Text Of Lecture Delivered By Saheed Olurotimi Timehin, Ph. D, At The 1441 Hijrah Day Celebration Of The National Council Of Muslim Youth Organisations, (NACOMYO), Ogun State Chapter, Held On Sunday, 1st September 2019 At The M.K.O Abiola International Stadium, Abeokuta.
Nigeria is today plagued by lethal socio-political maladies that threaten its wellbeing. The obvious result of these ailments is the sorry state of security which has become one of the greatest challenges to her corporate existence. The sad tales of kidnappings, terrorist activities, students’ cultism, and persistent human rights’ abuses which adorn the pages of Nigerian Newspapers have smeared the nation’s image in the comity of Nations. The frequent calls of ethnopolitical militias as well as the mutual accusation, abuse, and mudslinging that characterize the relationship between the various regions in the country lend credence to the fact that all is not well with the nation.
It is therefore apt, at this period of our nation’s beleaguered existence, that issues of national integration should dominate discourses at all levels of our corporate life. I must express my profound gratitude to the National Council of Muslim Youth Organisations for choosing this topic which affords us the opportunity of re-investigating national integration in Nigeria and reflecting on the lessons that could be learnt from the Hijrah (historic migration) of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) from Makkah to Madinah in the year 622 C. E. that marked the beginning of the Islamic calendar.
NIGERIA AND THE SEARCH FOR IDENTITY
Nigeria began its journey towards true nationhood on attaining independence in 1960 as a refreshingly promising experiment in parliamentary democracy. It was even touted in the international media that it was going to become the giant of Africa. When on 15th January 1966 a military coup struck, only to be followed by another one in July of the same year, the whole world asked: “What is wrong with Nigeria?” It is indeed disheartening to note that 53 years after those coups, we have not stopped asking: “What exactly is wrong with us?”
Any attempt to answer this question must first take into consideration the ideological framework within which the Nigerian political psyche was formed. This is because what the nation experiences today has its roots in the ideals and idiosyncrasies of all the ethnic nationalities that populate it and how these ideals have received, interpreted, and adjusted to the inherited socio-political ideology of the colonial administrators.
During the struggle for independence when these great men were fighting for self-rule, it probably didn’t occur to them that it was necessary to hold a national conference to decide and agree upon how the nation was to be governed and the sacrifices and adjustments the populace had to make. We, therefore, set out with no agreed-upon national values to nurture our souls and direct our affairs. We are all living witnesses to the result.
Unlike other nations, Nigeria was not born out of an agreement of people of the various ethnic nationalities that populate it, it was rather the product of an agreement between the Royal Niger Company and the British government. This unfortunate phenomenon was captured by the Prime Minister of the First Republic, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa thus:
“Since 1914, the British government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show any signs of willingness to unite… Nigerian unity is only a British invention”.
Similarly, Chief Obafemi Awolowo is reported to have written in 1947 that:
“Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no Nigerians in the same sense as there are English, Welsh or French. The word ‘Nigerian’ is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria and those who do not”.
Despite their realization of the situation, the founding fathers of this nation had a clear picture of the kind of country they wanted to build though it was not sure that they all understood how they were going to do it. Nevertheless, their dream was to have a:
- United, strong and self-reliant nation.
- Great and dynamic economy
- Just and egalitarian society
- Land of bright and full opportunities for all citizens, and
- Free and democratic society.
It is noteworthy however that the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo stood out among the founding fathers in proposing ideological pathways for the country even though his ideas were treated with step-motherly aversion. He seemed to have studied the strengths and weaknesses of the various ethnic nationalities congregating in the country. It was he, alone, among them who invested much energy into thinking out what he considered to be the solutions to the numerous challenges facing the country before and after independence. His ‘Path to Nigerian Freedom’ written in 1947 as well as other works reveals the depth of his passion for Nigeria and his understanding of the challenges facing the country. In his book, ‘The Strategy and Tactics of the People’s Republic of Nigeria’, he writes:
“The economic objectives of the people’s republic of Nigeria shall be as follows:
- Full employment.
