Vie Internationale with Bola A. Akinterinwa; Telephone : 0807-688-2846
On Wednesday, July 6, 2016, when the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo and the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mr. Muhammed Bello and some FCT residents went to pay Sallah homage to PMB in the Villa, President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB), for the umpteenth time, told all Nigerians, particularly the MASSOB (Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra), IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta and NDA (Niger Delta Avengers) militants and other proponents of divisibility of Nigeria that the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable. He recalled the
He recalled the Gowonian slogan of the need to keep Nigeria One being a task that must be done. As reported, PMB said ‘Go On With One Nigeria (GOWON) is very apt now as keeping Nigeria one is a task that must be done… So, please pass this on to the militants – that One Nigeria is not for negotiation and they had better accept it.’
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) also gave a strong backing to PMB’s non-negotiability stand on Nigeria’s unity. The ACF has it that ‘the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable as stated in the President’s Eid-el-Fitri message to Nigerians during Sallah. And that is why we asked our Niger Delta brothers to stop blowing up oil installations in the region. Destruction can never be a solution to their grievances.’(The Punch, July 8, 2016, p.12).
Additionally, in support of PMB’s statement, Alhaji Maimala Buni, the National Secretary of the All Progressives Congress, has said that ‘for too long, Nigerians have been manipulated through primordial sentiments by the poor and the weak leadership at the expense of unity, development and improved welfare of the citizenry. This administration, under PMB, will always promote national unity and ensure the protection of lives and property of every citizen in every part of the country’ (ibid, p.9).
Without doubt, PMB’s statement is patriotic, commendable, and expected of any good leader of Nigeria, especially that he cannot aspire to preside over the dismantlement of Nigeria, after having sworn to an oath to defend the territorial integrity of Nigeria when he took over power on May 29, 2015. He should therefore be allowed to speak in tough terms.
However, the opponents of non-negotiability also have powerful arguments. The Pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, and the Ohaneze Ndigbo have argued that Nigeria’s unity is quite negotiable. Yinka Odumakin, the National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, said continuing ‘to insist that the country’s unity is not negotiable is aping that bird which buries its head in the sand and believes, because it is seeing nobody, it has become invincible too.’
The Ohaneze socio-cultural group president, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, said that the Ohaneze Ndigbo ‘believe that Nigeria’s unity is negotiable. The principles and structures at the moment, the structure that is in place are not in favour of everybody. Those that it is favouring are the ones who want the status quo to be maintained, but those it has not favoured, like the Igbo, are open to a negotiation of the country’s unity… We are not calling for secession, but a periodical review of the terms of the country’s unity is necessary for peaceful coexistence, otherwise agitations for separation would continue to grow’ (The Punch, July 7, 2016, p.7).
More important, Mr. Uchenna Madu, the MASSOB leader, also noted that ‘as every revolutionary struggle has its own methodology, the current Biafran struggle for actualization and restoration will continue to unfold’ (The Sun, July 8, 2016, p.10). But what will the revolutionary methodology be unfolding? Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, says ‘we cannot continue to allow a centralization policy which makes the constituent units of this nation resentful. They say monkey dey work, baboon dey chop. And the idea of centralizing revenues, allocation systems, whereby you dole out, the thing is insulting and it is what I call anti-healthy rivalry. It is against the incentives to make states viable.’
Corruption as Bane of National Unity
For various critical reasons, the dynamics of disintegration are increasing daily in Nigeria. This is partly but largely due to the neglect of why there are agitations: Are the agitations and destruction of oil pipelines a resultant from the quest for separation from Nigeria or from grievances about the polity? This column strongly believes that the first and ultimate objective of militancy is not about dismemberment of Nigeria, but a protest against non-attention to well known grievances of the militants. The grievances are basically ascribable to perceived unfairness and injustice. PMB may therefore not be able to quickly contain them unless he addresses them immediately.
