BY BAYO OLUPOHUNDA
In 2014, Nigeria will mark the centenary of the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorates which gave birth to present day Nigeria. As a former colony of the British, the country has existed for close to a century after a forced marriage of convenience in 1914, half of those turbulent years have been spent as an independent, sovereign nation having gained independence in 1960 and becoming a republic three years later. As the country approaches a century of nationhood, it is ironical that instead of celebrating the birth of a nation and a shared destiny, there are latent fears that the “mistake of 1914″ may manifest in the break-up of the country in 2015- a year after the centenary date. Will Nigeria as we know it today cease to exist in 2015 as predicted? Will the country implode and eventually be balkanised to reflect the years after amalgamation? Can the country continue to exist under this present warped federal structure?
An analysis of the historical forces that have shaped the evolution of present day Nigeria can be traced to the period leading to the amalgamation and after it. The union itself has been criticised for not taking into consideration the intractable differences between the North and South-both of which, Nigerian leaders, historians and even the British have agreed, had no related identity to exist as one. But in spite of the wide gulf, the colonialists felt the need to place all territories in Nigeria under one political and administrative authority in the ultimate economic interest of Her Majesty, the Queen!
This was achieved on January 1, 1914 when the two protectorates were amalgamated to form the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria under Lord Lugard as the Governor-General. The historical roots of many contemporary problems in Nigeria today date back to the period after amalgamation. Years after the forced merger, the period of decolonisation and growing nationalism exposed the fundamental differences why the amalgamation was deemed a mistake. Political leaders on both sides of the divide could not agree on the direction the country should go. The three principal ethnic groups that dominated the national scene: the Igbo in the East, Yoruba in the West, and Hausa/Fulani in the North, do not really belong together; hence each has its own ideology. From the 1950s onwards, latent forces of disunity remained, but did not become active until after independence. The British, of course, realised the imperfections of the Nigerian Union, they had ample opportunity to restructure it along the regional lines actively canvassed by all interested groups from the 1940s upwards. For obvious reasons, they chose to ignore and there lies our present problems. Today, the possibility of a break-up stares us in the face. From those halcyon days of British political ingenuity of 1914 to the present turbulent period of Boko Haram insurgency in the North, deepening ethnic mistrust, widespread poverty, events have changed dramatically leaving vestiges of political bitterness and a country hurtling to the brink. Will Nigeria survive or will the country crumble under the overbearing weight of the imbalances that are threatening to make it a failed state? The signs that the country may implode began to manifest shortly before and after independence. All the three ethnic blocks that emerged after decolonisation, growing nationalism and during the fight for independence, had begun to tout the idea of secession. At the negotiation for independence for example, the Sarduana of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, was quick to consider secession. His argument then was that Northerners would not rush into independence if it meant replacing European domination with southern domination. That line of argument is still valid till today as the major ethnic groups continue to tear away at one another on who controls the centre.
Also during the 1950 constitutional conference, the country was sold into a proposed representational ratio that favoured the North. At the vanguard of Northern interests were leaders, who declared that the North must have 50 per cent of the seats or it would secede. It is on record that the idea of secession was first hatched by the North, nursed by the West, and executed in the East. The Sarduana first called for secession when he became afraid of southern domination in the early 1950s. The Emir of Zaria during the constitutional conference of 1950, called for Northern secession if the North was not given 50 per cent of the seats. Northern politicians in 1953 through the Northern House of Assembly and House of Chiefs called for confederation and separation in opposition to a motion for self-government sponsored by the Action Group. The idea of secession was equally nursed by the Action Group in 1954 when it insisted that a secession clause be inserted into the proposed constitution. When the Easterners through the Premier, Dr. Michael Okpara, threatened to secede because of the problems of “the mistake of 1914″, the Sardauna himself was quick to point out to him that there was no secession clause in the nation’s fundamental laws, notwithstanding, the East seceded and declared for the sovereign state of Biafra.
Compelling factors that threaten the corporate existence of the country have emerged in recent years. The thickening mistrust among the major ethnic groups jostling to rule the country has further widened the fault liness that have existed since independence. How this will play out in future is uncertain. Today, ethnic militias championing or promoting ethnic nationalism have proliferated across the country. It is one of the reasons why Nigeria could distingerate. In 2011, when the North lost the Presidency to President Jonathan Goodluck, violence broke out in the region. By far, the greatest threat to the continued existence of Nigeria is the emergence since 2009 of the Boko Haram sect in the North. The members want to impose strict Sharia law in the country. If they succeed, Nigeria could be another Somalia where the Al-Shabab jihadists control a large portion of the country. The spate of bombings targeting churches are meant to provoke violent reactions. If this happens, it may spiral into an all-out war that may dismember the country. This has become a possibility as the government has failed to stop the insurgents from causing instability in the country. There are genuine fears that the bombings may spread all over the country. If it does, the government that has not demonstrated the capacity to stop the terrorism in the North may find it difficult to stop violent reprisal across the country.
The enervating and disturbing poverty rate is also one of the main reasons why the country is hurtling to the status of a failed state. Deepening poverty across the country has led to growing crime rate. This has manifested in kidnapping and other violent crimes. The capacity of law enforcement agencies to combat these crimes is limited. Nigeria is currently one of the most dangerous places to live in the world.
What use is a state that cannot guarantee the safety of lives and property of its citizens? The prediction by the US National Intelligence Council and other think tanks that Nigeria may break up in the nearest future should not be seen as an end in itself. It is a metaphor of the tragedy of a country living on a borrowed time.