It was after the public presentation of the book “We Are All Biafrans” and the intervention of a former vice president of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar, who chaired the event and delivered a speech titled “Restructuring for Nigeria’s national unity”, that the issue of restructuring Nigeria and negotiating its unity has once again taken the centre stage of national discourse.
No less a person than President Muhammadu Buhari has had to weigh in on the debate. During his Eid-el-Fitri message to Nigerians on Wednesday, July 6, 2016, he spoke on the activities of Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, whom through their “Operation Red Economy,” has continued the destruction of oil installations in their region, that the unity of the country, Nigeria remained non-negotiable.
He was reported to have said: “I assure them (in reference to the Niger Delta Avengers) that when we were very junior officers, we were told by our leaders, by the Head of State, Gen. Gowon, that to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done…we never thought of oil. What we were after is one Nigeria. Please, pass the message to the militants that one Nigeria is not negotiable. And I pray they better accept it.”
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The opinions of these two prominent Nigerians reflect the two divergent opinions on the issue of restructuring Nigeria or negotiating her unity.
We believe they are the only ones predisposed and open to solving the current crisis. Regrettably, this is one issue that has divided the progressives and patriots in Nigeria. This division has defined the kind of response –ranging from obfuscation and doublespeak to outright denial and combativeness – that has made it impossible to have a coherent national narrative and action plan.
Since those who ought to speak out and act have maintained criminal silence and indifference, they have yielded the space to conservative analysts of every hue, hypocrites, blackmailers, anarchists, and fifth columnists. So what are the issues in contention? There seems to be a general agreement, even among those who brought us to this near-tragic end, that Nigeria is not working for Nigerians.
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While we view Buhari’s statements and stance pertaining the unity of Nigeria as insincere and lacking in merit, we painstakingly uphold that Nigeria’s unity is very negotiable. In fact the country is even divided under his leadership more than ever.
However, the crux of the matter is that Nigeria is not working not because it is not workable, but because it has been rigged to fail to such an extent that even an ‘angel’ will find it very difficult and puzzling to fix.
The unity of Nigeria over the years has treated some sections of this country unfairly while only pampering those who thinks that the status quo should remain and not altered. Buhari and his co-northern oligarchy are those who benefits from the current structure of Nigeria and so will kick against any form of restructuring or negotiations.
Nigeria is nonnegotiable, yet you favour one side of the country and ethnic group against the other, you approve lopsided appointments. The country is not negotiable and yet you illegally kill and detain pro-Biafra agitators, you sack federal workers from the Southeast and South-South, you flagrantly disregard court orders, you apportion 95% favour against 5% that did not vote for you.
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A truce was declared with the catchphrase “No victor; No vanquished.” Unfortunately, 46 years after the end of that internecine war, low-intensity conflicts by state and non-state actors are raging across the country, from Boko Haram in the North-east, Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN)and Arewa People’s Congress (APC) in the North-west, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and other groups, the Niger Delta Avengers and Bakassi Strike Force (BSF) in the old Eastern region to the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) in the South-west and potential avengers in the North-central.
What this tells us is that that war did not really end and has not ended. To continue to insist that the unity is not negotiable is simply aping that bird which buries its head in the sand and believes because it is seeing nobody, it has become invisible too and so, to fix this problems, the simple answer would be to return to the negotiation table. To be clear, Nigeria has always been negotiated. The problem has been that the “victors” or those who control power at each round of negotiation have unilaterally defined the structure and politics of the country going forward.
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Again, I return to the issue of oil. Before independence in 1960, this was the “sharing” formula for crude oil revenues: Oil producing states (region) retained 67.4% of revenues, the federal government got 20%, while non-oil states (regions) got 12.6%. After the civil in 1970, the regime of Gen. Yakubu Gowon through Decree No. 13 “negotiated” a new formula: Oil producing states retained 45% of revenues, the federal government got 55% while non-oil states got 0%.
In 1975, the regime of Gen. Murtala Muhammed in another round of negotiation through Decree 6, came up with this formula: Oil producing states would retain 20% of revenues, the federal government got 80% and non-oil states got 0%.
In 1976, Gen. Obasanjo, then military dictator, in his omniscience, gave oil producing states 0% of revenues while the federal government got 100% and the non-oil states got 0%.
