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Opinions of Saturday, 24 April 2021

Columnist: Emmanuel Oladesu

Is secession the answer?

Nigeria, a country in perpetual crisis and distress, is a bone of contention. Should it totter on in its seeming irredeemable fragility or the edifice erected on a false foundation by Lord Frederick Lugard should collapse, with the over 250 diverse tribes going their separate ways?

The most populous African sleeping giant is polarised by those who have lost hope and want the country to break-up, and those who are optimistic that with the right leadership, it can still realise it’s full potential.

Nigeria is beset with many challenges. Its economy is ebbing away. The youths are frustrated by their fruitless search for means of livelihood. Crime is the option insecurity is growing in leaps and bounds, calling to question the insistence on centralised policing. The quality of living is low. There is no end in sight to the lean period.

The boring social condition is compounded by the unresolved national question. National integration is a tall order. Public confidence in the central government is waning. Never has the country been so divided. The much expected unity in diversity has remained a dream.

Indisputably, some ethnic groups, rightly or wrongly, point accusing fingers at a major tribe. In their disillusionment, they have thrown up activists now canvassing disintegration, balkanisation and secession.

Is secession the solution? Can it be averted? How can Nigeria triumph over these self-inflicted problems?

During the week, the presidency ruled out the prospect of a new national conference. The panacea is boring to those operating in a comfort zone, unmindful of the brewing anger. But, what has compounded the problem is that there is no indication that the government is interested in the report of previous conferences. Delegates to these past confabs have always maintained that, if the reports are implemented, it will pave the way for a better and stronger federal Nigeria.

Government has directed agitators to approach the National Assembly with their grievances. The protesters are firing salvos at the government, saying that the parliament is a product of the fraudulent 1999 Constitution hurriedly imposed on the country by military rulers. Where is the meeting point?

It is possible that the court and the parliament can actually intervene in constitutional conflicts and resolve the crisis in the interest of federalism. The court option is laborious. But, Lagos, in the past tried it and achieved a partial breakthrough during the imbroglio on council creation.

Parliament can fill the void through amendment. Certain items can be brought to the front burner and representatives of ethnic groups, legislators and even the government can sponsor bills that will herald devolution. But, a piecemeal review of the constitution may not be satisfactory.

There is no pro-secession campaigner who wants Nigeria to separate. The call for disintegration underscores a sort of frustration. It is a provoked response to the failure of a system that cannot guarantee equity, fairness and justice. The motivation is the bad politics of distribution and the skewed institutional method of sharing political power and resources.

In the past, national policies and programmes that gave birth to the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and unity schools and the encouragement of inter-tribal marriages were geared towards ensuring integration, unity and cohesion. But, the crux of the matter is the centralisation of power by a power-loaded Presidency in a supposedly federal country where the component units are expected to  “coordinate” with the distant Federal Government.

Despite all the frightful agitations for break up, there is no consensus in any ethnic group about separation. Those calling for balkanisation are self-appointed restless activists who lack the mandate of the tribes or ethnic groups they claim to be defending. While some groups in Yorubaland are pushing for Oduduwa Republic, Afenifere, the umbrella socio-political group, has explained that secession is not its priority. Its main goal is the restoration of true federalism. Also, while Biafran agitators are unrelenting in the Southeast, Ohanaeze Ndigbo is mobilising the region for the challenge of power shift.

But, the tension that has engulfed the country may not fizzle out. The mutual suspicion of old has not disappeared. The born-to-rule mentality, the apprehension about power shift to other zones, fear of prolonged domination by one ethnic group, and complaints about perpetual marginalisation are sources of division, acrimony and distrust in a disunited Nigeria.

With a benefit of hindsight, nobody can rule out the possibility of break-up in the long run, especially if certain conditions make it absolutely inevitable. That is why Nigeria should learn from the plight and experience of Czechoslovakia, former Soviet Union and Sudan.

A united and truly federal Nigeria is a pride. It is capable of eliciting world respect, if the beleaguered country does not regress into an amalgam of unequal and acrimonious tribes struggling for either supremacy or relevance in an atmosphere of injustice. A united Nigeria, properly governed, and economically and technologically developed, will be a factor in the comity of nations.

A disintegrated Nigeria may not be in the interest of the tiny countries that may emerge. The beauty and pride of a large market will be lost.

Secession is also not a laughing matter. It was a bit seamless in the Soviet Union because it followed constitutional provisions. May the experience of ill-fated Biafra never repeat itself. The country has never fully recovered from the scourge of a 30-month war.

If Oduduwa Republic is actualised, it can be said that Yoruba will have a separate country. But, what will be the fate of Ijaw in Ese Odo area of Ondo State? They are not Yoruba. Will they relocate to Delta or Bayelsa State?

What will be the fate of the people of “Agbadarigi” in coastal Lagos? Would Badagry relocate to Dahomey or Benin Republic?

Will Yoruba leave its Kwara and Kogi kith and kin behind in Ilorin, Lokoja, Kabba-Ijumu and Oro?

What is the assurance that the same problem that drove Yoruba to establish Oduduwa Republic will not re-occur? Will identical language and general culture be enough to unite and stabilise the country?

When Col. Emeka Odimegwu-Ojukwu declared a Biafra Republic, non-Igbo speaking groups in the Southeast and Southsouth never fully supported the strange idea. If another Biafra is declared today, will Delta-Ibo, who have been told that they cannot bid for presidency, if it is zoned to the Southeast because they are in Southsouth, support the idea?

Does that mean that Igbo, majority of who are traders, will confine themselves to Biafra and not travel to other parts of Nigeria for trading activities? Is it necessary that Igbo will need a visa to travel from Onitsha to Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Kaduna.

The realistic view that a forced union does not have value cannot be discarded. It has a slim prospect of survival, stability and progress. At best, it is a figment of imagination. Membership of a country should be voluntary and not by compulsion.

If the unitary system gives way and power is decentralised, each zone will develop according to its pace and there will be healthy competition or rivalry. There will be peace and development.

A unitary state masquerading as a federation like Nigeria only produces a club of diverse, but insensitive political elite, whose comfort and happiness largely depend on their opportunistic and exclusive access to state resources. They may not bother about the generality of the people. But, can they survive the people’s revolt?

The solution is what the current operators are avoiding to the peril of the country. There is no alternative to federalism. It is the only option that can avert the calls for disintegration.

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