One truth that everyone is trying to run away from in Nigeria is corruption at all levels of the Nigerian society. Corruption is simply another word for dishonesty. Politics in Nigeria is dishonest in manner and orientation. The calls for negotiations on the terms of national unity are dishonesty-driven. The opposition to negotiations or to calls for restructuring is also dishonest. The greater part of the dishonesty is located at the level of the elite. It is precisely the problem of dishonesty that largely informs the agitation for restructuring of the country. Hostility against the Government of Nigeria is largely driven by perceptions of elite corruption without impunity.
I have always been asking some questions to which no one has interest: why should the Federal Government collect money in 1994 from depositors for semi-detached houses and yet as at 2016, no houses have been built for allocation? Why has the Federal Government been unable to refund the monies deposited in the absence of any allocation of houses? New housing schemes are being planned but those planned in 1994 have been thrown into the dustbin of history. I am one of the depositors. Thousands of Nigerian depositors are very aggrieved. It is the factor of grievance that PMB, as a recognized honest broker, should first seek to address because the polity does not want honesty of purpose. It is against hard work and patriotism. It is largely ethnic chauvinism-driven. It does not want creative ideas.
My experience as a former Director General has taught me some lessons. If a political system discourages patriotism, the alternative to it can only be to work against the system. For PMB to succeed in his efforts to build a new Nigeria in which all toga of irrationalities will be thrown away, there will be need to first accept that there is nothing that is not negotiable on earth. A negotiation may fail or succeed but cannot be prevented. In fact, non-negotiation can win in the battle field but cannot suppress the people’s determination. Nobody can be forced into any union. In all unions known in history, there is always provision for modalities for withdrawal. It is ideal to strengthen Nigeria as it is but it should not be presented as a manu military affair. Nigeria should learn from the experiences of others.
Learning from the International Experiences
First, polemological studies have clearly shown that the use of terror or assault against diplomatic agents in international relations is essentially because they are internationally protected. Their persons are not to be violated in whatever manner and for whatever purposes. However, criminals and terrorists decide to violate their persons contrary to the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in order to attract international attention to their complaints. In the same logic, it is because the proponents of negotiability of Nigeria’s unity would have been pushed to the wall by outright use of force or by manu militari that they would want to undermine the alleged non-negotiability of Nigeria by adoption of a counter force. In this case, it will be a case of order and counter order amounting to an encounter and disorder which the Government may not be in the position to manage well. Explained differently, the declared policy of no negotiation on the unity of Nigeria does not only mean that there is no readiness for talks on how to disunite Nigeria. PMB’s declaration can also mean no negotiation on how to sustain the unity of Nigeria. Which is which?
Secondly, the Constitution of Nigeria on which the proponents of non-negotiability of Nigeria’s unity are largely predicated is at best controversial. It is generally argued that the Constitution is militarily imposed. Even though the Constitution is the organic law of the land, the truth is that the Constitutional provision on national unity has always been enforced more in a manu militari fashion than on the basis of constitutional objectivity of purpose. In fact, when people resort to armed struggle, it is not mainly because they are aggrieved but because they have been pushed to the wall and therefore, making the use of force a desideratum. In fact, when there is an outbreak of war or insurrection, the Constitution is generally set aside. Thus, there is little or no respect for any constitutional provisions. Even when the Constitution is respected, the political will of the people is always difficult to suppress. Brexit is quite relevant here.
The UK government decided to accede to the European Community Treaty on January 1, 1973. Many citizens were opposed to it but they were in the minority by then. However, the opposition continued to grow in number to the extent that a referendum on whether to remain or leave the European Community was held on June 6, 1975. The ‘remain voters’ won but the defeat of the ‘leave voters’ did not put an end to the struggle against UK’s membership of the European Community. The intensity of the struggle again led to the fixing of another date in 2004 for a second referendum which was eventually held on June 23rd, 2016. All public opinion polls clearly point to the defeat of the ‘leave voters.’ But contrary to the polls, majority of the British people voted to withdraw their membership of the European Union.
