GUEST COLUMNIST: Jon West
The sudden reality of the departure of the United Kingdom from its alliance with the European Union holds great ramifications for the future of Europe and the rest of the global village that is the 21st century world. However the radical evolution of this impending split, it holds special relevance for Nigeria and other countries with great diversity, as to the solution to divisions and angst that always dog plurality in these challenged sociologies.
An earlier referendum for Scottish Independence produced a result couched in realism and level-headedness. However, as political opportunists in the British Conservative and the United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP) smelt blood and the opportunism provided by economic recession, wage inequality and the fear of uncontrolled immigration reminiscent of the “Rivers of Blood” prophesy of Collin Powell, the racist Conservative MP of a previous era, they moved in to reap from the angst of a befuddled and mostly politically and intellectually challenged voting public , to entice the United Kingdom out of the comfort and certainty of the European Union.
Almost immediately after the outcome and of the Brexit referendum became apparent, the ramifications of this decision dawned on the British people and sanity immediately returned to the masses , now realising that they were fed lies and innuendo by the sleek politicians that always want to reap from the disenchantment of the people with their reality.
What lessons does Brexit hold for Nigeria, currently under unrelenting assault from centrifugal forces, threatening to tear its national fabric apart, and the opportunism of the politicians who, as in the case of Brexit, latched on to the angst of an economically disenchanted populace to effect regime change , with the promise of an El Dorado that fizzled out almost immediately , like the terrible hangover that is currently afflicting the Brexit supporters in the UK. Today in Nigeria, like in the UK after the Brexit vote, there are calls for the reversal of the reality of the change that was promised by the same opportunistic political tendencies that promised a lot but pleads not to be compelled to deliver on any promise.
A major lesson from Brexit, the Scottish Independence Referendum, and previous Independence referendums in the politically restive French-speaking Quebec province of Canada, is that level headed politics, economic and social realism and the bitter truth will always trump political opportunism and nationalistic grandstanding, by later day “patriots”. The major lesson is that the people will react positively to reasoned discourse without the embellishment of opportunism and fake patriotism as exhibited by Boris Johnson and Nigel Farrage, both demagogues, intent on profiting from the angst of the voting public, challenged by economics and racism, not to see through the demagoguery of these “patriots”.
In Nigeria, a certain political party managed to take the country out of a different union, the Union of inclusiveness,real democracy and participation in the 21st century knowledge economy. Like in the UK, the voting public bought their lies and innuendo, and are now mostly regretting their choice as the hollowness of the promises that effected regime change become apparent.
This then brings us to the subject of Biafrexit, the notional referendum for the dissolution of the Nigerian Union, a more fragile and economically unsustainable Union than the European Union, the United Kingdom or Canada. The constant refrain of the “closed question” of Nigerian unity, a stark incongruity in the face of the Nigerian reality, has been put paid to by the Scottish and Quebec Independence referendums, which showed that in a racially and ethnically diverse society, fairness, equity and socio-economic justice will always triumph over the forces of centrifugalism, disunity and political parochialism. In Nigeria, there has always been a constant decision to ram the concept of national unity down the throats of everyone, especially those that express a desire to better their political and economic circumstances in this convoluted Union. How can unity be achieved in a climate of social, economic and political injustice; a situation where merit and hard work count for nothing, and form takes precedence over substance, and there is an inverse relationship between effort and reward?
What then is the way forward for Nigeria in the light of the foregoing negativity and the current clamour for Biafrexit by certain sections of the Nigerian society. Biafrexit is a mindset, not necessarily restricted to the former Eastern region of Nigeria that made a bid for Independence in the late 1960s. It is now defined by a spirit by many Nigerians for Independence or an exit from the suffocating mediocrity that shrouds the current reality of Nigeria, now virtually a failed state.
How Nigeria handles the challenge of Biafrexit, will define the future of this incongruous Union of competing cultures, religions, economies and sociologies. While there is a genuine fear that a referendum on the future of the Nigerian State will open a Pandoras box of secessionist tendencies, there is however the reality that in all of the national conferences organised to chart the future of Nigeria, from Aburi to Abacha’s , Obasanjo’s and finally Goodluck Jonathan’s National conference, there was never a call for the disintegration of the Nigerian state through the Independence of its component units. The worst case was the Swiss-style Canton system of confederation advocated and agreed to by all parties at Aburi, before the forces of revisionism truncated it and plunged the country into a devastating fratricidal conflict, the worst in African history.
The challenge of Biafrexit, is that its champions do not really want out of Nigeria, but want Nigeria to be a “mythical” nation of Biafra, where in 36 grueling months of suffering, sacrifice an sheer ingenuity, a technologically and politically Independent African state ware forged from the devastation of war, the first and only such state in all of African history. The import of the concept of Biafra or the “Biafra of the Mind” as espoused by the late Ikemba is brought to stark focus by the fact that 50 years ago, Nigerians manufactured missiles, rocket fuel, Armoured fighting vehicles, mines and Improvised Explosive devices that sustained a war effort.
Fast forward to Nigeria five decades later, and under the onslaught of ragtag terrorists in the Northeast, Nigerian officials go cap in hand begging weapons manufacturers in Africa, Asia and Europe for the most basic of weapons to counter the insurgency. A real shame for the self-deluded Giant of Africa and the continents largest economy. However, a very interesting and defining product of this disaster was that when Nigeria was reduced to this untenable position of weapons beggarliness, there was a bright spark intervention by a “Biafran” idealist , in the form of Innoson Motors Manufacturing, that reverse-engineered vital spare parts for the aging Alfa jets , the workhorse of the Nigerian Airforce, therefore ensuring that the insurgents are devastated from the skies.
The challenge of Biafrexit is that Nigeria, like Canada and the United Kingdom after the Scottish referendum, can emerge from the ashes of centrifugal politics, religious Fundamentalism and a backward mediocrity to build a modern society , much like its former peers in Asia, who efficiently managed diversity, history , religion and race to forge sustainable democratic systems that have defied the expectations of naysayers and skeptics.
•Jon West, Gbaramatu Kingdom, Delta State