Return of the repressed
The moment Nigerian Head of State General Sani Abacha died in 1998, opposition to Nigerian skewed federation erupted. In Zamfara State Governor Ahmed Yerima, contrary to Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution guaranteeing religious freedom, imposed Sharia laws in 1999. Yerima claimed secular Nigeria that allowed punk haircut and alcohol was anti-Islam but Nigerians reminded him that Kano and Kaduna States brewed Double Crown and Kronenbourg Lager Beers in the1980s. The Sharia riots that followed claimed thousands.
In May 2013, Eggonland exploded. The dreadful Omatse Cult ambushed, killed and incinerated 70 policemen and 10 State Security Service (SSS) officers. Ostensibly, the Omatse claimed it wanted an end to fornication, drunkenness and theft in Eggonland. But the whole truth was that majority Eggon felt grossly shortchanged in the leadership of Nasarawa State having produced no governor.
In Igboland, Ralph Uwazurike launched his Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) in 1999. Igbo detractors immediately recognised him and Nnamdi Kanu as authentic Igbo leaders who spoke the mind of Igbos. Nigerians asked, were Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf and Abubakar Shekau of Boko Haram the authentic leaders of Hausa/Fulani? Why should the Hausa/Fulani be absolved of the criminality of secessionists who declared an Islamic Caliphate while Igbos were blamed for same?
In Ijawland, Felix Tuodolo, Oronto Douglass, Isaac Osuaka, etc, hatched the Kaiama Declaration in December 1998. They demanded the control of petroleum and gas resources found in Ijawland; and measures aimed at protecting the Ijaw environment devastated by oil exploration. But it was their formation of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) that effectively opened the Pandora Box: The moment moderate Tuodolo handed over this organisation to Asari Dokubo, Nigeria soon found itself fighting the 2009 Oil War against Ijaw militants.
Hazards of dissent
Dissent is a progressive instrument in democracy; but when carried too far it becomes destructive. It must be expressed within the limits of democratic proposals in a debate. Once you do that you are getting somewhere. But when you say your view must prevail to the exclusion of others on account of your numeric, economic or military strength, then it becomes counter-productive. There are complexities, or limitations, not to be crossed.
It is also cowardice leaving the union because of alternate views. Are there no divisions in every unit? It is when you secede that such intra-divisions become more pronounced. Not minding that fear of domination led to secession, a new majority will emerge to trigger off another round of dissent. External forces, wearing religious garbs, often encourage divisions. This will reduce Nigeria to a killing field.
Secession is not the solution to Nigerian asymmetric union as that could set one generation against its neighbour. Rather than outright secession, let us build consensus around thorny issues carrying everyone’s opinion along and move on. Below are two instances of what consensus or the lack of it can achieve in the face of virile opposition.
As early as 1945, Dr. Nnamdi (Zik) Azikiwe, in his ‘The Political Blueprint of Nigeria,’ called for the division of Nigeria into eight-state federation. Then in 1947 Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s ‘Path to Nigerian Freedom’ called for reorganisation of Nigeria into ten states based on cultural and linguistic affinities. In 1948, Zik’s National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, (NCNC) went a step further issuing its Freedom Charter calling for a federal constitution. That to achieve a balanced federation and allay inter-tribal fears, Nigeria should be broken into smaller units based on ethnic and linguistic lines.
Therefore, in the late 1940s and 1950s cultural associations interested in having their own states emerged. The Ibibio State Union, Ibo State Union, Middle Belt State, Ijaw State Union, Egbe Omo Oduduwa, Calabar/Ogoja/Rivers, (COR) State Union, Rivers State Union, etc, were formed. The agitation for state creation did not start with Harold Dappa-Biriye who only popularised it.
The British constituted the Henry Willinks Minority Commission to look into the minority demand for their own states. Ahmadu Bello, Zik and Awolowo, known as the “Big Three,” were unanimous ensuring that states were not created for the minorities by the departing British. They promised doing that after independence. Bello was the leader of the Northern Region with Hausa/Fulani majority. Zik was the leader of the Eastern Region with Igbo majority; while Awolowo was the leader of the Western Region with Yoruba majority. The three majorities constituted 50percent of Nigerian 56 million population. The other 50percent was made up of over 247 diverse minorities spread around the Big Three.
After independence Bello, Zik and Awolowo again united in denying their minorities states. Bello supported state creation for Eastern and Western minorities but not for his own Northern minorities. Zik supported state creation for Western and Northern minorities but never for his own Eastern minorities. Awolowo supported state creation for Eastern and Northern minorities but opposed same for his Western minorities. This devil-inspired entete by the trio was called “negative consensus” by Professor Lawrence Baraebibai Ekpebu. They knew state creation would pacify their minorities and stabilise Nigeria but stiffly refused to do the needful.