- Payment of unemployment relief allowances to persons who are able and willing to work but are unable to secure employment, during the period of their enforced idleness.
- Introduction of national minimum wage compatible with a national minimum standard of living.
- Elimination of discrimination between categories of employees; that is to say, all persons employed in the public and private sectors, whatever their categories, should be on a full-time and permanent basis, and should be entitled to pension on the same basis under a comprehensive and compulsory social insurance scheme.
- The raising of pensionable age to between 65 and 75 years, in strict regard to the types of employment.
- Modernization of agriculture as well as of the storage, transport, and marketing of farm products.
- Economics freedom; that is to say, voluntary economic independence with other countries of the world, involving:
- Immediate introduction of schemes for self-sufficiency in non-durable consumer goods;
- The introduction, within five years, of schemes for self-sufficiency in durable consumer goods; and
- The attainment, within 20 years, at the longest, of complete self-reliance in capital goods and technical knows how.
- Modernization and the economically requisite extension, of the Nigerian railways, to ensure a greatly accelerated haulage of goods from distant parts of the country to the ports.
- Construction and maintenance of adequate and modern waterways to ensure much quicker transport within and from the riverine areas of the country
- Construction of a sufficient and efficient network of all-season roads and bridges so as to attain, within 15 years, a ratio 1 mile of road to 2 square miles of territory in all part of the country
- Rationalization of the salaries and remuneration paid to or received by different classes of employed or self-employed persons with a view to closing the existing gap between the higher and lower-income groups.
- Integration and assimilation of the salaries and conditions of service of employed persons, other than self-employed persons, with a view to ensuring equal pay for identical qualifications or merits in all the sectors of the country’s productive activities.
- This will entail the abolition of “fringe benefits” for all categories of employed persons in all sectors of the country’s productive activities.
- The immediate rationalization of certain categories of industrial and commercial undertakings in order to eliminate waste arising from unnecessary duplication or multiplication of effort, selfish and cut-throat competition, and lack of coordination on the part of productive agents in given industries and enterprises.
- Immediate introduction of training schemes designed to ensure the total Nigerianisation of the management and control of all productive activities in the country, within the shortest possible time.
- Progressive and rapid socialization of the following occupation, including all services ancillary to them:
- Primary, manufacturing and transport occupations of defined classes, types, scales, and capacities; and
- Banking and insurance occupations of whatever classes, types, scales, and capacities.
A cursory glance at these proposals that were written in 1969 at the Calabar Prison shows that almost all of them are still relevant today with only a few modifications. It is therefore disheartening that fifty-nine years after Nigeria’s independence, despite such lofty thoughts and postulates from one of her foremost, and arguably, her most outstanding politician, her performance in the spheres of social engineering, economic growth, and political stability does not in any way represent her potentials, nor project the true yearnings of her citizens, her vast natural endowments notwithstanding.
Nigeria and National Integration
The term national integration is generally employed to cover a wide range of phenomena ranging from fostering unity to expelling dissension. Literally, integration involves bringing diverse parts or units of a thing together to operate as a single whole. There seem to be as many definitions of the term as there are scholars discussing it. National integration, according to some authorities, is the attempt at uniting or bringing together hitherto multi-ethnic groups of people with diverse culture, histories, languages, religions and belief systems into one which would remove primordial and subordinate loyalties and sentiments to ethnic groups. Other pundits opine that it is a “resocialization process into the symbols of the new large community to create people in the sense of those who, in the words of Karl Dentsch, have learned to communicate with each other well beyond the mere interchange of goods and services. More recent attempts at defining the term submit that national integration is the collective orientation of members of a society towards the nation and its society in such a way that micro-loyalties are not allowed to jeopardize the continued existence of the nation and its objectives, goals and ideals.
