By Bola Bolawole
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If Britain could exit Europe, as it did close to the midnight of 31st January, 2020; if Eritrea could exit Ethiopia; if Southern Sudan could exit Sudan, then, there is nothing that says nations cannot exit nations. To say a country’s unity is non-negotiable is, therefore, laughable. It is mere wishful thinking and a ruse. Such grandiose statements are neither supported by facts nor vindicated by history.
Eritrea’s declining autonomy and growing discontent with Ethiopian rule led to the formation of an independence movement, the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), in 1961 but the Ethiopian government, rather than address Eritrea’s concerns, adopted the strong arm tactics of dissolving the federation and annexing Eritrea in 1962, thus withdrawing the little autonomy hitherto enjoyed by the discontented federating unit.
The road to discussion and negotiation thus closed, Eritreans decided to liberate itself by force and took to guerrilla warfare. The liberation struggle paid off when, in 1991, the Eritreans defeated the Ethiopian army, occupied the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and installed a new Ethiopian government friendly to the Eritrean aspiration. In 1993, Eritrea formally declared itself independent of Ethiopia.
It is instructive to note that Eritrea fought against all the super powers – the US, the then Soviet Union (before it disintegrated), Israel, etc – which all supported Ethiopia and denied the “small David” Eritrea military, financial and diplomatic support. Nevertheless, Eritrea fought its way through, becoming the 182nd member of the United Nations in 1993. True, then, are the words of Victor Hugo that there is no power stronger than an idea whose time has come. A people united can hardly be broken.
Back then at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in the 1980s, we had a smattering of Eritrean students-cum-lecturers and as members of the radical movements – the Alliance of Progressive Students (ALPS) and the Movement for National Advancement (MONA) – we identified with the Eritreans and their liberation struggle through symposia, marches and celebration of their landmarks.
Southern Sudan’s long road to independence was no less arduous, fighting a bitter struggle for independence for more than 50 years. The dominant North, predominantly Arab and Islamic, held the oil-rich Christian/animist South captive, pillaging its resources and denying it self-rule, despite the 1972 Peace Treaty of Addis Ababa which granted a measure of self-rule to the south. As was the case with Eritrea, the south’s autonomy was completely erased in 1983 by the North Sudanese military ruler, Gaafar Numeiri, giving birth to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
At first, the SPLA was not for succession but advocated for a restructured Sudan with adequate accommodation for the south, accepting even to play second fiddle. The insincerity and manipulative tendencies of the North, however, changed the equation as the fighting progressed. A February 2011 referendum, after many postponements and efforts to truncate it, returned a 98 percent vote in favour of independence. Southern Sudan thus became the 54th – and youngest – state of Africa. Who is next?
Eritrea and Southern Sudan confirm assassinated US President JF Kennedy’s statement that those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent change inevitable! Those who drive discussions from the open space drive men into cellars where revolutions are made. Britain, however, is wiser. Its exit from Europe was negotiated, tortuous and recriminating as the process was, consuming two Prime Ministers – David Cameron and “foolish” Theresa May, to quote US President Donald Trump!
But Britain is duplicitous! It holds uncompromisingly to, and forcefully exercises its right to self-determination but stoutly denies same to others! The world is yet to forget the “Independence or death” hunger strike of Irish patriots or the audacious bombing campaigns of their military wing.
On Thursday 18th September, 2014, Britain won the referendum for Scotland to remain in the union with 2, 001, 926 voting against independence while 1, 617, 989 voted in favour. Doom’s Day postponed! Britain is solely responsible for the acrimonious Nigeria marriage of incompatibles. As it were, pigeons and cantankerous birds were pigeon-holed in the same compartment. The marriage of strange bed-fellows totters, moving assuredly towards the edge of the precipice.
Other ex-colonial possessions of Britain were quick to exit a similar trap. Thus, Pakistan exited India and Bangladesh exited Pakistan. As outlined in the Indian Independence Act 1947, the dissolution of the British Raj or Crown rule, as it then was, came into existence at midnight on 14 -15th August, 1947. Predominantly Hindu/secular India and predominantly Muslim Pakistan were strange bed-fellows. Religious differences were the main reasons the two went their separate ways.
