Unity s a veritable tool for sustaining democracy

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By Clement T. Ofuani

MON, AUGUST 14 2017-theG&BJournalThe topic is not only germane but most appropriate at this point in time when (economic uncertainty and social insecurity threatens the nation’s stability) forces of disunity are tearing at the fabrics of our national existence with murderous ferocity.

The spiraling violence that we are witnessing today in parts of our country is a direct assault on peaceful coexistence and an invitation to anarchy which is the antithesis of democracy. While it is tempting to focus on the very obvious overt acts of war against our nation, it is equally important that we do not lose sight of other insidious acts which are not so overt but nonetheless continue to represent clear and present dangers to our democracy and our way of life. By these, I speak of other acts of lawlessness, injustice and oppression which manifest in our daily lives and threaten our national unity.

The Webster English dictionary defines ‘Unity’ as ‘the state of being united or in agreement’. Therefore, unity focuses on our commonalities while centrifugal forces tend to focus on our differences. This perhaps takes us to the famous conversation between Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik) and the Sardauna Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, on the subject of unity in which the former was quoted to have said ‘let us forget our differences’ and the latter was quoted to have quipped, ‘no, let us understand our differences.’ This provides interesting perspectives on unity. From the Zik perspective, Unity can be founded on neutralization of differences by subscription to new and common ethos or it can, from the Sardauna perspective, be constructed around an understanding that in some things, we are different and would remain different. Being different however should not necessarily lead to discord. Over the years, commentators on this interesting interchange have often tended to view the Zik perspective as too idealistic and rather naïve while the Sardauna perspective is seen as being more realistic and pragmatic.

Between Zik’s idealism and Sardauna’s pragmatism however, there is a common ground which is the recognition that despite our differences as human beings and peoples, we need unity to develop our nation. Indeed, so important was national unity to our multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation that our founding fathers chose “Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress” as our national motto.

The challenge of building a united country out of the disparate ethnic nationalities that make up our nation lies in the mechanism for dealing with our differences in order to achieve peace and harmony necessary for progress. Since unity means the state of being in agreement, it also implies that we must seek to reconcile our differences in order to be united. This also means organizing our society in a manner that provides platforms and processes for constructively engaging one another. A democratic system of government provides the necessary platform to attain this goal which perhaps explains its attraction.

After years of military dictatorship in our country, we finally returned to democratic government in 1999 as the basis for organizing and developing our country and its constituent parts. This was not a new development but a return to the dream of the founding fathers of Nigeria. It was a dream that visualized the building of a nation where no man will be oppressed. It was a dream of a nation where civil liberties would be upheld and in which freedom and fundamental human rights would be articles of faith. It was in the process of constructing that system that the aforesaid interchange between Zik and the Sardauna can be situated.

To be united while retaining our differences requires certain shared values and aspirations. Among them are mutual respect, respect for law and order, access to justice which translates to equality before the law. These are clearly the very virtues that democracy seeks to promote, hence its global attraction as the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried from time to time according to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

In Igbo cosmology, there is a phrase ‘igwebuike’ which literally translates to “there is strength in unity”. Labour Unions recognize that individual workers would remain at the mercy of employers except they come together as a Union to protect themselves. Unsurprisingly, the first stanza of the Nigerian Labour Congress Solidarity Song extols the strength derived from unity in the following words “When the Union’s inspiration; Through the worker’s blood shall run; There can be no power greater; Anywhere beneath the sun; Yet what force on earth is weaker; Than the feeble strength of one; For the Union makes us strong. “ Strength is needed to achieve decisive goals. That is why feline animals hunt in prides. As powerful as the lion is, it still hunts in prides for greater effectiveness and efficiency.

Strength derived from unity also serves as protection from more powerful adversaries. In the prehistoric societies, each society was a small tribe based on family links. Authority was founded on a family chief, a council of elders and a shaman. There was no class division. Everybody had the same activities and the food was shared on a communal basis. This is clearly the way it is also with lower animals. But as humans increased in number and the society increased in size and complexity, the familial bonds became inadequate as the sole basis for unity. Thus, human societies created rules, regulations, customs, traditions and laws in their settlements, clans, kingdoms, empires and republics as ways of guiding behavior and organizing themselves to advance common interests.

Common interest is a key factor that promotes unity. In our Nigerian society today, we have chosen democratic governance founded on universal adult suffrage as a primary basis for organizing state life. In doing so, there are fierce contests between individuals and groups of individuals leading to the aggregation of interests to enable a dominant group gain political power and control the affairs of state. Under the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, only political parties can legally sponsor candidates for political office. Therefore the desire to contest or to serve can be a uniting interest that pools people to form a political party.

