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Federalism is the answer, after all – Part 55 – Guardian

[FILES] Supporters of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) / AFP PHOTO / STEFAN HEUNIS
The separate impulses in the polity arising from the contradictions of state policies are beginning to assume dramatic dimensions. It is a fact that a section of the Igbo people represented by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) desires self-determination to actualise their goal of development perceived to have been stymied by the authoritarian Nigerian state. Not the Igbo people, also a section of the Yoruba elite for the same reason also express their right to self-determination. So far, rather than explore the instrument of dialogue with those aggrieved in the polity, the Nigerian state has adopted a repressive approach to the matter, deploying all manners of security apparatuses to the region. While the various groups agitating for self-determination are resilient in their demands employing civil articulations to advance their goals, a section of the northern elite has now resorted to the judiciary to allow the Igbos to secede from the Federal Republic of Nigeria for good.
Indeed, the coalition of Northern Groups the other day filed a case asking the court to compel the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives to hasten the exit of the South-eastern region out of Nigeria. The coalition wants it consummated in the context of the ongoing constitutional amendment. The secession request was contained in a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/538/2021 instituted by the group of elders and politicians from the North led by Nastura Shariff, Balarabe Rufa’I, Abdul-Aziz Sulaiman and Aminu Adam. The coalition prayers include among others, a declaration that combined effect of the provisions of Section 4 of the Nigerian Constitution and Articles 1, 2, and 20(1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act 2004, the National Assembly, sued as the fourth defendant “is empowered to set in motion a framework for a referendum to allow the South-eastern region of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to decide on their bid for self-determination.” 

The rationale for the suit, according to the originators, is to avoid unnecessary violence and destruction in the South East. Or so it seems. Besides, the suggested exit would put an end to the agitation of the IPOB and nip in the bud a repeat of the civil war of the 1970s. They seem to be re-echoing the words of General T.Y. Danjuma that no nation survives two civil wars.
However, the people at the centre of the litigation, that is the Igbos, have a word for the Northern coalition, the litigant. The Ohanaeze Ndigbo said in unambiguous terms that Igbos would only exit Nigeria if it resolved to do so. It further noted that the Northern group had a sinister motive and the Igbos were more autochthonous in the Nigerian geographical space than the litigants and that no one would claim to be a superior or senior partner in the Nigerian project.
While all this is a manifestation of bad governance in Nigeria, it should be noted that nations or countries are not permanent entities. Historically, they undergo a transformation, in other words, they can transform into new nations or countries. The defunct Soviet Union Constitution provided for the plurality of the union and included a secession clause in its constitution, but in the end, it disintegrated into 15 different countries. The Ethiopians after a bloody civil war, lessons learnt, included a secession clause in its 1991 Constitution. Eritrean became a new country out of the old state structure of the country. The plurality of the Ethiopian state found expression in Article 39 of the Constitution, which grants a right to self-determination to all of Ethiopia’s ‘nations’, ‘nationalities’ and ‘peoples’. The right to self-determination covers territorial autonomy and the right to secession. By so doing, it reified the right to self-determination, respect of individuals and group rights as fundamental constitutional principles, so is the respect for individual and group rights.  

It is by now clear that self-determination does not express itself in its externality, i.e. secession. There is also an internal dimension, namely, territorial autonomy. This was the case of the Ogoni people led by Ken Saro-Wiwa who was judicially murdered by the Nigerian state. In the Ogoni Bill of Rights, the people demanded the right to self-determination, such that Ogoni could enjoy the right to exploit and use their resources as well as develop the culture and language of the Ogoni people. The same state used its power and control of instrument of violence to silence the arrowhead of the Ogoni power. In the main, the hegemony of the Nigerian state has since refused to listen and right the wrongs in the polity.   
To us in The Guardian, Federalism represents a useful recipe for managing and empowering Nigeria’s diversity. To deny this and perpetuate the present unitary status quo, is a recipe for the dismemberment of the decadent Nigerian state. We hope the minders of the Nigerian state are following us in this serial. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine.

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