WARS are fought for divergent reasons. Every battle has its tale; some start wars to preserve heritage , others for ideological reasons they believe are akin to the right to life itself. Whatever the reason, war is a grievous, grievous thing. And so in Nigeria after 47 years of one of the bloodiest civil war in history , echoes reminiscent of kwashiorkor babies, mutilated pregnant women , blown limps and destructed schools are being brewed in pubic domain like a coffee exhibition.
The myriad of problems bedevilling Nigeria are as old as Nigeria itself. Corruption, tribalism, nepotism etc., are nothing novel with the boarders of Nigeria. In fact the foundation of Nigeria had most of these problems as its concrete, and till this day the structure stands.
History, they say, is necessary to understand the present; even the bible starts with ‘in the beginning…’ Thus, the first republic barely six years old was rife with corrupt politicians , ten percenters and bias native courts. The coup of January 15, 1966 was, apparently, to cleanse the systems , it catastrophically failed and Aguiyi Ironsi, the most senior military officer took over the reins of power as the first military head of state to “stabilise” the polity. The military by their design rule by centralised power. Thus, Aguiyi Ironsi created a unitary government by Decree 34 of 1966 which abolished (on paper) the regional administration of the northern, western ad eastern Nigeria . At this juncture it will be save the Nigeria never recovered from this attempt at centralisation of its government. Northern Nigerian was Britains’s favourite out of the whole of Nigeria; they were easier to rule and cheaper to administrate. It is not a revelation any more that our very first election as an independent country had undertones of British manipulations. At all cost the British wanted the election to be in the utmost favour of the north , through which they believed their interest would be maintained. This bias, I believe lead the Northern elites to develop what I will call the “David syndrome”i.e a believe they were born to rule Nigeria.
Pre-independent rhetoric of the North was for secession, but after the January 15th coup; which lead many to believe was the easterners attempt at dominating Nigeria. The July counter coup, was the response, and it had the attendant killing of Aguiyi Ironsi, and many eastern soldiers. The north, thereafter had a military advantage -which more or less could be also called a political advantage since at that time politics and the military became fused-they had soldiers garrisoned at almost every part of Nigeria. Their dream of having firm control over Nigeria became feasible with an all too obvious British backing and any sentiment of secession by the North evaporated like harmattan wind on dew . Of course the civil war that resulted is deeper than a Northern agenda to rule over Nigeria; but i dare say the relentless and brutality of the Nigerian army might have had mustard stains of such ambition.
But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the problem with Nigeria is the North. Rather, I’m emphasising that centralisation in the affairs of our government has never favoured our multi ethnic, multi cultural and multi religious society. And this has rather allowed ethnic groups to exploit this weakness.
So, it’s no surprise that after 47 years of a bloody civil war that left millions dead and devastated, sentiments of secession are been whipped like a race horse. Nigeria is a heterogenous society, and research has shown that heterogenous countries that practice democratic forms of government have special needs; because diversity and subcultures makes democracy harder to run. This special needs could be taken care of in the form of minority protection, equal distribution of resources and infrastructure in such a manner that no ethnic group feels neglected , equal distribution of political power so every ethnic group can feel they have a say in their governance of the country etc,. A lack of the aforementioned can bring about dimensions in the structure of the society or what W. Merkel and B. Weiffen systemised as identity-based cleavages , interest-based cleavages and ideological-based cleavages . What these simply means is that certain ethnic groups in Nigeria who are dissatisfied with the way the government has been operated may develop a consciousness which may be allied to the identity and interest of theethnic group (to these may be added an ideological doctrine) with a political aim of having their grievances settled and remedied or worse seceding.
Nonetheless, irrespective of these cleavages, a key factor in the success or otherwise of democracy in a country are political actors. Thus, remarks such: the civil war might never have occurred if Yakubu Gowon and Odumegwu Ojukwu, were not at the helms at the affair at that particular time may point to the relevance of political actors. Political actors exacerbate or control ethnic consciousness that impedes Polyarchy . A typical example is the vitriolic leader of the indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) : Nnamdi Kanu. His utterances alone has made a fresh wound of the scar of Biafra in Nigeria. He has Revivified a cleavage in Nigeria, re-sensitising its identity and interest with the ideological doctrine of the right to self determination.
However, the right to self-determination does not really have to culminate in the creation of a new country. There are other remedies available to an ingenious group of people seeking the right to self determination other than remedial secession. The United Nations declaration on indigenous people unequivocally affirms the right to self-determination of an indigenous people. But it’s article 4 rather places heavy emphasis on autonomy within the frame work of the state of which the indigenous people live in. And I think there is some wisdom in this. If every indigenous group of people that feel dissatisfied are granted autonomy at slightest disinterest at the affairs of their government then the international community might become too complicated to manage.Thus, according to Melik Ozden and Christophe Golay in their brochure, prepared as Part of a series of the Human Rights Programme of the Europe-Third World Centre (CETIM) assert that “if each of the peoples speaking one of the 6,000 languages that have been counted in the world (in so far as one uses this single criterion to define a people) were to chose this option, the management of international relations would no doubt be extremely complicated. In line with this, one might question the capacity of several mini-states or of heavily indebted states to exercise real sovereignty and to participate in decision-making at the international level.”
Odumegwu Ojukwu, before declaring Biafra a republic on May 30, 1966, sought the autonomy of the Eastern part of Nigeria within the framework of Nigeria. The Aburi Accord upon which this was imbedded, unfortunately, was never honoured.
The restructuring being clamoured for through out Nigeria, might be the solution to a number of issues bedevilling the country. I’ll rather chose restructuring than a referendum that might lead to the disintegration of Nigeria. We have come so far , no doubt we have made mistakes en route. But as far as integration goes we have Igbo people living in the north that speak Hausa, and Hausa people living in the east that hear igbo. Lagos is no doubt a Yoruba land but has almost every tribe living in it. We have a population that can be self-reliant if we just start producing more, and importing less. All these are common sense and Sen. Ben Bruce wouldn’t hesitate to remind us. Therefore, our problem is not our diversity, our problem, rather, is thinking too negatively about our diversity. Instead, our thought process should be focused on how collectively, how this huge populous black Nation can be used as a force for progress, prosperity and emancipation of Africa. Some of the most talented brains in
Africa the World are in Nigeria ; God loves Nigeria. Call the Nation a British experiment or whatever but most of the worlds greatest achievements started off as experiments. Experiments have God’s intuition in them.
Thus, “True federalism” as “they” call it, might actually be the structure that will enable Nigeria to live in harmony and realise its full potential. Each state should be given autonomy and accountability to run its own affairs. This might actually bring about healthy competitiveness between states, and foster wider and faster development . However, local governments ought to be more autonomous or at lest more in control of their local government area if this restructuring is really going to transform every fibre of the Nation. Howbeit, if Nnamdi Kanu and some part of the eastern part(it’s obvious not all the eastern parts support him) of Nigeria truly believe that their problems will disappear upon exiting Nigeria and no level of re-structuring or regional autonomy will enhance their right to self determination as an indigenous group. Then by all means we should grant them their referendum for there’s nothing more counter productive than keeping a set of people that do not want to be kept. My only fear is the repercussions of such a referendum, already political actors in the north are giving easterners quit notices. On a sad note; could history be peeping , to repeat itself?