Nigeria has been in terminal crisis since its flag and paper independence in 1960. The country’s financial, economic, ethnic, religious, and political leadership and other forms of domestic crises have tended to negate unity and progress and render the union unworkable. The British colonial masters were in large part responsible for this ugly picture and for starting Nigeria off on a lie. Chinua Achebe, (2012:50) narrates in There Was A country: A Personal History of Biafra how Sir James Robertson, Nigeria’s last British Governor-General oversaw the rigging of Nigeria’s first election “so that its compliant friends in {Northern Nigeria} would win power, dominate the country, and serve British interests after independence.” 

What the above quote implies is that the British bequeathed the Nigerian people an atrocious colonial legacy, that democracy which the British bequeathed to Nigeria was compromised from the onset, and that the art of election rigging which was to become an insidious evil in Nigeria’s political life was introduced by the British. Consequently, it makes the British responsible for the terminal dysfunctionality which has dogged the country since its independence in 1960. The following defines Nigeria’s relentlessly tragic narrative and dysfunctionality.

                Three years after independence, the Nigerian census crisis of 1963-64 convulsed the country. Before the country could come to terms with the shock, the federal election crisis of 1964 happened. Then came the Western Nigeria election crisis of 1965 which left a trail of destruction in its wake and brought the country on the verge of disintegration. It was to fix the seemingly insoluble Western Nigeria crisis that the coup of January 15, 1966 occurred, to be followed later by a counter-coup in July 1966 led by reactionary elements from the North who, equipped with tunnel vision, felt that the January coup had been planned and executed to degrade their region and elevate the eastern region and people to dominance. For as Chuks Iloegbunam (1987:19) has argued: “Those who suffered as a result of the January 1966 coup hold that it was an Igbo affair contrived to enthrone Igbo supremacy in Nigeria’s political life. The fact that that coup itself was quelled by Igbos—Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi in Lagos, Major John Obienu in Abeokuta, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Madiebo in Kaduna and Lieutenant Colonel Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu in Kano—is hardly put into consideration.” 

The July 1966 coup led by Murtala Muhammed and T Y Danjuma, but which enthroned Yakubu Gowon as head of state, brought in its wake a wide scale hate campaign and pogrom against the Igbo of the eastern region. Igbos domiciled in the northern region and parts of the West were hounded and killed, their property pillaged or destroyed. The coup marked the beginning of the reign of terror by the north against the South and the Middle Belt and the Igbo in particular. In the words of Konye Obaji Ori (2009), “The lack of planning and the revengeful intentions of the second coup manifested itself in the chaos, confusion and scale of unnecessary killings of the Easterners throughout the country. Even the authors of the coup could not stem the general lawlessness and disorder, the senseless looting and killing which spread through the North like wild fire on 29 September 1966.” 

As a triumphant response to the relentless massacres of his people and after all peace options had been exhausted including the historic Aburi Accord which Gowon unilaterally abrogated, Lt Col Emeka Ojukwu, the military governor of the eastern region, acting on the mandate bestowed on him by his people, declared the eastern region a sovereign entity, independent of Nigeria. Gowon’s answer to the already volatile situation was to declare war against the secessionist republic of Biafra, informing the world that he was embarking on “a short, surgical police action” (Frederick Forsyth (1969/1977:116) against the breakaway region, clearly underestimating the resolve and resourcefulness of the east. 

It was a total war, a fight to the finish, and when it was over, the former Biafra was a massive, blazing wreckage of tragic history. As the fortunes of defeat turned on the Igbo, the Nigerian power clique and their people began to enjoy a seeming period of prosperity in the postwar oil boom. Despite the large revenue accruing to the federal military government, little or nothing was done to rehabilitate the former Biafran region or its people from war damage although Gowon had informed the whole world that he was embarking on a three-pronged recovery agenda of reconstruction, rehabilitation and reintegration famously hyped as the three ‘Rs’.

