The alarming rate at which secessionist movements are rising up in Nigeria has been a source of great concern in recent times. Most times, the agitators assume a violent stance which leads to clashes with security forces and needless waste of lives and properties.
Nigeria; as a sovereign state with political leaders elected lawfully has repeatedly vowed that it will not watch idly while separatists set the country on fire; and that it will do all within its powers to keep the country united; an indivisible entity that will not yield to the efforts of those trying to balkanize it.
Agitations to opt-out of a union are not an uncommon occurrence globally, but on closer look, most of those who end up being successful and beneficial to all parties involved are those set in motion through dispassionate, logical and strategic frameworks. The world witnessed the disintegration of the mighty USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) into separate 15 independent states in 1991.
In that same year, another dominant force in Europe, Yugoslavia was broken up into 5 distinct independent states. Serbia will eventually part ways with Montenegro who declared independence in May 2006; with Kosovo also emerging from Serbia as a separate nation in 2008. South Sudan also famously gained independence from The Republic of Sudan in 2011, making it the most recent sovereign state or country with widespread recognition as of 2021. The USSR dissolved due to growing unrests in the various constituent republics developing into an incessant political and legislative conflict between the Republics and the Central Government, factors that made it became evident that the continuation of the Union was not feasible as the component parts were all mature for separate independent governments.
Yugoslavia fell apart due to intensifying structural problems that followed the death of its leader Josip Broz Tito, who was the unifying symbol that kept the Republic together; the global weakening of Communism also contributed to its inevitable and natural collapse. Montenegro separated from Serbia following a referendum that was authorised by the United Nations Security Council, following verified claims of unjust annexation. South Sudan also split from Sudan through a referendum premised on claims of unfair treatment of the zone, although the newly birthed country was plunged into fresh internal crisis a few years after; witnessing a brutal power struggle that got thousands killed and many more thousands displaced.
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The most recent separatist surge that got global attention occurred late 2017 in Spain; where the region of Catalonia wanted to establish itself as a separate state but was legally prevented by the Spanish government. Catalonia is one of Spain’s wealthiest and most productive regions and has a distinct history dating back almost 1,000 years. Following a symbolic referendum in November 2014, outlawed by Spain, separatists won the 2015 regional election. Catalonia’s pro-independence leaders then went ahead with a full referendum on 1 October 2017, which was also declared illegal by Spain’s constitutional court. In the heat of the impasse; Carles Puigdemont; then Catalan president abandoned his disciples and fled abroad with several other leaders. Many who remained were arrested and charged with treason. Spain’s Supreme Court finally sentenced nine of the arrested Catalan leaders in October 2017 sparking waves of massive unrest.
Back to Nigeria, the current secessionist movement in South-East Nigeria is spearheaded by Nnamdi Kanu; who floated the group called Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) in 2012. The group however came to prominence in late 2015; mostly through utterances via one of its media platforms; Radio Biafra, where they freely derided the actions of government while also casting insults and aspersions on elected personalities without compunction.
Initially, it was very curious that the hitherto latent group came into full swing when a new political party emerged at the centre; arousing suspicion at the real intent and purpose of the group. Some declared the group as a ruse, designed to curry political empathy and patronage while masquerading under the guise of tribal agitations of marginalisation.
The group was relentless in its bid to undermine the country’s government and national cohesion; through different activities and actions that propagated the group’s mandate aimed at weakening the fragile cord that unites all parts of the country. The wave of the group’s unrestrained civil rebellion eventually resulted in its proscription by the Federal Government, and the arrest and detention of Kanu on charges of treasonable felony and other related offences; he was later released on bail with conditions which he serially violated, and to avoid re-arrest for breaching those conditions; he fled the country to the United Kingdom (UK) where he has since lived with his wife and children.
From his safe and comforting abode in the UK; the IPOB leader has intensified his efforts at stoking violent tensions in the South East region; using the social media and broadcast media to rile up young misguided people to carry out dastard acts that put them in defenceless and vulnerable positions against well-trained security forces trying to maintain law and order. He has been drumming for war at every opportunity; a war where he or his immediate family will not feature! The scenario brings back memories of the famous folklore story, where the Hare was being stirred up to challenge the Antelope to a fight by his friend; the Tortoise who promised to join him on the day of the fight. The foolish Hare heeded the call and on the day of the fight; he was perplexed to see the Tortoise cheering him up from a safe distance, while he was left alone to be beaten to a pulp by the Antelope.
A recent report released on activities of IPOB paints a grim picture of the true state of things in the organisation. Since the onset of this renewed IPOB agitation; hundreds of people; nearing a thousand have lost their lives while participating in needless dangerous shows of opposition against security forces; while many others are fatally wounded, some have been permanently maimed; while many others are languishing in police custody; where no one including Kanu is coming to their aid. It is disturbing to note that; Kanu has described these unfortunate events as inevitable fatalities of war; urging his supporters not to relent until “victory” is attained.