However, the political party is a just platform intended to aggregate interests in a way that it can be purposefully deployed to attain political power. With so many interests, however, (today’s political parties)a political party is (are easily thorn apart by trivial issues bothering mostly on parochial tendencies and interests) often riven with different tendencies seeking primacy. Each tendency is sometimes an atomization of general interest in order to create a stronger bond of unity among those that share that tendency.

In order to understand the concept of unity in a human society and especially to situate it in our present circumstance, let us examine the structure of a society. First, there is a person. The next atomic unit is the family which may be nuclear or extended and is regarded as the foundation of a society. Then, there is an aggregation of families sometimes sharing common ancestry or bloodline which could form clans. Then there is an aggregation of clans sharing common language or tongue, common practices or customs and traditions and perhaps common geography.

As I have mentioned earlier, as society continues to grow, the bond of bloodline, common tongue, common customs, etcetera, become ever more tenuous as strong binders or uniting forces. Indeed, effectiveness in the management of the complexities of a given society is a measure of the sophistication of its civilization.

In our country and indeed in Delta State for instance, we have as many commonalities among our peoples as there are differences. While we are one members of one black race, share common geographic entity, share a colonial history and so on, we also belong to different tribes, ethnic groups, religions, geo-political zones, states, senatorial districts, local governments, clans and towns and villages. We may choose to be united as brothers and sisters serving one God, but in the struggle for political power or indeed for some economic and other advantages, play up our differences in clans, tribes and tongues.

Having accepted to live together in one country and in one state, we are also bound by the laws of the land. However, in addition to the written letters of the law; the spirit of the law, our shared historical experience, conventions and common practices are just as important in making the nation and its constituent parts function progressively. To ignore any of these is to court strife and disunity.

Thus, as an instrument of peace, stability and progress, unity must be reinforced by a scrupulous attention to the factors that promote unity while not ignoring those elements that promote disunity. Perhaps we should critically assess some of these factors and elements in the light of what we seek to achieve through this symposium organized by the Unity Group.

As indicated earlier, the pursuit of common interest is a strong force for unity. As a group that cuts across the geographical spread of our state; that cuts across every senatorial district and every ethnic group in the state; that cuts across age and gender, one may be tempted to wonder what the common interests of Unity Group are. To obtain an answer that can stand up to empirical scientific scrutiny, we probably will need to contextualize the question and then develop and administer questionnaires designed to elicit appropriate responses. Such a survey would then be subjected to statistical analysis by perhaps using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) for predictive analytics. On the other hand, one does not need to go the statistical route to know that you are all very talented politicians and as politicians, you have an abiding interest in the politics of your state and your country. I am further emboldened by the knowledge that our democracy throws up a king every four years along with princes and princesses to presume that Unity Group is united in its desire to produce the king and be the princes and princesses of future dispensations.

These are very noble and worthy aspirations, yet you must recognize that within this broad interest, are also interrelated subsidiary, but sometimes, conflicting interests which need to be reconciled for the strength of your organization to have real potency. Once again, let us return to the Zik-Sardauna interchange and ask ourselves, “are we going to forget our differences for the common larger purpose? If our differences cannot be forgotten, can we build practicable processes that will enable us to nonetheless, forge ahead with a united front for the larger purpose?” The answers you give to these questions will largely determine how successful the Unity Group becomes in the attainment of its primary objectives.

Let me quickly state here that if I am right that the Unity Group has a common interest in influencing the shape and colour of future dispensation in our state, such an interest has only found expression because we live in a democracy. During the military dictatorship years, ‘kings’ emerged when a group of people came together and conspired to overthrow the powers that be. If they succeeded, they proceeded to crown the king. If they failed, they paid the price of treason which in our clime is death penalty.

If Unity Group seeks to produce the next ‘king’, such an aspiration can only find expression under a democratic setting. In a dictatorship, a gathering such as this may be stretching the limits of treasonable felony. It is therefore evident that it is in the enlightened self-interest of this group to uphold the tenets of democracy and ensure its advancement in our country. It can be argued that if we collectively fail to seek unity as a society, and instead, everyone focuses more on their subsidiary interests, our nation will be faced with ceaseless strife such that democracy will not survive.

Another important element necessary for Unity is EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended recognizes every citizen as equal. To a large extent, part of the crisis rocking some parts of Nigeria today can be traced to the attempt by some people to subvert those very guarantees by treating some citizens as second class within certain defined geo-political settings. Speaking about equality before the law under a democracy reminds me of an anecdote in which Late Alhaji Abubakar Rimi was quoted to have quipped, that ‘if democracy means one man one vote, does that imply that his vote is equal to the vote of the Emir of Kano?’ As a seasoned politician, the late Rimi certainly knew that our democracy is founded on universal adult suffrage of one man one vote. However, like in the Orwellian animal Kingdom, all animals are equal but some are ‘more equal’ than the others. The implication is that the interests of the more equal animals will always tend to predominate.