                The military coups that rocked Nigeria in the postwar era were in themselves crises of their own and obviously contributed to the severe economic, political and social turmoil in the land today. The overthrow of Yakubu Gowon on July 29, 1975 and the Buka Suka Dimka failed putsch of February 13, 1976 confirmed the country’s vulnerability to reactionary and blinkered approach to national politics. With Murtala Muhammed assassinated in the abortive Dimka coup, Mr Obasanjo mounted the saddle of power. The return of democratic rule in October 1979 brought a beacon of hope to a country eager to trumpet its coming of age to the world but it was short-lived as the politicians confirmed the country’s vulnerability to corruption and venality. When the coup of December 31, 1983 occurred, the death knell of the civilian regime was rung. Muhammad Buhari who acceded to power jailed ex-President Shehu Shagari and many of the sacked politicians even as Umaru Dikko became the favourite whipping boy for the failures of the Shagari regime.
The profligacy of the Shagari regime would be matched or even surpassed by the brutality of the Buhari military regime which overthrew it, and would be dwarfed by the gross mismanagement and financial extravagance of the Ibrahim Babangida regime which cashiered Buhari. The political fallout of the coup against Buhari was the aborted coup led by Major Gen Maman Vatsa and the eventual execution of the coup plotters in March 1986. Babangida demonstrated blatant arrogance towards the country’s Christian and heathen population and acute insensitivity to the religious and social consequences when he unilaterally took Nigeria into the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). In his essay, “A Plague in the Land” Ike Okonta (1993:15) argues that “In 1986, Babangida took Nigeria into the OIC and thus opened the door to religious rivalry, intolerance and ‘cleansing’”.

                On April 22, 1990, Major Gideon Orkar’s coup which aimed at overthrowing the Babangida regime and the temporary excision of some states from the core cultural north convulsed the country. The coup was aborted, however, and the leaders were tried and executed by a firing squad. Gideon Orka’s coup forever changed the power equation in Nigeria. It is a historical fact that between 1967 and 1970, the Middle Belt had assisted the North to capture power in Nigeria and prosecute the Biafra-Nigeria war. By that very act, the Middle Belt unwittingly helped to transfer the control of the entire oil wealth of Biafra to the Islamists from the North, notably the Hausa-Fulani. Overtime, the Benue Plateau people, particularly the Tiv to which ethnic group Gideon Orkar had belonged, came to realize what a serious political blunder they had perpetrated especially since within the larger monolithic North, they have always suffered marginalization and domination.
The North’s cavalier exercise of power and lack of savvy to run a modern country like Nigeria did not help matters either. Ibrahim Babangida bungled and bulldozed his way to a political cul-de-sac with the June 12, 1993 crisis, his most political albatross. When he ‘stepped aside’ on August 27, 1993, Ernest Shonekan, who, however, was no more than a figurehead, became head of the interim national government which Babangida had hastily cobbled together before he left office. Shonekan was shunted aside three months later on November 18, 1993, by Sani Abacha, the chief of defence staff, who rather than leave with his boss, Babangida, had stayed behind to look after his (and Babangida’s interests)? Abacha would die in office five years later but only after he had at two different times informed the world of a coup plot against his regime. 

He jailed his former bosses Olusegun Obasanjo and Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Obasanjo’s deputy in the 1976-1979 regime as well as several other individuals for a coup plot. While Yar’Adua died in the Abakaliki prisons, Obasanjo would outlive his tormentor. The frivolity and blatant arrogance which the northern leaders adopted towards matters of state became evident in the circumstances surrounding the December 1997 alleged coup plot involving Abacha’s chief of general staff, Oladipo Diya. The report was that Abacha had sent Major General Ishaya Bamayi, then chief of army staff, to Diya with the story that the Nigerian army had finally decided to remove him (Abacha) from office. 

The idea was to test Diya’s loyalty to the Abacha regime. Unfortunately, Diya could not sniff out the trap; he fell for the hoax and was promptly arrested for an attempted coup plot, tried by a military tribunal and sentenced to death by firing squad. What is interesting, and actually tragic in the above narrative, is that while Abacha should have been busy cracking his brain on how to add a favourable new dimension to the country he claimed to love so much to see if he could change the usual dismal Nigerian story, he was actually busy testing the loyalty of fellow officers to his regime. It was a telling illustration of the regime’s inverted priorities. 

Of course, it is a well-known fact that Abacha was a product of a feudal dynastic Islamic empire and throughout his tenure saw Nigeria as his fief in which all must remain loyal to him or die! In Abacha’s inverted scale of values made possible by his warped psychology, loyalty to his inept regime took priority over combating the worsening economic recession of those days. It was both comic and tragic at once, but then it was the sort of thing that usually came from the north. Abacha’s execution of Ken Saro Wiwa, the Ogoni environmental activist and his Ogoni kinsmen after a death sentence handed down by Justice Ibrahim Auta in Port Harcourt in 1999 is a sequel to the ugly narrative of the Abacha period.
With the return to democratic rule on May 29, 1999, the crisis theme in Nigeria’s political governance seemed to abate although corruption and religious fanaticism remained high flyers. The religious violence which always occurred in the north, with southerners as victims must be seen as part of the north’s politics of carnage against the South.        
  The first recorded religious violence in the north according to Professor Chinedum Nwajiuba (2014: 62-63) occurred in Zaria in May 1980 with its main feature as the killing of Christians. 2, 467 Christians lost their lives in the mayhem. On October 18, 1980, the Maitatsine sect struck in Kano, killing 4, 177 Christians. Between September 29 and October 31, 1982, the same Maitatsine sect struck again, this time in Maiduguri and destroyed the lives of 118 Christians.
  Religious riots by Maitatsine occurred in Yola between 27 February and 5 March, 1984. When it was over, 3, 568 Christians had been killed. In Gombe, the Maitatsine sect unleashed a religious carnage between April 26 and 28, 1985, leaving 105 Christians dead.
On March 5, 1985, there was a religious unrest in Kafanchan which led to the death of 100 Christians. Equally, religious disturbances in Katsina, Funtua, Zaria, Gussau and Kaduna in March 1987 claimed the lives of 500 Christians. In a nationwide broadcast, the then president Ibrahim Babangida, perhaps to exonerate himself from any blame in the riots that he gave the impression had taken him by surprise, described the religious uprising as “the civilian equivalent of a coup d’état.” Yet it was his regime that had unilaterally taken the country in 1986 to the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) as a full-fledged member, an act alone which created tension between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria and finally escalated into full-blown riots. A fallout from the OIC imbroglio was the removal of Ebitu Ukiwe as the country’s vice president by Ibrahim Babangida, his boss. Ukiwe had been opposed to the registration of Nigeria, a secular country, in the OIC. 
  Between February and May, 1992, there was an ethno-religious upheaval in Zango-Kataf in Kaduna State. When the dust finally settled, over 100 people had perished and the IBB-appointed Justice Ben Okadigbo tribunal sentenced rtd Major General Zamani Lekwot to death by hanging for his involvement in the riots. The death sentence was later commuted to a term of imprisonment but it is another telling evidence of the suppression of the Christian northern community by the Islamists in the north. Another religious unrest by the Kalakato Muslim sect during the same period took 50 lives.
  On May 20, 1999, there was a religious unrest by Muslims in Kaduna which led to the death of over 3,200 people. In July 1999, ethno-religious upheavals by Muslims in Kano following clashes between Hausas and Igbos left more than 70 people dead. In February 2000, over 400 Christians were killed in religious unrest by Muslims in Kaduna over the introduction of the Sharia legal system. In September 2001, a religious unrest in Kano caused the death of 500 people. That same year, in October 2001, more than 350 Christians were killed during religious riots by northern Nigerian Muslims protesting American activities in Afghanistan.

