As a young foreign service officer full of idealism serving in Bonn, the capital of the then West Germany in the late 1980s, at a reception to mark the debt forgiveness by the German government of some African countries, I asked a tall distinguished German official why the gesture was selective and not to the entire continent. For an answer, he led me by the hand to a corner of the ornate hall away from the din of conversation saying in German “Das ist ein gute frage. Kommen sie mit dan mein junge man mit grosse kopf, Ich hab ein tolle antwort fur ihrem fantastische frage” (That is a good question you asked. Come then with me young man with big ideas, I have the right answer to your fantastic question).
At the corner in perfect English in typical direct German way he proceeded to give me a full lecture on the nexus of national and international politics. He said he could discern that I was from the Nigerian Embassy because as he remarked, only the Nigerians among Africans exhibit such confidence from his experience. But the simple and direct answer to my question was that as Nigeria was richer than Germany in terms of untapped resources to extend debt forgiveness to Nigeria, the German government will find it difficult to justify to the German people why taxpayers’ money should be given to such a rich country as Nigeria. He concluded that the origins of Nigeria’s problems and their solutions are within and that Nigerians should not expect anybody else from outside to resolve them for them.
Today watching how a vocal minority of people in the country, goaded by a partisan section of the media, have persuaded themselves that the solutions to Nigeria’s current challenges is to break it up, I could not help but recall my encounter of several years ago with the German official.
The basis of their call for the break-up of Nigeria is on the outworn shibboleth of the 1914 amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates to make up Nigeria as we know it today by the British colonial administration. The narrative is that the British forced this union on unwilling pre-existing entities who were doing well before the British came. So the best thing, the narrative further goes, is to break up this “unwieldy and unworkable British contraption’’ as is often said of Nigeria.
To be sure the calls for secession from Nigeria are not new. In the 1950s calls for ‘Araba’, meaning separation in Hausa language, were stridently made in the northern region in reaction to constitutional changes that the region found unfavourable.
Similarly, in 1966 in the heat of the July counter coup by northern officers to avenge a similar one earlier in January of the same year in which northerners were the main victims, feelings were high for a declaration of an ‘Arewa Republic’ by northerners.
But ironically it was in the Eastern region that the secession idea actually played out following the tragic sequence of events in 1966 which led to the civil war the following year and the loss of millions before it ended in 1970.
Fast track to today, feelings have been running high not just for the resurrection of the Biafra Republic in the same South East but also for an Oduduwa Republic in the South West of Nigeria.
Although these feelings have been making the rounds for some time now, discerning Nigerians, who are in the majority, have chosen to ignore them and rightly so, as the quixotic actions of a group of attention seekers who hardly know the implications of what they are calling for.
Of late, however, sections of the Nigerian media, more out of the need to raise circulation figures, have neglected to do the necessary due diligence in interrogating the credentials and motives of the groups and the personalities leading them on such a venture which is fraught with potentially negative consequences for us all. Disturbingly some sections of the media have gone even beyond not just giving these nihilistic agents of anarchy unnecessary importance beyond the nuisance value that they are really worth, but have gone to the extent of shutting out and even intimidating more nuanced counter perspectives coming from more knowledgeable personalities on the subject matter. Between this section of the media and the purveyors of the secessionist agenda in the country there seems to be a conspiracy to deny the silent majority of Nigerians who think differently on such a sensitive subject the space to air their views. Increasingly we are just being bombarded to submit to and accept the false, thinly clad narrative that the only solution to the country’s existential challenges as it is, is a break up.
Were it not that of late the champions of this rather unworkable agenda have been joined by otherwise responsible personalities who ought to know better, it would have been better to allow its misguided purveyors to continue along their road to self-perdition petering out in frustrating ignominy as happened before.
But because they have chosen to dare think they can intimidate the silent majority of Nigerians who hold a different view to their lack of a nuanced perspective on the secession agenda they want to ram down our throats willy- nilly not minding the negative implications both to them and us all, it is time to give them a reality check.
Before they take us all on the road to a humanitarian catastrophe, it is time we subject all of their assumptions on secession as a solution to the current challenges in the country one by one, unclad the veneer covering them, exposing the hollowness that they and their champions are made of in the process.
This we have to do in order to save the overwhelming majority of Nigerians, Africans and the world from the seemingly innocuous actions of a vocal but misguided minority of people in our midst. It is also to give voice and encouragement to the silent majority of Nigerians who do not think secession or break up is the silver bullet to come out and lend their views as vigorously as those who want us to believe otherwise.