The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, has faulted the notion that Nigeria’s diversity is the cause of her internal divisiveness and wrangling.
He said the blame for the problems associated with the nation’s diversity should go to Nigerians, especially the nation’s leaders over the years.
Ekweremadu made the submission in Abuja while speaking at the first Isawa Elaigwu Foundation Annual Distinguished Lecture themed “Federalism, Diversity, and Nation-Building: Tackling the Challenges of integration in Nigeria”.
The Senator said it was sad that decades after Nigeria’s independence and the civil war, “the crisis of identity, ethno-religious squabbles, debilitating nepotism, pampering and promotion of mediocrity, sectional segregation, and other factors that were responsible for the war have persisted”.
He also blamed military incursions into the country’s politics for the seeds of discord and distortion of Nigeria’s federal structure, which now left Nigeria a Federal Republic in name, but a Unitary Republic in practice.
“The results of all the military adventures are structural imbalance, resource capture through the destruction of the principle of fiscal federalism, centralisation of the police system, and inequity in the distribution of opportunities”, he said.
Ekweremadu urged the nation to learn from the United States of America, which, according to her former Vice President, Joe Biden, took a vast continent and diverse people and moulded them into a united representative of democracy, where people see themselves as Americans first.
“Moving forward, we have to accept the reality of our diversity. Since we cannot run away from that we are diverse, we must take urgent steps to salvage the nation and manage our diversity better for effective nation-building as many other nations have done.
“During his second term bid in 1864 in the last days of the American civil war, Abraham Lincoln dropped his Vice President, Hannibal Hamlin, a fellow Republican. He settled for Andrew Johnson, who was not only from Tennessee, one of the Confederate States that opposed the Union, but also a Democrat as his running mate. Magnanimous in a virtually achieved victory, Lincoln wanted to rebuild trust and unity, ensuring that every American was given a sense of belonging, irrespective of the side he or she belonged to in the bloody war.
“The current and first female President of Singapore, Halimah Yacob, is of Malay origin, a minority race in the country. Chinese constitute over 75% of Singaporean population, while Indians and Malays account for much of the rest.
“Therefore, our diversity is not our problem in the real sense. We are instead the problem of our diversity. We can leave together despite our challenges. We can forge a tightly knit union where no man feels oppressed. It only requires the political will to build a just and an equitable society to give every constituent part a sense of belonging”, he said.
The Senator, however, insisted that not much could be achieved without an overhaul of the nation’s federalism.
“An overhaul of our federalism is at the heart of rebuilding Nigeria for equity, justice, and prosperity. If we restructure, the federating units will become the centres of development again, with little emphasis and pressure on the federal government.
“If we restructure the security system, the constituent parts will take charge of their internal security alongside the federal police.
“If we reintroduce fiscal federalism, no people will feel robbed or cheated of their resources; every constituent part will earn its living. The best will be allowed to excel since only the best can increase productivity. As is the case in Canada, less endowed states will benefit from Equity Fund to ensure even development”, Ekweremadu stressed.