The advocacy in 2010 by the maverick former Libyan Leader, Colonel Muammar Al-Gaddafi that Nigeria should be divided along religious dichotomy which led to a diplomatic row between Nigeria and Libya and the recall of the Nigerian Ambassador to Libya has continually given the fillip to some ethnic and religious irredentists to continue to make strident but unreasonable demands for the balkanization of Nigeria. The demand for the balkanization of the country reached its crescendo after the last general election and in the wake of the recent bloody terror campaign embarked upon by the Islamic Fundamentalist Group known as Boko Hara, which has seen a spate of ruthless bombing of public places such as the Nigeria Police Headquarters and the United Nations Building both in Abuja.
When it dawned on Colonel Gaddafi that his suggestion was ill-informed and bunkum, he quickly made a volte face and rather suggested that Nigeria should be divided along ethnic lines. Colonel Gaddafi, despite his pretension to being a proponent of Pan-Africanism and Afro- Arab unity, is an Arab Irredentist and an Islamic fundamentalist of sort. Colonel Gaddafi is one of the sit tight leaders in Africa. He became Libyan Leaders in 1969 after toppling the Libyan Monarch, King Idris in military coup de tat. He was a starry- eyed 24 Years old military officer but a Marxian revolutionary.
The Arabs have always had a condescending attitude to Black Africans. They were in the forefront (in conspiracy with reactionary Black African Traditional rulers and elites) of the slave trade that resulted in depopulation and the destruction of the black civilization for more than four hundred Years. This is responsible for the genocide attitude of Sudanese Leadership to the Darfur people of Sudan who are of Black African descent and ethnicity; even though the Sudanese ruling class is of black African ancestry despite its false claim to be Arab.
The racist attitude of the Arab people has manifested in the suppression of people of black ancestry in Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania. I have no doubt that the Libyan Leader is the wary and envious of the potential of a united and strong Black African nation such as Nigeria to his warped idea of Arab nationalism cloaked under Islamic fundamentalism, alas his mischievous position on Nigeria. I remember the despicable role played by the Libyan Leader in destabilising the West African sub-region which led to the bloody and fratricide civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia that resulted in death of thousands of people in these countries.
I do not subscribe to the theory that religious or ethnic diversity is the root cause of the multifarious problems of Nigeria. How do we divide the country along religious demarcation in view of the undisputable fact there is admixture of the adherents of Christian and Muslims everywhere in the country? Indeed it is a fallacy and misnomer to catalogue Nigeria as Muslim North and Christian South. There is no such dichotomy.
Even in the Sokoto Caliphate, the supposed bastion of Islam, there is a very substantial Christian and animist population in Zuru, Kebbi State. In the North East Region, where Islam gained a foothold more than eight hundred Years ago, there is a substantial Christian population in Southern Bornu State. What of Kaduna State in the North West with its substantial Christian population? How do we demarcate this area? We also have substantial Christian population in the North Eastern States of Taraba, Adamawa, Gombe and even Bauchi States.
In the North Central Region, there are Muslims as well as Christians in Nassarawa, Niger, Kogi, Kwara, Plateau States as even as the Federal Capital Territory. Even in the South-Southern Region which is supposedly a predominately Christian bastion, there is a substantial Muslim population in Edo North. In my own State, Cross River State, there is a thriving Muslim community co-existing harmoniously with their Christian brethrens.
The South Western Region’s religious demography is even more confusing and complex than any other part of Nigeria. In an average house hold in the South-West Region, you will find in the same nuclear and extended family adherents of Islam, Christian and Animists living together in perfect harmony. For example, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was a good Christian but his immediate elder sister was a Muslim. The former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has a sister who is a Muslim while he is a Christian. In view of this inherent contradiction of the religious demography and complexity of Nigeria, is it feasible to divide Nigeria along the lines as advocated by the mercurial Libyan Leader and other separatist from Nigeria? It is clear advocacy for the balkanization of Nigeria is weird, ill-advised and ill-motivated.
Colonel Gaddafi advocated the Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s theory of the Balkanization of the Indian-sub continent for Nigeria. Mohammed Ali Jinnah (1876-1948) was an Indian British trained Lawyer and Politician and the Leader of the Muslim League of India. At Independence from British, he became the Governor-General of India. However, personality difference between him and Mohandas Gandhi (Leader of Congress Party) culminated in a bitter row which made him to advocate for the partition of India along religious lines (Hindi and Muslim).
How do you we apply the Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s doctrine of the Balkanization of India along religious lines propounded in 1940s as advocated by Colonel Maummar Ghaddafi of Libya to the Nigeria situation or as a solution or anodyne to the myriad of political and constitutional problems grapping and confronting the Nigerian Federation? Is religion the cause of the notoriously corrupt predilection of the political elite in Nigeria? Is religious or ethnic diversity the cause of the scandalous under-development of the country after fifty years of the attainment of political independence from Great Britain, so much that we cannot generate electricity power to service the country?
Even if the country is divided along religious or ethnic lines into many countries (such as the Old Soviet Union & Yugoslavia), I do not see these new countries making much progress if the present visionless, ill-disciplined, stupid and hopelessly bankrupt elite are still the same set of leaders that these countries will be saddled with.
