Monday, 13 June 2016

Dissecting The Recurring Agitation For Balkanization of Nigeria (1)

Introduction: It is globally established that the primary responsibility of a sovereign state encompasses the protection, security or safety of lives and properties and creation of the right atmosphere where economic, social activities thrive. Decline or complete absence of such prerequisites by acts of commission or omission implies the sovereign state is inching towards a failed state. For clarity, a ‘’failed or failing state’’, refers to ‘’a political entity or nation in which the government is inept at living up to the basic tasks of a sovereign State, is on the verge of losing or has already lost political authority, control’’. Some of the unmistakable characteristics of a failing/failed sovereign state include very weak institutions, culture of impunity, gross human right abuses, absence of rule of law, unprecedented and entrenched corruption, incessant strife and instability, geometrical depreciation in security, safety of lives and properties, liberty and the standard of living.

In one of his recent pieces of writing published sometime in February 2016 titled: ‘’Nigeria Is Coming Apart at the Seams’’, Historian and Writer, Mr. Max Siollun inter alia postulates that, ‘’at best, a revitalized Biafran secessionist movement will lead to mass bloodshed. At worst, it will trigger the country's unraveling’’. It appears history have a way of repeating itself. On the downside, events relapse when an evil day is postponed or when the symptom of a disease is hastily treated as against fixing the causative agent(s). The first attempt by Biafra (Eastern region of Nigeria) to secede from Nigeria resulted in the Nigerian civil war which lasted 1967-170. Millions of lives were lost and the mission failed. Fifty six years later, the Biafran project refuses to fizzle out. Fast-forward to 2016, an air of uncertainty, frenzy beclouds Nigeria given the resurgence for secession by the ilks of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Biafra Zionist Movement (BZM). Fifty years after Mr. Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro formed the secessionist Ijaw Volunteer Force and proclaimed the Niger Delta Republic during the Kaiama Declaration of February 23, 1966, battling Federal forces for twelve days before he was reined in by the Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi’s regime, another dire militia – the Niger Delta Avengers is threading the same path. Quickly bring to mind that the Niger Delta Republic secession bid (1966) preceded the Biafran attempt led by Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu in 1967. Apart from the Niger Delta and Biafra, it is on record that Northern Nigeria pioneered this secessionist hue and cry in the 1950/60s while Pan-Yoruba group - Afenifere also ostentatiously bandied a secession grumble a while ago. 

Recall that in addition to his perceived integrity and anticorruption demeanor, one other factor that favored President Buhari’s ascendance to power during the 2015 presidential election was the impression that his military background puts in him in good standing to fix the multidimensional security challenges bedeviling Nigeria. However, save the largely localized, pushed-back but resilient Boko haram insurgency, other national security threats in Nigeria such as resurgence of secessionist agitation and militancy, sporadic herdsmen attacks, armed banditry, kidnapping for ransom and extortion (KRE), amongst others, are proliferating.

The international community is watching the renewed secession agitation with keen interest. A recent article on Canada’s Financial Post says: ‘’Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with 180 million people, and its largest economy with a US$1.1 trillion GDP, is imploding’’. According to the Financial Post article, ‘’Nigeria’s cure will start when the historical boundary cavalierly drawn on a map by Britain’s colonial masters dissolves’’.  

In a prelude to this essay titled:  Niger Delta Avengers And The Relapse To Militancy in Nigeria’s Niger Delta; Connecting The Dots, this writer considerably analyzed the regress to militancy in the Niger Delta as evidenced by the rampaging attacks, bombing of crude oil and gas facilities by the Niger Delta Avengers. Current essay looks at the broader picture. Starting with some hard questions and progressing to the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) angle. This essay will also chronicle and dissect the potpourri militias that have joined the bandwagon. Some of the remote and immediate fault lines that fan the embers of instability, secession and implications will also be discussed and solutions proffered. 

The Root of Secessionist Clamour: Is Nigeria Really ‘One Nigeria’?

