we start looking at a nation without oil? Maybe if we do, it would allow for a smoother restructuring process. I must commend the former governor of Delta State for first coining the phrase “Delta without Oil” in a state that is the highest oil-producing state in the country. Although the campaign didn’t result in the outcome I and many others had hoped for, the phrase remained with me. We need to be able to tell ourselves the hard truth and stop looking at matters with wool over our eyes or Nigeria will not survive much longer.
The second R, which plays a huge role in the way we live our daily lives as Nigerians, is
RELIGION. I will use a personal tale to describe my thoughts on this topic. In my pursuit for equity and giving back to my community, I had many years ago constructed a borehole in my town to stop the people fetching water from a river that was beginning to be badly polluted and acidic five kilometres away from the town. The borehole, which was inaugurated by the then Military Governor of Bendel State, Jeremiah Useni, was part of a project I was on to help the town. I followed up this charitable act by giving a 28-seater bus to a popular Catholic Convent in the same town and the fencing of a school and church premises for the Anglican community. I had planned nothing else until the Muslim community approached me sometime later to assist with the building of a mosque. After looking at what it would cost, I agreed to do this for them. That singular act of kindness almost got me in trouble with my town. The reason being that a Christian was trying to “Islamise” my town. My saving grace was that the visit of the Emir of Kano, the late Alhaji Ado Bayero, who was available for the inauguration of the mosque, brought almost half of the country to my town to witness an unprecedented carnival. The media had reported it as a case of how people of different faiths could live together in harmony. The good publicity doused the anger of the Christian community as it was then realized that a simple ‘God’s work,’ even to those not a part of your religion, could benefit a small town. I was now known as a man who made Akwukwu the place where Christians and Muslims lived in peace and harmony.
My story on religion doesn’t end with the Christians and the Muslims. Way before those two religions, Nigeria had its own religious practices and I have always respected that. A traditional meeting place of my hometown known as the Ogwa Obi built hundreds of years ago started falling apart due to wear and tear that comes with a place that old. In the usual fashion of traditional norm, the kingmakers started insinuating that the problems of the town (most of which could be attributed to climate change, poor healthcare facilities, bad roads and the other culprits) were due to the absence of a proper meeting place. They claimed that the gods were angry. The Ogwa Obi was a place where ancient warriors set out for war and also where they narrated their conquests. The need to preserve history more than the gods’ wrath influenced my decision to offer to rebuild the Ogwa Obi. The day it was inaugurated, I recalled a statement by one of the kingmakers, he said, “Newton, now that you have washed your hands properly, you can now eat with the elders.”
You see, the point of this trip down memory lane is to show that it is possible for development and progress to transcend religion. Nigeria is often torn between religions and this has continued to breed havoc in many areas. We need to stop electing people based on what religion they subscribe to. One’s religion should remain one’s private matter. It should play no role in the development of a nation or even individual expression of kindness.
The third R has been making news of late:
RESTRUCTURING. When politicians talk about restructuring, what do they mean? There are people that have given restructuring a sovereign connotation, which hints at splitting the country. If the country is to be split, how many pieces are we talking about? Who benefits and how does it improve the well-being of the people of Nigeria? In my personal opinion, we should look into what Nelson Mandela did in South Africa, where the country put together a peace and reconciliation committee because, for there to be peace, so much reconciliation needs to be carried out.
The only way of getting out of the crisis of the three R’s as stated in my previous writings is by getting to the root cause of these problems. Nigeria must not shy away from seeking help from outside the country, if need be. We must seek for a lasting peaceful solution rather than our usual way of just dressing the surface without attending to the wound.
When I started writing this essay some weeks ago, I thought of recommending Kofi Annan because of his diplomatic disposition, integrity and the fact that his first wife was a Nigerian. I met Kofi Annan some years ago through Ambassador Ibrahim Gambari, but some weeks ago Kofi Annan passed and I was distraught. I would like to use this opportunity to pay tribute to a wonderful African that made the continent very proud for the eight years he was Secretary General of the United Nations. May his soul rest in perfect peace.
Nigeria must seek somebody with a similar stature and integrity to help mediate the peace and reconciliation talks. In doing so, we must remember that the Northern Ireland crisis that lasted almost three decades was finally taken to a Good Friday agreement by American Senator, George Mitchell. It took him and his team many years to resolve the crisis. People like Senator Mitchel, Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu are difficult to find but we must seek them out for the sake of unity and peaceful coexistence of the people of our land. We cannot continue to, at every stage or at every crisis, sweep the dirt under the rug as we’ve been doing because, one day, the rug will be overturn and the dirt will return to haunt us indefinitely.