– PRESENTATION TO THE FEDERATION OF IGBO STUDENTS, OBAFEMI AWOLOWO UNIVERSITY, ILE-IFE, OSUN STATE, AT THE OCCASION OF THE IGBO DAY CELEBRATION ON SATURDAY, 4TH MARCH, 2017 BY DR. CHEKWAS OKORIE –
SELF – DETERMIANTION
— In simple terms, I consider the clamour for the self-determination of Nigeria’s Ethnic Nationalities as the clamour for freedom, equity, justice, equality of all ethnic nationalities, unfettered latitude to develop at the pace of each of Nigeria’s Federating Units, and the liberty to opt out of Nigeria following the process of a referendum.
Nigeria held the promise of a great nation right from 1914 when the British Colonial Administration under Lord Federick Lugard clobbered the Northern and southern Protectorates including the colony of Lagos into one country he called Nigeria. This forced union, could have been turned around for unity, strength and development by taking advantage of the benefits of our diversities based on the comparative advantages of the various sections of the country. Unfortunately, leaders who took over the reigns of power in 1960 after independence, chose to entrench our diversities and seized every opportunity to declare their intention to subdue their neighbours and impose their ways of life and religion on them. The progress and development of any section and their people became the envy of the others. Instead of emulating the positive attributes of those doing relatively well, plots and schemes were designed and executed to suppress them and halt their advancement.
In the first Republic, Nigeria’s brand of Parliamentary system of government was generally described as a quasi federalism. Even with that, development in the country was steadily growing. It is significant to recall that before the
Biafra/Nigeria war, the revenue allocation formula of Nigeria was adopted on the basis of 50% by derivation principle. This was when agriculture was the main stay of the Nigerian economy. At that time the north had advantage based on their production of groundnut, cotton, tin, etc. The western region came second on the basis of their production of cocoa, while the eastern region came third based on their production of palm oil and palm kernel. However, shortly before the outbreak of the war, the economy of Eastern Region came under focus as the fastest growing Third World economy under the visionary and indefatigable Premier of Eastern Region Dr. Michael I. Okpara.
It is also important to note that by 1963 when the Mid-Western region had been created through plebiscite, Nigeria’s Provinces stood as follows:
Northern Nigeria – 14 Provinces
Eastern Nigeria – 12 Provinces
Western Nigeria – 7 Provinces
Mid-Western Nigeria – 2 Provinces
This means that there were 21 provinces in Southern Nigerian and 14 Provinces in Northern Nigeria.
At the outbreak of the Nigeria/Biafra War the Northern Military Junta which seized Political Power at the Centre began a steady process of restructuring Nigeria’s power equation by military fiat using Decrees. States were created to replace the Regions. Initially 12 states were created to give Northern Nigeria 6 states and Southern Nigeria 6 states, thus leveling up the North and the South. No reason was given for this action. Subsequent state creations gave the North advantage such that there are today 19 states in the north plus the Federal Capital Territory, which has the status of a state and 17 states in southern Nigeria. Not done yet, the Northern Military in charge of the government of Nigeria proceeded to set up the Dasuki Committee which carved up Nigeria into 774 Local government Areas and inserted same in the Nigerian Constitution which recognized the local government areas as factors for the sharing of Nigeria’s Revenue. Note that while the South East Geopolitical zone was carved up into 95 local government areas, the North West was carved up into 188 Local Government Areas.
After the balkanization of Nigeria’s political structure, the last military government led by General Abdulsalami Abubakar, imposed a Nigerian Constitution on Nigeria with provisions that make the creation of more states and local government areas near impossible. That is why no civilian democratic government has been able to creat any new State or Local government Areas. Even the creation of Development Centres has no constitutional backing and therefore not considered in national revenue allocation formula. There are several obnoxious provisions of the 1999 Constitution that have turned Nigeria into one large “concentration camp” with “slave masters” riding roughshod over fellow Nigerians, with provocative arrogance and impunity.
It was also under the military government that Nigeria’s Revenue Allocation formula plummeted from 50% by the principle of Derivation to 0% and later began to be adjusted to 1%, 3% and the present 13% that was made possible by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, during his regime as a democratically elected President.
