Leaders of integrated associations and politicians, mostly from the Eastern region of Nigeria, are calling for a thorough constitutional review that will incorporate the diverse ethno-political interests and also offer equal representation in the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGR). Several archival reports made available and separate interviews conducted by IDN show rising tensions and lack of strategic foresight in the current approach towards national integration before 2023, the end of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
Nigeria became a formally independent federation on October 1, 1960. It, however, experienced a civil war from 1967 to 1970. After that, it alternated between democratically-elected civilian governments and military dictatorships until it achieved a stable democracy in 1999, with the 2015 presidential election marking the first time an incumbent president had lost re-election. In the 2019 presidential election, Muhammadu Buhari was re-elected for a second term in office defeating his closet rival Atiku Abubakar. As historical documents show, the Nigerian constitution was through a military decree adopted in 1999.
Nigeria is divided roughly in half between Christians, whose majority live in the southern part of the country, and Muslims, who live mostly in the north. Nigeria has the fifth-largest Muslim population in the world and the sixth-largest Christian population in the world, with the constitution ensuring freedom of religion. A minority of the population practise religions indigenous to Nigeria, such as those native to the Igbo and Yoruba ethnicities.
Currently, Islam has spread to the Christian dominated Eastern and Southern regions of Nigeria. Right after the Nigeria-Biafra civil war and until now, the Fulani people have dominated the military and politics in Nigeria. All is done for and by the Fulani for Fulani ethnic group, according to Kenneth Onyekachi Ihemekwele, Founding Partner of Imo State Indigenes Association, Executive Secretary of the Association of the Nigerian community and General Secretary of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra aka IPOB in Swaziland, southern Africa.
After independence following the military take-overs, the negotiated constitution has primarily remained an unimplemented document. The devastation and the underdeveloped Eastern part of Nigeria is the result of negligence from the Federal Government following the end of the Nigerian-Biafra civil war. The military regimes introduced a series of decrees that ushered in policies that not accommodating the development and political interests of the Igbo people.
“Nigeria is one of Africa’s most diverse and deeply divided States in the world today. Colonial rule exacerbated these differences, solidifying religious and ethnic identity as salient political distinction and creating conditions for persistent instability. The north-south divide continues and is marked by the serious disparity in economic development and access to basic social services,” he told IDN in an emailed interview.
Competition for control of state institutions, abetted by corruption, and conflict over the spoils of Nigeria’s natural resources, especially oil, have further contributed to these sources of instability. In pursuit of broad-based political participation, peace and integration, Onyekachi Ihemekwele suggests that “the current constitution is reviewed properly because the constitution was drafted without due consultations with the broad majority of the people of Nigeria. It is a one-sided constitution for the selfishness of a certain group of people, who call themselves the ruling class, or better still, the northern politicians. We are free people and have rights to shape our destiny.”
Under the current circumstances, an inclusive economic and political system is the only solution. The contemporary public discourse is focused on political restructuring along regional lines. The calls for a political arrangement where major ethnic groups will have control over their geographic areas as well as resources therein might help. The danger is rather than uniting Nigeria it would further divide the country along distinctive ethnic and religious lines.
Significantly, the foot-dragging on constitutional review by Buhari’s leadership called for public criticisms, he noted and further explained that what Nigerians need, and are clamouring for, is a country that will accommodate ethnic diversity, a unified country regardless of ethnic or religious creed, but at present, cannot be because Islam defines politics. Nigeria needs political, religious and ethnic tolerance. The constitution has to guarantee public safety in every facet of life, and the need for legitimate, effective political and administrative institutions.
The Nigerian authorities have an emphatically negative attitude to public opinions on ending violence and armed attacks, especially on the inhabitants of Eastern Rivers State. Despite consistent calls for the constitutional dialogue that will ultimately provide a basis for peace and integration, promote internal sustainable development nationwide and boost a positive image on international arena have, thus far, remains an unchangeable political dream. Opening the chapter as a new dawn for adherence to the ideals of political pluralism has indefinitely eluded millions of broad-minded Nigerians.
Onyekachi Ihemekwele concluded that Nigeria has fallen from grace, and there seems no remedy for Nigeria to regain this past glory. “We had earlier called for restructuring, the need for the Nigerian government to agree to wholesome restructuring without reservation or grant a referendum for the people in the South East to strive for self-rule or what is referred to, in politics, as self-determination.”
Professor Nathaniel Aniekwu, Secretary of the Alaigho Development Foundation (ADF) regretted in an interview with IDN that 60 years after independence and 50 years after the Civil War, the growing threats and frequent attacks by northern ethnic groups and deepening pitfalls in the federal governance system have negatively affected the overall development of Biafra, and other regions in Nigeria.