Even though everyone is equal before the law, a careful alignment of interests is what enables some groups to triumph over others in the political arena. In this case, the Group learns to unite behind a common purpose and to subordinate every auxiliary interest to that common purpose. Treating everybody as equal is key to unity. This calls for compromises from one another. This is best illustrated by one Igbo axiom ‘egbebelu, ugoebelu, nkes’ibeyaebena, nkwukwaya” meaning, ‘let the kite perch and let the eagle perch, the one that says the other should not perch, may its wings be broken’. Moving from birds, we also observe how compromises promotes unity among dogs. When dogs are playing in a pack, even the powerful ones fall for the less powerful in a gesture of compromise that promotes goodwill and peaceful coexistence. From the above analogies, it can be gleaned that within your group, you must recognize that if the interests of some people are sacrificed constantly in the pursuit of the interests of only a few people, your Group will not endure for long to achieve its noble objectives. It is therefore imperative that you understand the importance of even the weak to group strength for as they say, “a chain is as strong as the weakest link.”

Unity also requires an ethical foundation to thrive. As children, we were thought never to lie, never to cheat never to steal, to be obedient, to be hardworking, and to respect our elders and so on. These are values that were certain to guarantee one a fulfilling and long life. They were also values that bound the society into a strong community enabling it to attain peace and progress. Adherence or subscription to these values can be a strong binder or force of unity in a given society. The disunity that threatens our democracy today can very easily be traced to the desecration and abandonment of these values for the get rich quick life of instant gratification. The corollary is that we must seek to return to upholding these values in order sustain our democracy and make progress.

The second part of this speech concerns sustaining democracy. One may ask the question, ‘Why would we want to sustain democracy?’

In 1998 UNESCO established the International Panel on Democracy and Development (IPDD), chaired by Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali and made up of leading international figures to explore the nature of the link between democracy and development. The Panel acknowledged that, while democracy and development had long been concepts largely foreign to each other, there is now widespread agreement that a close relationship exists between them. In particular, the Panel recognized that the sustainability of equitable development is closely bound up with democracy. It maintained that genuine democracy, characterized by the rule of law, respect for human rights and recognition of the intrinsic dignity of all human beings, cannot be maintained unless people enjoy a minimum standard of living, which in turn requires a minimum level of development. In 2003, UNESCO published the Panel findings in a document titled “The Interaction Between Democracy and Development” in which the Panel held that “democracy and development are complementary, and they reinforce each other. The link between them is all the stronger because it originates in the aspirations of individuals and peoples and in the rights they enjoy. Indeed, history shows that cases where democracy and development have been dissociated have mostly resulted in failure.”

Clearly, this was the widespread belief that underpinned the struggle to end military dictatorship in Nigeria. Indeed, the well-worn Nigerian cliché “democracy dividends” refers to the expectation of our people that democracy leads to development and improvement in the overall welfare and well-being of the people. This expectation no doubt fuels the desire to consolidate and sustain our democracy. Therefore, anything that threatens democracy also threatens our well-being.

This statement may be considered to be a truism only in so far as there is no continuing divergence between the promises of democracy and actual delivery. For the full promises of democracy to be realized, the government must be competent, responsible and responsive. We earlier identified the desire to play significant role in the choice of the leadership of the next dispensation as a possible force of unity for the Unity Group. However, one may be tempted to ask whether the group will disintegrate on the attainment of that objective? If the answer is no, then the Group must have some additional reasons beyond the acquisition of power to hold it together.

Let me again make an educated guess that the Unity Group would want to be identified with a government that delivers on the expectations of the people. Since failure to deliver on the expectations is a threat to democracy and the existing order. This was clearly demonstrated recently by what has come to be known as the “Arab Spring” – a seemingly coordinated uprising that has led to the overthrow of several governments in the Middle East and Maghreb region including Egypt, which had an elected government. Unarguably, as long as our democracy is delivering development in accord with the expectation of the people, the desire to sustain it will be enhanced. It is also axiomatic that only a competent, responsible and responsive leadership will bring this result about.

So, herein lies a higher and stronger binding interest for unity. The Unity Group must organize itself into a formidable group whose views would be respected in the making of the ‘kings, princes and princesses’ of future democratic dispensations. You must evolve acceptable processes for determining where to throw your invaluable support to lead to the actualization of the desires of the Group. As a group, you must also develop democratic processes for decision making that safeguards the right to be heard for every member, even while majority position predominates. In the process you will prove both effective and dynamic as you may come to discover that what might initially start as a minority position may gain currency and support to become the majority decision thus making the Group more cohesive. To achieve this calls for compromises and sacrifices within the Group.

One cannot speak about unity without discussing compromise and sacrifice. Every group of individuals will certainly have abundance of differences. Even when there is agreement on objectives and goals, significant disagreements may exist on the methods for attaining the agreed goals. Recognising that we constantly hold different opinions, yet require unity to advance common causes calls for compromises and sacrifices. For some people, compromise is a dirty word that connotes weakness yet it takes strength of character to know when to give up an issue to serve a larger, perhaps, longer term interest as opposed to holding fast to something due to short term narrow advantages. Let me cite an example here. In Delta State today, I believe that everyone in Unity Group is united in their desire for rapid development of the state. Do all the members then have a common understanding or definition of development? The term development is very broad and is in fact a process rather than an end. A simple question such as, should we focus more on education than on health, I am sure, is sufficient to cause division in your group just as consideration of spatial distribution of developmental projects within our state could elicit significant differences of opinion. Even the strategy to be adopted for development can also be a cause of disunity, for instance, considering whether more resources should be devoted to the improvement of living conditions in the urban centres as priority over the rural areas or whether we should seek to improve the rural areas first before the urban centres can cause disagreement. These simple questions, once again demonstrate how different we all are. Yet, we need to reach some broad agreements or be united for us to have peace and progress. These call for compromises and sacrifices which must be made in such a way as to give members a sense of justice and equity.

As I said earlier, there are certain insidious acts that undermine national unity and the most grievous is a feeling of injustice or lack of equity in the compromises and sacrifices that are being made within a Group. As brothers and sisters, no one would want to be treated as second class. As Martin Luther King Jnr said, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And no society built on injustice endures. Nigeria’s fragile unity was put to severe test in the 1967-70 fratricidal war because a part of the country felt that another had an overarching ambition to dominate and subjugate the rest.

I have spoken so far about the things we need to do promote unity in your Group and by extension in our state and nation. It is also necessary that we give some attention to some common practices among our people that promote division and disunity. Here, I speak of stereotypes. Children are usually oblivious of differences until adults through actions and statements plant in them the consciousness. I remember when I was in Federal Government College Enugu, one of my closest friends who hails from Niger State was taunting a female classmate of ours and I sided with him in loyalty to our friendship. It was not until I was in the University that I realized that the girl in question hails from Onicha-Ugbo and should have enjoyed my protection as ‘my sister’ in such an environment. Before then however, my innocence was pierced when in our final year we had to write entrance examination to one of the Federal Universities and we were asked to submit our answer scripts into envelopes marked according to our states of origin. It was a shocking sudden realization for me that in the Nigerian project, my bosom friend from Niger State and I had different opportunities.

In a similar vein, you notice that in our daily interactions, some people offend us through their words or actions or behave in untrustworthy or treacherous manner. Instead of seeing it as the act of one person, we tell our children, that what Ejiro has done represents the behavioural pattern of Urhobo people or that what Tombra or Emeka did is typical of how Ijaws or Anioma people behave. The children, who receive such ‘wisdom’ from adults, begin to grow with a notion that people from other ethnic groups as have been depicted are untrustworthy or treacherous and this affects their relationship with a whole tribe of people. Incidentally, if Ejiro did something noble, we do not stereotype his people on the basis of such noble acts. It is as the notice in a restaurant says ‘if the food is good, tell others, if it is bad, tell us.”

It is my view that if we are conscious of the fact that stereotyping a people leads to disaffection which may ultimately cause strife and disunity, we must begin, now as a group committed to unity to re-educate people both within and outside our group on its dangers. I am sure that each one of you has friends from across the various ethnic groups in our state and you will not retain them as friends if they are so disagreeable. You must therefore learn to extend the same goodwill for your friends to his ethnic group. That way, you will discover that we have nothing to fear from one another. It will also promote unity in our state, reduce the intense struggle for power and sustain our democracy.

In conclusion, I call on you, members of the Unity Group to rise up and fight against stereotypes, defend justice at all times and oppose inequity whenever it rears its ugly head in the political arena so that we can build a united Delta State of shared brotherhood. It is my belief that as we understand our differences, we can reach a point where those differences can be forgotten in one united Delta State in which all citizens are treated as equals. If we subscribe to these ideals, I can assure you that our democracy will endure.

Ofuani is the DIRECTOR GENERAL, DELTA STATE CAPITAL DEVELOPMENT AGENCY, ASABA

DCSL 90X780

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