On Brexit for Nigeria
The dictate of democracy is that the majority, no matter how slim, carries the vote. This has been the case in a recent referendum held in Britain as to whether or not the country should remain in the European Union (EU). In an election which recorded an impressive turnout of 72.2% of registered voters, 51.9% voted for Britain to leave, while 48.1% favoured continued membership. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, belonged in the latter sentiment.
With the outcome not favouring his side of the argument, it was expected that he would resign his position as Prime Minister. His call for a referendum was a major policy decision; students of British politics will know that principled resignations have been the norm since the inception of democracy in the 18th century. Their ancestors might have been clever “crooks” who colonised Africa and plundered its resources, there is nevertheless honour and integrity in the dictionary of British democracy. The British politician, unlike his or her counterpart elsewhere, does not cling to a political position as if his or her life depended entirely on it!
Moreover, the debate on the “British position” had supporters across political party divisions. With opposition to David Cameron’s sentiment also coming from members of his Conservative Party, defeat meant his leadership position had been successfully questioned. He did what was fantastically honourable and expected by resigning; there will be a new Prime Minister by October.
In spite of the strong economic arguments presented in favour of Britain remaining in the European Union, it was not too surprising that there were many who wanted it to leave. Their emotions hinged mainly on the question of sovereignty and immigration. There were not a few who had become incensed by the fact that laws made in Britain could be overruled by the European Court of Justice in Brussels. However, the main grouse of the “nationalists” was the influx of immigrants into Britain. About three million EU citizens live in the UK, while 1.2 million Britons also live in the various EU countries.
Being one of the rich nations in the EU, Britain has continued to attract immigrants from the less endowed European nations, especially those of the former Eastern bloc. British nationalists insinuate that their generous welfare system – benefits for the unemployed, in particular – contributed to this attraction. They argue that the millions of pounds they contribute to the EU could have been deployed to improving the National Health Service (NHS) and other aspects of societal needs.
It had been rightly predicted that economic arguments in favour of EU membership would be convincing in the cosmopolitan cities, while support for exit would be popular in the “rural” areas. Of course, members of the older generation were also predicted to favour exit while their more forward-looking and less prejudiced younger generation would want to remain “Europeans.” One worry for the younger generation, accustomed to their holidays, was that erstwhile free movement within Europe could be jeopardised by Brexit vote.
“My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain”, was how one Thomas Mair introduced himself when asked to do so by a court. Mair was the killer of Jo Cox, a member of parliament who had campaigned vigorously for Britain to remain in the EU. His could be described as the violent expression of nationalistic emotions held by so many.
It reminds one of “The Cricket Test”, a controversial phrase coined by Norman Tebbit, sometime in 1990. Mr Tebbit, a senior Conservative politician, had alleged the lack of loyalty to the England Cricket Team ‘among South Asian and Caribbean immigrants and their children.’ He was incensed by the fact that these immigrants, not significantly integrated into the United Kingdom, would rather support their native countries than the England Cricket Team.
The implications of Britain’s exit from the European Union will unfold in the days, months, and years to come. That exit has implications for relationship within the UK itself, not least because Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. Of course, the exit of Britain will also weaken the EU considerably being its second largest economy and largest military power.
There are, however, lessons especially for those who might have been motivated by their models. The formation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), for instance, was informed by the success of the EU. The ‘Ghana must Go’, episode in Nigeria in the 1980s, as well as the expulsion of Nigerians from Ghana during the rule of Busia, suggest a limit to the enthusiasm of supra-nationalist politicians. There will always be nationalistic feelings and the suspicion that have become the lot of those whose identities differ from those of the dominant group.
In spite of its exit from the EU, Britain will forever remain multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. One must acknowledge that British society has provided an outstanding example of a most tolerant one in its recent history, a society where fairness and peaceful co-existence have been the norm rather than the exception.
Those wanting to secure the future of Nigeria must seek to be fair in their dealings with others. The herdsman who, out of sheer madness, assumes he can snuff life out of another Nigeria must be visited with the punishment his barbarism rightly deserves. A civilised society must equally make it abundantly clear that there is no space for the kidnapper, the ritualist, and their likes in a decent society. There must be law and order as well as justice, and no ethnic nationality must be held in contempt, or disadvantaged, because of our disagreements in the past.
I make bold to say that we are interdependent in Nigeria, and there should be no imitation of referendums that misguidedly seek to lead to the break-up of a federation that promises to be important in global politics. Those agitating for a separate nation of their own must take a realistic look at the bigger picture. For instance, every major city in Nigeria outside Igboland, has the Igbo as the second largest ethnic group to the indigenous population. Where are you going to relocate these massive populations of industrious people when you have succeeded with your Biafra agitation?
Dr. Akinola wrote from Oxford, United Kingdom.