Former East Pakistan fought a nine-month guerrilla war against the Pakistan army and their collaborators, resulting in the death of about three million people in what has come to be known as the Bangladesh war of Independence and the Bangladesh genocide, becoming independent on 16 December, 1971 and changing its name to Bangladesh.
Both Bangladesh and Pakistan had Muslim majority – West Pakistan (now Pakistan) 97% and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) 85% Muslims. Between 1948 and 1960, East Pakistan (Bangladesh) made 70% of all of the country’s exports while it only received 25% of imported money. Does that sound familiar? Who makes the wealth of Nigeria – oil and gas money, and taxes – but who takes the lion share of these resources and who have their own tribe in all commanding positions?
So, religious differences, economic and political injustices – each on their own or one reinforcing the other – can be a veritable cause for people discontentment and the eventual, inevitable disintegration of a nation. The example of Pakistan, however, shows that a country or people disadvantaged today may not remain so for ever if the feeding bottle is taken away from the lazy drone and the leech pulls itself up by the boot straps and applies itself to hard work.
Today, Pakistan is a nuclear power while Bangladesh is not. India also is a nuclear nation and one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. I will support restructuring – even disintegration – because I believe that is the surest road to the greatness of Nigeria’s many disparate peoples and nations who, rather than forge ahead together in the unhappy union called Nigeria, impede one another’s march to greatness.
Despite Josip Broz Tito’s great work as the founding father of modern Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; despite his towering figure in the then non-aligned movement; and notwithstanding the fame he brought his country in the comity of nations, Yugoslavia floundered and collapsed after Tito’s death. In fact, some of the world’s most bestial wars and horrendous violations of human rights and mouth-gaping crimes against humanity were committed on Yugoslavian soil. Who will ever forget Kosovo!
On February 18, 2008, a bloody war broke out in Croatia where the Serbs tried to create their own state. In the altercation between Zik and a colonial officer recorded by Mogwugo Okoye in “Storms on the Niger”, holding down an unwilling people and riding roughshod over them result always in acrimonious parting of ways and avoidable disaster. Zik was proved right in Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavia comprised of six republics (better still, six strange bed-fellows), namely, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Slovenia and Montenegro as well as two provinces – Kosovo and Vojvodina. Today, the same country is made up of six independent countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina; Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. The world did not come to an end!
The leviathan called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), comprising of 15 republics, unravelled and disintegrated on 26 December, 1991 and the world, agasin, did not come to an end. Today, Russia, the then centre of the behemoth, still remains a super-power nation while the 14 other independent republics pursue their respective destinies under the sun.
Be not deceived: Any nation or organization can disintegrate. There is nothing called indivisibility or indissolubility about nations. There is nothing sacrosanct or cast in iron about it. The USSR, held together by iron fists, unravelled; the Iron Curtain got shattered; the Berlin Wall, like the biblical Wall of Jericho, fell on the 9th November, 1989. Need I say more?
LAST WORD: On Femi Adesina, my brother and professional colleague, I am still in shock. This is my terse comment for now. Those urging me to say something should please bear with me. But kudos to Pastor EA Adeboye, General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, for playing a commendable role in last Sunday’s Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)-ordered prayer walk against insecurity in the land. Regardless that he was fasting, Daddy G.O, as he is fondly called, briskly walked kilometres carrying a placard with the inscription “All souls are precious to God” A three-day fasting culminating in the prayer walk had been called by CAN to denounce that in Nigeria, life – Christian life especially – has become what the English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, described as “nasty, brutish, and short” Someone bemoaned that some high profile pastors were conspicuous in their absence last Sunday. Frantz Fanon, author of “The Wretched of the Earth”, posits that there are always two categories of people around an issue: Those who fulfil their mission and those who betray it. Again, need I say more?
Bolawole, former Editor of The Punch lives in Lagos