By Labode Obanor
As I ponder the resent heightened agitations for separation due to the out-of-control breakdown of safety/security, the nation’s deplorable social-political and economic state, and the risen widespread separatists movements from all three dominant ethnicities, namely the Hausas, Yorubas, and the Igbos. I cannot help but ask myself who in Nigeria is left still trying to harmonize the tribes in this continued tragic merger?
Are those who still clamor for the one Nigeria abstraction despite the country’s general air of malaise overlooking the complexities in the nation’s competing ethnicities?
Lord Lugard, the British mercenary behind this unfortunate amalgamation, acknowledged the impossibility of his tactless experiment when he said, “The North and the South are like oil and water; they will never mix.”
Lugard’s intention (against opposition from the Northern protectorate who thought unifying the opposing tribes was not in the interest of the regions) was not to unify the tribes in harmony but to promote his imperialist, expansionist goals. So he surged ahead with the fusion, satisfying his morbid fascination for exploitation to the detriment of the people.
The result is century-old strife between the tribes reminiscent of a grizzled marriage clamoring for divorce in the face of an impending demise of the couple, but yet they stayed together hoping that something may change.
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa few years before he became Nigeria’s first and only Prime minister in October 1960, spoke to the Northern House of Assembly in 1952; he said, “The Southern people who are swamping into this region daily in such large numbers are really intruders. We don’t want them, and they are not welcome here in the North.” Although over three score years ago, the minister’s statement is a reminder of the mindset of the northern tribes pre-independence. You then wonder why there is no end to the incessant killings, destruction of properties, and businesses of the Southern tribes by northern tribesmen in the northern province since independence.
From 1914 to 1960, the British Government tried to make Nigeria into one country. When it got drained from sustained economic exploitation and the inability to keep the tribes unified, it handed control to the political class in a pseudo-independence in October 1960. From 1960 to the present, the political elite continues the arduous task of keeping the country together, albeit for sinister purposes, primarily power monopoly and resource control.
But the people are different in every way, distinct in religion, custom, and aspirations. For instance, the North is justifiably and vastly opposed to western education, exposures, and influences. At the same time, the south cuddles it keenly and even flaunts it provocatively, trying to outdo themselves in who is more “westernly.” Also, while the rest of the country is governed by a uniform penal code and the Nigerian constitution, in contrast, the Islamic laws, otherwise known as Sharia, are operative in the North. The south, though not areligious but widely secular in its social, political, and cultural views, North is a collection of profoundly and systematically religious states.
“We in the North,” Tafawa Balewa continued, “take it that Nigerian unity is only a British intention for the country they created. It is not for us”. The Prime Minister’s ubiquitous influence has been the functioning ethos of the northern province since the alignment of the tribes that are now called Nigeria. This is why it came as no surprise when in June 2017, the Arewa Republic, a separatist group from the North, gave the Igbos until October 1, 2017, to leave the 19 northern states in what the group called the Kaduna declaration. With this sordid proclamation, many were left with little or no doubt that the North sees no benefit in the merger.
The second dominant tribe, the Yorubas, have joined the bandwagon clamoring to walk away from the Nigerian project. As a slice in the pie, this tribe believes Nigeria is an illogical hodgepodge of people who have nothing in common, and they (the Yorubas) are caught in the heterogeneous mixture with nothing to show for it. This tribe is convinced that their continued involvement in the Nigerian construct chokes them of social, political, and economic advancement. The dissatisfaction exhibited by these south-western geocultural people has dominated the public discourse. Under the banner of Ooduwa republic, the “Yoruba nation” has their resolve strengthened and mightily encouraged in their quest for removal when they achieved international recognition for their effort as the 45th member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation UNPO, and organization sitting in The Hague.
Why seek a global appeal and label yourself as unrepresented people unless you genuinely feel marginalized? This tribe’s feelings of diminishment in a broader Nigeria context have led them to demand a subnational approach to Government. A code word for separation. When you hear the Yorubas say devolution of power, what they are really agitating for is a statehood where the region can have autonomy, full sovereignty, and self-determination. The kind that can only be achieved through withdrawal from a federating unit.
No other tribe has made the loudest call for the dissolution of the Nigeria experiment than the Igbo tribe, who have been significantly diminished economically and politically by their involvement. The Igbo’s sees the merger of Nigeria as an impediment to their progress; thus, they have led the most sustained resistance to the continuation of the disastrous blend.
They’ve made their displeasure known in several ways, agitating for statehood since independence, and even fought a bloody civil (Biafra) war in an attempt to actualize this quest. The talk for secession has resurfaced violently in the past few years, echoing from organizations like the Movement for Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra, Indigenous People of Biafra, and the Niger Delta republic by Niger Delta Avengers. These separatists groups all have one aim; secession for self-determination or total restructure. Although no one really knows what restructuring means to the Igbos, one thing is sure; they are not confused about what they want.
For the other tribes in the South-South, their request is stark; total resource control, complete autonomy from the national Government, and nothing about “one Nigeria.”
It appears Mr. Balewa was right when he said Nigeria was an artificial creation of the British colonizers for the kind of country they want and not what the people desire. Making it now more explicit that the groupings of these tribes, namely Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba, and Igbo, into one giant heap called Nigeria predictably was a bad idea.
After decades of violence, terrorism, civil war, and cultural clashes, it appears no lesson has been learned from the endless conflicts and rivalries. Although trying to tolerate the other but obviously, they don’t want to mix. The country’s first Prime minister predicted its unworkability decades ago; the guy who wrote the manual and then laced Nigeria together based on that manual says it is dangerous to mix the tribes. And now the concoction has marinated and each part rejecting the other like bubbles in a cooking pot of soup jostling for supremacy, the people agitate for a breakup. From Maiduguri to Umuahia, Ogbia to Abeokuta, all demanding a peaceful severance before the soup burns.
Consequently, keeping the obvious question alive; To whose interest is the continued amalgamation? Nigeria is hardly an attractive mosaic in its current composition, albeit one meshed up in sorrow, pain, and bloodshed.
Because this model patchwork seems not to be working for anyone, a systematic separation seems all too tantalizing now more than ever. What will it be?