It is common to hear some fanatical, hegemonic oligarchs who are currently on top of the food chain or have benefitted and continue to harvest bountifully from the status quo, ceaselessly proclaim this ‘One Nigeria’ mantra. Decades after playing the Ostrich, rekindled quest for Biafra and rising militancy in the Niger Delta is forcing a debate on restructuring in Nigeria. President Buhari was recently quoted as saying, ‘’it would be better for the entire country to commit mass suicide than to allow the breakup of Nigeria’’. Is Mr. President the only one that is not cognizant of the level of detachment, discontent and fragmentation in the country he leads? Moving on…

Answers to the following question, some of which are paraphrased from my ‘’Much Ado About ‘One Nigeria’’ essay will either attest to or refute the often bandied ‘One Nigeria’ construct. Can we say all Nigerian citizens feel as Nigerian as other Nigerians from other parts of the country? For those who feel more Nigerian than others, what could be responsible; because they have a good deal from the current arrangement? If the dynamics are reversed and our uniting force - crude oil resources were to be predominant in the North, are we going to have ‘’One Nigeria” or practice the skewed federal system of government that we currently have? Apart from sports (football) and perhaps on the negative, permeating corruption that cuts across tribes and religion, what else unites us? Despite the stark cultural, religious differences, why is it been rammed down our throat that the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable? One of the valid grounds for divorce in a marriage is ‘irreconcilable difference’. If a woman is tired in a marriage, why force her to remain in the marriage? Some of our so-called Statesmen are divorcees; they amicably parted ways with their estranged wives so why do they see it as sacrilege, treason when folks ask for the terms and conditions of Nigeria’s existence to be re-negotiated? Sometimes our leaders cast the impression that Nigeria is tantamount to their automatic teller machines (ATM), a prized asset they must protect at all cost? Are we really ‘’One Nigeria or we are double-dealing ourselves?’’ Why are many Nigerian citizens, youths and folks from some part of the country not as passionate about Nigeria as some others? Born decades ago in the north to parents of Igbo extraction, can this writer realistically aspire to be the governor of the northern state where he was born? My children are born in Lagos, can they claim to be Lagosians or will they rather be as Lagosian as a typical Osun state (Yoruba) indigene that is also born in Lagos? Of course you can reverse the scenarios by substituting the various ethnic groups into the equation. So much for ‘One Nigeria’ and supremacy of the Nigerian Constitution, as recently as May 2016, an Igbo woman – Mrs. Bridget Patience Agbaheme, a Christian was beheaded by an angry mob in Kano over alleged blasphemy, in broad day light. Prior to this, another Igbo man, a Christian, Mr. Gideon Akaluka, was also beheaded in Kano over alleged blasphemy sometime in December 1995.

Ever come across the fierce tantrums, ethnic jingoism, unfeigned and mutual hatred conveyed online amongst Nigerians courtesy of internet and social media anonymity? Say a Nigerian is appointed to a position, commits a crime here in Nigeria or abroad and it goes viral online, the first thing trolls a.k.a Name Checkers Association of Nigeria (NCAN) does, is to establish the ethnicity of the Nigerian. Before you say jack, chauvinism and jibes ensue. If such dispositions reflect how we see or feel about one another, then the veracity of the much touted ‘’One Nigeria’’ mantra is highly suspicious. When Dr. Goodluck Jonathan held sway as President, not many folks from the North openly condemned or castigated the Boko Haram insurgency. Someone allegedly reasoned that an attack on Boko Haram is an attack on the North. Similar scenario is playing out in the South-South and the South-East where a good number of folks are taciturn; they either covertly or overtly relish the bombardment of crude oil and gas installations by the Niger Delta Avengers or clamour for secession by the Niger Delta Avengers, the IPOB, MASSOB, amongst others. On the other hand, many Northerners are undaunted, vociferous in affirming in Hausa language -‘na mu ne’, (their own), President Buhari. Does this portend a united country? Without mincing words, we all know that Nigeria is not yet a nation but one country peopled by many nations. We can still have a ‘united’ country called Nigeria if we amicably work out the terms and conditions of our existence other than a skewed federal system of government that foists unprecedented power in the hands of one man ensconced at Abuja. The tribal, religious permutation, political brinkmanship, underground maneuvers that predate the election of the President of Nigeria and the griping cries of marginalization, quest for resource control which ensues thereafter, are largely responsible for the recurring instability in Nigeria. The tension was so high that Nigeria almost came to a halt preparatory to the 2015 general election. Undoubtedly, it would have been bloody if President Buhari was ripped off or outplayed.

