July 11, 2021

Megalomania and the persistent quest for self-determination in Nigeria (1)

Saying it as it is

By Douglas Anele

Sometimes when I make up my mind to write on a topic of general philosophical interest an unexpected event or occurrence of serious interest and impact happens in the country that will derail such decision. For instance, this week I intended to discuss the fundamentals of secular humanism and explain why it is superior to the rampant religious worldview prevalent in Africa using Nigeria as a case study.

But I changed my mind because of the Gestapo-like re-arrest and detention of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and the provocative ransacking of the Ibadan residence of Sunday Adeyemo (alias Sunday Igboho) who has recently been spearheading the quest for an Oduduwa nation and is currently declared wanted by one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s attack dogs, the Department of State Services (DSS).

For sure, I will take up the issue of secular humanism later in another series due to its significance as a counterweight to the crippling crude and toxic religiosity all over the place. At the moment my task is to examine as dispassionately as possible recurrent agitations especially in the south for separate countries to be carved out of Nigeria, the origins of such movements for self-determination, their manifestations and justification, as well as suggestions on how the country can be reconstituted in a manner that will drastically minimise, if not eliminate completely, the persistent desire particularly by the Igbo to pull out of the country, although the Yoruba and the predominantly Ijaw people of the coastal regions are also caught up in the gravitational pull of self-determination.

Now, before we go into details, it is instructive to note that like everything in history the formation of countries or nations is the by-product of both intended and unintended consequences of human decisions, choices, and actions, which is why those who shamelessly claim that the unity of Nigeria is sacrosanct or non-negotiable are either self-deceivers ignorant of history or are benefitting from the current unjust system which is prone to instability, mutual inter-ethnic distrust and resentment leading to strident demands for self-determination and, if care is not taken, catastrophic internecine conflict.

It could also be due to lack of creative intelligence or imagination to appreciate the fact that countries or nations are created by human beings and can be dismembered by human beings as well when the time is right. Without equivocation the issue of who should determine why, when and by what means a new country should be created from an existing one or that the latter should be dissolved is very problematic.

However, history teaches that at the minimum a significant number of citizens must come to the conclusion that the present political situation in their country has degenerated to a point-of-no-return such that existing institutions are incapable of providing lasting solutions to the problem. In other words, the conviction among a critical mass of the populace that things have become so bad that only a radical departure from, and deconstruction of, existing political institutions will do is a necessary but not sufficient condition for triggering either a revolution or serious demand for self-determination.

All things considered, those who share the conviction must be willing to act accordingly because beliefs no matter how strong are impotent until willpower stands behind them. Hence the mere realisation that existing political arrangements have broken down irrecoverably must be complemented by effective action to bring about the desired change.

That is why any activity geared towards creating a new nation out of one already in existence is always a very risky and dangerous undertaking which often leads to life-and-death situations or armed conflict. During the primitive stage in the evolution of human society, socio-political groupings were limited to small tribes largely comprising small groups of people that trace their origin or lineage to an ancestor or ancestors.

Then, armed confrontation was restricted to intertribal conflicts with primitive weapons. As time went on, social groupings became larger and larger, and the development of writing and military technology encouraged the formation of more complex and diverse communities by allowing the documentation and dissemination of ancient myths of common origins, and conquests.

Writing also made possible the rapid development of knowledge that bolstered steady improvement in all aspects of human life culminating in the emergence of countries or nations in the modern sense through the use of force and negotiation. At the present stage of social organisation, virtually all countries of the world are culturally and linguistically heterogeneous, which reflects continuous migrations that have been occurring globally for millennia, although in each country there could be a major or dominant language, culture and lifestyle (in the widest sense)that tend to supervene over the others.    

Focusing on Nigeria, the first point to note which has been reported ad nauseam by historians and commentators on her chequered history is that the country was a British imperialist creation meant to serve the economic interests of the colonial power and for administrative convenience.

The second point is that Nigeria came about largely through British conquest and high octane deceit perpetrated by British military adventurers and colonial officials in concert with myopic selfish elements within the indigenous populations. All this means that the origin of Nigeria rests on a terribly weak moral foundation. Thirdly, high-ranking British colonial administrators and prominent Nigerian politicians of the First Republic especially from the north not only acknowledged the complex multiply plural nature of Nigeria but frankly expressed doubts regarding its viability as a united and harmonious nation.

This point is extremely important for understanding the ogbanje-like phenomenon of separatist agitation in the country notwithstanding that Fulani caliphate colonialists talk and behave as if One Nigeria is ordained by nature. Meanwhile deep-seated differences in language, culture and worldview of the three most prominent legs of the tripod on which Nigeria stands, namely, the Fulani-Hausa, the Igbo and the Yoruba (in a broader geographical context between northern Nigeria and the south) with their centrifugal tendencies require astute political engineering by leaders imbued with selfless nationalistic consciousness to  bridge them.

Unfortunately, such leaders are yet to emerge especially since July 29, 1966, which is why the country has been in motion without real movement forward, to the extent that the modest political and economic gains made between 1960 and 1966 had been lost almost completely as a result of mutating variants of the grotesque hybrid unitarist-federal constitution thathas been the grundnorm since the northern revanchist coup of July 1966.

Before going into fine-grained analysis of agitations for self-determination or separatist movements in Nigeria, it would be useful to have a clear understanding of what self-determination is all about and how it figures in relevant international organisations.

The right of a collection of human beings to self-determination, as a core principle of international law embodied in the United Nations’ Charter, states “that people, based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity, have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no interference.”

Philosophically this definition could be interpreted as the extension of the moral principle that each human being that have attained the age of reason is free to choose and act without external compulsion. On the surface the principle of self-determination seems quite easy to understand and apply, but in practice the concept is extremely difficult to actualise because of its complex legal, political, economic and social tentacles.

Moreover, according to Wikipedia, “the principle does not state how the decision is to be made, nor what the outcome should be, whether it be independence, federation, protection, some form of autonomy or full assimilation. Neither does it state what the delimitation between peoples should be – nor what constitutes a people.”

To be continued.