By Adewale Sanyaolu Despite being a country with the second largest deposit of bitumen in the world, Nigeria, according to Foraminifera, a marketing and research firm, spends about N2 billion yearly on importation of asphalt, a derivative of bitumen. The occurrence of bitumen deposits in Nigeria is twice the amount of existing reserves of crude…
In the past, when Africa was, in truth, the Dark Continent as disparagingly viewed by other parts of the world, certain circumstantial factors largely contributed to the omnibus atrocities committed by political factors on the continent. One of such factors was the principle of non-internal affairs of another.
The origin of that principle was in itself well-meaning except that over the years, complicit African leaders found excuse to turn blind eyes and maintained convenient silence at any other country where crimes against humanity were freely committed. That was not the purpose of principle of non-interference as enunciated by the defunct Organisation of African Unity. Instead, non-interference was the only way to take a public stand by African leaders against Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah whose expansionist policy was open subversion of Togo and especially Nigeria. Nkrumah established an Ideological Institute at Winneba, Ghana, where he trained subverts from neighbouring countries, who invariably returned home to commit treason.
Despite that limit placed on Kwame Nkrumah’s subversive activities against his neighbours, the Ghanaian leader (Nkrumah) still exposed himself when in 1963, he enthusiastically endorsed the assassination of Togo’s President Sylvanus Olympio by their country’s armed forces while other African leaders were (still) too shocked to react to the situation. That was the first military coup in post-colonial Africa. Again when Nigeria’s Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa was assassinated in the January 1966 military coup, the same Nkrumah not only endorsed the coup but also derided Balewa as “the victim of a system he (Balewa) did not understand.” Retributively, six weeks after Balewa’s death, Nkrumah himself, while on official visit to Ghana, was overthrown by Ghanaian armed forces, which returned to Nigeria military authorities, treason felons being trained by Nkrumah.
To guard against such subversion, surviving African leaders became more committed to the principle of non-interference. Unfortunately, that policy became a cover for crimes against humanity. But that was years ago. Any doubt on the changed attitude has been removed by events in Gambia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. Elections held in Ghana and the electorate dismissed incumbent President Yahya Jammeh, who had ruled for some twenty-two years. Initially Jammeh conceded defeat and congratulated the newly elected successor.
A fortnight later, Jammeh somersaulted and rejected his defeat with the hope of perpetuating himself in office, as was the case in the past while other African leaders would acquiesce.
Most unusually, other West African leaders, including Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, dashed to the Gambia to prevail on the out-going leader not to mess about. Others who joined Buhari on the intervention trip were ECOWAS Chairman/Liberian President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, out-going Ghananian President, John Dramani Mahama, and Sierra-Leonean leader, Ernest Bai Koroma. With the prospects that Jammeh will defy all pleas, even the United Nations has finalised plans for necessary sanctions. In the past, other African leaders would have considered the Gambian leader’s rascality as that country’s internal affairs even as he would be committing crimes against humanity to keep himself in power.
Democratic Republic of Congo is another African country where the United Nations and African Union have intervened to check the political excesses of President Joseph Kabila, who rose to power following the mysterious assassination of his father and former President, Laurent Kabila. The new constitution introduced in 2006 established a tenure limit of two terms, which should see Joseph Kabila quit office in December 2016. Instead, the rascal has put off elections till 2018. Meantime, protesting Congolese have been variously butchered by Kabila’s forces. African Union and United Nations unsuccessfully prevailed on Kabila to quit.
United Nations has accordingly imposed sanctions on Joseph Kabila and his key officials. Accordingly, any idea that events in Nigeria, including secession threat, can be handled with another bloody civil war without the intervention of the outside world should be perished.
By the way, is the threat or even demand for secession as evil as being portrayed? On the contrary, Nigeria’s history is such that secession threats in the past proved prescient success for the agitators, depending on their part of the country. The question, therefore, is why should secession threat be legitimate and successful for some and be treasonable or suicidal for others?
In the violent disturbances throughout the North from May 1966 to July 1966, an understandable reaction to the political assassinations of January 1966, the open demand of the rioters was for “Araba” (interpreted rightly or wrongly to be secession) away from Nigeria. The then Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon swept to office on that wave after the counter-assassinations to level up with the situation in January 1966.
Indeed, Gowon almost granted the demand of the Araba agitators but for a last-minute deletion, on the advice of British diplomats. Even then, nuances of the secession announcement were still contained in Gowon’s maiden broadcast when he said “the basis for unity is not there and is badly rocked not once but many times….” Once consolidated in power, as the new Commander-in-Chief, Gowon abandoned the secession threat.
In 2010, while President Umaru Yar’Adua was lying critically ill, the man was virtually sentenced to death when South-South, led by Edwin Clark openly threatened to secede from Nigeria unless their “son,” Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, was sworn in as new president. For some unknown reasons, the North panicked and went all the way to initiate an emergency amendment to the Nigerian constitution, providing a bogus principle of necessity to install Jonathan. The fact of history is that there was never any threat of another bloody civil war with which to crush that South-South secession threat led by Edwin Clark.
