Indivisibility of Nigeria, Self-determination Agitation, and National Self-deceit: Quo Vadis?

Bola A. Akinterinwa 

The joy of 25 years of uninterrupted civilian rule, not to say of democracy, has blinded the political leaders of Nigeria not to underscore the seriousness of Nigeria’s multidimensional problem at the domestic and foreign policy levels. At the level of domestic policy, Nigeria is challenged by the wrong belief that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable and that Nigeria is indivisible. This belief is strengthened by the 1999 Constitution as amended and again by another wrong belief that the use of force can always suppress the will of the people.

True enough, the 1999 Constitution stipulates in its Part II, second schedule that ‘We the People of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Having firmly and solemnly resolved, to  live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble Sovereign Nation under God dedicated to the promotion of inter-African solidarity, world peace, international cooperation and understanding.’ This preamble to the Constitution is quite interesting because of its inherent implications and assumptions.

First, who are the ‘We, the People’? Several observers have queried and argued that there was never an assembly of Nigerians that came together on representational basis to discuss and decide on behalf of their people. In the eyes of the enlightened observers, the 1999 Constitution was a military-imposed constitution and should not be presented as a resultant of legislative decision. Secondly, who are the People who firmly and solemnly resolved to live in unity and harmony? Who are the People who agreed on the indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria as a Sovereign Nation? The moment ‘We, the People’ is questionable, all the agreements reached cannot but be questionable. Thirdly, if, admittedly, the People agreed on indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria in 1999, does it mean that the agreement is eternally not changeable? Does it mean that the environmental conditionings that enabled the decision in 1999 will continue to remain for ever? 

 Domestic Realities  

From the foregoing questions, it has become necessary to learn how to see when weeping and to learn how to live with changing situational realities. When the 1999 Constitution was adopted, Nigeria was not yet a Sovereign Nation in its sociological sense. As at today, Nigeria cannot still be described as a nation. The agitations of different communities for separate existence are clear indications of disunity and disharmony. When ethnic communities are struggling to separate from Nigeria, should it be by force? Should the Government respond by use of force? Why is Government not addressing the causal factors of the situational reality on the ground rather than using force that always lead to the unnecessary killing of innocent Nigerian soldiers in ambushes and not in a declared war or at battlefields?

Nigeria’s most problematic challenge is that Nigerians are yet to know what their main problem is all about. We have raised this point many times in the past. When media professionals and politologists talk about the ‘owners of Nigeria,’ who are they referring to? Are there, or are there no, owners of Nigeria? There is no disputing the fact that there is Nigeria, but are there really Nigerians? If there are Nigerians, do they really believe in Nigeria as it is today? If they do, why are we talking about Boko Haramists who do not believe in the 1999 Constitution and who are against Nigeria? Why did the late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya advise Nigerians to accept the partitioning of Nigeria into Muslim North and Christian South as a solution to Nigeria’s problem? 

As Gaddafi argued, Nigeria will never have any lasting peace unless there is Nigerian Muslim North and Nigerian Christian South. This statement is too profound to be taken with levity. What informed the prediction? The Boko Haram wants a Muslim Nigeria and not simply Muslim North. They are only fighting to first of all establish a Muslim North before probably extending their jihad downwardly to the South. The Federal Government is not even helping the matter. The boko haramists arrested are pardoned under the pretext that they had repented. 

Former President Goodluck Jonathan told Nigerians openly when he was still in power that there were members of the Boko Haram in his government but no one bothered to know how and whether they left government after President Jonathan left power. What was noteworthy under President Muhammadu Buhari, (PMB), his successor, was that he supported the Boko Haram but without admitting it. Nigeria was a little united in 1960. The unity was challenged in 1967 when the civil war broke out. In 1970, the battles ended with an encouraging sloganeering of ‘No Victor, No Vanquished,’ but the war continues to linger on until today. This is the current situational reality in Nigeria. Nigeria is actually suffering from the belief that Nigeria is indivisible, and therefore engaging in the use of brute force to compel national unity rather than seeking to pacify and negotiate. Those who believe in the contrary that Nigeria can always be divided, are agitating for self-determination which is internationally lawful.

