• Friday, July 12, 2024
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Biafra struggle: Self-determination or hooliganism? (2)


One other important development in the United Nations is to be found in the International Covenants on Human Rights of 1966. It stated, inter alia, that “All people have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development…”

The provisions in this covenant are highly significant in that it is about the first time the issue of self-determination would be highlighted outside the context of decolonization. Not only is a right of political self-determination asserted but it is asserted as a human right.

But, as the provision for self-determination began to hatch its eggs, three features presented some problems: (1) the principle of uti possiidetis; (2) the methods by which the wishes of the people claiming the right to self-determination were to be ascertained and guaranteed; and (3) the operation of a proclaimed right of economic self-determination. We shall discuss the first two only for the purpose this treatise.

The principle of uti possidetis: This was derived from Roman Law and it means, per Cassese to whose works a lot in this article is owed, “you will have sovereignty over those territories you possess as of law”. This principle informed the granting of independence to states within the frontier of the pre-existing colonial territory and this could not be altered. The Organisation of African Unity accepted this principle as appropriate and the same guided the decision of International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Frontier Dispute Case (Burkina Faso v. Mali [1986] ICJ Rep 554). Recall the Aaland Islands case also and you will see the same thought running through the decision. The intention of Uti Possidetis was reasonable in the interest of stability. It has, however, created a number of unfortunate consequences as the colonialists brought different groups of people with disparate languages, traditions and cultures under one sovereignty, as is the case in Nigeria.  Suffice it to say that disputes arising within those states that have come before the ICJ were often decided on the principle of Uti Possidetis. What then are the chances of Biafra if it is taken to ICJ?

The condition of the present world favours large sovereign units, coalescing of sovereignties, not secession or splintering. It follows that a proper demand or the variant of self-determination should only be countenanced in the most extreme situation where a gross abuse or denial of human rights by an intolerant government is being perpetuated. Do we have such a case in Nigeria and if we have, are such cases well-articulated and presented to appropriate government bodies for deliberations?

Methods: We have established the fact that the United Nations provided for self-determination as a human right. The pessimism against it is unfounded and it is obvious enough that the purpose of self-determination is democratization of government. We must, however, note that this right is limited by other rights. Self-determination is not a juggernaut trampling upon all other rights; it must have regard to other principles of law as per Umezurike.

In the declaration on Friendly Relations, the United Nations said, “Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs shall be construed  as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of Sovereign and Independent States, conducting themselves in the principle of equal right and self-determination of people as described above and thus possessed of a government representing the whole people belonging to the territory without distinction as to race, creed or colour.”

The principle above is what has guided Québec in Canada, Scotland in the United Kingdom and the Catalan in Spain in their quest for self-determination. Threatening a sovereign nation, hate and seditious speeches, war propaganda and other violent means are thus not acceptable means of asserting right to self-determination. The use of force, according to Umezurike, could frustrate the exercise of self-determination. The UN is very clear about the circumstances that can justify quest for self-determination.

It was the late Justice Kayode Eso who said in Trans Bridge Co. Ltd v. Survey International Ltd: “Surely, equity should not be treated as a tyrannous phenomenon threatening the law… Equity is not a warlord determined to do battle with the law. It is a part of a legal system which has been mixed with the law and the mixture is for the purpose of achieving justice.”

May we also state that self-determination is not to be treated as a tyrannous phenomenon threatening sovereignty; self-determination is not a warlord determined to do battle with sovereignty. It is a part of a UN Charter which has been mixed with other provisions and principles of UN and the mixture is for the purpose of peaceful co-existence as much as possible and peaceful separation where it becomes unavoidable.

Let us therefore allow reason rather than passion to rule our hearts. All is not well with Nigeria, there is no doubt about that. This is the reason some of the ethnic nationalities in the country are clamouring for true federalism. Ndigbo must continue to integrate themselves into Nigeria as they have been doing before this clamour that is assuming a dangerous dimension. Their involvement in the Nigerian polity earned them No. 2 and No. 3 positions in the Federal Government far ahead of the Yorubas. They have a good chance of producing the president when next it comes to the South. They must know that as much as they want Nigeria to show that they (Ndigbo) can trust it, they too need to demonstrate to Nigeria that Ndigbo can be trusted. Nigeria is better as a nation, but if any group wishes to break away, let it be within the ambit of internationally accepted principles and provisions. Our grievances must be put together and channelled through our representatives in the National Assembly. If we are not happy about the way they are representing us, we can recall them and vote in people who believe in our cause. Violence is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Let us remember the words of our elders that should a fowl decide to perch on a rope, neither the rope nor the fowl will be at peace. God bless Nigeria.

Oluwatoyin Ekundayo