It can be deduced from the aforesaid, that the main goal of national integration is the creation of a strong and united nation. It is also a process that is expected to naturally culminate in the entrenchment of socio-political cohesion among the various groups in the country and the suppression of sectional loyalties and sentiments in favour of a strong central institution. It thus aims at a total fusion of all social, political, religious and cultural forces and interests in the country into one nation with a united dream and aspiration.
In order to achieve this, there were efforts since the colonial days through the post-independence era until the contemporary post-modern period to forge Nigeria into an integrated society. The amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates under the colonial administration of Lord Lugard in 1914 was one such attempt. Similar efforts in the pre-independence years include the adoption of the English language as the common lingua-franca, common currency, common administrative system – Judiciary, Executive and Legislature, common educational system and Common constitution.
In the post-independence years till date, successive administrations, military and civilian alike, have also attempted to achieve the dream of National integration. Policies such as the introduction of National Youth Service Corps Scheme, establishment of Federal Government educational institutions, introduction of the federal character principle and quota system for just and balanced representation, adoption of the language of the three major ethnic groups as national languages, Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba, creation of national symbols like Coat of Arm, National flag, National Anthem, National Pledge were all efforts in that direction.
However, despite the various steps taken by the government over the years at promoting national integration in Nigeria, immoral corporate practices, nepotism, insincerity to the spirit of the various policies as well as the enthronement of the cults of mediocrity have dealt a mortal blow on these efforts and the result is the multiplicity of chaotic situations under which the nation groans at the moment. Nigerians have still not forgotten the Ife-Modakeke crisis, the Niger Delta militants’ struggles, the Ijaw and Itsekiri feuds, Jukun-Tiv conflicts, Jos and Kaduna riots, Yoruba-Hausa clashes, and the recent farmers- herdsmen saga as well as the omnipresent Boko Haram debacle, all of which have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and property.
In reaction to the above situation, several pressure groups have continuously agitated for political restructuring of the nation to ensure that posts and appointments could be shared equally among all ethnic groups. As lofty as this appears to be, it is still not different from the old order. What people seem to be oblivious of is the fact that it is the Nigerian orientation that is faulty. The forces destroying the country are united in their unholy enterprise while the rest of the nation are disunited in their woes and cries. What we need is a re-education, re-orientation and a total rededication to the cause of national progress. It is not a political revolution that would create upheavals but rather an ethical revolution occasioned by a gradual psycho-social evolution of the Nigerian mind through a carefully planned and faithfully implemented multi-sectoral social re-engineering of the micro and macro systems of the nation.
THE HIJRAH AND ITS LESSONS FOR NATIONAL INTEGRATION
This Hijrah was a watershed in the early history of Islam. It was an existential transition for the Prophet and his close associates and a positive turning point for Islam and Muslims, and it marked the beginning of the Islamic calendar.
People often think of the Hijrah as a simple journey of a few days between two cities, but it was not so. Apart from being a difficult adventure in those days, it was full of risk. The risk involved was not only the dangers inherent in the passage from Makkah to Madinah but also the risk of a journey into uncertainty. It was a decision to leave a familiar terrain to a place where one was not sure of one’s fortunes. How many of us are truly ready to leave our homes, our families, our businesses and just go to a new town and start from scratch? How many of us have the courage to actually attempt a new life in a new territory under a different condition from that which we were familiar with?
The Hijrah was thus not about saving the life of the Prophet (saw), but it was about the survival of the message of Islam and fulfilling his mission. The persecution of Muslims by the people of Makkah made the city unsafe for the message and the futility of continued stay had become apparent. The message had to be delivered and the mission had to be fulfilled. It was, therefore, a strategic step by the Prophet to change his location though it was a risky adventure. He took the risk with total trust in his Lord and with a firm determination to succeed, whatever it might cost him.
On getting to Madinah, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) took up the task of immediately creating a strong and united society by putting in place a comprehensive programme of national integration. This is because he was aware of the ethno-religious complexity of Madinah. He knew that the city was dominated by different tribes of Arab polytheists and Jews as well as a minority community of Arab Christians whose mutual hostilities spanned several generations. He began by first building a mosque which was to serve as his parliament, then he went ahead to forge a positive relationship among the various ethnic nationalities that were in Madinah. He summoned the leaders of the various tribes and clans to a meeting in which they entered into an alliance of total integration of all of the parties represented. The document of the alliance is called the Madinah Charter, which was indeed the first of its kind in the history of the civilized world.
The Charter is an affirmation of the ethno-religious pluralism that characterized the Madinah society. It is a 47 article document and its main thrust can be divided into five principles namely:
- Belief in God.
- Religious Freedom
- Internal Relations and Interfaith Society.
- Religious Tolerance.
- Neighbours and Mutual help.
- Belief in the One Supreme (Monotheism)
In the Madinah Charter, this principle is contained in its preamble and articles 22, 23, 42 and 47 which essentially calls for the recognition of the existence of God in all human endeavours.
- Religious Freedom
In the Madinah society, religious freedom is not limited to the sphere of ideas, but also to social practices, customs and values. Such freedoms include; religious freedom (articles 25 & 35), freedom of customs and values (articles 2 & 10), freedom from persecution (articles 16 & 36), freedom from fear (article 47) and freedom of expression (articles 23 & 37).
- Internal Relations and Interfaith Society.
In realization of the pluralistic nature of the society, the Prophet (saw) built a new social order that is proactive and appreciative of the other religions. Madinah Charter thus guaranteed a positive relationship among the people of diverse faith traditions and mutual collaboration in matters of security and defence of the territorial integrity of the emerging nation. In articles 24, 37, 38, and 44, read: “Verily the Jews and the believers work together to mutually bear the finances of warfare when Madinah is (article 24), “The Jews are obliged to strive for their livelihood and Muslims should strive for their own livelihood, but between them there shall be co-operation and mutual assistance; if any of the parties to this document is attacked by enemies, all parties must rise to defend and assist them except in cases of sin or wrongdoing.” (article 37, 38 & 44),”
- Religious Tolerance
Tolerance is not just bearing or tolerating something, it also means understanding and accommodating the thing. Among its many connotations is understanding, appreciating, letting, and allowing opinions, views, beliefs, habits, and behaviour. Tolerance can also mean endurance or fortitude, which asserts the right of others to live their lives without restrictions and persecution and without stepping on the rights of others themselves. This principle is implied in the Madinah Charter in article 25 & 35.
- Mutual assistance among Neighbours
In the Madinah Charter, good treatment of neighbours regardless of ethnic and religious background is also entrenched. The community is seen as a consensus of hearts and actions and the efforts of all groups populating the society, despite their diversity, must gravitate towards the collective goals agreed upon.
With the drafting of the charter and its endorsement by all parties, the Hijrah proved to be the beginning of the Madinah nationhood and thus a process of transition to a better situation was enacted.
The Hijrah is not limited to a physical movement or migration. It can be mental, behavioural or attitudinal. It was in this light that the Holy Prophet declared:
المهاجر من هاجر ما نهى الله عنه
He who performs the hijrah truly is one who has migrated from what Allah has forbidden.
What Nigerians need to learn from the Hijrah experience is that they must be ready to move mentally and attitudinally from their comfort zone. There is always a sacrifice to pay for progress. Nigerians must be ready to bear with fortitude the hardship of migration. They must be ready to embrace the fact that their nation is a haven of profound diversity; it is multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-lingual. Like what the Prophet met in Madinah, they must be ready to accommodate not only the ethnic ‘other’ but also the religious and cultural ‘other’. Theirs is a pluralistic society and they must be able to learn how to sincerely cohabit with mutual respect and functionally collaborate for growth by embracing pluralism while at the same time affirming their multiple identities. If they can humbly subdue their egos, as the various groups in Madinah did, they can also achieve national integration which would ultimately lead to the position of pre-eminence they have always dreamt of. May Allah make it easy.
Thank you for listening
Salam Alaykum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakaatuh