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Dismembering Nigeria? A call for caution

By Hope Eghagha
19 June 2017   |   4:03 am
Fortunately, the Senate has stepped into the matter. It has called for the 2014 National Confab report which detailed the process of whittling down the power of the centre and the gradual move towards a more acceptable political structure.

Members of the Indigenous People of Biafra during a protest. PHOTO: AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI

The ease with which some elements have called for dismembering Nigeria is frightening. Some of the break-up characters have made reckless statements about how to achieve separation, going for broke no matter the consequences. Most of these statements are made from deep-rooted anger and disenchantment with the existing status quo. There is a group which has said that the north is a ‘parasite on the Nigerian system’ which ‘has so many states and local governments without making commensurate contributions to the national purse.

Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereignty of Biafra (MASSOB) have called for the Republic of Biafra to be created, and have established their presence in the hearts of many Igbo youths. In reaction, some 16 youth organisations in the north have called for the Igbo to leave the north October 1st. A Niger Delta group has called for oil blocks in the hands of northerners to be returned to the region immediately and that each zone should control their natural resources.

Also, while Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El Rufai has fittingly denounced the youth organisations which made the treasonable expulsion threat, Professor Ango Abdullahi, an elder by all considerations, joined forces with the leadership of the Arewa Youths organisations to reinforce the grave national security threat. The apex organisation of the Igbo people Ohaneze Ndigbo has distanced itself from secession. Igbo community leaders in the north have paid a visit to Professor Abdullahi to sue for peace, and ask for guarantees of safety for Igbo people resident in the northern part of the country by October 1st. The very last to issue a meaningful statement has been the Presidency. It has threatened to deal decisively with the youths who issued the expulsion order and the Acting President has held meetings with important stakeholders from different zones.

Too many people are angry; too many people have lost proper reasoning, their sense of moderation. The situation is made worse by the physical absence of the elected President. The threats and counter threats show how weakened, how undermined the authority of Federal Government has become. Perhaps this is what the constituent parts of the federation really want – a weak centre and powerful regions. What we should realise is that the best decisions are never made in anger!

Let us state some fundamentals. The people within a federation have the right to self-determination. When any group or state finds that its freedoms can no longer be guaranteed in an existing political arrangement they are free to say so. The process of expressing this can then start. Often, disengagement is never sweet, never friendly. It is usually fought for and leads to acrimony. After the fight, they then return to the negotiating table. India and Pakistan have remained enemies decades after a managed separation.

The modern state, particularly in Africa, is continuously under interrogation. Too many disparate peoples were lumped together for the convenience of the colonial powers. Often there is rivalry between or among groups. So, unity is never, should never be taken for granted. Equity is crucial. There is too much acrimony right now that the political equation in the country is skewed in favour of a zone. Injustice, just like oppression, breeds anger. Acts of justice and fair play are designed to ensure the survival of the nation. No part of the federation is inferior.

It is against this background that we can say that the Biafra threat, the Niger Delta Avengers call, the expulsion ultimatum, and the almost cacophonous call for restructuring the country express a deep dissatisfaction with the terms of the federation. The time to act is now. Political discussions and exchange of views are necessary. War should be ruled out completely. Communication lines between leaders of the different ethnic groups should be open and properly utilised. Let the rabble rousers do their thing in public. Sober discussions should be held. Let the elders in the entire regions stand up to be counted. It is gladdening that former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has joined the call for restructuring the nation’s political system.

Everybody should exercise caution. Nigeria is better off as a united country on agreed terms than a split one. The advantages of being together and exploiting the economies of scale should attract the statesmen among us. Too many things bind us together than separate us currently. Let us exploit them. Those who are calling for a split should realise that life will not be the same for decades. Too many things will be unsettled. There is absolutely no guarantee that the nation will break into two or three or four. And that should be the real worry. Once it starts, we cannot stop it. There are some local government areas that are currently divided along ethnic lines and would also want to go their own way. This is why the elders in the land and those who can see miles ahead should take a position and guide the passion of the young hot-blooded people who seem to champion the dismemberment of Nigeria.

Fortunately, the Senate has stepped into the matter. It has called for the 2014 National Confab report which detailed the process of whittling down the power of the centre and the gradual move towards a more acceptable political structure. This is the right step. Let the different regions develop their strengths and carve a path for itself. We do hope the Senate, loaded with men and women who have held political office for many years, would have the political foresight, will and strength to see the process through. Although there is a limit to how much an Acting President can do under the circumstance, Osinbajo has taken the right steps to protect the unity of Nigeria through dialogue and stern warning. One war, the one of 1967 to 1970, is enough in the life of the nation.

Finally, in my view, dismemberment should NOT be an option. The statesmen at the Federal level and across the country have a duty to invoke the necessary instruments and carry along respected political and cultural leaders in the land to institute a process that would guarantee stability and unity. Let us stress justice, fair play, and transparency in all that we do. There should a halt to inflammatory statements, particularly from the elite class. They would be the first to hop into a plane and look on from afar if there is a conflagration. The call for restructuring the nation along healthy political and economic lines should be heeded. As a big, highly-populated country with properly harnessed natural and human resources, we would be better off than fragmented ethnic groups pretending to be nation states!