In June 2016, Britain went for a referendum whether to stay in the European Union after being a member for 46 years. To join was itself a problem because General Charles De Gaulle and other members of the then small European Economic Community (EEC) of seven or so members regarded Britain as a non-European country. EEC eventually evolved into the European Union, a strong economic community but with political overtones. When the Berlin wall came down in 1999, the whole of the earlier Warsaw Pact countries looked like a ripe prize for the West to seize, the old enemy of NATO, thus overtures were made for Germany to be reunited, and the EU to expand into accepting nearly all the Warsaw Pact countries – East Germany, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Slovenia and others. The EU had grown into a behemoth of 27 countries nearly all of which had a commitment of mutual defence under NATO.
In one fell swoop, Russia lost all its satellite states to the West but one thing was clear – these nations – Poland, Romania, and so on – voted in a referendum to join the EU and NATO.
In Nigeria, we have had a civil war based on the belief that some parts of Nigeria felt that they were not being treated equally like other parts or felt discriminated against. A lot of atrocities accompanied these events which ended with a truce in 1970, promising that no longer would any part of Nigeria feel neglected. As palliatives, new states were created but as we all have come to learn, the more states you create, the greater the request for more states. We have too many states especially as many are unable to meet their own needs without a heavy dependence on the federal purse.
Apart from that, the nation’s dependency on oil is causing more harm than good. Nigeria no longer produces groundnuts, cocoa, palm oil, millet, sorghum, hides and skin, cotton and other export crops. Our minerals are no longer exploited – coal, tin, columbite, manganese and so on. Our social structures have all broken down because of our inability to turn work into productivity.
We cannot control exchange parity. Inflation is over 25 per cent and it is rising just like it is doing in Venezuela which suffers from the same over-reliance on oil. I do not see any plans to change the fundamentals of our system. We are standing like the stupid proverbial antelope that is caught in the light of an approaching car. The antelope stands still in the middle of the road until the inevitable happens.
In this atmosphere, many people speak of “restructuring” the country. There are others who complain that indeed the plight of the country is a continuation of the neglect of certain parts of Nigeria who are again beginning the agitation for leaving Nigeria. I believe our constitution guarantees freedom of speech.
Moreover when people start complaining about the state of the nation, when they see no future in their continued stay, then the answer is not to incarcerate the complainants. We should rather look at the content of complaints and see whether there is something we can do to ameliorate the situation. Such disgruntled people may, if they wish, form a party based on their grievances such as the Scottish National Party has done and won a large degree of devolution; or in common Nigerian parlance now, a restructuring. Federal Government’s reaction to those who advocate Biafra or the activities of MASSOB should be superior argument, or showing that the agitation was falsely based.
Nigerians should ask questions and deserve answers. When Northerners ask the Governors of South-South how they had spent the 13 per cent derivation allocated to them, I think, after all the braggadocio, the South-South Governors should try to justify their expenditure. Why are there 46 local governments in Kano, 20 in Lagos and only eight in Bayelsa? We cannot bluff our way through such imbalances. Bluff in this instance, is pure arrogance. Someone must be called to account. But if the country has true federalism, and it is restructured, these questions become immaterial.
When the army is asked to provide grazing fields for cattle – what are we really saying about the army? Supposing an Ijaw from South-South wanted to engage in rearing of cattle in Kano, Gombe or Bauchi can he do so? Can a Fulani be a fisherman in Ekeremo or in Joinkrana or Sangama?
Nigeria never had a constitutional conference in which some parts of it did not threaten secession and even conducted walk-outs. In 1955 the North walked out when Hon. Anthony Enahoro moved a motion for immediate independence. In subsequent constitutional conferences, the East or South- South walked out. That these conferences eventually succeeded was due to the persistence of cool heads and chairmen who were able to fashion mutually acceptable terms .The point is that all constitutional conferences had reserved clauses of exit.
Some countries broke up peaceably. East and West Pakistan became Pakistan and Bangladesh; the Federation of Malaysia became Singapore and Malaya, Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland became Zimbabwe and Botswana. Countries that joined up peaceably are many. For example, Tanganyika and Zanzibar became Tanzania.
What is it that is so difficult to turn this economy around? Why can we not meet the simple pledge in our national anthem forbidding the oppression of anyone? Why can people from whose area oil is produced not be allowed to keep the proceeds of the oil? Why can we not exploit coal for steel production and electricity? Why are we not growing more cash crops? Do we not have a right to ask of what benefit ECOWAS is to Nigeria? Or indeed in belonging to the African Union?
There are good answers to these questions, but we must not behave as if asking the question itself is seditious. We must ask the questions. Government must provide the answers. It is by persuasion, not coercion that we can keep Nigeria one and ECOWAS functioning. Those who agitate for Biafra must be confronted with superior arguments to remain in Nigeria. And I believe this is possible.
The aim of our rulers must be to establish a friendly, not antagonistic relationship among its entire people. We must aim to be mutually supportive, not exploitative.
With regards to ECOWAS, we must seek ways to improve and derive more benefits from it. If it is an economic union, then it should ban differential custom duties. We must have universal property law, common currency, universal labour and employment laws; courts to enforce such rights; movement towards establishing Union Government, abolition of slavery, and more. ECOWAS should be one Customs union. It should be aggressive and support the trade policy between it and with other economic groups, for example, EU, SEATO, or individual countries such as China.
We cannot have situations like Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, or like the North and South Sudan. Africa has joke like the President of Gambia and the President of Zaire who have refused to step down. Africa must take itself more seriously.