Unless we restructure, Nigeria’ll not know peace –Okurounmu
In this piece by FISAYO FALODI, analysts speak on the need by members of the Niger Delta Avengers and the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra to adopt legitimate means to address their grievances
Twenty-first century Nigeria’s political history is dotted with agitation for self-determination by members of the various ethnic groups in the country. The agitators have claimed that their people will be economically prosperous more than their current status if they are allowed to go their separate ways. This is perhaps one of the major issues that have continued to dominate public discourse among social scientists and analysts nearly two decades of the country’s fourth republic.
The recent protests by members of the South-East based Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra and Indigenous Peoples of Biafra against perceived injustice against their region leading to loss of innocent lives, as well as bombings of oil installations and pipelines in the South-South by a new militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers, have brought the issue of self determination on the front burner again.
The bombing of oil facilities by the new militant group has led to significant drop in the country’s revenue, apart from resulting in the suspension of activities by oil companies in the Niger Delta region.
The agitators, who were not bothered by being branded as extremists by the Federal Government, had determined to achieve their self-determination agenda. According to them, their rights and prosperity cannot be guaranteed if they continue to remain as parts of a corporate Nigeria.
For example, MASSOB, formed in 1999 and led by Indian-trained lawyer, Ralph Uwazuruike, had demanded a Republic of Biafra comprising the South-East and South-South regions from Nigeria.
To prove that it was serious with its agitation, the ethnic group had initiated many daring activities such as the launch of the Biafran passport and the re-introduction of the old Biafran currency into circulation in the past. These acts have led to the arrest and detention of Uwazuruike and other leaders of the group.
IPOB, also founded and led by Nnamdi Kanu, a Director of the
United Kingdom-based Radio Biafra, was unequivocal in its demand for a Republic of Biafra. Kanu is still being detained by the Federal Government for allegedly making sensational and provocative comments canvassing the creation of an independent state of Biafra from the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The two South-East based groups renewed their agitation on May 30, 2016 when thousands of the groups’ members and sympathisers stormed the streets of South-East states to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the declaration of the defunct Biafra Republic by the late warlord, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.
The rallies, however, turned bloody and left many members of the groups killed by security operatives, who claimed that they acted in self-defence as well as in defence of the lives and property of other peace-loving Nigerians.
A statement from the Office of the Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, said that eight other members of the separatist organisations were wounded while nine were arrested for legal actions.
As the public fuss and anger generated by the clashes between security agents and MASSOP/IPOB have yet to subside, the Niger Delta Avengers further carried out their threat to bring Nigeria’s economy to its knees.
The avengers, who have become more audacious, said their destruction of oil facilities was in line with their vow to all international oil companies and indigenous oil companies that Nigeria’s oil production would be zero.
Like the South-East based MASSOB and IPOB, the avengers are demanding a sovereign nation of the Niger Delta people. They warned of their readiness to carry out an attack that will “shock the whole world.”
“To the indigenous oil companies and Nigeria military, watch out something big is about to happen and it will shock the whole world,” the daring NDA had tweeted, in spite of the initial pledge by the Federal Government to deal with the militants.
Commentators believe that the various disturbing scenarios created by the audacious ethnic groups arose following the supposed injustices in the lopsided Nigeria’s federal system of government.
The development, they noted, placed a section of the country at an advantageous position above the others in terms of receiving allocation from the Federal Government.
According to them, except such injustices are rectified, the agitation for self-determination will continue to reverberate with its attendant violence.
An instance of the perceived injustice, a political scientist, Mr. Taiwo Irewolu, said manifested in Kano State, which was created alongside Lagos State. Both Kano and Lagos states had 20 local government areas each as of the time they were created. But Jigawa State was later excised from Kano State and the latter is having 44 local government areas as of now, more than double of its initial local government areas, while Lagos State is still maintaining its old 20 local government areas.
By the structure of Nigeria’s federal system of government, the amount of financial benefits a state gets depends on the number of the local government it has.
Irewolu pointed out that such a situation could give rise to tension in the polity. He said because of the large number of local government areas in Kano State, the allocation accruable to the state from the Federal Government would surpass that of Lagos State, which is generally regarded as the economic hub of the country.
Irewolu added that the “imperfect federal structure” gave room for the less-economically buoyant states to depend on the resources of other states. He cited the oil revenue from the Niger Delta region as a case study. It is in the light of this state of affairs that the ethnic groups have been agitating for self-determination.
The legitimacy or otherwise of the agitation has therefore caught the attention of social analysts.
