A few weeks ago, former Minister of Aviation in Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s government, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode (FFK), in one of his lately prodigious outpourings, posted a piece on the Facebook which I found to be intriguing. Here’s an excerpt of our exchange, served today for its relevance to the continuing debate on a (Sovereign) National Conference and the future of Nigeria. Enjoy:
FFK: Today a great march and protest is taking place in the Catalan region of the nation of Spain. According to the polls, 52 per cent of the people from that region wish to break off from Spain and to establish a new European sovereign state.
Later this year the people of Scotland are having their own referendum to determine whether or not they will stay in the United Kingdom and again, from the polls, it is very clear that the majority of Scots wish to have their own new sovereign state and that the Scottish Nationalist Party enjoys massive support.
Nobody in either Spain or the United Kingdom has insulted those people or labelled them as “ethnic jingoists’’ or “primitive tribalists’’ for wanting to break off from the greater whole and establish their own country.
This is because everyone respects the right of the various ethnic groups and nationalities within their wider nation to exercise their right of self-determination that is an integral and fundamental aspect of international law. Exercising that right does not turn them into villains and does not make them any less patriotic than their compatriots who do not share their views. It just means that they have a different perspective and that they believe, as many believed before Malaysia and Singapore broke up, that the interests of their various peoples are better served when and if they go their separate ways.
They opted to be friendly neighbours rather than to be compelled to remain within the same territory against their collective will. As we in Nigeria approach the 100th anniversary of our 1914 Lugardian amalgamation and, as the 2015 elections are fast approaching with both the northern region and the South-South zone desperate to take or to hold on to power at any cost respectively, we need to begin to ask ourselves some basic and fundamental questions about our future. For example, is our interest better served by remaining as one nation or is it time for those nationalities that wish to leave the federation in a peaceful and orderly way, as a result of a legitimate and honest referendum, be allowed to go?
If the breaking up of larger countries into smaller and more viable ones is good enough for India (which broke into three), the Sudan (which broke into two), Czekhoslovakia (which broke into two), Yugoslavia (which broke into 5), the Soviet Union (which broke into 15) and numerous other countries over the years why is it not good enough for us? Again why should those that believe that Nigeria ought to break up be subjected to so much suspicion, ridicule, contempt and insults from those that do not share their views?
Some of the questions that need to be answered are as follows – firstly is our union working? Secondly is our marriage a good one and if it is, is it a happy one as well? Are we satisfied with what has essentially become a country that has been turned into nothing more than (with apologies to Chief Bode George) “Turn by Turn Nigeria?’’ where each ethnic group simply looks forward to enjoying its time to control the federation and all the nation’s resources from an all powerful centre? Are we not meant to be far more than this? Is this what the founding fathers of our nation envisaged?
Is it not clear that each region or each nationality ought to be able to develop at its own pace? Is it not time for us to have a confederation of nationalities in Nigeria and to restructure the country drastically to give maximum autonomy to the various regions and nationalities, or indeed is it not time to just break up and go our separate ways?
Whichever way it goes and regardless of what we all think, let us not allow this debate to be driven by ignorance, pettiness, hate or acrimony. Let us not insult one another here or act as if any tribe or nationalities are angels whilst others are demons. Let us join issues and exchange ideas in a civil, restrained and decent manner without hurling any insults at one another or allowing our emotions to becloud our thinking.
At the end of the day we all want the same thing- namely, what is in the best interest of the Nigerian people and what type of arrangement will allow them to achieve their full potential? That is the issue and that alone.
TF:I agree absolutely with my brother FFK on this. And I don’t care what name anyone chooses to call those of us who like to think – think differently, think outside the box, think boldly, and face a new future. Of course, no solution, no line of action, is going to be easy or a bed of roses. But, it is a question of possible lesser evil, and, more importantly, giving what has a better chance of working a go.
The truth, the bitter truth, is in spite of romantic notions of some past, the country has always been beset with internal strife and combustible ethnic rivalries promoted and exploited by successive unconscionable leadership. Yes, one Nigeria and all that, if it can work and we can assume the pace of development that matches our potential. But, no, not at the expense of the peaceful existence and aspirations of those who choose differently.
I have nothing against the Niger Delta folks keeping their oil to themselves. Good for them. If Nigeria is still to remain one, then we can sit and determine what percentage goes to the centre for what need be run by the centre. Ditto, other places. I would love to travel to the Niger Delta (if keeping their oil will bring them peace and they stop the kidnapping stuff) and enjoy what they have to offer without having to get a visa, but with getting a visa if I must. No peoples in this world need oil necessarily to survive or to develop.
We need to talk and negotiate our relationship. If some bloc would like to go their way, and it is agreed to by referendum, then I see why not. That does not mean the country needs to splinter into a thousand countries – though I find nothing wrong with even that. Truth is, no matter how small a breakaway group is, there is likely to be one country in the world still smaller – and existing happily and probably viably! When the country sits down to negotiate, there are a number of small ethnic groups that would decide their interests are better served teaming up with some others, etc.
In any case, that is jumping the gun. We do not have to break up. Let us just sit and talk. Let us recognise our differences and negotiate our co-existence on mutually agreed terms.
Let us free the powers and energies of the component nationalities to strive for their vision and goals. We do not have to develop at the same pace.
FFK: My dear egbon, Tunde Fagbenle, I really appreciate that. Coming from one of the greatest writers in Nigeria, that is a great compliment. Thanks so much. God bless you forever.