Perhaps more interestingly, even if it is not lawful, people have always taken up arms to fight for their right, their freedom of survival. Self-determination was adopted as an international principle to compel decolonisation. After decolonisation, people living within existing sovereign states also ask for autonomy under the pretext of mistreatment, unfairness in the allocation of resources, and injustice in their host countries. The MASSOB (Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra), the IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra), the OPC (Oodua People’s Congress) have different reasons for wanting to check out of Nigeria. 

Most unfortunately, however, the Government is living in self-deceit. Soldiers are recklessly killed and soldiers, in the spirit of reciprocity, have killed perceived civilian enemies. The mutual killings have become recidivist in character. The continuation of the mutual killings is most likely, especially with the continued incarceration of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the IPOB who is asking for separation of the Biafran people, is a non-solution. True enough, Nnamdi Kanu was arrested in 2015 for terrorism and treason charges. He was released on bail but later jumped bail. He was rearrested in 2021. When he asked to be granted another bail pending the determination of the treasonable felony charge, the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, refused to grant him the bail, but the trial judge, Justice Binta Nyako, ordered the acceleration of the hearing of the seven-count charge against him.

What is noteworthy about the recidivist insecurity in Nigeria is that Nnamdi Kanu not only asked the court to transfer him from the custody of the Department of State Services to either the Kuje Prison or to be placed under house arrest, but also told the court why violence continued in the south east of Nigeria. He ascribed the unending violence to his incarceration, explaining that he would have been able to contain all those committing crimes in the name of IPOB if not because he was under incarceration. In other words, what is more of priority to government: containment of insecurity or the punishment of Nnamdi Kanu? If the release of Nnamdi Kanu can stop violence, as well as pave the way for negotiated peace and possibly negotiating away the idea of separation, what prevents the release of Nnamdi Kanu?

And true enough again, there is the aspect of court ruling and charges of terrorism. It has become part of customary law internationally not to see people fighting for self-determination and liberation as terrorists. Nigeria led Africa in arguing, during the anti-apartheid struggle, that the liberation movements could not be considered as terrorists when the former US President, Ronald Reagan, came up with the doctrine of Constructive Engagement and President Reagan considered the liberation movements as terrorists. 

And more importantly, even if the United Nations does not encourage dismemberment in its Member States, the right to self-determination is an accepted principle of international law and relations. The incarceration of Nnamdi Kanu, and particularly the governmental mistreatment of Chief Sunday Adeyemo, alias Sunday Igboho, the leader of the militant wing of the Yoruba self-determination Movement, Ilana Omo Oodua, was uncalled for. His house was brutalised. In fact, he suffered military aggression under PMB before he narrowly escaped to Benin Republic. In spite of the resignation of Professor Banji Akintoye, leader of the Yoruba Self-determination Movement, and the aggression on Sunday Igboho, the determination and agitation for a Yoruba separate existence has not abated.

In fact, Professor Banji Akintoye, Chief Sunday Adeyemo, and Mr. Ola Ademola signed an open letter addressed to PBAT asking for the establishment of a government negotiation team to discuss with them. The open letter came after some Yoruba agitators attempted to invade the Oyo State Government Secretariat. The reasons for the agitation for separation are a resultant from the political decadence in the country. As reported by Fasilat Oluwuyi on April 22, 2022 in the Premium Times, the Yoruba Self-determination Movement sent the letter ‘as a follow-up to our earlier letter, dated 6 August 2022, to your predecessor… Since 2015, the Fulani have been killing widely among the other peoples of Nigeria, including us Yoruba, destroying farms, villages and other assets, kidnapping men, women and children, extorting large amounts of money as ransom from friends and family of the kidnapped, and repeatedly asserting their intention to seize the homelands of all the indigenous peoples of Nigeria for the purpose of turning all into a Fulani homeland…All these actions by the Fulani are to us Yoruba, a sufficient reason for our seeking to separate our Yoruba nation from Nigeria. Most of us, Yoruba have no confidence in the restructuring’ being advocated by others. This is the situational reality in Nigeria at the domestic level. 

Foreign Policy Realities  

PBAT, especially for the purposes of his presidential campaigns, he never subscribed to the dismemberment of Nigeria. On the contrary, he has always advocated a true system of federalism in which equity, equality, fairness, and justice are allowed to serve as pillars (vide Bola A. Akinterinwa, ed., Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the Struggle for True Federalism, Ibadan, Vantage Publishers, 2011). With the mounting threats to national unity and particularly the use of force to enforce self-determination, PBAT appears to be prepared to consider some of the recommendations made by the people to remove the threats to national unity and use same to lay a new foundation for Nigeria’s international image.

Apparently in an attempt to pacify the nation, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (PBAT) decided to implement the outcome of the 2014 National Conference. One of the recommendations was the recommendation on change from the then National Anthem, ‘Arise O Compatriots,’ to the old one, ‘Nigeria We Hail Thee.’ The people agreed to the change, but President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) also openly told Nigerians that the reports of the Conference were put in his drawers and that he never had time to look at them. 

In other words, the reports were not his priority even though the Conference comprises representatives of all the peoples of Nigeria. They were indeed plenipotentiaries.

Without any shadow of doubt, Nigeria, as a result of agitations for separation, is internationally perceived to be politically unstable, especially in light of the unending kidnappings and killing of soldiers who are required to ensure national self-preservation. Nigeria’s international image is tainted with several uncertainties. First, Nigeria’s bilateral relations with the Republic of Niger have the potential to suffer considerably from the withdrawal of Niger Republic from the ECOWAS. Niger, being a landlocked country imports and exports various goods through Nigerian maritime ports thanks to four main factors: geo-political contiguity and propinquity, co-original membership of the ECOWAS, which enables the free movement of their goods within the region without tariffs; Nigeria’s ties with Niger Republic, being the warmest when compared with the other neigbouring countries. Besides, there is no international border conflict and the same ethnic community also live peacefully on both sides of the international border. With the current notice of withdrawal from the ECOWAS, relationship with Niger Republic cannot be expected to still follow the same non-adversarial direction because of the change in the geo-political environment.

Secondly, the ECOWAS has again the potential to be further divided against itself. On June 1, 2024, a round table on the “Alliance of Sahel States: New Platform for Regional Integration in Senegal,” was held at the Maison de la Presse (Press Centre) in Dakar, Senegal. Several Senegalese civil society organisations took active parts in the round table. The Pan-African Defence League (UMOJA), the Front for a Popular and Pan-African Anti-imperialist Revolution (FRAPP) movement were there.

As noted by the on 06 June 2024, the Roundtable recommended close cooperation with all the Senegalese neighbours in order to maintain political stability in the region. The recommendation was predicated on the belief that ‘security cooperation will contribute to the definitive elimination of the threat of the spread of terrorism in the Sahel.’ More importantly, as Oumou Cantone Sarr, Director of Programmes of the Rencontre Africaine por la Défense des Droits de l’Homme (RADDHO: African Meeting for the Defence of Human Rights) put it, ‘African institutions contribute a lot to the development of Africa, but they face major economic challenges, including the creation of the new currency, regional integration. This is what pushed the Alliance for Sahel States to make it a Federation.’

In other words, three countries, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger Republic, have accepted to act as one sovereign state in the foreseeable future. And considering that Senegal is a ‘centre of equilibrium in the economic future of the Sahel due to its geographical location which makes it a centre of trade for most neighbouring countries and one of the leading countries in the field of hydrocarbons and fisheries,’ Mr Oumou Cantone Sarr has sent out a clear message in the national interest of Senegal, but with deleterious implications for Nigeria, in particular, and other Member States of the ECOWAS, in general. 

As Cantone Sarr put it, ‘on the economic front, Dakar has freed itself from its past with the new President, Bassirou Faye, and will become in the long term an effective ally of the countries of the AES (Alliance des Etats du Sahel) to form a strong political bloc capable of achieving a rise in power in Africa and on the world stage.’ Explained interrogatively, to whose detriment will the Senegalese ‘effective ally’ of the AES countries be? Will it not be a priori to the detriment of the ECOWAS, in general, and to the detriment of Nigeria, in particular? Nigeria was the initiator of the founding of the ECOWAS, and later found it in collaboration with Togo. Will Senegal be more committed to the AES or to the ECOWAS? Who will France support: Senegal-AES or Senegal-ECOWAS solidarity? It cannot but be in the long term interest of the French to still find ways and means of remaining relevant in Francophone Africa, even if the AES has declared France unwanted. Senegal still remains a dependable ally of France. So are Côte d’Ivoire, Benin Republic, Guinea, etc. 

Before now, ECOWAS had been fraught with destructive internal divisions, especially when the CEAO (Communauté Economique de l’Afrique de L’Ouest or West African Economic Community) was still active. It was the Francophone equivalent of the ECOWAS comprising only the French speaking countries. With the new AES platform, will the CEAO not be renewed to the detriment of the ECOWAS? How does Nigeria want to deal with a likely rebirth of Francophone-Anglophone rivalry in the ECOWAS region?

Thirdly, the West Africa region has the great potential to become a new terra cognita for great power rivalry for various reasons. West Africa has generally been the main preserve of Euro-American influence until now. To a great extent, France acted on behalf of European countries, in particular, and the NATO world, in general. France, Britain and the United States are basically the de facto major powers in West Africa. It is only of recent that Russians and Chinese are gradually trying to settle down in West Africa. In fact, it was mainly because of the military coup take over of power in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, to which the ECOWAS has been vehemently opposed that widened the doors of opportunities for the Russians to come in and support the military junta in the various countries.

In this regard, the international operational activities of the BRICS clearly point to a future stiff rivalry with the US-led Western world in West Africa. Russia is a pioneer member of the BRICS. The same Russia is increasingly and actively engaged in West Africa. To what extent can the AES countries be prevented from becoming a serious rivalry theatre in the near future, as France and the United States, with the support of the European Union, have the likelihood of shifting their battle field or proxy war with Russia from Ukraine to West Africa? In the event of use of nuclear weapons, on whose sides will the ECOWAS be? Nigeria’s foreign policy makers should begin to anticipate the likely use of nuclear arms in Ukraine, understand how the European Union will be affected, and how Europe will be seeking partnership with West Africa and Africa as whole. 

PBAT must recognise that self-determination is a people’s right, and that no one can be forced to be part of coercive national unity. Self-determination can be likened to an atom which is the smallest indivisible particle of an element in O’level Physics but which, at the advanced level, is divisible and destructible through atomic fission. Uranium with atomic weight of 239 until 1999 when it was recalibrated to 238.028, was used as an example. Politically, self-determination initially was applicable to assist decolonisation processes and when the processes were concluded, self-determination was wrongly believed to have ended. The principle is still taken advantage of to protest inequity, inequality, unfairness, injustice, bad governance, etc. in the conduct and management of international affairs.  If PBAT wants national unity, it is the ideal, but using force or manu militari to oppress advocates of self-determination is internationally unlawful. In fact, when people acquire a second nationality, is it not an expression of reduction in the allegiance to the first country regardless of the rationale for the new nationality? It is a protest and reduction in patriotism apart from cases of marriages. Normally, anyone with dual nationality should not be eligible to be the President of Nigeria. If allowed, anyone seeking self-determination should be allowed. Democracy is about freedom of choice. This is the leeway to keeping Nigeria united, preventing agitations and partitioning Nigeria into Muslim North and Christian South.  

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