June 20, 2012 – Following the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy after the first World War, Czech and Slovak were encouraged by, among others, President Woodrow Wilson of the United States of America to come together as an independent state. Though the two were not at par in economic and technological advancement, they strived for 75 years of their union to bridge the gap. The more they tried, the wider the gap became. Their differences continued to be a subject of disunity while the marriage lasted.
Finally, some leaders of the country woke up from their dream by realising that there might be more prosperity in separation than in the forced union. These leaders saw the vision and had the nerve to do what was right for their people, irrespective of the benefits they derived from the union. When a September 1992 poll put 37% of Slovaks and 36% of Czechs as supporting the dissolution of the country, the leaders saw what the people were not seeing and continued with the planned dissolution which finally took place on January 1, 1993 in a peaceful manner. This separation has come to be known as the ‘Velvet Divorce’.
As it turned out, the separation did more good than harm, especially for Slovak which was less prosperous and had been spoon-fed all along by Czech. Although Czech still appears more prosperous than Slovakia, the GDP growth of the latter has been consistently higher than that of the former since 1994 and the economic gap between them is closing up. Slovakia has also surpassed Czech in economic reforms, a feat that ensured its acceptance into the Euro Area in 2009. Clearly, the separation of Czechslovakia did the citizens of the country a lot of good, more so because they were blessed with enterprising and selfless leaders who did not believe they had to cling to the little available resources like a leech in a do-or-die fashion, and lawmakers who did not believe that secession would cause a reduction in their salaries.
Despite Serbia’s opposition to Kosovo’s breakway from it, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Kosovo’s formal secession from Serbia in 2008 was not in violation of any international laws and was therefore legal. The President of the ICJ, Owada Hisashi, held that there was no part of international law that was meant to be a “prohibition on declarations of independence.” In a similar fashion, President James Buchanan of the United States in his Fourth Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union on December 3, 1860 stated that “The fact is that our Union rests upon public opinion, and can never be cemented by the blood of its citizens shed in civil war. If it cannot live in the affections of the people, it must one day perish. Congress possesses many means of preserving it by conciliation, but the sword was not placed in their hand to preserve it by force”.
The foregoing, where a people were forcefully prevented from seceding, was what was meted out to the Igbos during the civil war. This force, in the name of ‘indivisible entity’, orchestrated by Yakubu Gowon plunged the country into further disunity, distrust and many unanswered questions about the 1914 Britain-arranged marriage of strange bed-fellows.
The story of the declaration of independence by Biafra actually started in January 1966 when a predominantly South-led coup led to the death of prominent Northern politicians and senior military officers. There were Northern officers who felt that the then Head of State, Aguiyi Ironsi, who was not a part of the January 1966 coup, handled the coupists with kid gloves because they were mainly of Igbo extraction, his region. To fight this supposed injustice, some of the Northern officers perpetrated another injustice by killing some Igbo army officers who were holding an all-Igbo meeting in Abeokuta while the Head of State was in Ibadan on January 28, 1966. When he was informed, Major T.Y. Danjuma, who was part of the Head of State’s entourage, led other Northern army officers to perpetrate more injustice. In his interview in Sunday Guardian of February 17, 2008, Danjuma said: “Now, our boys had created an excuse for the release. After killing these people, it is a draw – they killed Army officers in Lagos and all over Nigeria. Igbos did it. Now, Igbos had been killed in Abeokuta; that’d be the end of it. I said no. I asked the Adjutant, who was in a position to know, if the Supreme Commander – at that time lronsi was known as Supreme Commander – had been told? He said, no; he didn’t think so. I said okay; he should get me some soldiers. He brought soldiers.”
This was how Aguiyi Ironsi and the Military Governor of Western Region were killed on July 29, 1966 in a revenge-seeking coup. It would interest you to know that these two were not part of the January coup, but it did not matter to Danjuma and his goons. They succeeded in plunging the country into a needless civil war, because it was the death of Ironsi, amongst other reasons, that led to the declaration of independence of Biafra. The Igbos felt they were done with the marriage called Nigeria and opted for self-rule, but Gowon in his wisdom did more injustice by forcefully suppressing a people’s right to self-determination, all in the name of unity and indivisibilty. How can a nation hope to achieve unity when people’s rights are not respected? Can there be indivisibility in injustice?
Nigeria is enmeshed in too many injustices. Instead of addressing them, the leaders that the country has been plagued with has answered with more injustices. Up till now, Ibrahim Babangida walks around freely and also, no one has asked Abdulsalami Abubakar what happened to MKO Abiola under his watch. Instead, the Jonathan administration chose to rename University of Lagos after the winner of the June 12, 1993 election, while sweeping the more important issues under the carpet. Can MKO Abiola be truthfully immortalised until all the questions raised by his incarceration and death have been answered?
We may talk about peace from now till eternity, but there simply can be no peace where there is no justice. The peace in such places is that of the graveyard and an in-defuse-able bomb waiting out its time to detonate. Since its forced marriage in 1914 and up till now, history has not been on the good side of this country. Events have also shown that the so-called indivisibilty is a lie, one big lie that our so-called leaders are not willing to admit due to fear and selfishness. But Boko Haram is doing a good job of admitting this truth for us all. The truth is that a section of the country see itself as the only claimant to the presidency and juicy positions. The Obasanjo presidency was a concession to the South arising from the death of Abiola and the concession was to last for four years, but Obasanjo outwitted them. They had to patiently wait for eight years of supposed usurpation of their rights. And finally, they got back their ‘right’, but nature played another trick on them and Goodluck Jonathan became the president. Were it to be in the 60s, they would probably have set aside the constitution and installed one of their own. The intrigues that surrounded the sickness of Umaru Yar’Adua proved this much. While the president was incapacitated, the only person that had the constitutional right to the seat was pushed aside like a schoolboy by the forces who have held other sections of the country in perpetual servitude since 1960.
The likes of Sanusi Lamido and el-Rufai may continue to ascribe the action of Boko Haram to discrepancies in revenue allocation, poverty and degradation in the North, but by whom? Have their people not ruled this country for years? Gone are the days when Nigerians are deceived by vain words like these. Boko Haram is a creation of politicians who are bent on running down the Jonathan administration because power has eluded them. My only grouse with Goodluck Jonathan as regards Boko Haram is that he has not fully asserted himself as the president. Sometimes, his face has shown more fear than that of the innocent Nigerians being bombed daily by Boko Haram. This is why Nigerians are losing faith. A leader has to always show courage: if the people sense his fear, they will not trust him.
Obviously, there are positive forces in the North that he can collaborate with to stamp out the sect, but then, he should tread carefully. He should also know that lasting peace cannot be achieved without justice. All the injustices plaguing this country have to be exhumed and addressed. If the leaders cannot demonstrate the will to address these injustices, then secession is the answer. After all, events have shown that the Britain-forced marriage is not working and may never work.
According to Wikipedia, there can only be two justifications for secession: (1) some theories of secession emphasize a general right of secession for any reason (“Choice Theory”), (2) while others emphasize that secession should be considered only to rectify grave injustices (“Just Cause Theory”). The second type of justification, Just Cause Theory, is more apt for the Nigerian situation.
All Nigerians should know that time is running out. We must choose between extinction and secession.
•Daniels writes from Ado in Ekiti State