According to the ADF, Biafra symbolizes the Igbo people’s longing for freedom, underlining their predicament from the Amalgamation in 1914 to the Biafra Declaration on May 30, 1967. Ever since, Biafrans have been confronting a continuous state of estrangement, brutal attacks and punitive measures against their spiritual, economic and political survival. The world community continuously watches the large-scale atrocities committed in the country. As long as these wars are going on, Nigeria cannot have peace, and therefore, there would be no real significant progress.
All economic indices show that despite the War against them, marginalization and exclusion from participation in the governance of Nigeria, the Biafra States continue to be very competitive and are far from being worse off among the Nigerian States. Although Nigeria is richly endowed with natural and human resources, it has quickly lost all its shine advantages, he said.
Moreover, whatever remained in the past, has been squandered, especially as they seek to exclude Biafrans from participation in political governance. They failed to deploy the appropriate resources, especially human resources, and broad-minded people who can guide and manage the development of the country, simply because most of them come from the Biafra States.
National integration is an obvious possibility, especially for the Biafra States. It is the only hope, not only that internal cohesion is imperative but also integrating into a union of the agreed that is paramount. Leadership must be looked from the point of view of the governed, at the micro-level of the society. This has to be positioned as a guarantor of the preservation of the multi-secular State in Nigeria.
The federal system of government is not working in Nigeria given the unique nature of the Nigerian political space. We must, therefore, return to the solution domain, seek long-term solutions, first by reviewing the constitution. By taking this step, it could make it more receptive to further peace initiatives, offer political opportunities and creating ground for representations instead of depriving them of participating in state management.
Without all-inclusive Federal Government and its related public institutions, efforts to maintain the status quo will result in sharp differences and disintegration. The political division along ethnic lines and the slow peace process will harm development, explained Nathaniel Aniekwu.
Chief (Mrs.) Marie Okwor, President of the Igbo Women Assembly (IWA) and one-time member of Advisory Council of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is one of the remaining few Nigerians who have seen Nigeria from the struggle for independence through the development of its democracy. Mrs. Okwor, who is an Associate of the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, narrated her views about the impact of the Civil War, the current politics and the role of the church in Nigeria.
“The War of 1967-1970 war was a pogrom, a war of attrition meant to wipe out a whole race for no just cause. It reminded me of the Holocaust against the Jews. I feel very emotional as I speak about this,” she told IDN. Suffice it to say, that the War could have been avoided, had Nigeria kept her end of the agreement at Aburi, in the Republic of Ghana, which came to be called “the Aburi Accord” reached in 1967. This venue offered all the delegates security guarantee, and that meeting was billed to be the last chance of preventing all-out War.
The accord finally broke down because of differences in interpretation on both sides. This led to the outbreak of the War. Markets and places of worship were not spared from bombings and strafing. As a matter of fact, one of my domestic staffs lost her mother in one of the market bombings. She was hurt by shrapnel; she bled to death since medical facilities were scarce. The effect of the War on the State of Biafra was deplorable.
The Government of Nigeria is vehemently opposed to the name Biafra. Many point to the fact that Biafrans have never been re-integrated. The basis for unity no longer exists. Biafrans struggle for their survival without depending on anyone. Since the Nigerian Government has refused absolutely to accept Biafrans as a part of Nigeria, it stands to reason that they should be allowed to go separately and develop on their own at their own pace. It is pertinent to mention that the north contributes little, rather resources from southern Nigeria are controlled and squandered by northern politicians.
“There’s so much unrest which stems from oppression, square pegs are placed in round holes indeed. Almost all of Nigeria’s intractable problems emanate from the imposition of candidates during elections, there have been no free and fair or credible elections. The situation gets worse with every election. In the first place, the constitution under which elections are held is a fraud. Far from being the “People’s Constitution” in a simple sense of democracy, we have faced these mistakes since the inception of the presidential system of governance in Nigeria. The system under reference is wasteful, encourages corruption and dictatorial tendencies,” she precisely alleged in an interview with IDN.
In an early July IDN interview with the President of the Congress of Igbo Leaders in the UK and Ireland, Mazi Obi Okoli, said that Nigeria has lots of challenges in implementing a system of governance that will guarantee the interests of all within the nation. According to him, many of the problems, frictions and issues faced today in Nigeria are a direct result of the flawed federal system, the 1979 constitution drafted without consultation and the negative attitudes by the majority of politicians toward development in Nigeria.
