Nigeria at 62: A Reflection
By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
Going by historical events and developments starting from 1914, it is evident that Nigeria is not a natural country, state or nation but an artificial creation via a marriage of two unwilling brides who had no say in their forced and ill-fated union- amalgamation of the northern and the southern protectorates on the 14th February 1914, a day set aside to celebrate love all over the world, by Sir Lord Luggard.
The British colonial overlords probably intended the protectorates to operate in a symmetrical manner with no part of the amalgam claiming superiority over the other. This arrangement conferred on the fledgling country the form of the Biblical trinity.
At independence in 1960, Nigeria became a federation, resting firmly on a tripod of three federating regions-Northern, Eastern and Western Regions. Each of the regions was economically and politically viable to steer its own ship.
Shortly after the independence, but before the country became a republic, precisely in 1961, before Nigeria became a republic, something that qualifies as a setback happened.
Southern Cameroun, which was then part of Eastern Nigeria, according to a report, agitated that it wanted to leave Nigeria to re-join their French Cameroun brothers. The United Nations resolved the matter by conducting a plebiscite to determine whether it was the wish of the majority of the Southern Cameroon people, then part of British Colony, to leave the Independent Nation of Nigeria. An overwhelming majority, said to be around 90 % of the people, agreed to leave Nigeria and they did in 1961, thereby reducing the geographical size and population of Eastern Region of Nigeria, aclear warning of a possible separation of Nigeria’s constituent ethnic Nationalities from the Nigerian Federation’.
That was not the only early warning signal that something was fundamentally wrong with the Federation.
Take as an illustration, the federating units were meant to enjoy some level of independence, yet mutual suspicion among them was rife as regional loyalty surpassed nationalistic fervor with each of the three regions at a juncture threatening secession.
The late Premier of the Western Region once described Nigeria as “mere geographical expression” and later threatened “we (Western Region) shall proclaim self-government and proceed to assert it”, a euphemism for secession.
In the same vein, the Northern Region under the Premiership of the late Ahmadu Bello never hid its desire for separate identity. Just before independence, the region threatened to pull out of Nigeria if it was not allocated more parliamentary seats than the south. The departing British colonial masters, desirous of one big entity, quickly succumbed to the threat.
In fact, the north at that time did pretend it never wanted to have anything to do with Nigeria. For example, the motto of the ruling party in that region at that time was “One North, One People, One Destiny.” And the name of the party itself “Northern People’s Congress, NPC,” was suggestive of separatist fervor, distinct identity. It has also been said in several publications -which no one from the north has refuted till today – that the primary reason for the July 29, 1966 bloody revenge coup carried out by young soldiers of Northern Nigerian extraction which led to the massacre of thousands of Igbo soldiers and civilians, including Nigeria’s first Military Head of State, General Thomas Johnson Umunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi was primarily to pull that region out of Nigeria. .
But of all the secession threats since independence, it was the one issued by the Eastern Region in 1966-67 following the bloody counter-coup of July 1966 and subsequent genocide by northern soldiers and civilians in which thousands of easterners living in the north lost their lives or were maimed, and the failure of Gowon to implement the Aburi Accord which was aimed at settling the crisis, that was much more potent. This also explained the massive ARABA (secession) protests that rocked the region shortly after the coup. The result was the declaration of Eastern Region independent country with the name, “Biafra” on May 30, 1967 by the then Military Governor of the Region, the late General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, in compliance with the Eastern Nigeria Consultative Assembly resolution and mandate of May 26, 1967.
The Proclamation ended with emotional ‘Biafra Anthem” –‘The Land of the rising Sun’ rendered in beautiful tune of ‘Finlanda” by Sibelius, symbolizing the end of the struggle to assert the self-determination of a new nation. The scene was set for confrontation between the new state of Biafra and the balance of the ethnic nationalities that made up the Federal Republic of Nigeria and to resolve the question of the unity of the Nigerian states by use of force (see report titled; Scientific and Technological Innovations in Biafra)
Without doubt, today, the war has ended over 50 years ago, but its effects and fears remain and stares on our faces.
More dangerously, after 62 years of independence, wave of secessionist sentiments is still sweeping across the country with restive youths in the north and south east as the main gladiators. Some groups in the southwest and south-south have also joined the fray to demand the marriage of 1914 be ended as the basis for its continued existence has severely been weakened.
For example, at the return of democracy in 1999, Ralph Uwazurike , an Indian-trained Lawyer, from Imo State ignited a passion for Biafra among south east youths via his separatist platform ‘’ Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra’’ (MASSOB). MASSOB and its founder enjoyed tremendous following and respect among mostly youths of the region that it almost became an alternative government in the south east. The group’s sit-at- home orders were religiously obeyed just as the one declared by IPOB on May 30th was a monster success.
Uwazuruike’s support base has since drastically waned following dissent in MASSOB. But from the ashes of MASSOB’s bye-gone years of strident pro-Biafra agitation came Kanu and IPOB, a much more vitriolic but charming personality and organisation.
Kanu happened on the national and international limelight through a pirate radio Biafra which he used as a vehicle to promote the agitation to actualise the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) quest for independence. Two factors have so far worked for Kanu in his separatist agenda: His long incarceration by the Buhari government over Biafra and the recent quit notice given to the Igbo residing in the north by Arewa youths. Both factors, apparently unknown to President Buhari’s handlers, have helped and still helping IPOB and Kanu’s cause. One, his incarceration for almost two years helped to project him to his supporters, a mass of Igbo youths, and the international community as a prisoner of conscience and freedom fighter.
