Dr. Chidi Amuta, Executive Editor of USAfrica magazine (Houston) and USAfricaonline.com since 1993
Nigeria’s numerous, current worries have driven its national conversation into a dark corner. The future of the nation has suddenly become the subject of debate and argument. A slightly confused and splintered national elite is running all over the place with sometimes conflicting notions of how not to keep our nation together. Nearly everyone you encounter has his own pocket book theory on what should happen to Nigeria now that its President Mr. Buhari seems to have run the ship aground.
What began as muted disagreement among political factions has filtered into market places, motor parks and beer parlors. Countless templates for the dismemberment of a nation are being bandied around mostly by politicians, mostly those left out of the gravy train of power and others without party affiliation. The terminologies are equally numerous: true federalism, re-structuring, secession, separatism, “to your tents O! Israel” etc. All these propositions are all jostling for pre-eminence in a national discourse largely bereft of light but full of loud noise.
Generally, on what should become of Nigeria hereafter, the noise seems to have crystallized around three poles. First, there are the secessionists who want to break away from Nigeria to form any number of successor sovereign states. The most staunch secessionists are first the advocates of a resurgent Republic of Biafra in the South East. They are operating under the aegis of a motley of organizations ranging from Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB, Ralph Uwazuruike’s MASSOB to other assemblies mushrooming around questionable individuals and motives. The Biafra trouble has lately become a free for all franchise for all those who see in the sorry condition of the Igbos and their neighbours enough reasons to highlight the serial bad behavior of the Nigerian state especially under Mr. Buhari. Biafra is a 50 plus years old resilient ghost that will not go away in a hurry. For as long as people of the South East feel the pangs of injustice, Biafra will return to haunt us all.
Then there are the newly energized devotees of an Oduduwa Republic in the South West. The possibility of an Oduduwa Republic as a response to Nigeria’s wobbly existence first became pronounced by the invading Biafran Liberation Army during the civil war. The invading Biafra driven Liberation Army had quickly overrun the then Mid West region on August 9, 1967, declaring it the Republic of Benin. Then under the command of a Biafran Army Yoruba officer, Col. Victor Banjo, the Biafrans made a quick dash towards Lagos, with the declared aim of liberating Oduduwa Republic from the hegemony of Yakubu Gowon’s Nigeria. That rapid advance was halted at Ore and Okitipupa respectively by a frightened Nigerian Army led mostly by hurriedly assembled Yoruba officers under Olusegun Obasanjo and others.
The rest is history but the idea of an Oduduwa Republic took root in the hearts and minds of the Yoruba people, some of whom were already rehearsing dances to welcome the Liberation Army in Ibadan and other places. The postponed dance is now being rehearsed once again under the present circumstances.
Similarly, sporadic agitations around a possible Niger Delta Republic are as old as the history of restiveness in the region. The Isaac Adaka Boro revolt of the 1960s and the more recent militant insurgency over resource control testify to a long history of Ijaw nationalism on behalf of the peoples of the Niger Delta.
Similarly, the Middle Belt experienced earlier twitches of self -determination as early as the eve of the 1966 military coup when the Tiv riots attracted the intervention of the military to quell what was then termed an ethnic revolt. Here again, recent clashes between armed herders and farmers have engulfed the entire mid section of the federation consisting mostly of Plateau, Benue and Nassarawa states.
Therefore, in the unlikely possibility that secession becomes a preferred option in resolving Nigeria’s current headache, the currents of secessionist pressure will sweep away four of Nigeria’s present six geo -political zones, leaving only the North East and North West as the residue of Nigeria. Those who want to understand the strategic posture of current drama of power should note that throughout the history of Nigeria, the core North, notably the current North East and North West, have never exerted secessionist pressure on the Nigerian state. They may have rhetorically hectored the rest of the country to respect their over lordship entitlements. In fact, at different times under the Buhari presidency, the Arewa collective has threatened to expel other Nigerians from the federation. At the onset of the Buhari presidency, they issued a ‘quit notice’ to Igbos living all over the core north.