In November 2002, religious riots in the north by Muslims protesting the Miss World Contest led to the death of more than 200 people. In February and May 2004, religious riots in Yelwa, Shendam and Kano led to the killing of 975 people. In February 2006, over 650 Christians were slaughtered during a religious unrest by Muslims over a Dutch cartoonist’s portrayal of Prophet Muhammed.
In 2009, more than 1000 Christians were butchered in a Boko Haram unrest in Maiduguri, Bauchi, Potiskum and Wudil. Equally in 2010, more than 990 Christians were killed in religious riots in Jos. By the same token, in 2011, militant attacks by Boko Haram in Abuja, Damaturu, Maiduguri and Madalla caused the death of more than 280 people. In 2012, over 450 people were killed during Islamic militant attacks in Mubi, Yola, Gombe and Maiduguri. From January 1 to December 2013, about 3, 156 Christians were slaughtered and 1, 462 injured in Islamic gunmen, Fulani herdsmen, and Boko Haram attacks in Benue, Plateau, Borno, Kano, Bauchi, Nasarawa, Yobe, Jigawa, Adamawa, Taraba, and Kaduna states. According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, “Boko haram killed over 6,600 in 2014…The group has carried out mass abductions including the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in April 2014.”

The above statistical review of northern politics of carnage against the south and the Middle Belt is but a sequel to the northern politics of domination analyzed in the earlier part of this essay. It is on record that the North’s politics of violence have intensified since Buhari’s accession to power, evident in Buhari’s illegal and continued detention of IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu, the routine killing of IPOB members by military liquidation squads on Buhari’s orders, and the ubiquitous co-ordinated attacks of Fulani herdsmen against host communities in nearly all parts of Nigeria, the worst cases being the attacks on the Agatu community in Benue State and the Ukpabi-Nimo community in Uzo Uwani in Enugu State. Until the Ukpabi-Nimo attack and the attendant universal outcry against it, these Fulani gangs operated with apparent impunity, Buhari’s presence in Aso Rock no doubt feeding their sense of security. Note that this essay has not commented much on corruption, aptly described by Lawrence Solomon (June, 2016) in the Financial Post “as the country’s second-largest industry”, of which the north is equally in the lead.

It is clear that the above narrative has become a recurring decimal in the country’s life and the federal government has shown it is incapable of managing or curbing them as well as the sectoral and political dysfunctions they generate. And their roots lie deep in the so-called amalgamation of 1914 and the hopeless, quixotic resolve by the country’s leaders to defend colonial borders at all costs. Nigeria as it exists at present, did not evolve organically but was created by the British colonial masters in 1914. The country is therefore artificial, an imposed merger of three major and hundreds of minor ethnic communities speaking different languages, possessed of different trado-legal codes and fierce loyalty towards their own ethnic group. 

The British did not consider these issues when it arrogantly decided to cobble these disparate peoples together into one country called Nigeria. Lawrence Solomon (June 2016) wisely avers that: “Nigeria’s cure will start when the ahistorical boundary drawn on a map by Britain’s colonial masters dissolves.” In that Financial Post article titled, “Oil-rich Nigeria is ready to implode: There’s one way to stop it”, Lawrence Solomon argues: “Nigeria doesn’t need cash; it needs good governance, which is likelier to occur if the Igbos rule themselves in the southeast, the Yoruba in the southwest and the Hausa and Fulani in the north…How the West responds will determine whether the nation states within Nigeria achieve self-determination, or whether Nigeria, like Libya and Somalia, becomes another failed state.” 

Rather than continue to insist on sustaining ‘one Nigeria’ that has so far proved ineluctable like an ignis fatuus and perish in the process, let us separate and work out our different destinies according to our God-given energies and vision. It is clear that most Nigerians have lost faith and interest in the Nigerian project, except those who are benefitting from the sectoral and political dysfunctions. It is also clear that the only thing upholding the myth of ‘one’ Nigeria is the armed forces. But the armed forces right now are poorly paid, demoralized, and ill-equipped. And once the oil revenue that is used to pay and equip them stops, the polity may collapse.

