National Integration Conference: The Pursuit of a Cohesive National Identity

On the 26th of April 2024, The Kukah Centre organised a National Integration Conference in Abuja, the Nation’s capital, with the theme, “Revisiting the National Question: Nigeria’s Elusive Search for National Integration”, to begin the journey towards a common National Identity that fosters cohesion. This was the crowning activity of a year-long project funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) to the National Peace Committee (NPC) to advocate and promote overall peace in Nigeria.

Before Nigeria’s formation, colonial rulers drew arbitrary boundaries that grouped diverse ethnic communities together, leading to long-term ethnic consciousness and subsequently, conflict. Post-independence, Nigeria has struggled to foster a unified national identity, focusing instead on state-building—developing institutions and infrastructure—rather than nation-building, which would create a shared sense of identity. The country remains deeply divided along ethnic, regional, and religious lines. The military further entrenched these divisions by creating states and local governments along ethnic and religious lines, and by promoting traditional rulers, thereby weakening national integration. All these necessitated the call for a National Identity.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Abbas Tajudeen, in his Keynote address, mentioned a review of the curricula of primary and secondary schools in the country as a step towards fostering national unity.
The Speaker who was represented by Rt Hon. Benjamin Kalu, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, noted that education was an important tool in fostering national unity and could play a pivotal role in managing diversity.

He continued by saying Nigeria’s pluralism and its vast diversity in ethnicity, language, and religion remains a valuable asset to the nation. He further states that leveraging its pluralism would propel Nigeria towards a more unified and prosperous
future where the collective strengths of its diverse population would be fully harnessed.

He went on to call on Nigerians to “reject bigotry of any kind and embrace tolerance, empathy, and unity” while working towards a future united by the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood in one strong, indivisible nation.

In his welcome speech, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah stressed the urgent need for nation building and urged all Nigerians to stop the blame game and unite for the good of the country.

“Building our nation is not about apportioning blame. It is about the urgency of national integration. National integration doesn’t necessarily mean everybody must be the same. It is for us in Nigeria to understand the intricacies of managing diversity. National cohesion is important because, without it, it is impossible for us to grow…. So, the urgency of national cohesion is a call that we must make and continue to make,” he said.

GOODWILL MESSSAGES

Mr. Annup Vyas, Head of Conflict, Stability, and Security, FCDO, said in his remarks that, as a partner in Nigeria’s democracy, the United Kingdom is pleased to be supporting efforts to build a stronger and more resilient Nigeria. Vyas said that integration and the democratic institutions that promote unity usually face many challenges, but he expressed confidence that, with the discourse and the important decisions that came from it, the nation had the potential to identify new ways to overcome such barriers. “Unity, purpose, and national cohesion can help unlock Nigeria’s potential and generate inclusive growth for all”.

Professor Talla Nkaka Samuel, Chairman of Taraba Peace Architecture, emphasised that despite Nigeria’s rich diversity, culture, and heritage, the country struggles with identity, marginalization, and division. He advocated for open, honest, and constructive dialogue to address the deep-rooted issues impeding national unity. Samuel highlighted the need for understanding, reconciliation, and growth, noting that national integration is about fostering a sense of unity, respect, and dignity for all citizens, rather than just political unity or economic development.

In his goodwill message, Mr. Jake Epele, the founder of Taf Africa and a champion for the rights of Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) stressed on the contribution of PWDs in national integration as well as their contribution to every facet of national life in Nigeria be it political, economic, sports or tourism. He also urged the government to promote inclusivity in all aspects of governance because they have a lot to offer in nation building.

PANEL DISCUSSION

Dr Sam Amadi, panel moderator, set the ball rolling by exploring the need for pluralism and how it contributes to nation building. Panelist Hajia Zainab Okino in her response to the question of how well Nigeria includes different identities in the business of governance, asserted that it is unfortunate that the issue of national integration has continued to linger up till this day and that if she finds herself in a position to make policies she will elevate citizenship over indigeneship because what matters is what a person brings to the table than where they come from. Mr. Kabiru Adamu in his submission examined the impact of security on national integration and good governance where he mentioned factors that have hindered security in the country, including: unemployment, poor adaptation to climate change and ineffective justice
system that fails to arrest and prosecute offenders, our porous borders which have become vulnerable to attacks from foreign violent groups and also inter-ethnic grievances which have remained unaddressed till this day. He also advocated for the long awaited local government independence which has hindered governance from reaching the people at the grassroots.

Gloria Ballason Esq., responding to the question of the role of the justice system in national integration and good governance asserted the need for compliance with the specific provisions of sections 13 and 15 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which provide the formula for national integration. She said the triumph of the justice system begins with the three arms of government respecting and adhering to the spirit and letter of the Constitution and that the sovereignty of the people must be respected especially when the citizens have made a decision of who should lead them.

Samson Itodo Esq., while examining electoral reforms, said the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must be truly independent and without political interference. He added that independent candidacy must be encouraged and said one cannot have national cohesion if political leaders do not have respect for the constitution and the legal process.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. There is the need to have active policy programs that promote national cohesion and put in place key
    performance indicators to monitor the progress of these policies.
  2. Our current elected officials should do more to unite the country by strengthening government
    institutions and people should be elected by merit and not by political and religious affiliations.
  3. There is a need for the people to not continue with this malaise of selective amnesia. Outstanding
    challenges should be treated before they become compound and complex challenges that defy
    solutions.
  4. The need for the media to be well invested in the accountability question and the need to keep
    the microphone on the main issues until resolution is reached.
  5. Buck passing needs to stop. The national orientation agency must wake up to their responsibility by
    setting the agenda and promoting what is expected from the leadership and citizens to build the kind of
    country we desire- this information needs to constantly be disseminated to the leadership and citizens
    to continue to remind us of our duties and obligations as citizens.
  6. Discussions on finding solutions to national problems should not be seen from an ethnic or religious
    perspective but a national issue that needs to be addressed. Structural inequities must be addressed
    especially when it comes to the national assembly.
  7. Managing national cohesion is a duty leaders must be fully invested in while they reorient their
    citizens.
  8. There is the need to hold government accountable to citizens in the promotion of economic
    empowerment, inclusive governance and education.
  9. Citizenship should be elevated over indigeneship. There is no need to split our identity to absurdities.
  10. Nigeria’s search for national integration does not have to be elusive if we respect and manage our
    diversity and use it as an advantage for a more resilient, innovative and cohesive nation.

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