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Why Is A Referendum Not An Option For Nigeria? By Dr. Wumi Akintide

February 1, 2014

A referendum if it were allowed would have been the way to go to determine if Nigeria is truly willing and ready to remain one country. The mere fact that Nigeria has already fought a costly and bitter civil war for 3 years from 1967 to 1970, and the mere fact that the same group that led the secession has still not given up the option 43 years after the war has to be seen as a proof that something is fundamentally wrong with the Nigerian union. We are just too much in denial to admit it.

A referendum if it were allowed would have been the way to go to determine if Nigeria is truly willing and ready to remain one country. The mere fact that Nigeria has already fought a costly and bitter civil war for 3 years from 1967 to 1970, and the mere fact that the same group that led the secession has still not given up the option 43 years after the war has to be seen as a proof that something is fundamentally wrong with the Nigerian union. We are just too much in denial to admit it.

The Yorubas and the Hausa/Fulani and the minorities led by the Ijaws have threatened many times to secede. Once upon a time, General Yakubu Gowon as a compromise choice Head of State once proclaimed prior to Aburi Conference in Ghana that  “there was really no basis for Nigeria unity.” He made the statement before the Biafran war broke out and he was prepared at that point to preside over the break-up of Nigeria. Although he later changed his mind and reversed himself when he categorically stated again that “To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.” I was in Government at the time, and I am not making up the story.

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He, the same Gowon, had assured the Igbos after the war that there were no victors and vanquished in the civil war and that the Igbos were welcome back to Nigeria with open arms and with no malice for their failed attempt to secede. If you believed him at the time, you will believe anything.

What has happened to the Igbos ever since has confirmed that General Gowon has merely given those assurances for public consumption only and not because he meant what he said.  43 years after the war, the Igbos are still being treated like second class citizens in Nigeria if you see what I see. They are yet to be allowed to produce a President of Nigeria because they are still not trusted by the real power brokers of Nigeria. That is the truth on the ground that nobody can challenge or deny.

With the Boko Haram insurrection in the Northeast or the Bornu or the Kanuri areas of Nigeria, there is an ongoing insurrection that is threatening the peace and unity of Nigeria as we speak because Boko Haram says they  hate western civilization and education to put it bluntly, and they  want  Sharia Law to be the Law of the Land. People from a cross section of Nigeria are hell-bent to keep Nigeria  a secular state or else they are going to begin to sing their “Nunc Dimitis” or “To your tents O Israel.” That is exactly the situation on the ground in Nigeria today. Let nobody fool you about that. Nigeria’s situation is no better than that of Sudan. It is only a question of time as long as our leaders remain as passive as they are.

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Some Nigerians look at the situation in former Ethiopia when it used to include Eritrea. Some Nigerians look at Sudan when it used to include the predominantly Christian South and they see where Nigeria is headed. They look at the mighty Soviet Union and its break-up into 15 separate Republics. They look at Yugoslavia and its break-up into Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia and they see Nigeria going the same route because of our polarization as a nation. They look at Ireland and North Ireland and all the years of a very costly religious war in that country and they see a picture of Nigeria. Some political pundits in America looking at the total picture of Nigeria are projecting that Nigeria could be history by the year 2015. They must have seen something that the rest of us are just too blind to see as we speak. I have lived long enough in this country to know what I am telling you.

If Nigeria is operating a true Democracy which is not dominated by a one party dictatorship, one could have said there is still hope for Nigeria, but we do not have that. The opposition is muzzled and totally suppressed in Nigeria with no hope of ever having their own day in the sunshine. In more stable societies and countries the opposition is always the Government-in-waiting should the ruling party fumble. It is not so in Nigeria where Obasanjo has categorically told the nation that his PDP was going to rule Nigeria for the next 100 years whether we like it or not.

Every Nigerian leader that ever gets voted or rigged into office as President including Obasanjo is always hell-bent on serving a third or 4th term like their peers else where in Africa like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe or Houghet Boigny of Ivory Coast or Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Waza Banga in Zaire. They all want to retain power till they turn blue in the face. The only exception has been Nelson Mandela who quit after 5 to 6 years in office. God bless his soul.

