In recent times, the calls to divide Nigeria into its constituent units have grown increasingly louder. In the South East, the Indigenous People’s Of Biafra (IPOB), under Nnamdi Kanu has waged a largely peaceful campaign to resurrect the Biafra Republic for about a decade. The North East has witnessed a brutal Islamist insurgency where Boko Haram and the Islamist State West Africa Province (ISWAP) seek to establish a modern-day Salafist Caliphate over large swaths of the country. In the South West, Sunday Adeniyi Adeyemo, popularly called, Sunday Igboho, has risen as the most visible campaigner for the Oduduwa Republic. In June 2017, a coalition of Northern youth groups made a Kaduna Declaration where they demanded that all Ibos leave the North by October of that year. They also called on the Federal Government to initiate a process to result in the creation of Biafra from Nigeria.
These actions have not occurred in isolation but are simply snapshots of the political crises that are bedevilling Nigeria. Just this year alone, two major agricultural cartels, The Amalgamated Union of Foodstuffs and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria (AFUCDN) in March and June and Onion Producers and Marketers Association of Nigeria (OPMAN) earlier this month have threatened to cut off various food items to the South. Various Niger-Delta groups threatened to cut off oil supply in retaliation to the food blockade. That threat recalls previous episodes when militancy forced the Nigerian state to negotiate as violence caused fiscally damaging cuts to oil production.
Unfortunately, the responses of our ruling class have, as always, been less than stellar.
The result of this intellectual vacuum is that everyday Nigerians opposed to the partitioning of Nigeria has very few thought out arguments to base their support for the continued existence of Nigeria. The inability of our leaders to pick the low hanging fruits of the tree of unity means that they have disengaged from the factual and historic arguments for keeping Nigeria together.
Over a hundred years after amalgamation, and 60 plus years after independence, the various nationalities that make up Nigeria have developed intertwining connections that become even more impossible to untangle with time. Through commerce, marriage, education, religion and politics, our peoples have interrelated and intermingled over the vast space and time that defines Nigeria. Even a decision by Nigeria’s socio-political elite to peacefully divide the country will be extremely challenging to negotiate.
As the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union has shown, any such negotiation will be long, assiduous and rancorous. It could easily break down and cause large-scale violence.
Even if a decision can be made by the upper class to separate, the resulting forced displacement of people will most likely result in unimaginable chaos, carnage and destruction of lives and property. As the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan showed, any such mass movement of millions of people will be impossible to manage, and will most likely leave tens of thousands killed and millions as refugees. The bad blood and antagonism that is sure to result may lead to active and cold wars likely to last for decades.
And if partitioning can miraculously be achieved peacefully, the resulting countries will be left with the remnants of Nigeria’s geopolitical structures, cultures and maladies. Combined with the difficulties of resulting large displaced populations, these countries will still have to deal with the various socio-economic issues currently facing those parts of Nigeria.
With hostile neighbours, a number of these countries will remain unstable for long periods as various power groups fight for dominance and external parties seek to keep the country in relative weakness. The example of South Sudan and its civil war is a lesson for us all.
Ultimately, the major argument in favour of Nigeria’s unity is for our leaders to do the hard work of making Nigeria work for everyone. These calls for the breakup of Nigeria result from over a generation of repression and the denial of the benefits of Nigerian citizenship. This has resulted in a generation that seeks advancement and fulfilment outside of regular social structures. While the government must defend itself and society from malevolent nonstate actors, threatening to visit violence against entire populations has never resulted in a durable peace. It is time for the ruling class to step up and show that it is capable of building a Nigeria that will work for everyone. Before it is too late.
Damimola Olawuyi is an engineer and geopolitical analyst