In Nigeria today, even as ethnic tensions mount, there are calls in open and closed quarters for the country to split. Some believe that Nigeria’s unity cannot work and breaking up the polity is the only way out since our unity has been a constant struggle. Some want each geo-political zone to go separate ways. Others reason it is convenient for the North and South to split into autonomous entities.
Breaking up is far more complex than East, West and North. The dominant ethnic groups keep thinking on their own terms as though Nigeria is just Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba.
History, however, has shown that the result of such quick fixes, rarely solves the problem. At best, the excitement is ephemeral, ensnaring the victims into new deadly traps. Even if a nation of twin brothers and sisters, were to exist, there would still be possible grounds for differences and disagreement. These are indicators that disagreement and differences are unavoidable verities of life.
A vision of this type of scenario is not different from what happened to South Sudan. Perhaps, for Nigeria to learn, a closer look at South Sudan is quite necessary.
The World Happiness Report in 2019 described South Sudan as the saddest country in the world. This is because it has been ravaged by civil war, epidemic, and hunger since the country broke away from Sudan in 2011. Several years of intense civil warfare have decimated South Sudan’s economy and killed an estimated 380, 000 people.
How did it all start and why did South Sudan break away from Sudan? South Sudan took the decision to secede from Sudan because of the Sudanese government’s alleged consistent policy of marginalisation of the Southern part of the country. They claimed the situation had been on since Sudan got independence in 1956.
The people of the South, who are non-Arab, majorly Christians or traditionalists, have long felt oppressed by their Arab and Muslim neighbours from the North.
A southern liberation struggle led by the late Dr. John Garang had actually called for a unified Sudan “through a representative government that upheld basic rights and respect for Sudan’s diverse peoples in the North, South, East, and West of the country”.
Unfortunately, the end of the 1983-2005 intense civil war saw a signed North-South peace deal that granted Southerners the right to decide if they want to break away. When the referendum was held in 2011, the secession of the South from the North was voted for in droves.
Upon getting the much-coveted secession dream, the world expected South Sudan to soar and flourish with the Northern oppressors out of the way. But it did not happen.
South Sudan went from frying pan to fire. For South Sudan, instead of milk and honey, their promised land became filled with blood.
Internal rivalries took root. The same people who came together to seek secession on grounds of similar religion, cultural values, shared commonwealth, found so many new grounds to differ. This resulted in a bloody civil war that lasted for six years and two months. The independence they fought for came with a huge human cost following decades of intense conflict between the Arab North and the non-Arab South.
Experts describe the South Sudanese Civil war as strange, complicated and even needless. Before the breakout of war, President Kiir had accused his former deputy, Risk Machar, and ten others of attempting a coup d’etat. Machar denied the allegations and fled to lead the SPLM-IO (SPLM-in opposition). Fighting eventually broke out between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in power and SPLM-IO, which brought about the civil war.
Although both Kiir and Machar initially had supporters across South Sudan’s ethnic divides, the crisis subsequently started having strong ethnic undertones. Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group was accused of attacking other ethnic groups, and Machar’s Nuer ethnic group were also accused of doing the same, especially against the Dinka tribe. By 2018, about 400, 000 people were estimated to have been killed in the war. This is coupled with such atrocities as the 2014 Bentiu massacre.
Scholars equally opined that oil was one of the factors that fuelled the civil war in South Sudan. Oil which was one of the major reasons they seceded became a tool of opposition within. The warring parties were keen on controlling oil and other natural resources.
Both Kiir and Machar are yet to agree in details on who administers the oil-rich areas of Ruweng, Abyei, and Pibot even with the shaky peace existing. There is still a likelihood of renewed conflict over the administration of those areas because the allocation of resources in South Sudan has been a strong reason for the discord at all levels.
When the war broke out, more than 4 million people were displaced. About 1.8 million were internally displaced, with 2.5 million taking respite in neighbouring countries like Uganda and even in Sudan, their former enemies.
South Sudan’s economy was highly devastated by the civil war. IMF reports show that in October 2017, real income had plummeted since 2013 and inflation was more than 300%.
It is important for Nigeria to note that, in spite of South Sudan’s rich oil deposits, it has been a constant struggle with her economy. This is because most of these revenues are squandered through corruption and nepotism that had accompanied the Southern Government’s reputation from the post-independence period. Growing discontent from citizens continues to stoke internal violence and insecurity, as frustration mounts among marginalised minority groups.
South Sudan is equally considered very unsafe. Violent crimes such as assaults, robberies, kidnappings are common throughout the country, especially in Juba. Foreign nationals have been the victims of rape, sexual assault, armed robberies, and other violent crimes.
Analysts are tempted to feel that Nigeria is attempting to follow the shadows of South Sudan. Instead of looking for common grounds for the country’s unity, political leaders and other stakeholder are quick to unleash words of bigotry, hate, and discrimination against people of other religions or ethnic groups. These are the kinds of tension that can usher in lingering crises and war.
One major lesson Nigeria can learn is that as long as different groups have reasons to come together, they will also have reasons to differ. All parties involved can only strive to reach a common ground. Problems are equally an integral part of human life. They are bound to occur but the reactions and attitude of all parties involved will determine how fast those problems can be tackled.
Psychologists and historians have revealed that when decisions are proffered in the spirit of anger, frustration, and bitterness, new and more complicated problems always emerge. Nigeria can learn from the South Sudan experience by ensuring that all interest groups approach national issues with clarity and sincerity of mind that will show that the goal is a relentless pursuit of peace, equity, and justice.