Those who think dividing Nigeria is all about the North and the South may have to redraw the map, at least in their imagination for now, if the events of the last few weeks are anything to go by. As simplistic and congruous as the North and South idea may look on paper, Nigeria is in actual fact, composed of disparate and distinct identities and as different as any modern federation can be. The signals from the oil producing Niger Delta, lumped together as South South, a region which appears cohesive and often speaks with one voice, especially since Goodluck Jonathan came into political reckoning, are a testimony to the inherent differences even in their fold. That is, if Nigeria were to divide today, as these groups appear passionate about, there will be nothing like Niger Delta nation or South South nation.
The first of these examples came from the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, which declared self government the previous week. The group was led by one Goodluck Diigbo. They hinged their secession attempt on the “non-implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme report on Ogoni” and other infringements that bordered on their indigenous rights. MOSOP was originally a non-political and non-violent NGO campaigning for safe environment in a land severely ravaged by oil exploration. That NGO has today turned into a political group canvassing for independence. The government might not have efficiently responded to agitations over the damaging effect of oil exploration on the ecology, but it is debatable if self-government is a solution, but that is a story for another day.
Few days later, Asari Dokubo, the fire-brand Ijaw irredentist turned Jonathan’s attack dog and apologist, poured his own tirades and openly canvassed for the break-up of the country. He boasted about how the South (which South is he talking about anyway?) would make mincemeat of the North in an event that war breaks out. (For Dokubo it’s not about “if war breaks out, it’s a question of when.”) Dokubo’s was quickly followed by the public presentation of Bayelsa state’s flag, coat of arms and national anthem, whatever it was meant to achieve. Again, the Bayelsa “son of the soil” President Jonathan perhaps did not think it was an issue worthy of his esteemed response. Blinded by his loyalty to the “Ijaw nationhood”, he could not see that the activities of the government of his own state are capable of threatening the corporate existence of the country he is president of.
The 2005 Green Tree Agreement between the federal government and the government of Cameroon after the International Court of Justice ruling that ceded Bakassi to Cameroon is under threat, going by last week’s declaration of self-determination by the people of Bakassi under the agis of Bakassi Self-Determination Front. By October this year, the Green Tree Agreement is expected to be taken a notch further, but the people are not excited by the prospect of a new identity under Cameroon, and have decided to take their destiny in their hands. The Bakassi Self-Determination Front headed by Commander- General Ekpe Ekpenyong said it would get help from some international liberation groups to actualise their own liberation quest.
Most probably, the Bakassi people did not feel protected by the Nigerian government, a kind of paternal protection a child would expect from his father, for which the FG failed woefully, going by the circumstances/events leading to the ICC judgement and the Green Tree Agreement. If Nigeria abdicated its responsibility to the Bakassi people, if it failed to respond to the environmental hazard in Ogoni land, as a justification for their actions, what is the grouse of the other groups in the secession fever? But that is not the plank of this discourse. The real issue is that four different groups from the same region, within a space of two weeks, expressed self-determination bids, some in a subtle way: two in Rivers, one in Akwa Ibom and one in Bayelsa, all of which belong to the South-South region of the country. Is this the shape of things to come?
The lesson there-in is obvious to discerning minds: There is no such thing as one North or one South or even one South East or South South. In an event of a break-up of the country, only God knows how many countries will emerge from the ruins and unimaginable catastrophe that will trail it. Let no one be under any illusion that dividing Nigeria will be tidy, as tidy as the sharing of a cake. Self-determination is serious, and when that time comes, most of today’s allies will turn against one another.
The case of the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republic remains evergreen. A once great, vibrant, populous and powerful nation was torn into shreds and reduced to a weakling, after it broke into 15 ‘volatile successor states’ that later became nations; yet there are still problems among them. The break-up of the USSR after it had existed for 70 years (1922 to 1992) is a valid point to recall in discussing the current break-up attempts by some groups. It’s appropriate because, just like the USSR then, the country is today bedevilled by inept leadership.
Mikhail Gorbarchev, the then Soviet leader, was a mole planted in the Soviet fold with the sole purpose of dividing the country. He served that purpose perfectly, with his innovation in Perestroika (a restructuring of the economy) and Glasnost (openness), two key instruments that collapsed the Soviets’ experimentation with collectivisation and state-controlled politico-economy. The unipolar world we have today, where the US dictates world event (and creates wars as it likes) is a direct consequence of the Soviet break-up.
So you see, it’s all about responsible and responsive leadership. Jonathan has an onerous task to protect and preserve the country and the constitution he swore to abide by. Anything contrary to that is not negotiable. It is a covenant, it’s a bond, and it’s a burden that he must bear with equanimity. Anything short of that is unacceptable to the Nigerian people. Therefore, instead of criticising and calling these secession dreamers names, or attempting to make sense out of their nonsense, Nigerians should beam the searchlight on the president they elected, to preserve the country and protect their lives. Jonathan has already ceded the protection of our lives to militants of all hues. Should we also allow him to negotiate our country away?