Towards national identity

By Macdonald Ogu Esq

One of the greatest problems of modern Africa is how to develop the idea of nationality among people who have not yet begun to feel it. This is largely due to the fact that the nation states of modern Africa are the creations of colonialism; the case of Nigeria is therefore not an exception. The unity of Nigeria could best be described as unity in diversity. In other words, there are forces in Nigeria making for unity and there is also the desire among the component states to maintain their identities which may be linguistic, cultural or religious.
To achieve a sense of national cohesion and collective purpose in the circumstances, it is necessary that we have to be more tolerant of these diversities because true national identity for Nigeria must be viewed from a broad perspective, not in terms of Narrow Calculations of immediate gains, but in terms of long-run interest of generation of men and women unborn.
Nevertheless, the fundamental problems of nation’s identity lean heavily on the characteristics of its social existence and natural circumstances. Nigeria’s political and economic problems obviously reach deep into these characteristics but the national bankruptcy and political instability that bedeviled the country during the second republic were surface manifestations of these problems.
Undoubtedly, these are persistent irreconcilable elements in the body polity of Nigeria which has made it increasingly difficult for Nigeria to attain the state of being identical in ideological predisposition, so much so that unless a national policy on National identity is deliberately planned and skillfully executed, her dream of nationalism and^ patriotism will continue to be an Illusion and a state of Nigeria with a homogenous powerful force will continue to elude her.
Indeed, eminent scholars have listed specific preconditions which have to be fulfilled before a true national body could emerge, but a critical view of these elements show the obvious.
A common language is said to be one element which brings different groups together but the absence of a common language in Switzerland which has four official languages, or in Belgium which has two, has not prevented them from becoming true nation states.A common religion is said to be another uniting element. But few nations states today demand that all the people practice the same religion, although some modern nation states such as Great Britain, there is no official religion, neither is a common cultural heritage necessary, the united States is composed of people of many derivations within its boundaries as in the former soviet union.
Obviously, common language, religion and cultural similarities will help to create a strong nation-state. But what is really essential is that Nigerians have to feel what they share deeply, significant element of a common heritage and that they have a common destiny for the future. Most important of all different groups in Nigeria should see their future as being bound up with each other and be willing to accept this prospect. This is because states throughout Nigeria are composed of various ethnic or nationality grouping which want to pursue their own customs, traditions language and religion, even though they might be incorporated in a larger political unit. But how does a particular set of values, norms and beliefs come to be adopted in a complex Nigeria? And how can the loyalties of all the state be molded into an over-riding national allegiance which gives the state sovereignty over its internal as well as its external affairs?
There has to be values and beliefs over which there must be this minimum consensus over a wide range of matters. If we wish our government to work well we must think less of things we have in common. There is therefore, no other time than now to execute a national identity policy which consequently will enhance the intensity of nationalist and patriotic sentiments of Nigerians.