The common occurrence of burning of police stations; correctional centres, INEC stations, spontaneous gunmen attacks, militarisation of the zone and other sorts of happenings in the South East has been largely attributed to the violent fall out of Kanu’s IPOB and his Militia; some of which are no longer controllable by him and are now following their personal destructive quests. Since leaving the country; Kanu has not set foot in Nigeria; due to fear of arrest or being in danger; the same thing he exposes his followers to on a daily basis!
Let us come to South-West Nigeria, there is another ringleader that puts young Nigerians at similar risk. His name is Omoyele Sowore. He is the owner of the famous online tabloid; Sahara Reporters and has been reputed to be in bed with several politicians in the past. He even contested for the position of President and lost in 2019; but instead of solidifying his political base, making strategic efforts to present a better performance in future elections or inspiring young Nigerians to start political journey using the tested and trusted bottoms-up model; he assumed the role of a rebel for mostly selfish motives; stirring up young Nigerians to revolt against elected government thereby exposing them to jeopardy of enormous proportions; whereas his family is safely domiciled in The USA. The fellow has dual citizenship, has many international passports on standby and when the chips are down; he could fly out of the country in the blink of an eye.
Another self-styled freedom fighter is Sunday AdeniyiAdeyemo, popularly known as Sunday Igboho, who first came into regional prominence for his role in the Modakeke/Ife conflict between 1997 and 1998. Then he was a defendant of Modakeke people. Now he is the poster boy for various groups demanding violent separation of the Yoruba nation from Nigeria. The man has been on a mission to instigate a violent war of sorts in Yorubaland; mindless of the ugly consequences of war on the people; perhaps that is partly because his two wives live safely miles away in two different parts of the globe; Germany & Canada, where the children reside also. With his immediate family insulated from the potential fatal fallout of a brewing crisis; it is possible he is not too concerned about the fate of others. He might probably follow the footsteps of Nnamdi Kanu when his campaign gathers steam.
Another controversial incendiary is no other person than the embittered Reno Omokri; someone with a notoriety for reducing almost every issue to partisan politics, clinging unto any opportunity to launch caustic remarks on the country’s leadership. He served as a Special Assistant on New Media for 4 years under the Jonathan administration; but soon as he vacated the office due to the electoral loss of his principal; the man has assumed the uncharitable role of an agent provocateur; constantly emitting acrid criticism and pungent appraisal of each and every action of government; more times than often in highly unprofessional and hypocritical manners considering his antecedents and political leanings. He has been resident abroad with his family since he stopped being a Presidential aide, but he is fond of using his social media platforms to incite young Nigerians to openly rebel against government both physically and virtually thereby exposing themselves to ills he is protected from.
He also has an infantile habit and reputation of leading scant protests in foreign countries; leading some few others in displaying placards portraying the country and its leadership in a bad light. With the way he tirelessly delivers scathing remarks on the country’s leadership, one would almost assume that the country was impeccably administered without any setbacks or challenges during his Principal’s tenure. The fellow is obviously politically enraged and all his moves are not for any nationalistic or noble motive; the President defeated his choice candidates in both the 2015 & 2019 elections and he has no other way to express his angst and bile but through these deplorable means. It will be highly unfortunate for undiscerning Nigerians to allow themselves to be misguided and misled by this calibre of selfish political jobbers and greedy opportunists.
Nigerians; especially those easily swayed by the negative agenda of secessionists must see beyond the trickery and subterfuge of this violence-instigating separatist leaders; who continually expose their followers to extreme dangers; egging them on from distant, safe and protected environments where they hole up or are holed up with their loved ones. No elected government will watch with arms akimbo while its core components are being dismantled and set ablaze by rabble-rousers and dissidents.
The country is yet to fully recover from the fatal wounds it suffered during the unfortunate Civil War more than five decades ago and cannot afford itself to be plunged into another war especially by these sort of selfish personas advocating war without being thoughtful of the fate of thousands and millions that will bear the distasteful casualties of such occurrences. Too many of these secessionists, “self-determination” feel their aspirations can only be attained through violence or war This is highly erroneous.
The United Nations Charter that gives the right of a people to self-determination is a cardinal principle in modern international law and states that people, based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no interference. The principle is vague on methodologies to be deployed to this end, or expected outcomes neither does it state what the delimitation between peoples should be; nor what constitutes a people. There are a lot of conflicting definitions and legal criteria for determining which groups may legitimately claim the right to self-determination which is why there are civil, constitutional and political avenues to dialogue peacefully, and address perceived grievances and injustices; this path must be rigorously explored. Violent and riotous route will never take anyone to any desirable destination.