I write for the sake of those like me. To help us understand how to navigate these issues. You see? Unity is not the same thing as Uniformity. Ours is not the Unity of one culture. Neither is it the Unity of one dominant culture and a sprinkling of subservient ones. No. Ours is the Unity of multiple barrel-chested, tough-talking, no-ground-yielding, evenly matched cultures. For we are a true multicultural society.
That is why, of the three cornerstones set into our foundation, the oldest is the principle of Differentiation. This is what Awo said. That we are too diverse to live under a unitary constitution. No. That our constitution must allow our differences to breathe. That is why we had regions. And now states. So that the different cultures in our compound can have their own huts to fly their own colours. That even minorities amongst us should have, at least, a local government, where they can be majorities. And that that local government should be autonomous enough to run its own schools and hospitals and public service to the standard its people desire. So that travelling across Nigeria should feel, in some way, like traveling across different countries.
There is beauty in this, but there is also the risk of conflict. For what is permissible in one jurisdiction may be forbidden in the next. So, what happens, when in one state there is a law or a custom or a policy, wanted by the majority in that state, but completely abhorrent to the majority in another? And this is where our founding fathers placed the second of our cornerstones. For Ahmadu Bello said that there must be respect between equals. So that no region should force the other to adopt its pace, or its customs or culture or outlook. For no region should assume that its own culture is the model against which all others must be judged. That each region should be left to evolve at its own pace, driven principally by the dynamics of its own internal struggle between progressive and retrogressive forces. This is the principle of Mutual Respect.
And there is great wisdom in it, but also the possibility of abuse. For behind the walls of non-interference, a majoritarian culture, in the place where it dominates, may resort to conduct unbearable to human conscience. For surely there must be conduct – no matter our diversity – surely, there must be conduct we can all agree is wrong? For there is no faith in our land – traditional or imported – that does not acknowledge that God, not culture, is the ultimate judge. And this is where our founding fathers laid the last of our cornerstones. For Zik said there must be a set of higher values to which we are all subject. No matter our tribe, creed, or station in life. Whether majority or minority, Christian or Muslim, Northerner or Southerner. That all Nigerians should, at the very minimum, have equal protection from the Law. Whatever that Law may be, that its processes should stand, in fairness and objectivity, between the accused and Judgment. This is the principle of Shared Fundamental Values.
It is not that Nigeria cannot work. It is that it can only work on these principles – of recognition of cultural differences, of even-handed respect across ethno-regional lines, and of a narrow, but sturdy, bridge between us, rooted in those values that, tribe or faith regardless, find resonance within.
So, yes, to disparage what others hold sacred is very wrong. Everyone knows this. But blasphemy is not a crime, talk less of one punishable by death. Yes. Many muslims disagree with this, in whole or in part. And in those places where they form the majority, have a right to enact laws that are consistent with their understanding of their own Faith. And as long as those laws endure, like them or not, we must respect them. And trust that Islamic Jurisprudence, rooted in centuries of study and practice, is robust enough to drive its own reforms. Yes. I salute those who are courageously championing this, even now. And stand with them, and all others who think this way, to say – without equivocation – that it is wrong for any person to arrogate to himself or herself, all at once, the position of accuser, judge, and executioner. For, in both Christian and Islamic theology, there is but one God. And a power like that is His alone. Yes. But if the State does not stand up to defend this principle, then – from Lagos to Sokoto – the mob will continue to murder and maim.