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Brexit: My fears for Nigeria, by Akinyemi


Professor of Political Science and Nigeria’s former minister for Foreign Affairs, Bolaji Akinyemi.

Professor of Political Science and Nigeria’s former minister for Foreign Affairs, Bolaji Akinyemi.

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Professor of Political Science and Nigeria’s former minister for Foreign Affairs, Bolaji Akinyemi, has described the outcome of the United Kingdom’s referendum to exit the European Union (EU) as a ‘calamity,’ saying his worst fear was how Nigeria would manage the cascading impact in the next two years, should Scotland also exit the UK in protest.

Coming at a time when calls for the restructuring of the country are resounding, Akinyemi, in an exclusive interview with The Guardian, at the weekend, said “the British has made a fantastically calamitous decision,” that would negatively impact the global community, especially the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Meanwhile, a tweet by the AFP yesterday hinted that over one million Britons have signed petition for a second EU referendum in Britain to explore the opportunity of reversing the outcome.

Both Scotland and Northern Ireland, which share border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU loyalist country, have voted massively against Brexit in Thursday’s poll, but the overwhelming votes — mainly from the conservative population in England and Wales — carried the day, forcing Prime Minister David Cameron to announce that he would be stepping down in October this year. Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, after the UK voted to leave the European Union, Cameron who, prior to the referendum, had vigorously canvassed massive votes against leaving the Union, said “fresh leadership” was needed to implement the outcome of the poll.

Scotland and the Northern Ireland as ‘semi-autonomous units’ within the UK (Great Britain) have had their interest in sustaining the status quo buoyed by UK’s membership of the EU. Now, there are concerns that, with the exit, both ‘nations’ could push for a new referendum to leave the UK so that they could actualize their desire of pitching tents with the EU. It was a narrow miss, when Scotland in last year’s referendum voted to stay in the United Kingdom.

Prof. Akinyemi, deputy chair of Nigeria’s National Conference in 2014 — the report of which is now subject of controversy as the new government of Muhammadu Buhari would not bring it on the table — told The Guardian that the exit of Britain from the EU and the potentiality of Scotland and Northern Ireland leaving the UK could trigger unexpected problems, first within the African Union and the ECOWAS and then Nigeria.

Within the context of Africa, and given the fact that Gambia had unilaterally pulled out of the Commonwealth, he, therefore, called for caution, regretting that the development could encourage dissidence within the AU and the ECOWAS. Worse still, Akinyemi, who described the decision by PM Cameron to organise the referendum as ’boyish,’ expressed fears that ‘copycats’ in Europe and Africa could cash in on its fallout to either pull out of regional blocs as countries or to seek self-determination as groups within countries.

“Brexit is a calamity,” said Prof-Akinyemi. “Britain will get hurt by it…and Nigeria is likely to get hurt by it. By getting out of the EU, Britain is taking European Union backwards. This is foreign policy recklessness on the part of Prime Minister Cameron. He will go down in history as a man whose policy led to break-up of the EU.”

According to the Professor of Political Science, reducing the complex issue of Brexit to a ‘yes-or-no’ vote from the citizenry was wrong and “fantastically calamitous.”

Calling for immediate restructuring of Nigeria and dialogue with dissident groups in South South and South East, Akinyemi said he has fears for the country if Scotland should, for instance, strengthen the hands of self- determination by opting out of the UK in the next two years. “I see Scotland leaving the UK in the next two years,” he said, advising Nigerian government to make use of the two-year window to address local challenges more clinically.

According to him, disruption of oil production in the Niger Delta, terrorism in the North East, as well as calls for self-determination in the South East, make serious case for proactive steps by government. Urging the Federal Government to listen to the grievances of some groups more intentionally, Akinyemi described the present challenges as more invidious than the issues that led to the Biafra civil war in the late 1960s.

He said only a Nigerian President from the North can restructure the country without much resistance. Asked to explain why, he buttressed his argument by saying that “the North is the defender of the status quo,” and that previous efforts at restructuring the country were successfully carried out by military heads of state from the north. He cited efforts by Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Muhammed, Ibrahim Badamasi Banbangida and Sani Abacha.

Agreeing with his position in a telephone chat with The Guardian yesterday, Balarabe Musa, a former governor of Kaduna State, called on President Buhari to consider restructuring the country along regional groups with the centre retaining more power for equitable development and distribution of wealth.

Musa, however, observed that the case of the EU, a partnership of successful economies, was not similar to that of Africa or Nigeria and would therefore have “no far-reaching implications.”

He said: “Our concern is to make Nigeria far more efficient by re-grouping it into three or four viable entities. Some of the ideas (on restructuring the country) are primitive …and some people want us to return to minority issue; it is important but not the most important. The dignity of the human person is the most important thing. The exit of Britain (from the EU) will not affect Nigeria…Instead, it will benefit from the exploitative attention it will now get from Britain.”

Secretary of the Lower Niger Congress (LNC), Mr. Tony Nnadi, in reaction to the comments made by Prof. Akinyemi and Musa yesterday, said his understanding of their positions “is that it will now be a lot more difficult for Nigeria to ignore the push for a grand renegotiation of the Union of Nigeria and that having postponed this necessity for so long, things are cascading to where those who sought the grand renegotiation are now simply seeking exit, buoyed by Brexit.”

Nnadi described the LNC as “a self-determination platform aggregating all the agitations for self-determination in the Lower Niger Delta territory — the old Eastern and Mid-Western regions — as ethnic nations.”

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  • vic



    • okwuchukwu

      Looks like both you and Taiwo are scared of restructuring the country. Please proffer better solutions than what Prof. Akinyemi suggested instead of attacking his person.

      • vic

        the man is deadwood and a history now. i knew him well as my colleague back in seventies.

  • Taiwo Umolu

    I don’t think I understand Akinyemi. When Britain joined the EU, there was cry that Commonwealth countries will suffer. Agreed some privilege was lost but am not sure that was a disaster. Now Britain is leaving Europe. If anything, those privileges might be reconsidered as Britain will explore other alliances. The commonwealth by common sense will be a likely direction to look at and other traditional friends be it in Asia, America or even Europe. So where is the disaster? Even the talk about Scotland leaving to join Europe is not that simple. Spain for sure will bloke their entrance in order not to encourage Catalonia from breaking away. The whole of Europe is full of irredentist minded people like in Italy where you have the north/south dichotomy. So Prof, where is this disaster for Nigeria. China is our number one trading partner not Britain or the diminished Europe. A friend of mine in london even said that it was good for black Britain because since the flood of east Europeans into Britain, blacks find it more difficult to get jobs as race issue became critical in being hired. So Prof, where is the disaster?

  • Akachukwu Ojimgba

    It is well that the world is actually turning around. People are having the opportunity to make self determination. Nigeria will not be different. If anything, President Buhari needs to heed the call for restructuring Nigerian political and economic system. Tagging advocates of self-determination as “militants” may not suffice for too long. When the British empire collapse, as it must, there will be no imperialist to mandate the skewed unitary system that robs the Peters of Niger Delta to the benefit of Pauls’ of the Islamic North. When the west embraced globalization, it was in the hope that they will reap the fruits of marginalization of the lesser developed nations. They probably did not factor that people will migrate in the numbers they did, which eventually upset the living standards of the working and uneducated class.
    The latter’s reactions, brought BREXIT. A wise leader will see the horizon and do the needful. The only difference is that Europeans are smart enough to actualize sovereignty without arms conflict, but Africans may not be so gifted. Time will tell.