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Legitimacy of secession, even break-up

There is an urgent need for Nigerians to fast-track their political and sociological mentality by fifty years from 1966-2016. This is necessary to bring us face to face with harsh if distasteful but inescapable realities of modern world human relationship.

While other nations adjust to today’s needs for flexibility, concessions and autonomy, all to induce a sense of belonging among citizens, Nigeria continues gloating in the past of violence, intimidation as if in a serfdom. It was, therefore, a perfect setting when a delegation from South-east called, met the Federal Government to put across the grievances (being) expressed by young ones from that part of the country. Ideally, the opportunity should have been taken to douse the enthusiasm of agitators for secession. Worse was the language in which agitation for secession was dismissed, to the effect that the idea of secession should be “perished.”

Who said so? This is 2016 and not fifty years ago. Today, secession is recognised by the United Nations, as a legitimate instrument for self-determination of the people throughout the world. Even in advance of this fundamental human right certified by the United Nations, Nigerian constitution also guarantees rights of expression to hold political opinion and assemble for political purposes “… without being subjected… to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria or other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religion or political opinions are not made subject, etc.” Sections 39 and 42 of Nigerian constitution.

Demand for secession may appear distasteful but such objection should not be at the expense of fundamental human rights under Nigerian constitution. It might be objectionable to burn American flag but the American Supreme Court upheld the freedom of expression of the culprit, an abridgment of which the first amendment of that country’s constitution forbids. Equally, the desire of any group of Nigerian citizens for secession is the free expression of political opinion (section 42) guaranteed by Nigerian constitution. This right is personal and also inalienable to every Nigerian citizen.

The problem is that we often forget Nigeria runs a democracy in which national issues are not determined by fiat or military might. There must be discussions leading to agreement or disagreement and at best, mutual respect for different opinion.

Much is always made of the fact Nigeria fought a civil war and, therefore, any idea of secession or disintegration should be “perished.” Other countries similarly fought civil wars and have (since) disintegrated or broken up solely for the fire with which we are playing in Nigeria. The 1917 revolution in Russia was a civil war. Russia later grew wings and annexed, during world wars, many other nations, more as booty of war. So unreasonable did the leaders become that iron curtain was thrown round the eventually unmanageable expanse called Soviet Union. Barely seventy years later, a Mikkail Gorbachev came on the scene, introduced political reforms, leading to the break-up of the Soviet Union. Today, the component fifteen independent republics are each developing at its pace. There is not even a remote link between one republic and another.

Sudan is another African country whose years-long civil war was bloodier than Nigeria’s. Owing to the inability of President Omar Al-Bashir to recognise the genuine grievances of Southern Sudanese, his intransigence blinded him into false belief that the world would remain indifferent to the massacre he inflicted on Southern Sudanese. Today, Al-Bashir is fleeing from arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court in Hague for necessary trial for crimes against humanity.

Worse still, United Nations had to intervene with the principle of self-determination by organising referendum in Southern Sudan. Hence, the secession of the South as an independent country from Sudan.

For years, Eritreans agitated for secession from Ethiopia. In the ensuing civil war, hundreds of thousands of Eritrians were killed by the Ethiopian authorities in a futile bid to sustain an unworkable country. The world would no longer remain unconcerned, as; again, the United Nations had to intervene, offering Eritrians their right to self-determination in a referendum. Today, Eritria is an independent country after seceding from Ethiopia.

What can we say of Yugoslavia? Here was a group of incompatible different nationalities decreed into one nation by the great powers at the end of First World War in 1918. Yugoslavia was always an easy reference for African leaders in sustaining, more for personal selfish reasons, the unworkable African nations carved by the great powers at the Berlin Conference in 1885, More like a curse, Yugoslavia crumbled into pieces in alarming civil war from 1991. Both the United Nations and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) had to intervene at various stages to uphold each independence unilaterally declared by the warring groups.

Today, instead of Yugoslavia, there are new seven independent countries, namely Serbia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia, Kosovo, Croatia and Macedonia. The world did not sit by to allow bloodshed to continue. Therefore, instead of the delusion that the idea of secession must perish, the Nigerian establishment it is, that must perish its constant arrogance, contempt provocation and (perhaps, unconscious) overlordship. Talking down to Nigerians like slaves or subordinates? No Nigerian or group is a slave or subordinate to another.

