One recurring theme in our national discourse is the prediction or fear that Nigeria will one day break up. It has become worse since the year 2008, when the United States Government through its Central Intelligence Agency gave our country an expiry date of 2015 to cease to exist. Finally, prophets of doom had something to point to as a reference fact. Anytime we have a crisis, people immediately start making calls for disintegration. Infact, some people have advocated breaking up as the solution to our lack of development, poverty and economic stagnation.
However, I do not believe that Nigeria is going to disintegrate. This is not just for the fact that I am an eternal optimist, but also because I have studied the disintegration of nations through history and I find a pattern preceding the break-ups which is evidently lacking in Nigeria. The 3 main patterns are:
1. Nations that break up have clear dividing lines: This is something that advocates of our breaking up continually overlook or are ignorant of. If Nigeria is to break up today, along which lines do we break up? The three choices are regional, religious and ethnic lines. Let’s look at them one by one:
a. Regional Basis: Now, this is most popular choice among the break-up advocates – that Nigeria would break up into a Northern Nigeria and a Southern Nigeria. This is based upon the assumption that these 2 regions are monolithic and unable to work with each other. However, what they seem to forget that within both regions, there are fissures. For example, the North-Central region has always rejected the label of North, and always preferred the term Middle Belt, so as to counter the political lordship of the Hausa and Fulani of the core and far North. Also, the Middle Belt acts as a sort of cultural/political buffer between the North and the South – they are not as liberal as the South, and not as conservative as the North. In event of a break-up, which way would they then go? Also, I do not think an independent Southern Nigeria would not be without trust issues among the different regions and tribes, especially with the perception of marginalization among the Igbo people. Thus said, the regional option is scrapped.
b. Religious Basis: This is another illusionary dividing line. This is because the binding power of religion differs from place to place in Nigeria. Religion is a strong force in the North and diminishes as it goes down South. We also have many tribes who are very mixed religion-wise, even down to the family unit. In the event of a break-up along religious lines as Colonel Gadhafi suggested last year, would the millions of Northern Christians then migrate southwards to a likely Christian Republic of Nigeria? What then will happen to the teeming population of Yoruba, Edo and Middle Belt Muslims, for whom religion is not as strong a factor as ethnicity? I do not foresee them making the trip upwards to the Islamic Republic of Northern Nigeria, because they still would not feel at home among Northern Muslims.
c. Ethnic Basis: Now, this is practically impossible. Nigeria is one of the most diverse nations on earth, with at least 250 tribes. Does that mean that each tribe would then be an independent nation? There are many tribes with populations under 100,000. How sustainable would it then be to have their own country? Do many small, contiguous tribes then form their own break-away nation? But how sure are we that the mutual suspicion existing presently among Nigerian tribes would not still be a hindrance to their economic and political development? An ethnic line of division is impractical.
I make bold to say that Nigeria is about the most complex nation on earth, as this analysis shows. We clearly lack a workable line of division along which we would break up.
2. No country breaks up without bloodshed: The term ‘peaceful disintegration’ is a paradox. In the days after the referendum by South Sudan to secede and their subsequent independence, a lot of Nigerians began to suggest the same option for Nigeria. What they fail to remember is that South Sudan had experienced a 25-year war against the Northern Sudanese, in which millions of lives were lost. Examples abound in history: Yugoslavia, prior to disintegration, went through a bloody, complex war in which genocide and other atrocities were committed. We can remember the Srebrenica massacre where 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered by the Serbian forces. Ethiopia and Eritrea also had their own wars until 1993 when Eritrea became independent.
Not only that, whenever a country breaks away from another, a form of animosity begins to exist between them. Eritrea and Ethiopia are still at daggers’ drawn, and have unfortunately turned Somalia into their theatre of war, with the Eritreans using the al-Shaabab militants as their proxy soldiers. In the old Yugoslavia, the resulting 7 nations cannot all be said to be at the best of relations with each other. Do we think that this would not be the case with Nigeria if we should break up, after the likely loss of millions of lives?
3. Break-aways are always championed by persons who are truly regarded by their people: Now, this is something that I have repeatedly written about: the absence of true leadership in our country. I am not referring to those holding positions in government, but those who by virtue of their selflessness, sacrifice and passion for their people, have built enough influence to the extent that the words of their mouth are regarded highly.
If we look at countries which broke off from their initial countries, we can clearly see that there were people who everyone looked up to. South Sudan had John Garang, who founded the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement, and fought their case until he died in a helicopter crash in 2007. He was a man the people of South Sudan looked up to, to the extent that the first independence celebrations were held at his tomb. Eritrea had Isaias Afewerki, who dropped out of university to become a rebel fighter, fighting the Ethiopians until they achieved independence in 1993.
Without even searching, we can evidently see that we lack such leaders in our ethnic groups, regions and religions. Since the demise of our First Republic leaders such as Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikwe, Mallam Aminu Kano and J.S. Tarka, all we have had are people for whip up sentiments for their own benefits, pretend to be disciples of these leaders and when in power, amass wealth for only themselves. Who today can speak in the North and be generally accepted as to be speaking for the North? Who can be said to be the figurehead of the Yoruba, or Igbo, or any tribe for that matter? None!!
It is the lack of such leadership that was partly responsible for the Balkans Wars when former Yugoslavia disintegrated. If we extend such situation to Nigeria, we would have by far a worse situation, considering our population and complexity.
If Nigeria should break up, God forbid, our situation would be worse than Somalia, where there is total anarchy, lawlessness and chaos. Not only is it that our country is complex, but also the fact that we have mixed up within the country. In the event of a break-up, what then would happen to the Igbo communities present in virtually every town in Nigeria, made investments and built up a livelihood? Or the millions of people who were born in a place different from their ‘places of origin’, lived all their lives there and even inter-married?
We should closely note that no politician ever calls for the break-up of this country, because they know the likely fall-out. A lot of them benefit from our ‘Leaning Tower of Pisa’ situation: where we are not standing upright enough to forget our regional, religious and ethnic differences, which they can exploit for their own gain; neither are we flat on the ground, as that will be total chaos and anarchy.
It hurts me whenever I see people say that we should break up this country. Most of these comments come from young Nigerians who are obviously ignorant on what it takes for a country to disintegrate and have never seen how a war looks like.
The problems in this country are not above being solved, and breaking this country is definitely not the solution. I just pray that this article will make many Nigerians, especially young ones, to see and understand that our being together as an entity is the best option we have.