There seems to be this whingeing by a cross-section of Nigerians anytime the talk of either secession or restructuring comes up. They attack such thoughts in a similar waspish manner that a spouse who is impervious to the mithering of her partner would at the very thought of separation, as if to say that “why do you want to leave when you have everything”. Such arrogance that tends to shut down discussions as “we people should remain together as one country” has led to the downfall of nations in history.

It was in 1882 that the French historian Ernest Renan posed the question, Qu’est-ce qu’une nation? (“What is a Nation?”). He disagreed with the prevailing ideas of the time influenced by German writers that such a criterion as a race or an ethnic group “sharing common characteristics” (language, etc.), should be a deciding factor.

President Muhammadu Buhari

Renan, however, pointed out that a nation must have that desire of a people to live together, which he summarized by a famous phrase, “having done great things together and wishing to do more”. This dovetailed into his famous claim that the existence of a nation is “a daily referendum”, and that nations are based as much on what the people jointly forget as on what they remember. This was a counter to Karl Deutsch (in “Nationalism and its alternatives”) that a nation is “a group of people united by a mistaken view about the past and a hatred of their neighbors.”

As in 1870, using Europe as an example, Renan expressed the view that “Nations are not eternal. They had a beginning and they will have an end. And they will probably be replaced by a European confederation”.

Throughout history, this idea of “daily plebiscite” has continued to play vital roles in the evolution and devolution of nations. People have continued to debate the desirability or otherwise of their continued existence. And where all variables point they are better together than separately, they remain, but otherwise, they go their separate ways.

On 1 May 1707 (314 years), the Kingdom of Great Britain was formed through the ratification of the Acts of Union by the parliaments of England and Scotland to unite both Kingdoms and in 1801, the term “United Kingdom” became official when the parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland each passed an Act of Union, uniting the two kingdoms and creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. But that was not cast in stone. Over the years, there has been tremendous power devolution, especially to Scotland.

In 1942, The Scottish Covenant, a document calling for home rule, was signed by 2,000,000 people (out of a population of 5,000,000) demanding for the independence of Scotland from Great Britain. They kept talking until 2012 when the UK and the Scottish governments signed the Edinburgh Agreement setting out the terms for a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, which was defeated 55.3 per cent to 44.7 per cent – resulting in Scotland remaining a devolved part of the United Kingdom. Some people in Scotland are still dreaming of an independent Scotland.

As at 1800, France was a large country comprising the Netherlands (Holland), Belgium and Luxembourg. But in 1814, the people of the three countries claimed independence from France. Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands were as one country called the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 1830, Belgium seceded from the Kingdom of Netherlands and Luxembourg left in 1890.

In 1825, the region of Cisplatina (Uruguay) in the Brazilian south declared its independence from Brazil. When Brazil balked at the idea, the new country entered an alliance with the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata, which is today known as Argentina. A stalemate ensued between Brazil and the country that became Argentina. To settle the problem, France and the UK sat down with the factions involved and created the Republic of Uruguay as a buffer state between Brazil and Argentina.

In 1903, the United States of America wanted to build its canal through a region now known as Panama, which was part of Colombia. A section of the country supported the building of the canal, but the other section did not show enthusiasm about the project. So, they invited the U.S. government to help “maintain the neutrality of the railroad in Panama,” and this led eventually to the 1903 secession of Panama from Colombia. The Panama Canal was completed in 1914.

When India got independence from Britain in 1947, it coincided with the partition of the country into two major parts. India was divided along religious lines into the Dominion of India and Pakistan. One would have thought that the new Pakistan nation, being mostly Muslims, will remain as one because Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) is 90% Islam. But as nations evolve, they discover areas of bonding and areas of disagreements.

Like the dangerous game Britain played in Nigeria, it left most of the political power in the hands of Pakistani elites, which led to resentment in Bangladesh as well as very real economic disparities. In 1971, Bangladesh declared its independence from Pakistan, and a nine-month war forced Pakistan to recognize the Bangladeshi secession as legitimate.

After it gained independence in 1961, Tanganyika, recognizing the fact that the people that made up the union are culturally, politically and mostly religiously at poles, signed the Articles of Union on 22 April 1964 and passed an Act of Union on 25 April, officially accepting the People’s Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba to form the United Republic of Tanganyika. The country later changed its name to the United Republic of Tanzania (“Tan” comes from Tanganyika and “Zan” from Zanzibar). Zanzibar has an autonomous government with executive and legislative powers like Scotland.

But the mother of them all was the USSR. When I was a teenager, the terms Perestroika and Glasnost were major mantras in international affairs just like Restructuring has become a recurring decimal in Nigeria, but the powers that be, like their Nigerian counterparts, held on. But in 1991, the centre couldn’t hold, and after a last-gasp military coup was attempted to no avail, 14 independent polities moved quickly to leave what was left of the Soviet Union. The ramifications of that vast, multi-actor secession stretching from Central Europe to the Pacific Ocean are still being felt till date. Nigeria straddles the African continent in similar geographic spread as the USSR. But we still have a window of opportunity to be sincere to ourselves and start the discussion on whether we want to continue living together as one or not.

Has all these countries that seceded stopped having problems? Have they stopped having internal strife, complaints and other challenges nations have? Not at all. Who could believe that 181 years after independence (from 2010 to end of 2011) Belgium, as democratically advanced as it was, could have a political crisis so intense that the country went for 589 days without an elected government because of disagreements between forming a coalition among the political parties? In fact, the Belgian record surpassed the 353 days without a government held by Cambodia from 2003 to 2004. A nation is a daily plebiscite.

Unfortunately, there seems to be this grouchy attitude towards people who call for a serious discourse on our continued existence by either labeling them as ethnic bigots, or unpatriotic fellows. I think this is wrong. I know many people who genuinely love this country and have made personal sacrifices for this country who have become vocal on the need to chart a course for the future of Nigeria, out of love for this country.

I know many who have been frustrated into bleeding silence watching a country so endowed with unquantifiable human and material resources go to the dogs, because its leaders have become inured to the dangers in the land. And there are those brimming with McCarthyist zeal, feigning patriotism by painting a glorious picture of Nigeria to the point of accusing anybody who claims otherwise as unpatriotic.

I think it is infantile to think that calling for restructuring or secession is a sign of hatred towards one ethnic group or another. If Nigeria eventually breaks up today, I will still visit Lagos or Kaduna the same way I visit Accra, Cotonou or Niamey to transact business. People will still live and transact businesses in the new countries the same way they do in Togo, Sierra Leone and Cameroon. And of course, we will continue to intermarry, inter-sidechic, and exchange big-gods.

Las las, we will be fine, but a nation is a daily plebiscite. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: