By: Charles Ibekwe
Anyone that wishes Nigeria well as a nation will not for one minute entertain support for groups or activities that contemplate the fracturing of the nation. Breaking up the nation would in the case be most outrageous.
As of the time of writing this piece, groups like the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) Biafra Independence Movement (BIM) are the leading ones among groups that are agitating for not just a break up of the country but a rancorous division that is bent on making enemies out of neigbours and brothers. Further south of the south-east Nigeria, where these agitations are launched from are militant groups, which while making similar demands are actually using such activities as bargaining chips for rent seeking.
In the past, a group like the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) pursued a not too similar agenda as an ethnic militia. A President of Yoruba extraction in the person of Olusegun Obasanjo decisively taught those making such ill informed demands that the unity of Nigeria is superior to ethnic interest any day. It is interesting that the loud demand for a break up coming from the south-east today was largely mute when Goodluck Jonathan, a south-southerner was in the saddle as president. This underscores the warped ideology driving this insistence of balkanizing a promising country.
Curiously, all the bases that the separatists are citing for demanding a destruction of the country are laughable when viewed against the background of available facts. For instance, the claim of marginalization eventually become hollow when reviewed statistically – persons of Igbo ethnicity are then seen to be heading major federal government agencies or commissions just as they have the statutory number of ministerial appointments and seats in parliament as prescribed by the constitution. This is not forgetting that there is no state in the south-east whose governor hails from another state – if the Igbo people fail to demand good governance from their own sons who are governors why would they make the resulting parlous infrastructural situation in their homeland appear like the result of the wickedness of the other ethnic groups?
As far as federal presence goes, the Igbo people that have ever been in power at the centre and those that currently in office should be able to explain what they did wrong to not attract projects to their homeland when other officials always place their own town and villages in the scheme of things. There have been stories about how people waive the rights of their geo-political zones to have projects for personal gains but that is a topic for another day.
When it comes to true fiscal federalism, there is no evidence that any state has been actively denied by either the other states or the federal government from pursuing economic policies that would serve the interests of its people. Same has not been heard of any geo-political zone. The separatist groups can therefore not blame others for the failures of the ruling Igbo elites to chart the course that would have confirmed them as the manufacturing or commerce hub of Nigeria.
The perverse argument of presenting the 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria as artificial and forced is laughable of course. It has been a century and even some of our indigenous communities are products of human intervention that endured the course of time to give us the stable entities that run smoothly today.
On the practicality of their demands, which includes being allowed to secede from Nigeria, holding a plebiscite to formalize their breakaway, or ordering a referendum to decide the future unity of Nigeria’s unity are all inelastic concept that are not likely to ever shift under the current arrangement. One, no government would willingly parcel out a country entrusted to it to run, if it were possible then this demand should have been pushed during the Jonathan presidency since he showed such unrivalled ethnic accommodation for the south-east but because these same persons screaming blue murder today were feeding fat from the government at that time or because they are intelligent enough to know such idea is dead on arrival, they never bothered Jonathan with such failed demand.
Secondly, nothing in our current laws have provisions for plebiscite or referendum. This consequently takes them off the table for now on the list of options available to those who feel they are suffocating in the current union. The path open to them in this regard is to build the necessary consensus that would make it possible to first amend the constitution to include secession from the country using plebiscite or referendum.
Where these are included in the constitution, pro-separatist agitators would still have to contend with the mess they have made of their demands. They have largely been confrontational, abusive of other ethnicities, engaged in propaganda that is damaging to the entire country and have been largely inconsiderate of others. Even where they are able to make remediation in these areas, there is no guarantee that they would win a breakaway vote as demonstrated by the Scottish independence vote in the United Kingdom – oftentimes, the agitation for a breakup appear popular only because a vocal minority is using propaganda to drive the agenda, the real vote in a referendum would show that the larger population of those concerned are happy with the existing union.
If we ever get to the point where a referendum becomes possible, IPOB, MASSOB, BIM and any other separatist group pushing for this option must be committed to accepting any outcome that prove them to be a vocal minority. But knowing that such a time is nowhere near, we must all acknowledge at this point that Biafra, IPOB, MASSOB, OPC, Niger Delta militancy and the other divisive agenda are the least form of patriotism and that building a great nation requires every hand to be on deck.
The giant of Africa only exists when we are united as one family, one nation and one people. The Igbos or the Hausa or the Yoruba cannot earn the position of the best in isolation from other ethnicities as what makes us great is that united, one, indivisible Nigeria. The challenges we face today, we face collectively as a people, as a nation and not as ethnic partitions.
The promoters of MASSOB, IPOB and any other outfit that are provoking a break up of Nigeria therefore owe the rest of the population unreserved apologies for the needless distractions they have constituted themselves into. They should further be remorseful that they have abused God and humanity in their imagination that they can divide the people united by God Almighty.
Ibekwe writes from Enugu, Enugu State.