2014 will be 100 years since the amalgamation of southern and northern Nigeria into one country. Many have called this an artificial contraption and we have the Biafran war of 1967 – 1970 as one of the strongest testaments to this. This war, which pitted ‘Nigeria’ against the Igbos called into question the idea of “one Nigeria” such that when Gowon made this his war-time mantra, it must have sounded somewhat hollow and ill-advised, especially to those on the receiving end of the violence.
But the story is longer than that. The January 1966 coup was called an “Ibo” coup by northern military officers who launched a “counter” coup in July of the same year. This immediately preceded the pogrom and massacre of Igbos in the north, which according to some accounts claimed 30,000 victims in 3 months.
Ken-Saro Wiwa from Ogoni (from whose land oil is extracted to feed Nigeria) rose to ask for self-determination for his people, so they could have a say in how the money was spent. They wanted some money to develop their people, whose land had been made barren by indiscriminate and irreplacable oil exploration. A military head of state, Sani Abacha had him murdered.
Obafemi Awolowo in the West was a leader of the Yorubas. They did not completely trust either the north or the south in the time leading up to the civil war, but deft calculations made them decide to root for the north, for the time being, and lucky they did, for that side won the battle. The suspicious and mutual resentments all round remain however.
The north remains under-educated, impoverished and in the main religiously-blinded, in a society where faith is mixed with politics in a gun-powder-and-dangerously-ignorant mix. The poor among them are victims of their own few elite, who take advantage of culture and religion to keep the rest in poverty. They do little to help themselves. It is little wonder that land is fertile ground for Maitasine, Boko Haram and the next “boko”.
Yet, people continue to call us a nation. Country we may be, knocked together for the convenience of a rapacious west (read, Britian, France, Germany). They knocked us together in hopes of gains for themselves, never caring for any ethnic affinities or relationships. To them we were just numbers and a place to farm.
We have never as a nation had a discussion. Can we not have a discussion?
No one says we cannot succeed in existing as a nation. We just might do it, but under what terms and conditions? When the civil war broke out, in order to sow further discord and prevent the Igbos having alies in the South, Gowon split the country into 12 states. Since then, the divisions have continued. I have now lost count of how many states we have.
Confederation might have worked. It might still work.
I am not fooled that President Goodluck Jonathan has called for a “National Conference”. He says it will not be “sovereign”, meaning that there will be no-go areas. It reminds me funnily of a similar limitation Soldier Ibrahim Babangida imposed on the puppet senate he had accompanying his military government during the death throes of that regime. You may discuss agriculture and tourism, but never government. Jonathan does not have the balls to call the type of national conference Nigeria needs, for in doing so, he may be sweeping the carpet right from under his feet.
I suspect any small committee of “eminent Nigerians” who come together to discuss Nigeria’s future. It will become the same “mutual admiration society” “ulterior motives” jamboree, the like that go on daily in the lower and upper legislative chambers.
If we decide to split into several parts, it does not make us enemies. India and Pakistan did it.
Admittedly, it will be much more difficult in our case, for along what lines will you recommend a split? It cannot be along religious lines because the north abounds with millions of Christians.
Along what lines therefore? That is what we the people (not a committee) must discuss.
Perhaps we need a referendum, right? I hear you sneer… but we did have a credible election so perhaps we can count properly the votes of a referendum.
Whatever happened to past census results? Stay on point sister, stay on point…