It is deja vous for Nigeria once more as the war drums begin to sound ‘Araba!’ – meaning ‘separate!’ in the widely spoken Hausa Language of the North.
It was the ‘quit notice’ by northerners in 1967 that led to the eviction and killing of Igbos in many northern cities of Nigeria after the 1966 coup that killed Tafawa Balewa and Sir Ahmadu Bello. It’s a long story.
The current storm has been generated by another ‘quit notice’ which has been delivered by 14 youth organisations in the North. They want the Igbo tribe to leave the northern region by 1 October. But there are also moves afoot in the predominantly Christian south and among the indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) for ;self-actualisation’.
The issues tearing Africa’s most populous black nation apart are complex in their simplicity. Power, resources and religion all summarized in the word ‘control’.
The country is supposed to be a Federal Republic but over 30 years of military dictatorship and a lop-sided constitution have carved a political arrangement which gives the northern region an edge. This has ensured a unitary government giving power to whichever group or person crafts its way into the presidency.
Different regions are desperate to get out of an ‘arranged marriage’ which is blamed on the British colonial government.
The Nation has never been ‘united’ since 1960 when the British government left. The accusation is often levelled at the British that they handed political power to the northern Islamic adm
inistration at independence. Three years after independence the country’s political arrangement collapsed and by the sixth year, the country drifted into a war that killed about a million people. The country has never recovered from that early trauma.
The Boko Haram Islamic insurgency, Islamic Fulani cattle herdsmen terrorism, revenue derivation and distribution and political power sharing arrangements have exacerbated the cry for regional disintegration.
Those who think it is time for regional self-determination – labelled as doomsayers – believe the desperate, despotic grab for power by the northern Islamic elite is counterproductive and will stunt any form of national development and freedom of expression so it is time to split. Those who have invested resources and their lives in a united country believe the country must
stay united and is doomed if it disintegrates.
There are still a third group who insist the nation must stay united but who have invested their resources and saved money outside the country. As things stand now, the call for restructuring is top of the national discourse.
It would seem that there are few options, at least for now:
Option A, a unity based on a restructured constitution and country where people negotiate and agree to live together on specified terms.
Option B, the country splits into at least three countries depending on people’s negotiations on where they want to fit in.
Or Option C, a few political gestures and superficial arrangements are made, for the time being, until issues degenerate to tragic levels to force a restructuring or a secession.
The Church has uncomfortably remained quiet in the debates. At least for now. But the voices of Christians will have a powerful say in the future of Nigeria.
Hassan John is West Africa Editor, Global Christian News