Of all the secessionist pressures, however, only two are the most lethal and pose credible existential threats to the survival of the Nigerian nation. This informs the security posture of the federal government in the South East and South West respectively. A resurgent Biafra and Oduduwa Republics are real threats. If by a nightmare scenario, both secessions become real, there goes Nigeria. Nigeria can overcome any one of them in isolation but a combination of the two will be a formidable adversary. However, the two pressures in their present iteration happen to contain self defeating flaws. Both are led by mobocrats. Sunday Igboho and Ganiyu Adams on the one hand and Nnamdi Kanu on the other are mere random mob (activists) that have sprung up to lead separatist movements in parts of the country with the most sophisticated political cultures. Failure is inbuilt in both flanks. Thugs can disturb the peace; they do not found serious nation states.
Secession is therefore the most lethal and least tenable option either by force or referendum. It is precisely for that reason that it has to be prevented at all costs. There is hardly any strong argument in support of the secessionist option now. Excuses of marginalization and insufficient inclusiveness in the current Nigerian system are not sufficient reasons to initiate the costly project of founding successor states. The ills that plague Nigeria are typically problems of diversity management. Nigeria’s diversity is a total one. At every level, diversity management is the central challenge of governance in Nigeria. It is there in every state and every local government area. Within the defunct Biafra, there were issues with minorities. Even among the predominant Igbo nationality, there were already problems between the Anambra, Owerri, Ngwa and Umuahia Igbos. Within the Yoruba heartland of the proposed Oduduwa Republic, there are clear and long standing divergences between the Egbas and Ijebus, the Ondos and the Ibadans etc. Therefore, the quest for ethnic homogeneity cannot be a basis for the secessionist argument.
Among most enlightened Nigerians, there is now an undisputed consensus that something is fatally wrong with Nigeria’s federalism in its current state. The fear has been widely expressed that the nation could die incrementally unless we restructure it in very fundamental ways to make it work better for all Nigerians. This is the thinking behind the new theology of re-structuring. This theology cuts across the entire length and breadth of the federation across partisan, ethnic and religious divides. Though it predates the advent of Mr. Buhari, the restructuring argument has been fired up by the divisive politics of the Buhari presidency. Re-structuring is thus being advanced as a silver bullet to right the injustices of recent years and correct the long standing inequities of a dysfunctional federation.
It is important to recall that the clamour for the creation of states assumed nearly the same crescendo. Everybody wanted a state created in his locality. Every military coup maker wanted to create states to be remembered for and as a means of engineering legitimacy to stay in power forever. Some of the current advocates of restructuring were also in the forefront of the state creation bazaar. We ended up with 36 mostly unviable and unproductive entities that mostly exist to share monthly federal revenue handouts. The federal allocation has become the treasure box of an entitlement state.
The obvious third leg in the raging arguments about the future of Nigeria coincides with the incumbent government’s position. This is mostly a status quo position that insists that nothing is wrong with the structure and business of Nigeria. For as long as the gravy train of state pomp and ceremony proceeds uninterrupted, the existing order is fine. All those championing secession and restructuring are trouble makers. They had better queue behind the National Assembly and support changes under normal constitutional amendment processes.
However, for as long as the job approval and popularity rating of the Buhari government continues to slide, any suggestion that Nigeria continues with business as usual will sound more like a cruel joke.
All said, our unrelenting dissatisfaction with the state of our nation is a positive sign. Among the political elite, it is an admission of collective failure. Among the people, it is a clear signal that the performance of the state falls far short of the minimum expectation of the people. But let us face it, our political leaders are lazy, timid and lack the competence to confront the huge challenges of nation building. Worse still, they have proved incapable of running large entities. They seem to be uncomfortable with running units that are bigger than their villages, local governments and ethnic nationalities.
Our political leaders tend to prefer being folk heroes than statesmen. Thes are people whose basic recognitions are village based and who are more comfortable in local contexts where they stand out among the poor and unwashed, people mired in poverty that makes them ready hero worshippers. Our national political leaders are not ready for the hard work of running a nation of 200 million citizens. Instead, they crave minute enclaves inhabited by timid subjects, hence they would want the Nigerian reality cannibalized and shrunk to little measures.
In the ensuing arguments about the fate of our nation, therefore, Nigerians need to be reminded of the realities of the 21st century. First, it is too late in human history to begin to redraw the maps of nations or to hoist another cluster of flags at the forecourt of the UN building in New York. This is not the age for the birth of new nations. Nor is it time to make room for nations founded on the foundations of mutual hatred, anger and exclusion. The last set of nations that entered the arena through that route have not fared Look at the successor states of former Yugoslavia. Look at South Sudan. Nigeria cannot afford to go this route except it seeks to further miniaturize its options and diminish its chances for true greatness.
Secondly, the future belongs to large and serious nations and organisations. National elites that delight in small entities and small national projects have no place in the world of today or tomorrow. You are either a large nation with equally big dreams or a small nation with very huge dreams. The nations that will dominate the world of tomorrow are large and complex nations, not small and simple ethnic based nations. China, India, Russia, the United States and Brazil will lead the pack. Korea, Singapore and some new Arab states may trail. It is not just size that makes this club attractive. It is the strategic relevance, the market size, the potential for self-reliance knowing that when it comes to protection, isolation and nationalism you can fall back on your human resources and market to produce goods for your self and others.
More importantly, the pride and boisterousness of our citizens derives from certain inherent attributes that we have come to overlook. Ideas like the largest black nation in the world, the biggest black democracy in the world, one of the world’s ten largest democracies, the largest economy in Africa etc. add up to a certain enhanced self worth for our citizens. These are all attributes that ought to make us proud but should also challenge us and our leadership to work even harder. To cannibalize Nigeria now into smaller ethnic republics would be a grave disservice to our posterity. To have our citizens shrink from these lofty dimensions to carry some new inconsequential passports will impact badly on the psychology and self esteem of our people. Our younger generation are proud to be Naija with all the swag that goes with our sometimes over exaggerated self image.
Beyond the political noise of the current wave of separatism, I suspect that Nigeria’s habitual entrepreneurship culture is helping to drive and expand the new separatist wave. People are beginning to make money from the season of separatism.
I encountered the spirit of the age at an airport lounge the other day. I ran into a friend who is in the same line of public affairs and communications consulting business. He asked me what I had been up to. I offered excuses around Covid-19 and how the consulting business has nose- dived. He smiled rather cynically and proceeded to wake me up from my covid induced slumber. He popped open his crocodile skin designer brief case to show me his trove on the hot offerings of the season. He was working for different “political investors”: secessionists, re-structurists, confederalists, integrationists -all politicians- for very handsome fees. His brief case contained several nicely bound proposition documents. They all seemed like ‘templates’ for the dismemberment of the Nigerian nation.
He had different packages on offer, depending on what specific clients want and how much they are ready to pay. The more detailed ones, the ones for secessionist groups entailed more work. There were maps showing mineral deposits, agricultural lands, list of local government councils, revenue projection holograms and fancy administrative organograms. There were designs of coats of arms, proposed flags, proposed currency designs and other insignia of phantom sovereignty. Only the package on Biafra seemed old and familiar, needing little or no tweaking. It was followed by the one about Oduduwa Republic and then Republic of Ogoniland as originally conceived by MOSOP before they hanged my friend Ken Saro Wiwa.
It was my question time. How many groups are you serving? How feasible are these options? Into how many units could Nigeria possibly splinter? Will a splintered Nigeria be safer and better governed than the current nightmare? When the wars over access to the sea, control of oil and gas resources, immigration headaches, right of return and other nasty
consequences of broken national families break out, who will arbitrate between angry mobs of youth with uncontrolled use of weapons? I had more questions but we were interrupted by an announcement on the crackling public address system: ‘Air Peace Flight bla… bla… bla… to Abuja is now ready for boarding. All checked in passengers on this service are advised to proceed to the gate for boarding…!” As my friend packed his pile of documents and snapped his brief case to leave me at the lounge, he had a parting joke for me: “Don’t forget to give me a call in case you need a visa the next time you are coming to visit me in Owerri or going to Ibadan!”
While he left to catch his flight, I stayed and waited for mine, content and not the least worried about remaining a Nigerian citizen AB (After Buhari)!