If we were to follow history, it will be easy to dismiss Nnamdi Kanu, Ben Nwabueze, Nwazuruike, as well as the other cohorts of MASSOB and IPOB. The reason is that they often fail. The secessionist ends in a riotous divorce. Free, proud, but broken.
Southern Sudan reels in blood and bile. Eritrea stews in want and lies prostrate, often envious of its former cousins. In Europe, the remnants of old Yugoslavia are quiet, but sniff no greatness ahead. The Basque separatists in Spain are a shadow of their historic bluster. Scotland saw their dreams scuttled. It is now more difficult since the last elections. Once proud, it now limps.
Those calling for Biaxit, or Igboxit, or eastxit, or eaxit, should better think again. They should be grateful that Nigeria has never come part. It is not only in the southeast but in every region that thanks should trump tanks of war.
If Biafra were born today, the battle for the soul of the new country will eclipse in the face of new insular agitations. The Owerri area show resentment for Enugu’s proprietary hubris. Today, all of Igboland cannot agree on a new state. Wawa will assume new and truculent meaning in Igbo lexicon.
The frenzy to go over the border for business may steam up passions. The nostalgia for trading in Kano, lap up Lagos profits, sprout up high rises in Abuja will compound the absence of protein in a land-locked country. No access to the water through Port Harcourt, or meat through other south-south states will loom with the spectral skeletons of old Biafra. Immigration men and women in stolid visages will stand guard. If, that is, a Trumpian wall is not in the offing.
Nor will it be easier in the southwest. The Yoruba, who would be heard rather than be herds, may even be more heady. In Ibadan alone, a battle for a new state of Ibadan state atrophies any prospect of brotherly meal of abula. Ditto in Ogun, and Osun and other parts of Yorubaland, including Lagos where the Awori babel jars aplenty.
Since the Yoruba wars of the 19th century, the heart of Kaaro Ojire has shrunken from consensus. There is often no ‘us’ or a shadow of consent. What is sometime interpreted as principle or an assertion of independence is an excuse to launch selfish ambition or seek revenge. It has helped well in the context of Nigeria. The southwest has become the conscience of a frazzled hodgepodge called Nigeria. When it fails, all else fail.
As for the south-south, the contention will be a world tragedy like that of the former Yugoslavia. The Urhobo may marry the Itsekiri but the politics may turn blood from drip to deep like the ocean. Ijaw will look askance at the others. Ogoni will want to rail against the Ikwere, and the many so-called minority will suddenly wake up with egos as large as the Atlantic Ocean.
Of course, in the middle belt, Kogi is showing the slippery way. But were that region turned into a country, remember Kwara State, riven in parts that look at each other as parasites. Remember Benue between Tiv and Idoma. Plateau was a land of picturesque tranquillity. Now, suspicion has wracked it into a place of spontaneous barbarity.
Up north, the Christians in Taraba invoke the Holy Spirit against the “unbelievers.” Ditto Adamawa. In Sothern Kaduna, where a call for a separate state has gone the way of all flesh, herdsmen and sporadic hordes raid in murderous glee and rape for spoils.
In many microcosms, we see these tensions. In a small state like Edo, all the tendencies thrive, north versus south, big group against the smaller, Christian versus Muslim. Nigeria is a state of multifarious midgets with big egos. They have been kept in line under a big, sprawling umbrella of a federation.
The issue of Biafra is still gaining traction in some parts of the east because it is now only an emotional matter. If it goes into an intellectual mode and debates light up, it may look like the story of Quebec in Canada. The yes voters began gradually to understand that being a north American island was going to give them a pride and a fall. If Biafrans start to understand that business will stunt their riches, their land will suffer human overload, and know that the Yoruba they love to hate so much is the reason to love to go back to Nigeria, and the Hausa they loathe loads them with a lot of patriotic raison detre, they will start to keep the Kanus and the gang in the lurch. Reason will mix with emotion. Biafra suddenly will become a castrated bull.
If the United States calls itself a melting pot and Canada a mosaic, Nigeria is a web. All the strands exist like chaos but they are bound. Every family has an inter-ethnic link. An Itsekiri cannot forget the Yoruba tie, nor the Onitsha the Kogi link, nor the Hausa the Ogbomosho provenance, etc. So, those who tend to call for division should not forget many who do so want to pursue selfish agenda. They are opportunist careerists. It recalls what the novelist Walter Scott wrote, “what tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.” The more they try to divide us, the larger the connectedness.
The battle for federalism means all should be fair. We all know we run a skewed and ethnically rigged federalism, which makes it no federalism. We need to have a federalism where the small is no smaller than the biggest part of it. That means a south-south community that suffers from oil spill should not get 13 percent of its own gift without its permission. Federalism without democracy is hegemony. It is such matters we should bring on the front burner.
The call for restructuring is a great call, but it is not our greatest drawback. It is a sense of suspicion and failure of high values like fairness and honesty. If we give every ethnic group its state, and very region its due, we shall still rail at each other because, at bottom, we still suspect each other. We need to cut through official hypocrisy, and say truth to ourselves and not try to use power of tribe over us. It is then that we shall be a true web and ignore poet Blake who wrote, “The bird a nest, the spider a web, men friendship.” We need a web of friendship, not of tribe.
Or else, it will look like the story of the Osage Indians, as related in an important new book titled, The Killings of the Flower Moon by David Grann. They were a small group driven from place to place in the United States until they found a dry, craggy land for them to suffer and die in the 1920s. It turned out it was sitting on oil. They became per capita the richest people in the world. The U.S. government took the back seat while the Osage were systematically killed and eliminated in order to take the oil wealth from them, including through cynical marriages. The investigations of these tragedies led to the birth of the FBI. That is a travesty of federalism. It had no democratic content because the Osage people had no say in their own country. Federalism is about sharing, not parasitic.
We need Nigeria, but we need it for all and not a few. But we cannot do it by following the path of the Kanus who point an anarchic alternative. We are better under a Nigeria. But we have to make it work as insiders, not as outsiders. That way, we can turn the web into wealth for all.