Under normal conditions a new opposition party like APC should have been doing things in a way that show that they are not the same side of the same coin with the PDP they are trying to dislodge. You can tell from some of the blunders the party already started to commit. Their leaders going cap in hand to start begging Obasanjo to come and lead their ship of state tells me loud and clear they are not seeking to create a new order in Nigeria.

If all they are asking Obasanjo to do is to remain neutral as an elder statesman who has been President longer than any other Nigerian dead or alive, I can understand what they are doing. A fool at 40 is a fool forever. Obasanjo is a dried fish as far as I am concerned. Any attempt to straighten him is going to break him. He is a one trick pony who is going to repeat all of his dictatorial tendencies once he finds another safe haven in APC. He is even going to be more dangerous in the APC where he has to deal with his alter ego like Ahmed Tinubu who was the only Governor to survive Obasanjo’s takeover of the Southwest in 2003 by subterfuge. The combination of Obasanjo and Ahmed Tinubu in one and the same party is going to make the APC the reincarnation of the PDP if you can believe that. It scares the hell out of me, to tell you the truth.

I can tell you nothing is going to change if Obasanjo goes into the driver’s seat in the APC as feared by Wole Soyinka one of the surviving patriots of Nigeria. The rush by Ebele Goodluck Jonathan to now hold the national conference he has earlier on resisted, with the persistence of a demon, should be seen as the antics of a drowning man who will cling to a snake if needed. President Jonathan says he wants a national conference which must never ever discuss the possible break-up of Nigeria because he does not want such a schism or Tsunami occurring under his own watch. What is he afraid of? I suspect he is saying that because he has sworn to uphold the Constitution of Nigeria by all means even if it means putting the dead and the living on the same table of brotherhood.

The break up of Nigeria is being discussed by many of the six political zones of Nigeria as we speak. All it does not currently have is the stamp and authority of the Federal Government. I should not be misunderstood. I know there is something positive  to say for Nigeria remaining one entity. I am an unrepentant federalist like Obafemi Awolowo. I just happen to know that the Nigerian marriage is not working. I would  gladly support a Confederal system where each unit will be allowed to develop at its own pace and where the states would be much more in control of their own destinies than the current unitary Government we have in Nigeria where the President alone is going to nominate 60 members to the national conference including its Chairman and the Secretary.

That was all nonsense as far as I am concerned. The Conference should be allowed to pick their own Chairman and Secretary, and it should enjoy more autonomy. Its deliberations should not be macro-managed on daily basis. They should reserve the right to discuss what they want and what they consider necessary to guarantee the peace and stability of Nigeria. 

The Conference should not be prevented from discussing dissolution as an option if need be. Telling the conference that is a “no go” area is in of itself a big mistake in my judgment. The 1914 Amalgamation was a huge mistake that the British Imperialists adopted because it served their own purpose and administrative convenience at the time. What the Conference is being called to do now is to revisit the Amalgamation of the South and the Northern protectorates, discuss its merits and demerits and come up with a recommendation on how to proceed from now on.

We have endured the Amalgamation for 100 years and it is time for us to now say if we want to retain it or change it altogether. When Jonathan now tells us the central pillar of that proclamation should still remain sacrosanct, he is more or less asking Nigeria to continue to shoot blind-folded. That is a wrong advice to take and Nigerians are damn to smart to just accept it without asking any questions.

Jonathan can force a donkey to go to the brook, he, sure, cannot force the donkey to drink water if it doesn’t want to drink. A referendum should have been the  rightway to go, if it can be guaranteed it would be free and fair. An I.N.E.C that cannot conduct or guarantee a free and fair election in just one state in Anambra can hardly be relied upon to do a Referendum that the whole nation can trust. A country that is afraid or scared to death to do a realistic Census cannot be trusted to do a Referendum of that magnitude, I might add.

Forcing Nigeria to remain one country by force and by fire as demanded by Goodluck Jonathan in his rush to hold a national conference is a no brainer and totally counter-productive in a Democracy.

Need I say more?

I rest my case.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters 

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