The negative dimensions and conditions of ethnic minority alienation and discontent in the federation has been indeed made worse under the present regime, and further tightening of the noose continues unabated. Therefore, the interpretation and connectivity of ethnicity with the federal system of governance is that of resultant inherent contradictions and tensions in the evolution and operation of the Nigerian federal system. Many of the problems, frictions and issues faced today in Nigeria are a direct result of the flawed federal system; the problematic 1979 constitution drafted without consultation and the negative under-developmental attitude of the Nigerian politicians.
It has been made worse by the over-centralization of the governance system, the primitive refusal to recognize the complex ethnic configuration and interest. Furthermore, the pragmatic consensual underdevelopment of some regions, especially the Eastern part of the country, the relatively limited development of accommodative, consensual or power-sharing mechanisms, the absence or weakness of key mediatory or regulatory institutions, and the repeated distortion and abortion of democratic institutions. With the above administrative defects, it will be difficult for the nation to progress in contemporary times and be able to compete with other developing nations of the world.
As a matter of facts, Ambassador Uche Ajulu-Okeke, a veteran Diplomat and Development Studies Expert with thirty-years working experience in the Nigerian Foreign Service, explained to IDN from the United States, that “the present-day Federal Republic of Nigeria, several years after its independence, the leaders have not succeeded in rebuilding its state institutions enough to reflect all-inclusive ethnic diversity. Let alone in adopting Western-style democracy that takes cognizance of different public opinions on development issues in the country. The struggle for and misuse of power have brought an absolute stalemate, disrupting any efforts to overcome the deepening economic and social crisis in the country.”
Besides, she tellingly maintains that “several challenges exist, the first of which is coercive alien hostile occupation of our homeland which have severally subjected Igbo Women to rape, ravaging their homes and farmlands, decapitating their husbands and children and sources of traditional rural livelihoods. Widespread poverty, unemployment and unemployable skill remain a major challenge. State endorsed occupation of large portions of rural and village communal lands by hostile alien Jihadists have hampered the ability of women to provide for their families as supportive income earners.”
With the prevailing socio-economic climate and the steadily dwindling economic fortunes and hostile stance of the Government towards the entrepreneurial endeavour of Easterners, the future is bleak for women and youth. The only glimpse of hope in the horizon is a fallback to the age-old traditional practice of nurtured apprenticeship has been the bulwark of survival and sustenance in the face of the current existential threat facing Easterners.
The situation in the region is dire depicting a derelict lack of infrastructure widespread unemployment, insecurity and youth hopelessness. As a result of decades of State endorsed systemic exclusion since the end of the Civil War, Easterners have found themselves at the brink of socio-economic extermination and had to pull themselves up by sheer perseverance and dint of effort resulting in disenchantment with Nigeria and massive migration to new diasporas and abroad.
As Nigeria is persistently engulfed with so many challenges and problems, so it requires systematic well-defined approach in order to overcome them: Nepotism at all levels and institutions of Government. Morbid corruption. Endemic kleptocracy. Ethnic cleansing and persecution of Christians and ethnic capture of the military and security apparatus of the State.
The current entrapment of Biafra within the British Nigeria contraption prevents the actualization of its investment and development potential in all ramifications. This is why the Easterners want to delink from this entrapped arrangement called Nigeria. In the face of years of criminal neglect by Nigeria and a firm footing in the Diaspora, Biafra’s emancipation and development will be the Eighth Wonder of the World.
In Ajulu-Okeke’s logical analysis, the way forward in restoring nationalities and bringing sustainable peace and development to the beleaguered peoples of Biafra is through the conduct of plebiscites that will afford the indigenous nationalities the inalienable right to choose how they are governed. The juxtaposition of ancient nationalities with incompatible values presently held together by a coercive military decree in centrist top-down military format federations, fundamental regional autonomies should return to the truly democratic constitution and holding of self-determination autonomy plebiscites for all indigenous nationalities will usher in sustainable development and peace.
According to international organizations, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, and the seventh most populous in the world, with an estimated 195.9 million inhabitants as of late 2019. Nigeria has the third-largest youth population in the world, after China and India with more than 90 million of its population under the age of eighteen.
Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa and is the world’s 24th largest economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates, worth more than $500 billion and $1 trillion in terms of nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and purchasing power parity, respectively. Nigeria is a federal republic comprising 36 states, with the capital located in Abuja. The country is located in West Africa bordering Niger in the north, Chad in the northeast, Cameroon in the east and Benin in the west. Its southern coast is on the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean.
By Kester Kenn Klomegah
The author writes frequently about Russia, Africa and BRICS.