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Negotiating the terms of our nationhood

In a new book titled ‘Facts Versus Fiction: True Story of Jonathan Years, Chibok, 2015, and the Conspiracies,’ Mr. Reno Omokri, former Special Assistant on Social Media to former President Goodluck Jonathan, narrated how the United States meddled in Nigeria’s 2015 presidential election with the connivance of some northern governors. The book outlined series of meetings held prior to the presidential election on the removal of former President Goodluck Jonathan. It should be noted that the story as told by Mr. Omokri has received the full endorsement of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

The United States has debunked the allegation contained in Mr. Omokri’s book and stated that she never meddled in the election. Despite the denial, facts point to the direction that United States, led then by President Obama, had interest in our election and in one way or the other worked to promote that interest. For example, David Axelrod, President Obama’s close friend, his former senior White House aide and the one that guided President Obama to his presidential victory, consulted for the All Progressive Congress (APC) during the 2015 presidential election.

The point here is not whether former President Goodluck Jonathan lost the presidential election because of the alleged meddling in the election by the United States (a position that is largely questionable), but the point is that a foreign entity (that always feigns democratic ethos) exploited our ethnic division to meddle in our election and they did this by using our people to hatch their plot. How come that the United States only reached out to some governors from northern Nigeria? Could that have been purely coincidental? Can we trust our compatriots who sold out their fellow compatriots. Your guess is as good as mine.

The governors that attended the meeting and aided in the meddling in our election by the United States conducted themselves in a treacherous and unpatriotic manner. Some individuals in the United States are currently being investigated by both the Senate and the Office of Special Counsel for their role in aiding Russia to meddle in the United States presidential election. In Nigeria, no such investigation has been conducted despite the fact that this damning revelation that United States meddled in our election came from a former high ranking government official – President Goodluck Jonathan. This leaves a sour taste in our mouth as to the type of nation we want and how united we can be in the pursuit of our national goals and objectives.

Some weeks back, certain northern groups issued an ultimatum to all the igbo people living in the northern part of Nigeria to leave that part of the country. The basis for the ultimatum by the northern groups is the fact that certain groups in Igbo land have been agitating for the sovereign state of Biafra. These two events cited and many others which cannot be cannot be mentioned here raise some cause for concern about our unity as a people. Just to be clear, I am not a secessionist; I believe in Nigeria’s unity. However, there is need to interrogate the terms of our nationhood in order to ascertain whether the different ethnic nationalities can continue to peacefully cohabit.

It appears that the federal government always shies away from topic that questions the unity of Nigeria. The truth however is that questioning our terms of nationhood or unity, as the case may be, will not weaken and divide Nigeria, but make her strong and united. America is strong together not because they have no problems bothering on their nationhood, but because instead of them shying away from the problems, they tackle and debate over them. For example, racism has been a recurrent conversation in America’s political and social space, but discussing the issue has not disintegrated America. As a nation, it is pertinent to ask the following questions: how have we fared as a nation since our independence in 1960? What is our level of development and progress as a nation since our independence? Could we have fared better staying separately? Have we exploited our diversity positively or negatively? Given the inherent division (ethnically and religiously) in Nigeria, can we still continue together as one indivisible nation? If yes, how can we achieve the goal of one indivisible nation? Is it at all cost that every part of the nation must remain together? These are questions that can help answer our concept of ‘one indivisible nation.’ In a nation sharply divided as ours, true federalism would have worked as a perfect antidote to our division and disunity. However, it seems that the federal government and some sections of the nation are not comfortable with the idea of true federalism. The refusal of government to properly restructure the economic and political structures keeps pushing Nigeria to the verge of collapse.

The right of a people to pursue their own destiny is a right to self-determination undeniably guaranteed by the international law. In this regard, the people are free to agitate for their independence, provided that they do so through lawful means and within the confines of the principle of self-determination. Hence, it is wrong for some northern groups of youth to issue an ultimatum calling for the exit of igbo people from Nigeria. It is submitted that even where igbo people succeed in having their nation ‘Biafra,’ they are still entitled to their properties in Nigerian territory. The agitations by the some igbo people for the creation of Biafra deserves constructive engagement, and not war threats. If the government cannot address the perennial problems bedevilling Nigeria’s indivisible existence, by amongst other things, effecting true federalism, it should make room for Igbo people to peacefully decide by way of referendum whether they want to remain in Nigeria or not.

There is no point forcing the Igbo people to remain married to Nigeria forever in this modern age. That will amount to slavery. Our history and events in other countries around the world should teach us all but one lesson, that is, political marriage if not peacefully separated, ends up in blood. This quick lesson can be drawn from the bloody war between Sudan and South Sudan before their final separation. On the other hand, referendum has been a popular tool for gauging the feelings, sentiments and views of the populace. Britain, our former colonial master, has employed this tool in recent years. We should learn from them. The current agitations can better be assuaged by referendum. Conducting referendum will afford the people of igbo opportunity to decide their destiny. Nigeria as a nation has suffered many setbacks, but these setbacks are not peculiar to her.

Many other nations have trodden the path we are treading now. Their path, though not entirely the same as ours, however has some identical contours like us. United States, South Africa, etc., are a few of examples. Nigeria can do same. It is important to shelve our sectarian interests for general well-being of the nation. Given the inherent division in the system, true federalism should be implemented. In this regard, National Conference report should be implemented. If government, for whatever reason is not disposed to true federalism, opportunity should be given to those who want to leave the nation to freely and peacefully leave. Attempt to choke up peaceful agitations will only land us on bloody agitation.

* Toyo Jimmy is a lawyer and advocate of civil liberties and rule of law. He writes from Uyo.

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