Going back to memory lane, the South-Westerners, Yorubas felt cheated when General Babangida annulled the June 12 presidential election tenably won by Chief MKO Abiola. Pro-democracy groups such as NADECO (National Democratic Coalition), MAD (Movement for the Advancement of Democracy) led by one Mallam Jerry Yusuff, Campaign for Democracy (CD), amongst others, started agitating. Demonstrations, riots, bombings ensued in the Lagos or South-West axis. There was an exodus of non-Yoruba speaking folks – Igbos etc. who started moving back to their states of origin. At the peak of the turmoil, on October 25, 1993, four young members of the Movement for the Advancement of Democracy (MAD) namely Richard Ajibola Ogunderu, Kabir Adenuga, Bennet Oluwadaisi, and Kenny Rasaq-Lawal hijacked a Lagos-Abuja bound Nigeria Airways plane which was later diverted to Niger Republic. While the splurge of violence lasted in the South-West, other parts of the country simply moved on since Chief MKO Abiola, a Yoruba man was not one of theirs. The abovementioned scenarios were highlighted the apparent fault lines and to buttress the fact that parts of Nigeria  have felt screwed, marginalized at one point or the other and have gone to extremes to show discontent. With Obasanjo’s presidency, Ernest Shonekan interregnum and the vice presidency of Yemi Osinbanjo, the South-West seem sufficiently appeased and sees no need to rock the boat.

The Renewed Clamour For Biafran Independence

One hundred years after the southern and northern protectorates of the present day Nigeria were forcefully amalgamated by the British in furtherance of their self-interest, 56 years after Nigeria gained independence from Britain, and 46 years after the Nigeria-Biafra Civil war, the centrifugal forces at play in Nigeria continue to outweigh the centripetal forces. Salient issues that led to the first military coup, the counter coup and subsequently the 1967-1970 Civil war in Nigeria remain up in the air. In one of his essays, this writer argued that the quest for self-determination or independence is a global phenomenon. From Scotland to Quebec, to Catalonia, to Western Sahara, the story is the same. Writer also argues inter alia, that bravado will not suffocate agitation for Biafra or secession by other ethnic groups and that superior argument and reason is important in resolving the thorny issue of secession.

Just a while ago, Mr. Ralph Uwazuruike’s led Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) was the lone voice in the wilderness angling for the balkanization and carving out the republic of Biafra from the present day Nigeria. Other secessionist groups such Nnamdi Kanu led Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Biafra Zionist Movement (BZM) are bent on realizing the Republic of Biafra, an unfinished business which late Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu unsuccessfully tried to accomplish during the 1967-1970 civil war.

In his essay: Nigeria is coming apart at the seams, Mr. Max Siollun queries, ‘’Why is the southeast once again considering secession when the region’s last attempt resulted in such horrendous suffering?’’ He provides an answer, saying, ‘’For three decades after the [Nigerian civil] war, military dictatorships suppressed all secessionist talk, leaving Igbos to wonder silently about what might have been. But after the country transitioned to democracy in 1999, latent separatist inclinations began to resurface once again. The resurgence of the Biafran secessionist movement is symptomatic of a much deeper problem with the Nigerian state. The federal government’s chokehold on states and ethnic groups is fueling multiple demands for autonomy and the right to manage resources at a local level — demands that could ultimately lead to a fracturing of the country. A deep disillusionment with the Nigerian government also lies at the heart of the Biafran dream of independence. Igbos have long felt marginalized and excluded from economic and political power by the Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba ethnic groups, which have dominated national politics and the bureaucracy since 1970. Many Igbos believe that the federal government (and their fellow Nigerians) have never forgiven them for seceding in 1967, and have discriminated against them ever since. Younger Igbos born after the civil war tend to be more militant about Biafra in 2016 than their parents and grandparents, whose memories bear scars from the previous attempt at secession.

The Niger Delta Avengers secession angle and proliferation of militancy in the Niger Delta will be discussed in the sequel to this essay.

Click on this link read the concluding part of this essay

Written by:

© Don Okereke
(Security Junkie/Analyst/Consultant, Ex-serviceman, Writer)
Follow me on Twitter: @DonOkereke

June, 2016

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