Is Nigeria’s indivisibility sacrosanct?

(By Chiedu Uche Okoye)

Is Nigeria better off as one country? Lord Lugard didn’t consult our ethnic leaders before amalgamating the northern and southern protectorates of Nigeria. But, now, Nigeria is a sovereign state, and our political and ethnic leaders can negotiate the terms of our continued existence as one country at a round table. Is it entrenched in our constitution that Nigeria’s indivisibility is sacrosanct? The issue of our continued stay as one country was glossed over during the last national conference. It was as usual a no-go area. But, aren’t our leaders, as usual, burying their heads in the sand like the ostrich, yet again? I would like us to know that it is better to engage in dialogue than to resort to violence to resolve our national issues.

NIGERIA is an amalgam of disparate ethnic entities that are antagonistic to one another. It was Lord Frederick Lugard who welded the northern and southern protectorates together without the consent of Nigerians. Nigerians were not consulted before the amalgamation. But, is Nigeria not a union of incompatible partners? Given our ethnic and religious diversities, we adopted the federal system of government. But, are we practising true federalism? Has our federal system of government solved our problems of ethnic suspicion and, sometimes, hatred and religious crisis?

  Like Kenya and Sudan, Nigeria is bedeviled by mutual ethnic distrust and religious crisis. Ethnic hatred and religious crisis are features of our country’s chequered political history. They are the factors that have been undermining and weakening our national unity and cohesion. In the early 1950s, the northern people threatened to secede in their nine-point programme. In 1963, Isaac Adaka Boro declared the Niger-delta republic, which was short-lived. The Biafra-Nigeria secessionist civil war raged between 1967 and 1970. And, the June 12, 1993 presidential election imbroglio nearly caused the disintegration of Nigeria.

  Thankfully, now, we have been practising representative governance for 15 unbroken years. Our country is still polarised along ethnic and religious lines, however. These ethnic and religious fissures rear their ugly heads during national elections. In order to eradicate ethnic distrust and entrench unity in our country, we adopted federalism. It is believed that federalism would enable the minority cultural and tribal groups to develop at their own pace and in accordance with their cultural mores and verities. Again, our use of the federal character system and quota system is aimed at eliminating the feelings of alienations among our diverse peoples.

  And, in the interest of national unity and political stability, members of the ruling PDP agreed that the six geopolitical zones in the country should take turns to produce the President of the country. But, President Jonathan’s emergence as our president in 2010 was circumstantial and by default and fiat, owing to the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua while in power. So, the North feels that it has been short-changed.

  President Jonathan’s victory at the presidential polls in 2011, as it has been borne out, irks some sectional groups to no end. It is an open secret that the North is with the mindset that the leadership of this country is their birthright. So, perhaps, there is a nexus between the occupation of the highest elective post in Nigeria by a south-south person and the Boko Haram’s insurgency in the north especially given the pronouncement of their leading lights that should Jonathan win the election the North would make Nigeria ungovernable for him! Since Jonathan got to the saddle of leadership, the Boko Haram insurgency in the North has increased in momentum. The North is now depredated. Human beings are being slaughtered like fowls in the north. The butchers of the North do not discriminate between Moslems and Christians when they embark on their killing spree. It is believed that Boko Haram members carry out those terrorist acts in order to portray the Jonathan’s administration as lay-back and inept, and, then, stampede him out of power.

  But, the stark fact is that if a northern Moslem becomes our president in 2015, he cannot exterminate the Boko Haram group easily. The group is becoming more audacious, daily. It is believed that the group has links to other terrorist groups, especially the ISIS. The Boko Haram group, which has imbibed the ideologies of the ISIS, is imitating the egregious and despicable doings of the group. The Boko Haram group is fighting to control areas that straddle the north-east of Nigeria and some parts of Cameroun. Their flags are hoisted in Damboa and Gwoza towns as proofs of their conquest of these towns. Like the Islamic fighters, they want to create an Islamic caliphate in northern Nigeria.

  The battle between the Boko Haram and the Nigerian army is an asymmetrical war. So, it cannot be easily won. More so, there is evidence that moles have penetrated our security forces that are tasked with flushing out the Boko Haram group from their strong-holds. Our country’s inability to rout out the Boko Haram group in the north has negative implications for our country’s political stability. Not a few Nigerians are worried about the presence of the insurgents in the North as national elections will take place next year. Can INEC conduct elections in an area that is devastated and marked by blood-letting? It is probable that any person who goes to a polling centre in a Boko Haram controlled area will be attacked by the insurgents. Our security personnel have not succeeded in dislodging the Boko Haram members from areas in which elections will hold in 2015. Inconclusive elections and disenfranchisement can be grounds for calls for cancellation of a presidential election. This can be a recipe for political trouble, which can lead to an outbreak of conflict in Nigeria.

   But, is Nigeria better off as one country? Lord Lugard didn’t consult our ethnic leaders before amalgamating the northern and southern protectorates of Nigeria. But, now, Nigeria is a sovereign state, and our political and ethnic leaders can negotiate the terms of our continued existence as one country at a round table. Is it entrenched in our constitution that Nigeria’s indivisibility is sacrosanct? The issue of our continued stay as one country was glossed over during the last national conference. It was as usual a no-go area. But, aren’t our leaders, as usual, burying their heads in the sand like the ostrich, yet again? I would like us to know that it is better to engage in dialogue than to resort to violence to resolve our national issues.

  Self-determination is pursued by homogenous groups in diverse countries in our today’s world. The Kurds in Iraq want their own country. And, the Scottish people have had their referendum to determine their continued stay in the United Kingdom. The verdict is they are staying, but have turned the United Kingdom into a federation in effect. They are getting practically staying apart would have fetched them. The Catalans and Basque people in Spain are agitating for political sovereignty, too.

  But, do we want to travel the path of Sudan, which later split into Sudan and South Sudan? Or, should we employ the instrument of dialogue in tackling our national issues? Sadly, those who oversee the affairs of our country have closed their eyes to the sad realities existing in Nigeria owing to the fact that they’re corruptly benefitting from the present arrangement at our expense. A stitch in time saves nine.

• Okoye, civil servant and poet, wrote from Uruowulu-Obosi, Anambra State.

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