Who are these fanatics or fundamentalists that are usually deployed to the street in the North to carry an orgy of mindless violence and brutal killings like the ones we have seen in the Plateau recently? These are the ordinary people, the un-educated, un-informed, the illiterates, and the masses, what Karl Marx called the lumpen proletariat; that are extremely and desperately poor, unprivileged or dispossessed. They are hapless victims of the stupidity of failed leadership in Nigeria.
These are the people that are always used by the elite as cannon fodders to ignite crisis when their interest is threatened. When the economy is rejuvenated and buoyant; when economy can absorb the army of idle youths by way of employment and wealth creation; when our schools can admit this army of youths , then there will no youths that can be used and manipulated by our selfish politicians to divide and rule.
Nigeria is better as one indivisible and indissoluble country anchored on true federalism which guaranteed total autonomy to the federating regions or states. The pluralism and diversity of Nigeria is a pillar of strength not a weakness. It can be harassed by a transparent, nationalistic and visionary/transformational leadership into a source of great strength.
If European Countries with all their diversities and differences can come together under the banner of European Union, I do not see any reason why Nigeria should be Balkanized along ethnic lines. Nigeria is not the only country with great diversity or heterogeneity; What of India; what of Indonesia, what of United States of America. It is clear that the strength of the United States of America is anchored on its diversity. India is a huge country with great diversity. It has diversity in religion. It has differences in ethnicities and languages. It has fissiparous tendencies that are un-paralleled. It has extremists that are always baying for blood, carrying out unspeakable terrorist acts but nobody has suggested the division of India along ethnic or religious lines.
Indonesia (even though it is predominately Muslim Country) more mosaic complexity than Nigeria. It is fourth most populous country in the World after China, India and the United States of America. It is composed of more than 18,000 Islands. It has more than 5,000 languages. It has more than 1,000 ethnic nationalities. One of the provinces of Indonesia, Kalimantan, there are more than two hundred ethnic nationalities. It has a substantial Christian and Hindu population.
There has been a succession movement (East Timor) in Indonesia but nobody has suggested the division of the country along ethnic lines. Indonesia is also a notoriously corrupt which had suffered dictatorship and repression like Nigeria for several decades. What we need is a transformational leadership like, the ones we have seen in India and Singapore. India was mired in instability, political turmoil, corruption, chronic poverty and civil strife some thirty or so years ago but it has put itself in order.
I remembered vividly when I was in Secondary School in the late 1970s’ one of our Indian Teachers who was overwhelmed with the first salary he received at the end of the month that he became overwhelmed with joy and excitement that he went complete bonkers and a fit of lunacy. My India Teacher stripped himself naked, threw the wads of naira he had received as his payment and jumped, howled and shouted that he had never seen that kind of money in his more than thirty years as a graduate teacher. I told this story just to make one point how seeming strong Nigeria was in the 1970s before her decline. Today India is one of the emergent super economic and technological powers.
It has superbly educated and sophisticated elite who are found in the West and United States of America in many strategic sectors and repatriated billions of dollars to India sub continent that has helped in the tremendous economic growth of the India. What of our neighbour here in the West Africa sub-region? Ghana, which has made giant strides in recent times, is not a homogenous country. It is heterogeneous in terms of religion and ethnicity. The problem of Nigeria is leadership; it is not religion or ethnicity.
Our People have always co existed peacefully even during the pre-colonial times. When the colonial over lords came they did not meet a society that was in the classical Hobbesian and anarchistic state. These ethnic nationalities were not on each other throat or killing one another. They were several nation states comprising of many ethnic nationalities and sub-ethnic nationalities. The Benin Nation State was composed of several other ethnic nationalities made up of the Benin people, Ijaws, Delta Igbo, Urhobo, Isoko, and Igala etc.
The Junkun Confederation was made up of the Igala (Kogi), Idoma (Benue), Nassarawa, Junkuns (Taraba), Ekoi (Ejaham) (Cross River) etc. It straddles the present Cross River, Benue, Nassarawa, Taraba, Adamawa, Gombe, and Federal Capital Territory. Sultan Mohammed Bello of the Sokoto Caliphate suggested in one of his works that the King of the Junkuns had a Seaport in Calabar, Cross River State, known as Atakpa. Atakpa today is one of the neighbours of Calabar.
I have a dream that Nigeria will emerge from its present depressing state to one of the major powers in the world that will be the pride of the black race despite the mischievousness of the likes of Colonel Gaddafi. The progressive shall surely take over power in Nigeria and all decisive things such as ethnicity and religion shall There is the need for all patriots to take the gauntlet threw by Colonel Gaddafi and worked assiduously to liberate our country from the clutches of backwardness and lawlessness which has caused the recent killings in Jos that had given the audacity to the likes of Colonel Gaddafi to make such a weird suggestion. Nigeria shall arise again. The Youths of Nigeria should take the gauntlet.
Okoi Ofem Obono-Obla
· Obono-Obla is a Barrister & Human Rights Activists. He lives in Abuja, Nigeria.