Truth is bitter but it must be repeated that 2016 is not 1966. Gone are the days, even years when nations committed crimes against humanity under the farce of sovereignty. The message was conveyed beyond doubt not long ago by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Presiding over an East African mediation session in Kampala over the on-going state butchery in Burundi, Museveni condemned the boycott of that mediation by the Burundian leader, Pierre Nkurunziza. According to Museveni, “You cannot hide under sovereignty and be killing your own people. Sovereignty is a platform against foreigners and not defenceless citizens.” Throughout the tragic events leading to, and entire duration of the civil war in Nigeria, there was no such blunt view by any African leader. But times have changed.

Almost fifty years after that war, the world has embraced concession in form of self-determination to recognise the rights and wishes of each country’s subjects to choose how to be ruled, where to delineate as permanent abode or by whom to be ruled. It is a principle of self-determination enunciated by the United Nations to, among others, halt the murderous activities of those parading as leaders in Sudan and Ethiopia, still a kind of sword of Damocles, hanging to fall on any similar culprit.

Another country, Czechoslovakia, hitherto run with iron hand though supposed to be independent yet under the suzerainty of the defunct Soviet Union, seized the advantage of the disintegration of Soviet Union to also go into voluntary break-up into two new independent nations – (Czech and Slovak in January 1993. Every day, development all over the world is that no country is sacrosanct except as desired and determined by the people. Disintegration is either voluntary as in Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia or forced as in Sudan, Ethiopia and Yugoslavia. It is a legitimate right recognised all over the world, including Africa, which endorsed the break-up of Sudan and Ethiopia.

Those threatening a second civil war in Nigeria must pause and explain why Nigeria army is not only into, at least, the seventh year against Boko Haram but also still recruiting freshers for emergency training to combat the insurgents. Another pause for an explanation is that despite the intermittent braggadocio, Niger-Delta militants are still toe-to-toe against Nigerian soldiers?

There are even other compelling reasons the hawks, threatening violent repression of secessionist desire must first convince themselves for another civil war. It is doubtful if any of them (the hawks) today is aware of alignments of forces before war started. Without the experiences of the 1967-1970 civil war, these hawks should be pitied. How did they think that war took off at all? Who can guarantee similar circumstances today? An essential guarantee for a war is proper and adequate alignment of forces, even if for purposes of convenience.

The last war taught the combatants various bitter lessons at different levels; this is one of the 2016 realities with which those threatening a repeat civil war must reckon. A war is not just a war. Today’s alignments – whether at regional, state, zonal or local government level – are quite different from events, leading to the civil war. In summary, the civil war was prosecuted by thirty-one of today’s states against the remaining five of today’s states in Nigeria. Today, there is complete change of attitude, largely more of regret over their roles in the civil war. There are parts of the country, which will be lukewarm towards joint alignment of forces as was in 1967.

Whatever his imperfections, the late Brigadier-General Benjamin Adekunle was one of the distinguished officers during the war. That such a man could later publicly express regret for taking up arms against Biafra should be enough message for second civil war hawks. Adekunle’s regret in a sense was medicine after death but that will be missing the point or the effect of his regret. The impact remains.

In another vein, former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General T.Y. Danjuma is on record that no country survives two civil wars.

Is agitation for secession limited to Nigeria? A couple of years ago, Scotland organised a referendum for secession from Britain. The Scots were not threatened with another civil war by Britain, which over centuries had its own share of civil wars. Instead of such threats or intimidation, other British politicians, including serving Prime Minister David Cameroon and two ex-prime ministers, themselves Scots, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, mounted individual counter campaigns against the secession bid of the Scots. Eventually, United Kingdom survived the referendum by a slight margin.

In 1972, United Kingdom through a referendum, joined the European Union, which years later proved uncomfortable. Last June, British government conducted a referendum with the option for voters to sustain or withdraw continued membership of the European Union. Majority overall voted for seceding from Europe, only to discover that majority of Scots voted the other way to continue membership of European Union. Unfortunately, Scotland, as part of United Kingdom will forfeit membership of European Union unless it (Scotland) secedes from United Kingdom to attain a sovereign status. Accordingly, the Scottish First Secretary, Nicola Sturgeon, has commenced plans for another referendum for the region’s independence.

British Prime Minister has not threatened to crush the legitimate aspiration of the Scots to secede from Britain nor contemptuously dismissed Scots to perish the idea of secession from United Kingdom. Two observations: Instead of the threat of military might, Britain is pleading consulting, persuading Scots with major concessions to remain in United Kingdom.

That should be Nigeria’s best option instead of throwing its military might about.

Last words. Ukraine was one of the fifteen republics, which emerged from the disintegration of Soviet Union. With the assistance of Russia, a region of Ukraine has since seceded. Crimea is now aspiring for sovereign status.

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