Buhari should start the separatism boil
The secession of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by one of its constituent units was widely considered to have been banished with the end of the civil war in 1970. Indeed, no one has ever dared to broach this subject, even in private. because most people had done it. confidence in the ability of the country’s political and military leaders to pull the state ship away from these rough waters. Disagreements over policy, tactics and strategy have surfaced, sometimes vehemently, but secession has never been part of the deal, until now. Something previously considered taboo has now made its way into mainstream political discourse. Meanwhile, permutations around the 2023 election and struggles for office continue to exercise members of the political class who, like the proverbial ostriches, prefer to stick their heads in the sand. The cascading events of the past two months emphasizing the country’s corporate existence as a unit must be viewed as of great concern to the general public, inside and outside Nigeria. Suddenly, it seems, to speak of autonomy of Biafra and Yoruba, even of the status of independence vis-à-vis Nigeria is no longer “extremist propaganda”; it quickly becomes a kitchen table, a discussion of the car park. This is fueled, no doubt, by the rising cost of living witnessed by the multitude of citizens from top to bottom of the country. The security and brutality of dissent by the armed forces also do nothing to ease the tension. On the contrary, the harassment and detention of elements of the opposition, generally and collectively regarded as “suspects” in the separatist agitation, only betray the fragility of the Nigerian state.
The question for the reader this week is whether Nigerians have indeed lost so much faith in the corporate existence of their country that they would prefer to split into different “independent” segments. Let’s take a look at the evidence. From 1970 to 1979, the military was in charge of the country in its efforts to rebuild and rebuild after the civil war. The oil boom of the 1970s gave everyone an interest in political economy and a huge assumption about Nigeria’s “pre-established” fate to “rule” Africa. No one has heard of ‘marginalization’, ‘nepotism’, ‘Hausa’ ‘Fulani’, ‘Igbo’ ‘Efik’, or anything like that. A new civilian government succeeded the army under the presidency of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, between 1979 and 1983 until it was overthrown in a coup led by Major General Muhammadu Buhari who, himself, was overthrown in a palace coup led by General Ibrahim Babaginda in 1985. Yet “ethnicity” or “marginalization” played almost no role in any of the events. . The common enemy was high level mismanagement and corruption. No one has talked about partitioning Nigeria. Afterwards, everyone wanted the military to leave the government. Everyone had only one project in mind: Nigeria, democracy and development, in that order. Babangida reluctantly bowed to the pressure and held a general election in 1993. Nigerians came out by the millions and voted in favor of the Social Democratic Party candidate, MKO Abiola, a Yoruba Muslim from the Southwest, and his running mate , Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe, a Kanuri Muslim from the North.
Note the ‘Muslim-Muslim’ ticket of the presidential and vice-presidential ticket. She shattered the myth of mistrust and discord between Christians and Muslims forming the basis of Nigerian political life. What’s more, Abiola won the support of the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the North, including defeating Republican National Convention presidential candidate Alhaji Bashir Tofa, a Fulani from Kano in his own constituency. This, once again, shattered the myth of an “irreconcilable” North-South dichotomy in Nigerian politics.
Unfortunately, the outcome of the election, although widely known, was never made official. It was cowardly, shamefully and scandalously “canceled” by the outgoing military dictator, General Babangida, to be “unacceptable”. Nigerians had just participated in the most peaceful, free and open democratic election in its history, and the military simply rejected it. Indeed, the military and the person of Babangida in particular have caused untold damage to the welfare of Nigeria by doing so. Ethnicity is now making its way into the lexicon of political dialogue in Nigeria, as it was widely believed that the election would not have been called off without the winner coming from the southwestern region of the country.
The military hierarchy, led by Babangida, could not bear the idea of ceding power to a man duly chosen by the people, regardless of his ethnicity and religion. Spit in the face for the electorate (North, South, East and West, Christians and Muslims) who had turned a blind eye to ethnicity and other forms of sectarianism. Was this the pivotal moment when “a Nigeria” was lost?
The question now is how did the same Nigerians who acted in unison and without prejudice in 1993 then become “separatists” and “secessionists” in 2021? What could have happened that caused people to give up the same country they embraced in 1993, to the point where they are now actively seeking to separate? The short answer is that the foundation on which the new democratic dispensation was built by the departing army in 1999 was doomed to failure. It was a military device, which the ruling elites have aggravated every year since 1999. It bore the badge: “We the people…” It was a blatant lie. The public was not involved. Yet that does not fully explain the clamor for a separate nation that is so openly in demand in the regions. According to any objective analysis, the basis for separation or secession does not appear to exist, nor have the political arguments in the matter been advanced or rejected. It is precisely the stifling of democratic debate around this issue that has given rise to the rhetoric and agitation in favor of separation.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retired) and the All Progressives Congress regime are the ones who have failed to live up to the challenge. They should call the bluff of the separatist agitators and engage them in debate instead of lambasting them as enemies of the state. The more you ban a political idea, the more attractive it becomes.
To substantiate this point, no Igbo leader of any significance has ever associated (at least not openly) with the position taken by the indigenous peoples of Biafra, and no widespread support for his goal either. That was until the Buhari regime outlawed the organization. Now no one can pretend to ignore the organization, its leader and its purpose. Conversely, no notable Yoruba leader has come to endorse Sunday Igboho, the Yoruba separatist leader, nor does he have a generalized following for him. That was until the armed forces started attacking him and declared him wanted. By analogy, the Scottish Nationalist Party in the UK and the Basque Nationalists in Spain are prime examples of aspirations for a homeland, housed and provided with a public space in both countries. The ongoing debate in these countries is not without pain and resentment, but it is countered by superior arguments and clever political maneuvering on the part of the establishment. The Scottish people, for example, have always voted against independence from the United Kingdom. The last referendum on the issue took place in 2014, which the nationalists lost. How many people would vote for an independent Yoruba (O’dua) Republic or the Republic of Biafra today, for that matter? More importantly, where the hell would the borders of the putative countries be drawn? Which ethnic subgroup would be absorbed and which would be rejected? Nigeria’s unity can and should be negotiated. Assuming that they avoid violence, that all those who harbor a political ambition for autonomy or regional independence are not banned, come forward and defend their position in an open debate. They must be countered by force of argument and not by force of arms.
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