In all the absurdities that have been imposed on Nigerians, Ndigbo have been the worst hit. Ndigbo are rated as the second largest ethnic population in about 31 states of Nigeria and are by far the largest ethnic population in the 5 south east states and the Federal Capital Territory. Similarly, Ndigbo have settled in all parts of Nigeria long before the advent of the European Explorers and Colonialists. I was astonished to be informed in the year 2000 when I was a Special Guest of Honour at the Igbo Day Celebration in Gusau in Zamfara State, that there was an Igbo Settlement in what was known then as Northern Gusau that dated back to 400 years. It was in that year 2000, that the Caliphate Celebrated its Bi-centenary Celebration. This means that Ndigbo were already in that part of Nigeria for two centuries (200 years) before Sultan Othman Danfidio arrived Sokoto to establish the Caliphate. These later day arrivals now refer to Ndigbo as non-indigenes and charge their children differential school fees.
Since the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war there have been many attempts through National and Constitutional Conferences to make Nigeria a True Federation where all the ethnic Nationalities and Federating units will co-exist peacefully and develop at their own pace for the benefit of all but those who are benefiting from the unacceptable and debilitating political structure have frustrated every initiative to put Nigeria on the part of growth, development and civilization.
Most Nigerians are yet to come to terms with the fact that the Recommendations of the 2014 National Conference which cost Nigeria over N9b to host in which every state of the Federation actively participated including the 21 states controlled by the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, could just be consigned to the archive by President Mohammadu Buhari with a wave of the hand.
The current and persistent agitation for self-determination championed largely by the Igbo youth is a direct result of the insensitivity of subsequent Nigeria Governments to their cry of marginalization and alienation. The painful fact that there is no person of Igbo origin that is a member of Nigeria’s Security Council since the inception of the APC Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari is the height of exclusion of the Ndigbo. The agitation has reached the height where the consciousness for self-determination has permeated the entire Igbo populace both in Nigeria and the diaspora. Many are of the opinion that since Nigeria is not comfortable for us, the option is to exit from Nigeria. We have been forced to dig deeper into our history to establish that whereas God created us Igbo which is our origin, but we are BIAFRANS by indigenous identity. Yes we are Nigerian citizens but this citizenship must be renegotiated. It is a blatant fallacy to say that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable. Even the institution of marriage which is the oldest institution established by God is negotiable and dissoluble. The conditions and modalities for such actions abound in the Holy Books.
Any human being who is not proud of his indigenous identity and ethnicity on account of fear or timidity is not worth the name he is called. You break no known law in Nigeria when you admit proudly that you are a Biafran by indigenous identity.
THE OPTION FOR NDIGBO
It is generally accepted by the proponent of self-determination or even exit from Nigeria that violent means or arms struggle is not an attractive option for several reasons. The political process is what I propose to our people. Although some of us have been exploring this process within the limited space of the Nigerian Laws, it will appear that President Mohammadu Buhari has given impetus to this process. In two recent occasions President Buhari used the platforms of Al Jazeera an International Television Network and a Nigerian Town Hall meeting in New York, United States of America to urge Ndigbo to take advantage of Nigeria’s Multi-Party Democracy to organize themselves in a political party of their choice to pursue their aspirations. It is a challenge we have taken up immediately. There are several other ethnic Nationalities and political blocs in Nigeria who will very readily align with us in a Political Party that is ideologically driven and has express provisions in its manifesto registered with INEC, for the self-determination of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities, True Federalism, devolution of Power, State Police/Community Policing, Referendum, Release of Political Prisoners or Prisoners of Conscience with Compensation, Resource Control, etc.
I am of the strong view that tension will be greatly reduced in Nigeria if the Constitution of Nigeria has a provision for an Exit Clause that enables any section of the country wishing to opt out of the Federation to do so peacefully in accordance with the law. The nation of Ethiopia has an Exit Clause in its constitution, which has effectively ended the ethnic wars that plagued the country for many years. There is mutual respect and accommodation for all ethnic nationalities in Ethiopia as a result of which none has opted to invoke the provision of the Exit Clause. Subsequent governments in Ethiopia have treated all ethnic nationalities as equal stakeholders, with the awareness that each of the ethnic nationalities has the option of EXIT should they be pressed to do so.