Ethnic tensions between Biafrans and the North particularly the Hausa-Fulani have remained high since 1953 after the Kano riots in which Igbos were killed. Buhari’s unguarded language of warfare and the serial unprovoked butchery of unarmed Biafran activists since his regime and the protracted detention of IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, have increased the tensions. Nationalist rhetoric on all sides especially on the internet has become progressively more heated. The northern-dominated security structure has consistently practised oppression, election rigging, and extortion on the highways at checkpoints, extrajudicial executions of Biafrans with impunity and other forms of human rights abuses. All of these bode ill for the country’s unity and future.

Perhaps the late Libyan strongman, Muamar Gadhafi, who advocated a break-up of Nigeria along ethno-religious lines, was not wrong after all. Available evidence has proven that the Nigerian ethnic groups are not very compatible with one another and can never be compatible. In view of the foregoing, the country’s leaders have very few options indeed. The leaders have the option to restructure the polity along ethno-geopolitical boundaries or dissolve the polity completely so that the nation-states that make up the country go their separate ways and become sovereign states. But President Buhari has stated that he could never allow the country to break up, even as the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) have declared that it is not interested in restructuring, and that only a sovereign Biafran state would satisfy it. Both are tough uncompromising postures. 

Yet, legitimacy and morality, and not military might, will ultimately prevail in the end, and the IPOB struggle is legitimate, moral and just. I have always argued and believed that every Nigerian group (including Buhari’s Hausa-Fulani group) that finds the Nigerian space too harsh and thinks that secession is the answer, has the moral and legal right to secede. The search for freedom is within every one’s and every ethnic group’s fundamental human rights. And as Bruce Fein (April 2016) has noted, “The 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among states in accordance with the Charter of the United nations emphasized that, ‘By virtue of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of people enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, all peoples have their right freely to determine without external interference their political status.’” The IPOB have demonstrated great capacity to cope with state-sponsored brutality, sabotage, blackmail, etc. 

The government has jailed its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, since one year now, has continued to kill, harass and jail their members, has attempted to jam Radio Biafra’s transmissions electronically, yet IPOB have refused to knuckle under; nay, they have continued to garner more international and local support by the day. It seems therefore that Biafra is an idea whose time has come which nothing can stop. It is also clear that spilling more Igbo (Biafran) blood to stop the agitation for Biafra will never work as it has not worked so far. The militants have almost crippled the economy and both they and the government have continued to prevaricate over the conditions for a ceasefire. In the meantime, the populace continues to suffer from the bad economy. 

The way forward if for President Buhari to organize and internationally supervised referendum for Biafran independence before the country degenerates into another civil war and end up like Somalia and Libya. Let us make haste and separate peacefully, following the examples of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Czech Republic and Slovakia, and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia whose constituent republics split apart in the early 1990s. A word is enough for the wise.   

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. (2012). There Was A country: A Personal History of Biafra Penguin: New York.
Fein, Bruce. (April 2016). “Biafra Nationhood: Unfinished Decolonization.” Retrieved August 12, 2016.
Forsyth, Frederick. (1969/1977). The Making of an African Legend: the Biafran Story. Penguin: England.           
Iloegbunam, Chuks. (March 9, 1987). “The Ultimate Hero: Writers Distort War History Through Extravagant Self-adulation.” Newswatch: 19.        
Nwajiuba, Chinedum. (2014). “Statistical Review of Northern Politics of Violence Against the South and the Middle Belt.” 2014 Odeinigbo Lecture, Isiokwu: Ochichi Oma: Olileanya Ohanaeze. Owerri: Assumpta Press.
Okonta, Ike. ( 18 October 1993). “A Plague in the Land.” The News: 15
Ori, Konye Obaji. (December 15, 2009). An Informed Evaluation of the Nigerian Civil War of 1967: A Social Science Case Study. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
Solomon, Lawrence. (Friday, June 3, 2016). “Oil-rich Nigeria is ready to implode: There’s one way to stop it”. Financial Post.… Retrieved September 14, 2016.
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (2015). “Boko Haram”, http// Retrieved August 12, 2016.

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