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Nigeria is in a state of undeclared war with itself. The most populous black nation on earth is fighting on different fronts ranging from the Boko Haram insurgency to the scourge of marauding Fulani killer herdsmen and the militant activities of the avengers in the Niger Delta, these clearly show that all is not well with Nigeria. The common denominator of all these groups is separatism which has been triggered by the structure of the Nigerian State, her political methodologies and structures.
The longest-running secessionist agitation is the Biafra aspiration among Nigeria’s Igbo ethnic group. The Biafran struggle has resurfaced tenaciously under the leadership of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a sectarian group led by Nnamdi Kanu and other minor separatist groups such as the (Biafra Nations Youth League) BNYL and others. The Biafra spirit is as alive today as it was in 1967 because Nigeria is as divided today as she was then, if not worse. The Igbo ethnic group, which is one of the largest in Nigeria, with over forty million people, is the most marginalised and politically disadvantaged. The marginalisation of Ndi Igbo is systematic and far-reaching.
Nigeria as we know her today is a British colonial legacy. Following the amalgamation of the various kingdoms, chiefdoms and peoples of Nigeria in 1914, by the colonial governor of the territory formerly known as the Niger Area, Lord Frederick Lugard, Nigeria’s journey to nationhood began. The various peoples who suddenly found themselves under a common umbrella accepted their new status with mixed feelings and reservations, with each group seeking a better deal within the constitutional framework of the new nation.
One group of people who embraced the modern state of Nigeria without reservation was the Igbo. The pre-colonial egalitarian socio-political system of the Igbo was consistent with the concept of modern constitutional democracy. The independent spirit and unbridled republican nature of the pre-colonial Igbo society, where feudalism and serfdom were almost entirely absent, fostered in them the spirit of competition, the culture of hard work and a societal reward system that was based largely on merit. Coming from this background, the Igbo saw an opportunity in the prospect of a modern state to unleash their energy and enterprise.
Equipped with western education, the Igbo moved freely around Nigeria and made a home of every part of the country they settled in. They made successes of their enterprises and huge financial profits accrued to them, readily distinguishing them within their host communities. Their successes sometimes made the Igbo boisterous with a high sense of self-worth, which unfortunately became mirrored as arrogance to other ethnic groups. The rest of Nigeria began to view the Igbo with suspicion, and their intention was construed as seeking to dominate everywhere and everything. The resentment became more manifest by the dawn of independence in 1960.
The struggle for independence was on the strength of nationalism, which was championed by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. However independent Nigeria subsequently elevated regionalism over nationalism. Therefore the Igbos were caught in between the ideals of nationalism and the reality of regionalism.
Regionalism opened up the Igbos economically and politically. The Igbo who dominated all federal institutions from the military to the academia and the judiciary could only be curtailed from dominating other regional institutions through a rigid form of cultural limitations. This scenario created great tensions in the polity. Issues boiled to the surface by January 1966, when a group of mostly Igbo military officers (though there were other officers both from the North and West who played active roles in the coup) carried out a coup which clearly targeted the political leaders of Northern Nigeria and their allies in the Western Region. This coup was to be a precursor to the civil war, following Biafran separatism as a direct result of a bloody counter-coup staged by Northern military officers, who saw to the killing of the military head of state, as well as other top military officers of Igbo origin. Political power since then has been in the hands of serving and retired military elite, of mostly Northern origin, who actively participated in the counter-coup of July 1966 and also subsequently prosecuted the civil war with the full support of the British government in more of a genocidal attack after violating the Geneva Convention to crush the then young Republic of Biafra rebellion, thirty months later in 1970.
The resurrection of the spirit of Biafra through IPOB is as a consequence of the heightened marginalisation of the Igbo ethnic group under the current administration. Buhari’s political scorched earth policy of a 97 per cent versus five per cent patronage formula, as directly proportional to the percentage of votes cast for him by the regions, is being made real and the Igbo appear being punished for freely making a democratic choice as guaranteed by the constitution. President Buhari has not in any way hidden his resentment for Igbos and the Southeast region.
The Biafran question is beyond Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB agitation, which is only a symbolic expression of deep dissatisfaction brought about by a systematic injustice to Ndi Igbo. The erstwhile ruling military elite ensured that the Southeast geo-political zone, which is the homeland of the Igbo has the least number of states (five) and local governments (95), which translates to less revenue from the federation account, fewer representation at the National Assembly, fewer executive positions in all political parties, with the collective consequence of political irrelevance in the national power equation of the Nigerian state.
This situation is further compounded by the fact that Nigeria exists more for political rather than economic reasons. Therefore, merit, by way of excellence and hard work, is not always rewarded. Sectionalism has been entrenched in the system to reward less work with higher pay, provided you are from the right part of the country. The policy of quota system ensures that standards are lowered to accommodate people from the educationally disadvantaged states of Northern Nigeria into higher institutions of learning, while the standard is raised for people from educationally advantaged states, mostly from the Southern parts of Nigeria.
Ironically, the policy of federal character ensures the North-West, with seven states and one hundred and eighty-seven local governments, gets a higher quota of federal jobs and appointments, irrespective of their educational disadvantaged status. This system with an imbalanced structure clearly shuts out the Igbo, while also limiting their opportunities in a country they are supposed to be part of. It also appears that the other parts of the country are unanimous in their opposition to the emergence of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction, as none of the major political parties has a clear agenda for that purpose.
Under the Muhammadu Buhari administration, no Igbo is trusted enough to be in the kitchen cabinet. The entire top echelon of the defence and internal security apparatus is exclusive of the Igbo. In the last eighteen months of his presidency, Buhari has not visited any part of the South-East. Nothing has been done to address the deep-rooted injustice against a significant section of this country. These largely explain the high level of legitimacy that Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB enjoys among the Igbo today; a legitimacy only comparable to the Chukwuemeka Ojukwu-led Biafra republic.
But any intelligent political analyst would agree that the only way that Biafra can be realised is through the hard road to Regionalism otherwise known as restructuring. This is because under the amended 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, seeking secession through Referendum is a treasonable offence. Under the Nigerian Constitution, no part of Nigeria has the power to form its own independent government or secede from the country. In fact, the word ‘secede’ does not appear in the Constitution. This is shown in Article 2 of the constitution, which states that Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state to be known by the name of the ‘Federal Republic of Nigeria’. This means the only way to legally grant such an option is through an amendment to the law.
The constitution of Nigeria only addresses two scenarios where a referendum is recognised; State Boundary Adjustment and the Recall of a member of the National Assembly. The only territory to ‘leave’ Nigeria, remains the Bakassi peninsula. This was a result of a territorial disagreement between Nigeria and Cameroon and was decided by the International Court of Justice in 2006. However, the origin of the dispute came from pre-independence deliberations. Thus, it did not fall under the constitution that does not permit secession.
This current system being practised in Nigeria has failed the whole country. The whole country is on fire. The Igbos want a shot at the top seat, the Igbos want to be heard, the Igbos want to secede. But the only way to these is through regionalism or restructuring.
One may argue, what has restructuring or regionalism got to do with the Biafran agitation or the shot at Presidency. Our argument is that it has worked for the Igbos before. But the only defect is that it promoted ethnic loyalty but on the contrary, asides that regionalism brought development into the country. The three regions were highly competitive and this brought about rapid development. The West till today enjoys the legacy regionalism gave the country. Majority of the residents of the West are highly educated which has and is still bringing unprecedented growth. The flairs of the type of regionalism practised during the 1st republic should be worked on and the Igbos should be handed an upgraded version.
Regionalism will be a benefit to Igbos and Nigerians in terms of developing the Government structure. This current system of governance in practice only makes Nigerian politicians lazy and aids corruption. Most of the Nigerian states are in financial trouble because of the failure of past and successive governments to prepare for the worst. With an improved regional system, the problem of laziness would be curbed to a large extent. It was under regionalism that Nigeria was a pride to Africa. Also when Nigeria was practising regionalism, there was no oil yet discovered. The present economy which has seen oil falling has also indicated that regionalism is the answer to Nigeria’s wake up call.
More so, restructuring is a song also on the lips of many Nigerians. It has trended for decades and seems to be an inter-generational topical issue in Nigeria. The persistent call for restructuring takes numerous dimensions, but particularly outstanding is in the dimension of politics. It is no surprise though because the philosophy behind the existence of every state and the control of its resources bothers on politics. Therefore, when there is a damaged cog in the wheel of the politics of the state, it becomes imperative to politically restructure the state.
The Igbos stand to gain a lot if regionalism or restructuring is given a chance in the Nigerian State. Biafran agitators and advocates of rotational presidency alike would have a fair shot at being heard under a Government that practises regionalism because, under regionalism, there would be a review to the National Constitution which would pave a path to the restoration of the Biafran state or the review of Zoning in Presidency.
Also, regionalism would pave way for more development in Igbo land which can be used as a strong tool to push for agendas. Most importantly, this envisaged new arrangement of regionalism will enable the different regional power centres to develop and grow at their own pace, without unduly interfering with or holding up their neighbours.
AFRICA DAILY NEWS, NEW YORK