President Shehu Shagari who came to power in 1979 brought a bizarre twist to the “sharing” formula. He retained the Obasanjo formula of 0% allocation to oil producing states and 100% to the federal government to be shared in this order: 50% shared equally among states, 40% shared based on population and 10% based on land mass. By 2000, during the reincarnation of Gen. Obasanjo as a civilian president, a new revenue sharing formula was negotiated which gave oil producing states 13%.
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We say “that Nigeria’s unity should be subjected to periodic review; because when we have uprisings at different regions of the country shows that the constituent nationalities that makes up the country, do not wish to remain as one.” Therefore, the principles and structures of the co-existence of different nationalities that make up Nigeria should be reviewed with the view of granting justice to the unjust.
The present structure of Nigeria is not in favour of anybody; those that it favours are the ones who wants the status quo to be maintained, but those it has not favoured are open for negotiation.
Self-determination is enshrined in the Nigerian constitution and since Nigeria has lasted for a hundred years which the colonial rulers proposed for its disintegration, I think it would be only fair if the constituent nations comes together to map out best ways through which separation and independence of the nations could be perfected amicably without war, rancour or animosity. Biafra agitation and other separatist movements today, was ignited by many years of injustices, lopsidedness, and inhumane treatment meted out on them by past and present governments.
As Prof. Yakubu Aboki Ochefu notes in the introduction to the book Nigeria is Negotiable, “Beginning from the Berlin West Africa Conference of 1884-85, the ‘negotiated’ existence of what eventually became Nigeria in 1914 (unfortunately, negotiated without the input of those who would eventually become Nigerians) has always been a part of its historical experience.
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Under British colonial rule, the economic and administrative structures of the country were continuously rejigged until independence in 1960.
“Between the official versions of the decolonisation history that gives a prominent role to the nationalist heroes for winning independence from the British, to others who believe in the ‘conspiracy theory’ of decolonisation, the process of how the region with the least democratic credentials ended up as the driver of a new democratic enterprise epitomises aspects of the negotiated experience.
As a country on its ‘third missionary’ journey to a truly democratic nation, the fundamental questions of nation building that began over 100 years ago have not been fully and/or properly answered. We must collectively negotiate to ensure that the constituent parts who feels threatened by the current structure of Nigeria is given the opportunity to either stay in or opt out through democratic measures and not be subjugated to some form of suppression or military denials.
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On April 22, 1990, a group of young Nigerian army officers – mainly from the North (the same army President Buhari told us weeks ago fought to keep Nigeria one) – attempted to overthrow the military regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. While that abortive coup lasted, the rebellious soldiers excised five states of the federation – Sokoto, Borno, Katsina, Kano and Bauchi. That coup and the excision order were popular and well-received in many parts of the country. Clearly, if that coup had succeeded, the aftermath would have been another civil war. Gen. Babangida responded to that mutiny by dividing Nigeria into 30 states from 21 (just as Yakubu Gowon divided Nigeria into 12 states from four regions in 1967 to weaken the Biafra secession).
Having told ourselves a few historical home truths, let us quickly avail ourselves of one more opportunity to ask for the negotiation of our present situation and stay in Nigeria. When people call for negotiation, restructuring or even separating or exiting Nigeria, they make the call for a reason. And it should not be dismissed peremptorily The rulers of the country use every opportunity to speak about the unity of Nigeria and hardly do anything to build or enhance that unity.
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I don’t think the issue really is about the unity of Nigeria. Undoubtedly, certain regions of the country wants to exit Nigeria and its oneness or unity permanently dissolved. It is important, therefore, that we do not conflate the issues. The call for negotiation or the exercise of rights of self-determination has nothing to do with calling for another bloodletting war. You can believe that “Nigeria is non-negotiable” and still support the call for self-determination.
That call is basically about creating an all-inclusive and equitable nation, Biafra; one in which your worth and position are determined not by where you come from or your religion; a nation founded on a popular constitution validated by “we the people”.
On a final note, let me emphasise that negotiating Nigeria’s unity has become a “categorical imperative” for the country. It is either we negotiate out our terms of co-existence or we perish!
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Negotiating our cooperate existence in Nigeria is not an elitist concept (even if it is sometimes used by sections of the ruling elite to negotiate power), neither is it an agenda of a particular section of the country as wrongly perceived. Of course, renegotiating Nigeria’s co-ethnic existence is not a silver bullet or cure-all for our problems. But we can’t take on our problems as a nation without a generally acceptable and workable structure or path. In a nutshell, we MUST negotiate our cooperate existence.
By Chukwuemeka Chimerue.
Published By Nwosu C.S
For Biafra Writers