An activist, Mr. Kunle Oyegoke, said the agitation was barbaric and criminal because it was targeted at destabilising the Nigerian government.
He said instead of calling for self-determination, he asked the agitators and their backers to support the government to salvage the nation’s economic challenges.
The founder, Centre for Rehabilitation of Exceptional Persons, said some of those advocating for self-determination might have benefited immensely from the country at one time or the other.
Oyegoke therefore reminded them that when Nigeria was depending on cocoa and coffee for survival, there was no attempt by the people producing them to call for self-determination or disintegration of the country.
He said, “Today, some parts of Nigeria are producing yams, tomatoes, peppers and onions which everyone depends on. So, it is unnecessary for any group to say it has all the resources it needs to survive.”
According to him, IPOB and NDA are pursuing wrong agenda at this time when the country needs the support of everyone to move forward.
He said, “So, the activities of the agitators are not only criminal, they are injurious to the corporate existence of Nigeria. It is unreasonable for anyone to agitate for anything now when the country is going through the worst economic challenge in its history.”
Oyegoke, however, spelt out the consequences of self-determination for the agitators should they insist on going their separate ways.
He said, “The people agitating for self-dependency are going to be at the receiving end if the country goes to the extreme of secession. Let me say this, if somebody is bragging because he has oil, the person should be reminded that nothing lasts forever. That is the simple truth. So, all of us must come together to jointly address the nation’s problems, instead of pursuing a selfish agenda.
“On resources, every part of Nigeria contributes one thing or the other to the development of the country. So, nobody can hold anybody to ransom because he or she has something that others don’t have.”
The activist said the grievances of the agitators could still be resolved through dialogue, while asking NDA to stop the destruction of oil facilities and embrace modern way of dispute resolution.
He said, “The Second World War was resolved on a roundtable. No matter the level of agitation, people will still sit down on the roundtable to resolve their grievances.”
A lawyer, Mr. Rasheed Bamisile, believes that the MASSOB, IPOB and NDA may have legitimate reasons to push for self-determination, but he doubted that they could achieve the goals through violence.
He recalled that Yugoslavia and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics broke into pieces after they agreed in referendums to do so.
Following the Yugoslavia and the USSR example, Bamisile believes that it is possible for MASSOB, IPOB and NDA to achieve their goals if they adopt a legitimate approach.
He said, “It is possible for a country to break if the citizens of the country genuinely agree to do so, but the way the MASSOB, IPOB and NDA are pushing their agenda through destruction of oil installations thereby destroying the economy of Nigeria the more. I doubt that they could achieve their aim.
“It is doubtful that they can achieve their goals; it is not by force. There must be a referendum where the issue of self-determination should be extensively deliberated.
“It is not the blowing up of Niger Bridge, killing people in Enugu and bombing of oil pipelines in Rivers State that will address their grievances. So, legitimately, if the agitators pursue their agenda appropriately, it may be for their own good too.”
Bamisile, however, referred to one of the speeches by the late Prime Minister of Nigeria, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who he quoted as saying that Nigeria’s unity was artificial because all the ethnic groups in the country were forced together by the British.
He said, “For having described the unity of Nigeria as artificial, Balewa knew in essence that there was possibility for the country to break eventually.
“So, if the people are agitating for their respective sovereign states, it should be done legitimately, not by carrying arms against the country. It is a matter that should be discussed at the National Assembly before any major decision on the issue can be taken.”
While also speaking on the perceived injustices that have given rise to agitation, the lawyer said the 2014 national conference must have provided solutions to them.
According to him, the recommendations of the conference on how to address the injustice should be adopted.
Bamisile said, “The 2014 national conference provided hundreds of recommendations on how to fix the challenges identified as the bane of the country’s unity and progress. So, let the Federal Government dust up the confab report and adopt recommendations that are necessary for the nation’s peaceful existence.”
Of the three major groups seeking self-determination, the Federal Government seems to be interested in listening to the grievances of only one of them.
The Federal Government early in the week set up a committee to negotiate with members of NDA so as to persuade them to stop their attacks on oil pipelines and other installations, while it has yet to take any concrete step to address the grievances of MASSOB and IPOB.
This, according to a social analyst, Mr. Bamidele Akinremi, is another form of injustice by the government against MASSOB and IPOB.
He canvassed the need by the government to address all the issues raised by the various groups of agitators, instead embracing one by negotiating with it and deliberately ignoring the others.
“What is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander,” Akinremi said.