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Secession under international law – The Punch

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While many in Nigeria are of the opinion that ethnic nationalities have the ultimate legal right to break away from the country drawing on comparisons from other countries, this is not entirely accurate. In fact, the Nigerian Constitution does not back secession. Article 2 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is clear on this. It firmly states: Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state to be known by the name of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
International law does not encourage separatist agitation either. It is trite in International Law that cases of self-determination are totally an internal matter of states and international legal instruments further recognise the creation of new states, only when it transpires through nonviolent means, most especially when the existing state approve of it. This presupposes that the internal constitution of a sovereign country is the guiding principle on the question of secession.
At the height of economic and political crises in the 1990s, Boris Yeltsin, the Soviet Union President, dissolved the Union into 15 states after the Soviet Union itself recognised that these countries were illegally annexed in opposition to the desires of their people. It immediately withdrew its occupation forces from the countries starting with the Baltic states after granting them independence. The point here is that these states gained independence not through secession but through peaceful agitation and negotiation and the parent state (Soviet Union) recognises it.
Arguments that referendums in other countries led to secession have also been a subject of debate in Nigeria, prompting separatist groups to demand a referendum be conducted not minding that the Nigerian constitution has no referendum clause.

A referendum was organised in Sudan in 2011 because the country’s constitution has a referendum clause that permits South Sudan to leave if they want to. Article 219 of Sudan’s constitution of 2005 states, “the people of Southern Sudan shall have the right to have self-determination through a referendum to determine their future status.” After the referendum was conducted, over 98% of South-Sudanese people voted in favour of independence, and they rightfully split from Sudan.
In the case of Canada which operate a confederacy government and tolerates the right to separation in its constitution after a referendum. The French-speaking Quebec side of the country has historically sought independence and referendums were conducted twice in 1980 and 1995. The attempt to break away failed with the majority opting to remain in the Union.

The rule is clear in the situation of secession, both in Nigerian law and international law including how separatist groups are successful in other countries.


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It is therefore advisable for all pro-independence assemblages in the country to toe the path of political solutions and constitutional amendment, rather than resorting to violence and attacking government infrastructures.
Moshood Olajide, moshood [email protected]
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