Then the “Evil Trinity” fell apart. Bello and Zik colluded to send Awolowo to jail and hastily carved out the Midwestern Region from Awolowo’s Western Region. The “Big Two” were left standing. Next, a coup believed by northerners to be an Igbo coup wiped out Bello on 15th January 1966 leaving Zik as the sole “Big One.” But a northern counter-coup of 29th July 1966 completely destroyed any hope of Zik ever running the affairs of Nigeria. The intolerant “Big Three” were pulverised by unseen forces latent in any polity where injustice rules. Who told you that Bello, Zik and Awolowo were guiltless?
For nine years the majorities lost power to the minorities led by Colonel Yakubu Gowon, leader of the counter-coup.Not trained to negotiate and make compromises, the military plunged the country into a civil war, 1967-1970. Millions died. That is what happens when power becomes intolerant of dissent.
At the 2014 National Conference, Nigerians came face to face with vexatious issues capable of tearing them apart. But the Niger Delta minorities saved the day through “positive consensus” building. First, they reached agreement on their different claims and contestations. Next, they reached out to the South East and harmonised the latter’s demands with theirs. Then they brought on board the South West making it possible to form a Southern Bloc. Finally, the Middle Belt was brought in to form a vast majority needed to dialogue with the far north. Even in the far north were progressives who understood the need for change.
Read also: Fractured opposition, fragile democracy
Today’s heightened problems of farmer/herder conflict, secession, banditry, corruption, etc, have everything to do with the non-implementation of the Conference Report. The erstwhile peaceful South East is in turmoil today with Nigerian leaders asking what else the zone wanted. The answer is that the South East wants the sixth state created for it by the conference.
But the whole truth must be told: In 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari asked Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, led by Chief Nnia Nwodo, to give him the name of a sixth state for him to create in the South East. Ohanaeze constituted a State Creation Committee chaired by Professor Chigozie Ogbu. The committee recommended the creation of Aba State. For not recommending Adada/Nsukka State for creation, Chief Nwodo who comes from Nsukka refused to transmit the Aba State recommendation letter, dated 10th October 2018, to Buhari. That was how Igbos lost the opportunity to get their sixth state.
Footnote to Patriot Gumi
In ‘Les Miserables,’ Victor Hugo makes distinction between the rebel who opts for secession as his only way of getting equity and patriot who preaches patriotism but practises wholesale banditry. He wants you to look at motives when judging the two protagonists and decide who deserves condemnation. On 19th October 2023, the media reported Patriot Ahmad Gumi as declaring that Israeli Ambassador Michael Freeman must never be allowed into the offices of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja. He also decreed that Nigerian Christians must never be allowed to carry guns or rule Nigeria. Gumi overstepped the complexities of dissent and our response is three-fold:
One, the Niger Delta minorities will partner the Israeli International Development Agency, Mashav, to develop their agriculture and renewable energy. (see ‘Niger Delta and Israel,’ by Chigachi Eke and Dr. Felix Tuodolo). Yobe State partnered North Korea while the nineteen northern states partnered American General Electric, GE, for solar energy.
Two, our healthy relationship with our Muslim brothers and sisters can never be fractured by grumpy Gumi. We nurse no ill will against Muslims and their religion. Alhaji Yahyah Ndu, a Muslim from Nsukka, is revered in Igboland.
And three, Gumi is Mossad’s best recruiting agent creating Israelis out of ordinary Nigerians. What he fails to understand is that being an Israeli is a mindset. Amos Oz points out that it was Arabs’ refusal, or what he calls the Saladin Complex, to recognise Israel that produced the extremist, or Masada Complex, in Israelis. These opposing complexes fuel the war without end in the Middle East. Nigerian Christians besmirched as kafirs and infidels by Gumi are today on the side of Israel.
Within the South East not everybody wants Biafra. The majority sees new possibilities in One Nigeria. In the South West it is not everyone that wants Oduduwa Republic. Same pro-unitate scenarios play out in the South-South and Middle Belt. In the north those who favour secular Nigeria are more than those who want Sharia. Get these pro-Nigeria majorities and we forge ahead. That is positive consensus building.
If you break up Nigeria, you’ll end up breaking each unit further and further till only a hamlet is left or internecine wars consume everyone. Within Biafra, for instance, Igbos dehumanised as Osus will fight the so-called Dialas. In Arewa Republic, disgruntled Christian minorities like the Eggon, Tiv, Seyawa, Jukun, Birom, Idoma, Angas, Langtang, etc, could secede. It will be crisis everywhere.
But those for One Nigeria are also interested in equity, justice and fair play. No group should rule Nigeria all the time. The Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba duopoly, the new Big Two, is inimical to the survival of Nigeria. A change of guards is desirable to give everyone a sense of belonging. Nigerians want the presidency zoned to Igbos; just as the Hausa/Fulani zoned it to Yorubas in 1999, 2007 and 2023. The basis for Nigerian unity subsists: Implement the Conference Report and witness national rebirth.
.Eke, Email: [email protected], Phone: 081 3515 9313; takes full responsibility for his own opinion.