There was a country –By Michael Kuduson
The title of this piece is adopted verbatim from Chinua Albert Achebe’s book before his demise. The reason for adopting this title will be discussed as the piece progresses. Nigeria has gained standing as a country that has adamantly refused to learn from familiar grounds, draw lessons from Juba, on the one hand, and the stance of the Igbos, the Kaduna Declaration, and the need for restructuring as far as the development of Nigeria is concerned, on the other hand. These issues have far reaching implications for present-day Nigeria and its future.
Nigeria’s challenge of secession is not a new thing. Events of the coup and counter coup of 1966 led to the Nigerian Civil War which lasted for 30 months. The end of the brutal war left a wound that would take till the conversion of the Jews to heal. Events that preceded the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War are presently around to haunt us. These familiar grounds show that Nigeria is not ready whatsoever to heal the wounds of mutual animosity that we initially incurred. This country has not fully recovered from the consequences of our inability to manage our differences. On the political front, it opened a chapter of distrust against the Igbos. On the economic front, Nigeria lost investments worth billions of dollars and created a gap in Nigeria’s surge towards economic prosperity shortly after independence. Socially, Nigeria lost sons and daughters with the expertise to move this country forward. These are painful, familiar grounds. Any recurrence of the Nigerian Civil War is tantamount to the end of Nigeria if these familiar grounds are anything to go by.
The stance of the Igbos.
Igbo nationalism has gained momentum in recent times. The Nnamdi Kanu-led Indigenous People of Biafra has resuscitated the call for an independent state of Biafra. While numerous people of Igbo extraction support this movement, it is not a collective bandwagon. There are some reservations. The agitators anchor their argument on political marginalisation. This stance is not entirely false, neither should it be rebuffed as a mere political grievance. While i share in some of the discontents of the Igbos, i must aver that there are lawful patterns for agitating to break away. Before they are granted independence (if it will come true), they must realise that they belong to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and are compelled to respect the laws that govern Nigeria. Hoisting secessionist flags is not only undesirable but illegitimate. The Igbos should agitate to break away within the ambits of legitimacy. In this regard, the Federal Government would call for a referendum if necessary for the Igbos to decide if they want to stay or not. Before then, they must restrict their agitation within the confines of the laws of the land.
Lessons from Juba.
South Sudan is immersed in the waters of ethnic clashes after successfully breaking away from Sudan. Differences and conflicts are normal but our inability to manage these conflicts leads to chaos. One might argue that unlike South Sudan, people of Igbo extraction are one ethnic group. However, the grounds of conflicts are ubiquitous. What about the Aguleri and Uguleri skirmish? Possibly, though i am not a prophet of doom, it might be after imdependence that the people of Nnewi will realise that they are different from their Okigwe counterpart. The point is, and not a moot one, differences abound. Let us strive to manage these differences, imstead of breaking into ethnic nationalities.
I was taken aback when I learned that a coalition of northern youths had issued a three months ultimatum to peope of Igbo extraction to leave northern Nigeria. Northern elders threw their weight behind this declaration. These events elicited varied responses from different quarters, depending on the side of the divide. The conclusion of the matter is that no individual or group of individuals has the right to ask another Nigerian to leave a particular region. Drumbeats of support by the ‘so-called’ northern elders show how divided we are in Nigeria. Signatories to the ‘Kaduna Declaration’ should be arrested, prosecuted, and convicted because this declaration violates the freedom of movement as enshrined in Section 41(1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended. Section 41(1) states: “Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereto or exit therefrom”.
Restructuring: the way forward?
There is no gainsaying the fact that restructuring is the way forward for Nigeria. Nigeria needs to adopt the tenets of true federalism. The vicious circle of states being perpetually dependent on the Federal Government must stop. The unitary feeding bottle system we operate has crippled Nigerian states from taking their destinies into their own hands. By allowing states to be financially independent, innovations and development will follow, as states will strive to survive in competition with others. This will also eliminate claims of marginalisation because there is no ‘national cake’ to feast on. The need for restructuring should not be a moot point. It is necessary.
There was a country.
I stated earlier that the title of this piece is consciously adopted from Chinua Albert Achebe’s book. The reason for this adoption is to reiterate the need to put the issue of secession behind us and strive to build a country that works through the tenets of true federalism. ‘There Was A Country’. The verb ‘was’ requires Nigeria to put the issue of Biafra behind. Achebe was very instrumental in the intellectual battle for the actualization of Biafra. The fact that he wrote such a title gives credence to the fact that he has forgotten about secession. Nigerians must learn from history or repeat it. There is a country – Nigeria. Let us strive to make it work. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”. – Martin Luther King Jnr.p