In a divided Nigeria: A case for referendum

Diaspora Despatch
Factual Pursuit of Truth for Progress

NEW YORK – After 107 years of being conjoined in a cluster of homogenous tribes, the ethnic groups that constitute Nigeria have not been this repulsed and fed up about the union. A clear case of buyer’s remorse where each desires a breakup rather than remain a cohesive unit. The guilt felt by the tribes has risen to a noticeable level loud enough that the talk of trifurcation is now openly debated in the media.

It did not use to be like this.

It is not uncommon for dissenting tribes in nation-states to desire a split; new nations are created this way. However, It is how they go about it that matters.

Thus, Nigeria’s case is not eccentric. Will it go the way of the others who successfully detached, or is this national argument just cheap talk stirred to aggravate an already tensed situation further?

Notwithstanding the grounds for these public agitators, we must acknowledge that the motivations of the separatist camp are at least patriotic, just as the diehard loyalist (The one Nigeria advocates) who tells us that keeping Nigeria as one entity is not negotiable. Both camps desire a future better than the one they’re currently in but are far apart from the best course to take.

On one side of the ideological debate, the loyalists tell us to be patient, hopeful that one day a leader with the heart for the people will emerge, appoint good men, and clean out the rot in the system. Quite a heavy burden to put on the people who have endured for 107 years.

Is this camp oversimplifying the depth of the country’s dire situation? And are they willing to test the patience of the people?

While, on the opposite camp, the separatists think the people have persevered for too long. This raucous group is intransigent in its opposition to the status quo. They believe separation is the best way to sanitize the country and restore hope to the people. Has their zeal morphed into fanaticism?

I posit that both causes are probably righteous. Thus they must be careful not to demonize or turn on each other. But how do we resolve this political quarrel and forge on something all can agree on?

The answer is in an orderly referendum. Let the people decide.

First, allow me to mention that the separatists, who have been getting the short end of the stick in this national argument, are not unpatriotic or traitorous like they’ve been labelled; their aspiration is that of a better society more than the one they currently have. So, if separation will help them accomplish that goal, they are certainly entitled to their views as long as they stick to their clarion call for a peaceful referendum and not a revolution.

So, why referendum, and why is it a remedy to the current social-political logjam? Because the process has been adopted by several countries with a democratic framework to peacefully detach from an unworkable amalgam. Consider these recent examples:

In 1949, Germany orderly separated into two independent nations: the Federal Republic of Germany (FDR or West Germany), allied to the Western democracies of the United States and Britain, and the German Democratic Republic (GDR or East Germany), allied to the Soviet Union. This severance was done peacefully. No war, no bloodshed. Nevertheless, on October 3rd, 1990, the two-nation reunited again, forming one German nation.

Before 1993, Czechoslovakia was a sovereign state comprising of tribes who were adamantly opposed to each other; the Czech and the Slovaks. Although this Central European nation was one of the more prosperous and one of the few with a peaceful, functioning democracy, their amicably negotiated separation was inevitable because the tribes had separate histories, cultures, and values. Today, we have two thriving countries living side by side: the Czech Republic and the Slovakia Republic.

Now consider Yugoslavia. Like Nigeria, it was created by throwing together dissenting and differing cultures in a toxic heterogeneous mixture, a melange of different ethnicities, values, and traditions. An experiment from the Austro-Hungarian empire. Because this hodgepodge of tribes could not coexist or function as one, a constitutional framework of devolution, in 1992, divided the country into six independent sovereign nations: Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro.

The above are just a few of the countries with successful separation.

Conversely, in 2014, Scotland held a referendum to detach from the United Kingdom. The people peacefully voted for their interests; to remain a part of the United Kingdom or break away to become a sovereign Scotland nation. The people opted to stay. This process was done peacefully and orderly. No one called the other traitors or unpatriotic. No clamping down of dissenters or arresting oppositions. Today Scotland remained part of Great Britain.

Who says Nigeria can’t do the same?

To the legislatures, who have asserted the absence of referendum in the 1999 constitution, and, to your defense, are not constitutional scholars, you are incorrect.

Here is some guidance.

Although the 1999 constitution doesn’t expressly provide for a referendum, it implicitly alludes to it by giving the power to the government

Section 14. states in pertinent part,

(1) “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.

(2) It is hereby, accordingly, declared that-

(a) Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this

Constitution derives all its power and authority.”

If sovereignty belongs to the people and you are the people’s representatives, you, therefore, must ensure that power gets back to the people if they request it. And the only way to give power back to the people is through the ballot in an orderly organized referendum.

Section 13 states:

“It shall be duty and responsibility of all organs of government, and of all authorities and persons, exercising legislative, executive or judicial powers, to conform to, observe and apply provisions of this Chapter of this Constitution.”

It is distressingly unequivocally your role to make laws that conform with the provision of the Nigerian constitution so that the principles of democracy in not injured. This is your topmost and paramount duty. It is as simple as that. There is nothing more egregious and grotesque than denying the people the freedom to determine their future in a popular referendum. It is utterly diametric to the principle of democracy as enshrined in the constitutional provisions stated above.

Finally, all must welcome separation if the majority elect it’s the most reasonable route for the tribes or decide it is the best impetus for development. Howbeit, the people determine if they want to develop as one unit or prosper in segments. The people must be allowed to choose the kind of future they want and resolve which path to tread. This choice is not given to the political class or a specific region or interest group but to the people.

They must make this choice before any future presidential election takes place. Failure to do this, we see the country reliving the woes of the last 10, 20, or even the previous 107 years.

Contact the author via email or Twitter @obanor


  1. You just hit the nail on the head when you said people must make the choice in a referendum before the upcoming presidential election. However those who are benefiting from the present structure will not allow for the referendum.


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