The Secessionism in all of Us – By Sunday Onyemaechi
Nations take pride in its unity and strongly oppose any forces threatening its peaceful coexistence. Evidently, the peaceful coexistence of Nigeria is under menacing threat from major centrifugal forces like the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The IPOB is one stubborn gadfly on the scrotum of the Nigerian state. Expectedly, the nation sees the group as an affront to its sovereignty and a reincarnation of the vanquished Biafran spirit which must be ruthlessly dealt with. In that stead, security apparatuses have been ordered to crush IPOB and any semblance insurrection rearing its ugly head anywhere in Nigeria. The reoccurring aftermath of dealing with the insurrection by the security forces is exemplified in the loss of lives and property; but those agitating are not daunted. They seem to have been greatly energised and capitalise on the action of government to demonise the Nigerian state. Government has remained resolute in maintaining its stand on the indivisibility of Nigeria. Life is a journey so also nationhood and nation-building. Nigeria’s long journey to nationhood to a great extent is in itself bumpy with its attendant twists and turns. Considering varying perception and positions held on national issues by her foremost nationalists at the diaper stage of nationhood, it was clear that something was fundamentally wrong with Nigeria.
The tolerance level among various ethnic groups is increasingly becoming overstretched with agitations arising from all nooks and crannies of Nigeria. Each group tends to guard those elements beneficial to it while striving to discredit the other on account of its demands. Proofs of dissatisfaction among ethnic nationalities were glaring in the first and second republics. However, the nation marched on with unsustainable compromises which have left us in a cul-de sac of some sort. Today, the nation is experiencing a hangover and reaping the bitter fruit of that flawed era. In fact, before and after independence, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Tafawa Balewa, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello viewed the nation from different ethnic and myopic prisms. Awolowo once described Nigeria as a mere geographical contraption. “Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no ‘Nigerians’ in the same sense as there are ‘English,’ ‘Welsh,’ or ‘French,’ The word ‘Nigeria’ is a mere distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria and those who do not.” In the words of Tafawa Balewa, “Since 1914 the British Government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any signs of willingness to unite … Nigerian unity is only a British invention” For Azikiwe, “It is better for us and many admirers abroad that we should disintegrate in peace and not in pieces. Should the politicians fail to heed the warning, then I will venture the prediction that the experience of the Democratic Republic of Congo will be a child’s play if it ever comes to our turn to play such a tragic role” Ahmadu Bello also added his thought: “the new nation called Nigeria should be an estate of our great grandfather Othman Dan Fodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power. We use the minorities in the north as willing tools and the south as a conquered territory and never allow them to rule over us and never allow them to have control over their own future.” – The Parrot Newspaper, October 12, 1960.
The above perspectives of the foremost nationalists on or before the dawn of independence were visible but politically neglected cracks turned into a huge gulf today. These frontline opinions have continued to shape and sharpen the political determination, thinking, positions and understanding of all the regions. As a mere geographical contraption, Nigeria has failed to rise above the infancy of nationhood. Since independence, the north has ruled the nation more than any other region. Unfortunately, no other region has either been able to muster the courage to break the jinx or conquer this myth. Consequently, there is this general apprehension also among other regions that they can no longer assume the position of conquered territories or second class citizens in their own country. The minorities in the north have become grown up adults still strapped at the back of their core northern grand-mother with their legs dangling on the ground while the south has indeed become a subjugated territory always playing second political fiddle, which will never rule or be allowed to have control over their own future. A house built more than fifty years ago called Nigeria deserves many times of repainting, realignment, or outright reconstruction. In all honesty, IPOB is not the only secessionist movement in Nigeria. There is a high level of secessionism in all of us and we must deal with it urgently. And it is obvious that we are all fed up and only tolerate a system riddled with complaints of marginalisation from every quarters. We have a choice as a nation to boldly confront the issue or play ostrich.
Where did we get it all wrong as a nation? First, the over-centralisation of power at the centre which determines who gets what, when and how. This is a fraught form of federalism. Second, there is evident lack of and equitable distribution and allocation of state resources. Those who felt shortchanged increasingly scramble for more, while those who have more are threatened by the action of the former. It is a vicious cycle of the survival of the fittest. Third, over reliance on monolithic oil economy. Preceding governments did not do much to diversify the economy. When the price increases, the proceeds neither created the desired result nor match the current development in Nigeria. Today, the nation is in dilemma as crude price hits its lowest. Fourth, broken linkages of trust among ethnic groups. Ours is a nation where ethnic colouration is weaved around virtually everything leading to ceaseless suspicion and acrimony. What is the way forward? First, the office of the president should be rotational and equally entrenched in the constitution just as federal character and others. Some may argue that it promotes mediocrity and stands against the tenets of democracy but it promotes equity, fairness to all and ideal for our home grown democracy. Second, we must realise as a people that we have a daunting challenge and that we are willing to deal with it sincerely together. Third, major conference reports especially the 2014 Conference Report with far reaching recommendations abandoned on the book shelf of government should be dusted for immediate action. Fourth, government should commence immediate discussion with agitating groups. President Buhari’s recent speech and his uncompromising stand on the unity and indivisibility of Nigeria sounds like a fiat accompli. Dialogue is a key panacea to resolving the challenges posed to the unity and peaceful coexistence of Nigeria. This is not a mark of weakness but a fatherly role in cantankerous family.
The Secessionism in all of Us – By Sunday Onyemaechi