By Yusufu Shehu Usman
Hatred, mutual suspicion and intolerance are fast emerging as fault lines threatening our fragile unity and if not properly tamed and managed, they spell imminent dangers to our continued existence as one and united nation.
The emerging phobia and hate against the Fulani, the escalating trend of religious intolerance across the major two religions of Islam and Christianity, the crushing and devastating effects of ethnicity on our political dispensation are real time bombs which we have ourselves planted as landmines on our path to development and prosperity.
It’s not that these divisive and primordial sentiments have not been there before or that they are just emerging on the stage.
They have always been there with us since we came or were brought together as one nation by a colonial proclamation.
One would have expected that with our experience in the journey towards cohesion and unity as one nation, Nigeria should by now have overcome these insidous characteristics in favour of the elements that would cement our unity despite our diversity
It can not be disputed that most Nigerians see themselves in the mirror and reflection of their tribe and religion first and foremost and the issue of being a Nigerian comes after these two as a secondary consideration.
We are so much attached to our ethnicity and religion that we view others who are different from us not only with suspicion but with distrust and disdain, if not with outright contempt
We have not been able to develop and instil in our national consciousness, the principle of patriotism which would have submerged or at any rate, subdued the divisive sentiments that have sharply divided us along the fault lines of tribalism and religious differences
Nigerians can not be patriotic and put the national interest first because we have chosen to define and identify ourselves as Hausa, Fulani, Ibo, Tiv, Itsekiri, Nupe, Ijaw etc ahead of the generic and unifying term Nigeria which should bring us under the protection of a common umbrella.
With the advent of politics which by law and the Constitution has to be operated both on the national and local turfs, the politicians have exploited the primordial sentiments of religion and ethnicity to further deepen the factors of disunity and set one tribe against the other, one religion against the other and one region against the other
In my view, we have been unable to develop and raise the level of our patriotism beyond rhetoric because we think tribe not Nigeria, we think religion not Nigeria and we think region not Nigeria
In Spite of the clear provisions of the Constitution that guarantee freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom to settle and work in any part of Nigeria, freedom from discrimination on the basis of tribe or religion, Nigerians across the nation continue to be discriminated against on these same grounds prohibited by the Constitution
Where is our unity and nationalism when a Nigerian from the North can not be employed in the public service of states from the south and vice versa?
Where is the unity and freedom from discrimination when Nigerians from one part of the nation would be arrested and their properties seized for only daring to move from one part of the country to another in search of livelihood?
Where is the unity we profess when we target and stigmatise some tribes only for the blood that runs in their veins?
Where is our unity when we can’t tolerate adherents of other faiths, why should we criminalise identity when we are supposed to be covered by the cloth of a universal citizenship as Nigerians?
The truth is that until we rise above the divisive sentiments of ethnicity and religion, national unity and patriotism will be a mirage or as the legendary reggae singer Bob Marley aptly put it, a fleeting illusion to be pursued but never attained