Thirdly, the principle of self-determination which initially was adopted to assist dependent territories to gain independence or self-governing status is now increasingly being applied, but forcefully, to regional groupings within existing sovereign states. For instance, the Constitution and all the rules of law meant nothing when the people of Eritrea decided to go to war with Ethiopia for the purposes of independence. The same is true of South Sudan whose struggle for self-identity began as far back as 1956. No one wanted separation in Yugoslavia but the country has been split. In small Senegal, the Casamance Province is seeking self-determination. The Dakarois authorities have known no good sleep as a result. In fact, as united as the United States is as at today, agitation for separation in the country is still an issue but no one ever contemplates rigid approach in the quest for enduring solutions. The separatists in Italy have also not been subdued with the use of force by Government.
Fourthly, and perhaps more importantly, what do we mean by ‘non-negotiable’? What value has been placed on Nigeria’s unity? Has Nigeria really been united since the time of independence in 1960? The political crises in the immediate post-independence era led to war in 1967. The war ended in 1970 with the surrender of secessionist Biafra. The unity that existed from October 1960 to January 1970 was, at best, a forced unity. In an attempt to sustain this forced unity, adoption of statism was adopted to replace regionalisation. Gowon began with the carving out of 12 states out of the four existing regions of Nigeria on 27th May, 1967. This was followed up by the Mohammed-Obasanjo regime which created additional seven states, thus making it a 19-state structure on February 3, 1976. The number of states increased to 30 under General Ibrahim Babangida (2 states on 23rd September 1987 and 9 states on 27th August, 1991), and eventually to 36 states under General Sani on October 1, 1996. This was still unity by state creation and manu militari.
Fifthly, if the Bakassi peninsula and its people was ‘negotiated away to Cameroon under the pretext of an International Court of Justice ruling and so-called Green Tree Agreement, there cannot be any big deal anymore with the argument of non-negotiability of national unity. The loss of the Bakassi Peninsula negates the constitutional provision of territorial integrity of Nigeria. It is already a precedent to which there could be references in the future.
Sixthly, and perhaps most significantly, the main rationale for the militancy in the Niger Delta is crude oil which is not inexhaustible. Sooner or later crude oil will be no more. In this situation, other regions of the country where other new resources are likely to be exploited cannot but also begin to ask for the control of their own resources. Thus, there will not be an end to the agitation. So, there is the need to negotiate on all issues pertaining to national unity.
Beyond the Manu Militari Approach
Since 1970, no conscious efforts have been made to remove the belligerent factors in the management of issues in national unity. All Nigerian leaders since 1970 have adopted a manu militari approach in maintaining national unity. For instance, the issues to be negotiated or not to be negotiated are consciously set aside by Government in the wrong belief that national unity cannot be negotiated. Consequently, many Nigerians came up with calls for restructuring of Nigeria. This is the main problem underlying the debate on negotiability or non-negotiability of Nigeria’s unity.
What has been made clear in the debate is that the non-negotiability school of thought hides under the argument of non-constitutionality and self-created fear that it would lead to outright secession. The school of negotiability posits that the issue is not about secession but about the need to address the over-centralisation of government policy in Abuja, especially in terms of revenues generation and allocation. They are specifically asking for engagement in the practice of true federalism. For instance, governors are the chief security officers of their states but the various Commissioners of Police take direct instructions from the IGP in Abuja. This should not be so.
Since the ultimate objective of both schools of thought is not to break up Nigeria, the challenge for government is to still negotiate on what constitutes the main grievances to be addressed. Proponents and opponents of negotiability of Nigeria’s unity have valid arguments. PMB should fix a long date for national plebiscite to determine the suitability of negotiation and extent of acceptability of restructuring of the country. Before the date, strenuous efforts should be made to enlighten the generality of the Nigerian people on what the proponents of secession do currently have and enjoy compared with others, and begin to provide more for their needs.
Corruption, as noted earlier, is dishonesty. Imposition of any policy on the people without allowing for public pronouncement on it is an act of corruption which PMB must also fight. Any use of force to suppress agitations for negotiations on terms of peaceful co-existence can only serve as catalyst in breaking up Nigeria. PMB should therefore not allow the break-up of Nigeria as a result of strategic policy miscalculation under his administration.