That Nigeria, the world’s largest black nation, is at a crossroad is at the moment a consensus both within and outside the borders of the country. Fear about the future of the country and about a possible breakup of the former British colony has continued to mount, especially since the beginning of the year 2021.
An indication that the fear is real was expressed by no other person than the Nigerian President himself, Muhammadu Buhari in his beginning of Ramadan message to Nigerian Muslims.
President Buhari, in a statement issued by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, called on Nigerian Muslims to reject voices that tend to cause division in the country as they embark on the holy month of Ramadan.
The statement read: “President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday welcomed the beginning of Muslims’ holy month of Ramadan, which marks the commencement of 30 days of fasting.
“In a message to the nation to mark the occasion, President Buhari prayed to Allah to accept our sacrifices and increase the unity, solidarity, peace and prosperity of the nation.
“He urged Muslims in the country to exercise patience and tolerance and reject voices that seek to divide the nation.
“He also urged all citizens to show compassion to the millions of the less endowed and remember those that have been displaced by conflict in their charity and prayers in this important period.”
The President from the statement recognised that there are increased ‘voices’ calling for the breakup of the nation and a high number of citizens have been displaced by conflicts that has successfully driven the nation to the edge.
Nigerians believe that all over the country, practical signs abound to suggest that things are not just right and that except concrete steps are taken by the government and various political actors and leaders of thought in the different regions of the country, things will truly get worse and hit the crucible.
In the South-West, a region hitherto considered to be pliant, docile and un-ambitious when it comes to self determination or using one of the most used words in the nation today, secession, a renewed vigour for the Oduduwa Republic, promoted by a motley crowd of self-determination groups has emerged.
To drive their demand for the Oduduwa Republic home, the groups, under the leadership of Professor Banji Akintoye’s Ilana Omo Yoruba, held a self-determination rally in Ibadan, the regional headquarters of the South-West last week. For the groups, the rally, that initially looked scuttled by the police, who took over its original venue, was a major statement that they mean business and are ready to pursue their dream of a Yoruba republic.
Aside the core Yoruba states, participants came from Delta, Edo, Kwara and Kogi States, expressing their readiness for the Oduduwa Republic.
Recall that the agitation for secession in the South-East is legendary, with the call for a Biafra nation, which started in 1967, when the then Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu of the Nigerian Army, declared a breakaway Biafra State. Though the war ended in “victor, no vanquish “, the dream of some actors in the South-East remains alive and has even become more threatening.
From the Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Biafra Independence Movement (BIM), to the now proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), all calling and working for an independent Biafra nation, it is certain that they cannot wait to ‘get out of Nigeria’.
The Northern parts of the country has been a theatre of war occasioned by collapsed security, making life to become the cheapest article.
The Boko Haram/Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), had for more than a decade sought to establish a caliphate especially in the North-Eastern part of the country, an obvious call for the establishment of a separate country where a strict version of Islamic Sharia law will take the centre stage.
Also in the North, specifically the North-West and the North-Central, terrorists, commonly referred to as bandits, have taken up arms against the Nigerian state and its citizens, precipitating a reign of terror, where citizens are either killed or abducted enmass at will, while security agencies rather look helpless and government resorting to negotiations to secure the release of the victims. It is that bad that governments, in that part of the country are at the mercies of the bandits, going cap in hand to beg for release of citizens they are meant to protect from any form of harm.
How Nigeria got to this crossroad
A report by the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) of the U.S. Army War College (USAWC) titled ‘Causes of Instability in Nigeria and Its Implications for United States’ traced Nigeria’s current troubles and the fear of Breakup to the colonial era and the inability of citizens to see themselves first as Nigerians before taking up their ethnic identities.
The 127 page report authored by Clarence J. Bouchat, a retired US Air Force Officer reads in part: “Nigerians doubt a unified Nigeria really exists. The first lesson foreigners should know when dealing with Nigeria is that the state’s breakup is a real possibility if the Nigerian elite mismanage an acute crisis or one of Nigeria’s chronic problems.
“Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who would become Nigeria’s first native Prime Minister, summed up succinctly many Nigerians’ doubts concerning their country’s indivisibility when, in 1948, he proclaimed, “Many [Nigerians] deceive themselves by thinking that Nigeria is one. . . . This is wrong. I am sorry to say that this presence of unity is artificial.” Although Balewa was from the north, members from all of the cultural groups in Nigeria subscribe to such doubts and promote ethnic, religious, regional, or other loyalties over those to the country.
“The potential for breakup is real because most Nigerians lack “a broad social compact that would establish consensus on national identity and the meaning of citizenship. Without nationally shared values or primary allegiance to their country, Nigerians may be wanting in the constitutional fortitude needed to overcome their many other differences and manage the deep and endemic political and economic problems around which Nigeria is rift.
“The root of these conflicts can be traced back to the colonial epoch when the new political economy lumped the various people together in a forced new social intercourse. The newly foisted consciousness was readily exploited, resulting in a twisted polity, and, to this day, most Nigerians maintain stronger allegiance to their lineage than to their country.
“Combine such sentiment with a sequence of political fracturing, a history of civil war, external pressures, and large-scale internal violence, and ignite it with a mismanaged crisis. Loose Nigerian talk of separation could inadvertently lead to fracturing.”
From the above, it evident that the country’s problems have been long in coming, predating an Independent Nigeria. It will also be right to say that Nigerians are the problem of Nigeria, including the leaders and the led.
Several commentators are of the opinion that except Nigerians begin to see themselves first as Nigerians, achieving true nationhood may at the end become a mere dream.
Mr. Adeolu Oresanya, a public affairs commentator is of the view that a vast number of Nigerians, including political leaders do not essentially believe in the Nigerian nation, but see themselves more in line with their tribe or ethnicity.
“The problem with Nigeria is simple; you can hardly find a Nigerian. What you see everywhere are Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Igbo, Ijaw and many others. Only a very few people see themselves first as Nigerians before thinking of their ethnicity. And until we are able to change this, Nigeria may be doomed, because everyone is concerned about his tribal identity and we are all only interested in defending our tribes and work for the interest of our ethnic affiliations.
“It is the same problem that is crippling the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, with people from his part of the country taking all the sensitive positions in the country. It has become a given that whatever appointment is to be made will most likely be going to a northerner. You cannot have such a situation and not have people agitate or have crisis here and there. It is this tribal disposition of the current administration that is causing the different calls for secession in the country. People just feel that they don’t belong here anymore because the President and his handlers make them feel unwanted.
“So you cannot blame these agitators; they have their points and of course, they are justified. I will however call of the Buhari administration to listen to the voices of reason and correct all that’s is wrong, all that led to the current agitations and crisis across the country”, Oresanya said.
Prince Dayo Akanmode, a governorship aspirant in Kogi State and a former Deputy Chairman of Ijumu Local Government Area, is of the view that most of the problems leading to fear of breakup of the country can be addressed if government will accede to the call for true federalism and restructuring of the country.
Prince Akanmode said: “In my opinion, the situation in the country is not as bad as some people are painting it. I agree that in terms of security, we are at a crossroad and I also acknowledge the various calls for breakup, especially in the South-East and lately in the South-West. However, we must understand that many of the regions in the South and the North-Central have been calling for restructuring over the years. That has been their demand and I believe if government can implement that, all the calls for separation will die a natural death.
“The current structure that makes states to become beggars and dependants on the Federal Government cannot be sustained for long, especially in the face of the current agitations. The concentration of so much power and resources at the centre is the root of most of our problems and it is also the reason for much of the political bickering. If the centre is made unattractive, all the clamour for zoning and power rotation will fizzle out. The South-East will not want power at all cost, the South-West will not say it is their turn and the North will not want to cling to power forever because, the real power and resources are in the regions or the states.
“With true federalism and proper restructuring, states will be able to decisively deal with insecurity and grow at their own pace. There will be competition for growth and development and Nigerians will become committed to growing the economy because they know that their destinies are in their hands and not this current situation where every state wait till the end of the month for Abuja to give them handouts in form of federal allocation. This has obviously not worked and it can never work.
Also speaking in a chat with DAILY POST, a clergy, Dr. Kola Joseph said he does not see Nigeria breaking up but warned that for the current crisis to be overcome, government must take immediate steps to assuage the feelings of the people, adding that it is the only way to salvage the situation.
“I do not see Nigeria breaking up. I see a united Nigeria but government has the greater responsibility in making sure the country remains one, prosperous and peaceful. It is the duty of government to ensure that all the causes of the current agitations are addressed. It will be foolhardy to wave off the issues Nigerians are agitating about and carry on as if nothing is amiss. Things are obviously not right at the moment, so one can deny that”, the clergy said.
Continuing, Dr. Joseph said: “A first step is to call for a conference of the various ethnic nationalities, where people from various parts of the country can articulate their grievances and table their demands. Whatever is agreed at such a conference can now be the basis of the restructuring of the country. That’s if the Buhari administration is not comfortable with implementing the report of the last National Conference. Whichever way, something certainly must give way for Nigeria to truly attain greatness and remain a united indivisible entity.”