I hear that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is calling on the Federal Government (FG) to take urgent steps to halt the secessionist tendencies being exhibited by the Ogoni and Bayelsa communities and some other communities in the South-West; hinging their arguments on the illegality and unconstitutionality of certain acts such as creating an anthem, coat of arms, et cetera, by agitators in these communities. Earlier, some elements in the South-East, under the auspices of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), and the more sophisticated Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) in the South-West, and the outrage of the Boko Haram daily carnage in the North-East are, to a greater or lesser degree, flagrant acts of secession.
Thus, acting or threatening secession is not new with the different groups in the country; especially where there are perceived or real acts of injustice against such communities. This is not to suggest that centrifugal forces should be encouraged on grounds of perceived injustice. But can aggrieved people wait patiently for ever to get redress from the injustices they suffer? Isn’t there a time in a people’s life that they take the gauntlet to fight injustice and damn the consequences, especially if the oppressors refuse to make pragmatic concessions? With regard to the Ogoni people, for instance, has the UNEP Report by the United Nations which prescribed a 30-year environmental cleaning of the oil spills and the ecological and environmental rehabilitation of Ogoni land, been implemented by Shell Petroleum, as recommended, to bring life back to the people of the area? Why would they not be forced to act secession when nobody cares for their survival? Has the situation and the anti-human political culture of abject poverty for the under-privileged which created the miscreants that peddle death about in the north-eastern part of the country been resolved; and have the political elite who sponsor them because they have lost power been won over by the Nigerian State to sheathe their sword? Why would violence not continue?
The point is not about justifying violence or secession; much less is it about invoking constitutionality and legality against those who choose to act secession. It is about how to balance the political forces of separatism and unity. It is about how to heal the wounds of the nation by returning justice to the land, justice to the people. The centrifugal forces are symptomatic of a more fundamental structural tumour – a sickness unto death – that require an equally fundamental constitutional surgery to remedy.
Quite frankly, I think that the NBA and all public spirited Nigerians should be more concerned about how to execute a fundamental surgical reordering of the Nigerian federal system to remove all the unnecessary disabling weight and stumbling blocks that impede meaningful, civilised growth and development, and hamper true egalitarianism, than the outward manifestation of a more fundamental, spiritual and psychological ailment which the people suffer as a consequence of long years of neglect, deprivation and injustice. The political actors and their hidden sponsors who go by the name of “cabals”, that make peaceful, meaningful changes and concessions that impact positively on the lives of the average citizens impossible, would make violent, secessionist, changes attractive.
Perhaps, for the umpteenth time, and for the sake of emphasis, it may be necessary to diagnose those ailments of abstract, yet fundamental, nature which is the presumed source of all of the nation’s physical, psychological and economic woes. The first of such fundamental ailment is the absence of fiscal federalism, the major source of injustice. This privation or lack is a direct assault on man’s capacity for self determination. A wounding of this capacity by the state engenders the spirit of sequestration or rather alienation, in the people. Once the people feel alienated from the state, you cannot get them committed to anything that the state represents. Failure of projects, non-performing contracts, dearth of infrastructure, failure in sports, and failure in everything, including failure of the state, would result. The cure of this major malady is the cure all, the panacea, for all the other ailments tormenting the nation.
The second fundamental ailment, which spring from the first is that the different communities are denied the opportunity by the existing federal laws to control their own resources. Even the government which ought to spring from the people, their grassroots government, the local government, has been hijacked by the state; further estranging the people from government. Yet, it is this level of government that ought to harness the potentials and resources of the communities for integrated national development. Denial to control their resources, denial from active involvement in their own government creates frustration, desperation and anger in the people, which find outlets in socially deviant, and often, violent behaviours. Electricity control is at the centre, whilst its consumption is done individually, locally. Crime control is at the centre, yet the crimes are not committed in the federal capital territory! They are committed in the local communities. Roads that are used every day by state and local inhabitants are designated Federal Government roads; and since the relevant federal authorities live and work in the federal capital city, none of them use the so-called federal roads, which they leave undone and in a permanent state of disrepair.
The way to begin to heal the wound of the nation is to allow power to move to the federating units; without necessarily resulting in disintegration. People erroneously think that when there is devolution of power from the centre to the federating units, the nation would break up. A call for the Gorbachevian restructuring of the Nigerian State is not a call for disintegration. Rather, it is the stubborn refusal to heed that call that would result in conflagration in the fullness of time. It is doubtful whether the constitutional review that the National Assembly prefers can bring about the fundamental changes that would stem the tide of disintegration.
Let the truth be told, let the proper diagnosis be made, and let the nation be healed of its wounds.