Secondly, the thoughtless quit notice by northern youths to the Igbo resident in the north, has not only made Biafra more attractive to most south easterners and portrays Kanu as a messiah of the Igbo but has triggered off a chain of secessionist sentiments in the south west and south south.
While those of us who believe in the unity of Nigeria may not agree with campaign by any group or ethnic nationality to dismember Nigeria, the truth must be told to the effect that the whole gamut of restiveness of youths, whether in the south-east, south-south, north or south-west, and resurgent demand for the dissolution of Nigeria stems from mindless exclusion, injustice and economic deprivation.
Evidently, Nigeria has not fared well as a nation in all sectors of national endeavors. Lets look at the particulars of this claim.
Fundamentally, there is no denial any more that presently, life in today’s Nigeria, quoting Thomas hobbs, has become nasty, brutish, and short as Nigerians diminish socially and economically, and the privileged political class on their part continues to flourish in obscene splendor as they pillage and ravage the resources of our country at will.
Again, even as we celebrate, it remains a painful commentary that presently, no nation on the surface of the earth best typifies a country in dire need of peace and social cohesion among her various sociopolitical groups than Nigeria as myriads of sociopolitical contradictions have conspired directly and indirectly to give the unenviable tag of a country in constant search of social harmony, justice, equity, equality, and peace. As a nation, Nigerians have never had it so bad.
Nigeria is a nation soaked with captivating development visions, policies and plans, but impoverished leadership and corruption-induced failure of implementation of development projects on the part of the political leaders is responsible for the under-development in the country. Today, mountains of evidence supports how seriously off track the present administration in the country was taking the nation with their deformed policies, ill-conceived reforms and strategies,
Lately, the greatest and immediate danger to the survival of the Nigerian state today is the unwarranted, senseless, premeditate, well organized and orchestrated killings across the country.
The country’s economy on its part has shown its inability to sustain any kind of meaningful growth that promotes the social welfare of the people. The result can be seen in the grinding poverty in the land (eighty percent of Nigerians are living on less than two dollars per day – according) to the African Development Bank (AFDB) 2018 Nigeria Economic Outlook. Nigeria is ranked among the poorest countries in the world. Sadly, according to a report from Brookings Institute, Nigeria has already overtaken India as the country with the largest number of extremely poor in early 2018 in the world. At the end of May 2018, Brookings institute’s trajectories suggest that Nigeria had about 87 million people in extreme poverty, compared with India’s 73 million. What is more, extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute.
In Education, 10.5 million children are out of school in Nigeria, the highest in the world. Our industries continue to bear the brunt of a negative economic environment. As a result, job losses and unemployment continue to skyrocket, creating a serious case of social dislocation for the vast majority of our people. The University students have been at home for close to seven months or more. No thanks to the incessant industrial action which currently characterizes the nation’s university system.
The running of our country’s economy continues to go against the provisions of our constitution which stipulates forcefully that the commanding heights of the economy must not be concentrated in the hands of few people. The continous takeover of national assets through dubious (privatization) programs by politicians and their collaborators is deplorable and clearly against the people of Nigeria. The attempt to disengage governance from public sector control of the economy has only played into the hands of private profiteers of goods and services to the detriment of the Nigerian people.
This malfeasance at all levels of governance has led to the destruction of social infrastructure relevant to a meaningful and acceptable level of social existence for our people. Adequate investment in this area, it has been shown, is clearly not the priority of those in power.
As a result, our hospitals whether state owned or federal owned have become veritable death centers where people go to die rather than to be healed. The absence of basic items such as hand gloves and masks are indicative of the level of decadence and rot in the country’s health National Budget recommended by the United Nations.
With regards to the criminal justice system, our people, especially the poor and vulnerable continue to suffer unprecedented acts of intimidation and violation of rights at the hands of security agencies across the country. Extra judicial killings, lack of scientific based investigation of crimes and corruption in the judiciary contribute to acts of injustice against the innocent. Our prisons have become places where prisoners are hardened rather than places of reformation of prisoners for reintegration back into the society.
As to solution to these challenges, this piece and of course Nigerians with critical minds believes that leadership not only holds the key to unlocking the transformation question in Nigeria, but to sustain these drive, leaders must carry certain genes and attributes that are representative of this order.
Thus, as the nation celebrates, one point Nigerians must not fail to remember is that only a sincere and selfless leader and a politically and economically restructured polity brought about by national consensus can unleash the social and economic forces that can ensure the total transformation of the country and propel her to true greatness.
This, as argued elsewhere will help ensure that there is provision of adequate social infrastructure such as genuine poverty alleviation programmes and policies, healthcare, education, job provision, massive industrialization, electricity provision to mention a few. It is critical to jettison this present socio-economic system that has bred corruption, inefficiency, primitive capital accumulation and socially excluded the vast majority of our people.
The only way this can be done is to work to build a new social and political order that can mobilize the people around common interests, with visionary leadership to drive this venture. Only then can we truly begin to resolve some of the socio-economic contradictions afflicting the nation.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via: [email protected]/08032725374.