By Yekeen Akinwale
Many people are warming up for the breakup of Nigeria. Yes, let’s break up the country and go our separate ways; it’s that easy. That’s what preoccupies their mind now.
In the end, we can have Arewa Republic, Biafra, Oduduwa Republic. And then we stop all these horse-trading; there won’t be allegations of manipulation, monopolization and all the distrusts and mutual suspects that beset the present arrangement. Okechuckwu will leave Aminu’s land and Adebayo will divorce Chizoba and everyone will bid one another farewell, whether they like it or not.
But before we slice the bread and plunge ourselves- infants, women, the weak and the elderly into unending suffering in the name of secession, can we all pause for a moment. The elderly who witnessed the Nigerian civil war and its aftermath I’m sure are not among those increasing the drumbeat of war in the name of secession. They, of course, know better than the younger generation who are possessed by youthful exuberance and fantasies of a country other than Nigeria.
Granted that Nigeria’s unity is a forced marriage, we should still ask if we are really ready for what we are gunning for.
Since the beginning of what has now gained global attention as agitation for Biafra, over 150 people have been reportedly killed between 2015 and 2016. Relatives of those who have so far died since the resurgence of the campaign by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOP) for secession can explain better. A friend recently showed a picture of her classmate that was killed in one of the recent clashes with security operatives. Life has continued but he is no more to be part of the struggle; his family grieves as ever. To what end?
Perhaps, as the hoopla for the divorce of these entities continues, let the key actors and their sympathizers reflect on the scenario playing out in South Sudan. Then the next question should be: are we really ready for this? Breaking up Nigeria is not as difficult as the attendant fallouts. In the same token, remembering the vestiges of war in Monrovia, Liberia and Sierra Leone would serve as a caution.
Today there are 22.5 million refugees worldwide. Syria remains the world’s largest producer of refugees with 5.5 million. South Sudan, the world’s newest country, now ranks third, after Syria and Afghanistan. That’s according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as the UN Refugee Agency.
South Sudan became an independent state on July 9, 2011, following a referendum that was passed with 98.83% of the vote. It never enjoyed the gains of that independence; it has been in a self-inflicted war-civil war since 2013, just two years after independence.
Over 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the war, including notable atrocities such as the 2014 Bentiu massacre. About 3 million people have been displaced in a country of 12 million, with about 2 million internally displaced and about 1 million have fled to neighbouring countries, especially Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. As of 2017, it had the highest score on the Fragile States Index (formerly, the Failed States Index), surpassing Somalia. Do you still consider secession an option?
South Sudan is acknowledged to have some of the worst health indicators in the world. The under-five mortality is 92.6 per 1,000, whilst maternal mortality is the highest in Africa at 789 per 100,000 live births (2015 est. CIA World Factbook).
According to Wikipedia, South Sudan was at war with at least seven armed groups in nine of its 10 states, with tens of thousands displaced. The fighters accuse the government of plotting to stay in power indefinitely, not fairly representing and supporting all tribal groups while neglecting development in rural areas.
If we eventually have Oduduwa Republic, Biafra, Arewa Republic as being proposed by their agitators, these countries and their citizens, I’m not sure are also prepared for attendant similar disputes and war. Examples abound near and far. The end may not justify the means.
As it would later happen here in Nigeria if we ever break up as being demanded by the IPOB who really want to exit Nigeria and Northern Youths who have issued quit notice to southeasterners resident in the North, there have continued to be disputes between Sudan and South Sudan over sharing formula for their assets. So are we prepared for the attendant disputes? Are there institutions in place to cater for all the fallouts from any secession, can we actually live without one another?
Nigeria’s commonwealth would be a major source of disputes as currently is between South Sudan and Sudan- the division of oil revenues has been a major issue. Can we even point at one national issue that has not pitched Nigerians against one another since independence in 1960-petroleum, elections, population, sharing formula, federal character and so on and so on?
Suspicion and mutual distrust have led us to our present situation. Nigerians have not surmounted these problems and yet demanding new countries.
It might interest many Nigerians to know that 75 per cent of all the former Sudan’s oil reserves are in South Sudan. The region of Abyei still remains disputed and a separate referendum will be held in Abyei on whether they want to join Sudan or South Sudan. The South Kordofan conflict broke out in June 2011 between the Army of Sudan and the SPLA over the Nuba Mountains.
Inter-ethnic warfare that in some cases predates the war of independence is still widespread. In December 2011, tribal clashes in Jonglei intensified between the Nuer White Army of the Lou Nuer and the Murle. The White Army warned it would wipe out the Murle and would also fight South Sudanese and UN forces sent to the area around Pibor. Don’t we have inter-ethnic clashes here? Have we addressed them? Ife and Modakeke people are Yoruba and it is fresh in mind how they killed one another in an ethnic clash some years ago.
In March 2012, South Sudanese forces seized the Heglig oil fields in lands claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan in the province of South Kordofan after conflict with Sudanese forces in the South Sudanese state of Unity. South Sudan withdrew on 20 March, and the Sudanese Army entered Heglig two days later.
In December 2013, a political power struggle broke out between President Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, as the president accused Machar and ten others of attempting a coup d’état.
Fighting broke out, igniting the South Sudanese Civil War. Ugandan troops were deployed to fight alongside South Sudanese government forces against the rebels. The United Nations has peacekeepers in the country as part of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
Numerous ceasefires were mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and SPLM – in opposition and were subsequently broken. A peace agreement was signed in Ethiopia under threat of United Nations sanctions for both sides in August 2015. All to no avail; South Sudan is still in turmoil. Someone says Nigeria case is different from South Sudan, and I ask, how?
The order to quit the north issued by a coalition of Northern youths to the Igbos has caused more uproar and outcries than was before though it doesn’t seem that the Igbos resident in the north really wants to be part of the IPOB agenda.
The Igbos have persistently cried foul and wanting to exit Nigeria. But besides the IPOB led by Nnamdi Kanu, whose immediate family is tucked in the United Kingdom, the majority of southeast people have professed to quit Nigeria than actually acting it. They know the consequences without being reminded of the aftermath of the 1966 Biafra war. Most of them don’t trust Nnamdi Kanu and apparently don’t share his vision.
If this is not true, visit Lagos and go to Kano where the ‘Nnas’ formed the nucleus of economic activities. Ask if they were prepared to relocate to the southeast. Many were born and brought up there and the only place they know as homes are these cities. They have married there, established businesses and courted friendships from different backgrounds over the years.
Rather than inciting more trouble, elder statesman, Ango Abdullahi should toe the line of Emir of Alhaji Abdulmumini Kabir, who said while reacting to the quit notice that Nigeria will continue to remain one in spite of its multi-ethnic diversity and recent calls for a breakup.
The quit notice expires October 1, 2017, and Igbo traders, civil servants and of course politicians in the seat of power, Abuja are still going on their normal businesses. Are they not interested in the new Biafra Republic? You already know that those who want secession are not living in the country, though some youths have allowed themselves to be used to give voice to their sinister moves. So before we break up Nigeria, let’s think, think and think, then collectively address all our fundamental problems.
This article was first published in 2017. Yekeen Akinwale is an Abuja based journalist