The secession agitations in Nigeria’s southeast and southwest regions are a complicated dimension to the country’s escalating insecurity marked by kidnappings, banditry and terrorism.
Already burdened with community violence and other criminal activity, officials say some 40,000 people have so far been killed in terror acts by Boko Haram and other groups affiliated to the Islamic State.
Officials say 1,690 students and pupils have been taken from learning institutions in the past six months, with more than 380 still being held by bandits who have commercialised kidnapping.
The last thing this oil-rich nation needs is fragmentation of its political entity.
The activities of secessionists have not been taken kindly, as expected by 78-year-old President Muhammadu Buhari, an ex-army General, who last month promised to “lay down my life” for Nigeria.
The Oduduwa republic secession group of Yoruba people of southwest is led by Sunday Adeyemo (aka Igboho), a well know figure of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), who has been declared wanted by the police. He is on the run from the police.
The arrowhead of the Biafra nation of Igbo people of southEast is Nnamdi Kanu, who was recently re-arrested, and now facing 11-counts, some bordering on treason.
Leading the proscribed Indigenous People Biafra (IPOB), Kanu, a Nigerian-British national, has resorted to arms struggle, killing security personnel and destroying federal government’s institutions.
The Oduduwa Republic group of Igboho targets regional sensitisation but some occasional skirmishes.
The secessionists in Igbo and Yoruba, the two major communities of the south, have accused the federal government of marginalisation, domination by Fulani people as well as the unchecked criminal activities of northern herdsmen, who are President Buhari’s kinsmen.
The launch of a militia group, Eastern Security Network (ESN), by IPOB according to Kanu is to protect the Igbo people against the marauding Fulani herdsmen.
Kanu has described northern Nigerians, with 19 states, as feudalists who are out to dominate the Igbo people; and Igboho said the Yoruba people are tired of belonging to a country that is unjust and not listening to call for restructuring the political system.
Besides insecurity, IPOB, which was formed in 2014, has amplified marginalisation and self-determination, as reasons for the resurrection of Biafra Republic, which had led to a three-year civil war of 1967-1970 that claimed three million lives.
“Many Nigerians are dissatisfied with the political community we have. They feel it is not structured to serve their interests. They feel there’s significant levels of marginalissation that makes their citizenship ineffective,” Uche Onyeka, a teacher argued.
“It’s legitimate for them to make demands for separation. But the reality on the ground is that it’s difficult for Nigeria to separate. We have migrated extensively,” Abiodun Adelabu, a lawyer in Ibadan, the epicentre of the Oduduwa republic, said.
Currently, secessionism is divisive, even among the population that could normally support the idea en masse. Highly revered traditional rulers as well as political leaders in both regions have publicly opposed the agitations.
The southwest political leaders, on May 22, 2021, issued a resolution that expressed “strong opposition to separatist agitations and hate speeches. While urging those indulging to desist forthwith, they renewed their belief in the unity, stability and sustainability of the country.”
Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo state who is the chairman of southwest Governors Forum, said: “‘For Nigeria to overcome these challenges, we must do so with unity of purpose and action. The desire for peace and the chance for a prosperous and just society is universal and transcends all regional, religious or ethnic divisions.’’
The leaders argue that Nigeria should instead devolve more power. Echoing the position, they have held since 1999, the Yoruba political leaders advised Nigeria to consider the adoption of ``true’’ federalism where more power and resources are ceded to the states
The socio-cultural group, the north, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), which accused the Igbo people of tacit support to IPOB and ESN, arguing the people from the regions seeking secession have in fact profited more from Nigeria’s federal structure.
“As far as we know, the Igbos benefit from the unity of this country more than any other ethnic group because there is no state or location in this country that you will not find an Igbo man with serious investment,’’ Emmanuel Yawe, the Publicity Secretary of ACF, said.
The spokesman of Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, said northern leaders have resolved not to allow any war in the country and urged southern leaders to work harder to prevail on the secessionists to avoid another war.
At the end of a closed-door meeting of NEF, its chairman, Prof Ango Abdullahi, says it would not be in the best interest of Igbo or any region to leave the country all well-meaning Nigerians have toiled to build.
Besides the proscription of IPOB, the southeast and federal governments have declared ESN a terrorist group and ordered military crackdown on the armed group in Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi, Imo, Enugu and Abia states.
Although accused of playing the ostrich, the Igbo leaders and political class in the East, have denounced IPOB.
The forum of the five governors of the region on June 19, 2021, condemned the activities of “violent secessionist group” in the region and other parts of the country.
They said the Igbo are committed to a united Nigeria, and that the impression that south-east leaders are silent about the agitations for secession is incorrect.
“We, the Igbo, do reaffirm our commitment to one united Nigeria under a platform of justice, equality of rights, fairness, love and respect for one another.
“We condemn the killing of security agencies, burning of strategic infrastructure, and killing of civilians in south-east and other regions. We request our security agencies to please discharge their duties within the rules of engagement and the law.’’
Prof Sam Amadi, a public commentator from the southeast, blamed the current crisis on President Buhari’s mismanagement.
“The mismanagement of national diversity encouraged very radical and broad agitation across different regions of Nigeria. Buhari’s failure to engender trust in him as a national leader aggravated separatist sentiments.
“But we need to rebuild national cohesion. We need to de-escalate the crisis. Southeast leaders need to work with northern leaders to end the crisis. We can rebuild the trust again and build a country based on justice and equal prosperity,” he said.
The Senate Minority Leader who is also from the region, Enyinnaya Abaribe, said the spike in violence in the southeast is condemnable, unacceptable and must never, for whatever reason, been condoned.
A recent governors forum resolved that funds deducted from the Federation Account for the Nigeria Police Security Trust Fund should be distributed among the States and Federal Government to combat security challenges.
The Forum commended the National Assembly for the progress made in the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), but rejected the proposed 3 percent and supported the 5 percent share of the oil revenue to the host community.
The forum rejects the ownership structure of the proposed Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC) and that the company be held in trust by Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) since all tiers of Government have stakes in the company.
President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo World Wide, the foremost Igbo sociocultural organisation, George Obiozor, stated that dialogue and not military approach remains the best solution.
“Our national political leaders should put on their thinking cap. Let political wisdom prevail. Peaceful options build and unite nations faster and more enduring than military and violent means,” he said.
Obiozor said Igbo people would neither support the break-up of Nigeria nor become victims of Nigeria’s unity.
Former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, 84, in a speech on June 9, 2021, in Abeokuta, insisted on Nigeria’s unity though not at any cost.
As a strong believer of one Nigeria, Obasanjo argued that Nigerians will fare better staying together. “It is better for Nigeria to remain as one indivisible nation than for each tribe to go its separate way.”
Former President Goodluck Jonathan said emphasis on divisive politics has greatly afflicted the unity of the country.
“As a country, we have our peculiar challenges and should devise means of solving them.’’
Despite his bashing, President Buhari warned secessionists that he would “deal with them in the language they understand’’ and that ‘‘I will lay down my life for Nigeria.”
‘‘In a nationwide broadcast on June 12, 2021, President Buhari said the government was willing to play a critical role in the constitutional amendment as a panacea to the agitations.
“Overcoming the present challenges is but one of a necessary process that we have to undergo as a nation so that we can come out stronger. The day I joined the Nigerian Army I was prepared to lay down my life for Nigeria.’’
“As your president I remain ever committed to upholding and defending Nigeria’s corporate existence.’’