I have tried to ignore the phrase, “Nigeria’s Unity is Not Negotiable.” But I cannot. What does that mean? Even the thought of the phrase breaks me out in a bad rash. It also gives me cause for concern. If it turns out that my understanding of federalism and the word negotiation are wrong, then my constitutional law and English language lecturers have failed me.
From my understanding, consultation, negotiation and mutual cooperation are the pillars of federalism. Thelawdictionary.org defines negotiation as, “The deliberation, discussion, or conference upon the terms of a proposed agreement; the act of settling or arranging the terms and conditions of a bargain, sale, or other business transaction. Also the transfer of, or act of putting into circulation, a negotiable instrument.” Why is the government so afraid of these deliberations and discussions that must take place for us to have peace?
We are pushing on 20 years of uninterrupted democracy, yet today I do not feel like I am living in a democracy. Nigeria claims to be a federal republic. What is a Republic? The lawdictionary.org calls it “A commonwealth; a form of government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the general body of citizens, and in which the executive power is lodged in officers chosen by and representing the people, and holding office for a limited period, or at most during good behaviour or at the pleasure of the people, and in which the legislative power may be (and in modern republics is) intrusted to a representative assembly.” It means that we are all co-pilots on this journey for Nigeria’s survival and prosperity.
It means that we all have a right to view the route-plan for the journey and voice our opinions on whether one route is a more perilous path over another. It means that there is no place for paternalistic leadership – the all-knowing “father” who cannot be questioned. That may work as head of your village clan or family unit, but it does not work in a democracy. I am somebody’s child, but I am not your child because you are in government. When you present yourself to serve in government, you must be prepared to account to “small boys” and “small girls.” You work for us!
Even children know when they are being cheated. For peace to reign in my home, there are certain issues for which my five-year old son and I have come to a negotiated agreement. He does not always get what he wants, but a discussion takes place, and we manage to reach an understanding that keeps the peace.
We all desire peace for Nigeria for there can be no progress without peace. However, peace is not and can never be a forced state of being. Peace cannot thrive in social and economic injustice. Imagine this, you invite me to a potluck dinner and tell me that I should kill and roast all my chickens for the feast (King’s orders); Mr A will be bringing his yams; and Mr B will be bringing his rice; it shall be a great feast for all. On the day of the potluck dinner I arrive and present my chickens. Mr A and Mr B are already seated in the banquet hall, but the table is empty.
Their eyes are bright, forks and knives in hand as I walk into the banquet hall with my chickens. The king instructs me to drop the chickens on the table and wait outside while he shares the chickens amongst everyone as he sees fit. What about Mr A’s yams? Oh, that. Well, the king issued an edict, Mr A did not have to share his yams so he ate them before he got to the banquet. And Mr B’s rice? Yeah, same thing, I am afraid. The king is only interested in your chickens. I am finally called in for my share of the chickens and on my plate, I find bones. Some have been cracked and the marrow sucked out of them.
Mr A and B are quite content, licking their lips and rubbing their bellies. You see, Mr A is twice my size, so the king thought he needed a larger share, more calories to keep up his energy. Mr B travelled a long way to the banquet so he needs some extra chicken for the road. Me? Well, the king’s edict says that my chickens belong to everyone. I must not be selfish with my chickens. Now you expect me not to cry, fa fa fa fa fawol!
This is what the current revenue allocation formula feels like in Nigeria. For me not to get rowdy and forget my table manners at the next banquet, we must TALK, we must NEGOTIATE!
Negotiation is not a word to be afraid of. Peace cannot be forced. Unity cannot be forced. And one does not expect such an attempt in a democracy. Our unity is negotiable. Our unity MUST be negotiated now. We all want the soup to be sweet, but if we do not pay attention to the pot on fire it will boil over and we will have a bigger mess to clean up.