Third, not many Nigerians recall that Southern Cameroons was part of eastern region of Nigeria until 1958 when the British colonial government granted the secession demand of the Cameroonian leader, Dr. E.M.L. Endeley, to merge with French Cameroons (to form today’s Cameroon. Rather than crush that secession threat by unleashing army terror, the British colonial government organised a plebiscite to determine the wishes of Southern Cameroonians to either secede or remain with Nigeria. That is today’s exact principle of self-determination under the United Nations charter. Southern Cameroonians voted for secession.
We must, therefore, see secession clause as a constant in Nigeria’s constitutions to serve as a warning to Federal Government on neglect or injustice to (any) parts of the country that may be concerned. Today’s agitators for secession must be treated equally as secessionist agitators of the past, who succeeded painlessly in achieving redress or ultimate goal listed above. Stiff opposition to another civil war to contain secession threat should not be seen as in favour only Biafran agitators. In a country like Nigeria, after South-east, the next agitators for secession may be from South-South or South-west. Wait for this. The next agitation for secession may even be from any of the zones in, if not the entire North.
There is this delusion that Northern Nigeria may be hard hit because the place is landlocked. A people pushed to the wall will throw in anything to redress injustice. And being landlocked may not be an inhibition in such circumstances. Two of the most thriving and fast developing economics in Africa – Lesotho and Ethiopia are completely landlocked. Ethiopia became landlocked after the secession of Eretria through the United Nations Principle of self determination. In effect, all along, Eretria was an economic burden on pre-secession Ethiopia. In addition, the total number of landlocked countries in Africa is sixteen, namely: Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Throughout the world, such landlocked countries are over sixty. Among them are Austria, Switzerland, Serbia and Macedonia, both from the disintegrated federation of Yugoslavia; Hungary, Slovakia, Czech, Kazakhstan, Laos, Luxembourg, etc. Yet, Switzerland and Austria are two of the strongest economies in the world.
In any part of the world, demands for secession always arise from political grievances accumulated over years and government response is to look into such grievances. Scots are neither Biafrans nor Niger Deltans. Yet, the Scots are intent on secession from Britain. In response, British government has been yielding more autonomy to Scotland and Wales to neutralise secession agitation. In comparison, Nigeria Federal Government is far more powerful over the states than it (Federal Government) was at independence in 1960, even though ambitious political elite, insisting on federation with strong centre should be blamed for advocating a system, the implication of which they were too blind to foresee.
What is more, whatever autonomy granted to any state(s) or zone will automatically devolve on other parts of the country. So, what is the problem? Blood-thirst is not part of governance. Nigeria continues to solidify Federal Government financially. For what? Looting by politicians instead of allocating such revenue to redressing political grievances generating demand for secession.
If the Federal Government is so financially inhibited from redressing roads in the Biafran territory, the same Federal Government is seeming too enthusiastic to purchase arms with which to crush demands for secession. And we will end up with another scandal of money allocated on paper for purchasing the arms (for the second civil war) only to discover such was diverted to election campaigns in 2019 or to purchase decampees from other political parties.
Nigeria should be ashamed for its more woeful record in containing public agitation, than the racist South African regime. In March 1960, black South Africans demonstrating against apartheid system were cut down at Sharpeville. The casualty figure was sixty-nine.
On its part, Nigerian government repressing agitation for secession killed one hundred and fifty Biafrans according to Amnesty International. Nigerian army at first denied the massacre only to contradict itself by claiming to have acted in self-defence. Was Amnesty international, therefore, not justified in its report on defenceless Nigerians killed in cold blood?
Nigeria’s former Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, must be embarrassed in his grave. After the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, Tafawa Balewa in 1961, making his debut as the leader of a newly independent nation attending the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ conference in London led the battle for the expulsion of apartheid South Africa from the organisation. Balewa won world acclamation. If the dead could speak, Balewa would condemn the Onitsha massacre.
And what is the difference between Sharpeville massacre in South Africa in 1960 and the Onitsha massacre in 2016? One was carried out by white South-Africans against blacks while the other was carried out by Nigerias against fellow Nigerians. Henceforth, any such massacre in Nigeria – whether at Onitsha on secessionist agitators or along Zaria-Kaduna road against shites should be reported by human rights groups, as crimes against humanity, to the International Criminal Court at the Hague.
No nation’s territorial integrity should be sustained at the expense of the corpses of its citizens. We must learn to discuss, negotiate, concede and agree, not on anybody’s or group’s terms but on anybody’s and every group’s terms. That is the basis of a harmonious, durable and possibly, everlasting union. Arrogant threat of another civil war can only provoke defiance. And may God help Nigeria the day the first shots of such of a repeat civil war are ordered.
For now, this essay is concluded.