Development politics in a state within the state

By September 28, 2023 October 11th, 2023 No Comments

In the minds of many Igbo people, staying in Nigeria is stifling the Igbo spirit, ingenuity and drive. The call for referendum for a Biafran state is attractive even as many rue the defeat of the state of Biafra which with hindsight could have been an Eldorado. The state of Biafra existed only for about three years. Beyond the call for referendum which is based on the desire for the Igbo people to choose between remaining in Nigeria or to reestablish the defunct state of Biafra, people have looked at many ways to achieve that but I will look at the suggestion made by former president Buhari.

During his visit to Qatar in 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari sat for an interview with Martine Dennis of Al Jazeera. In that interview that cut across many aspects of governance at the time, was a striking comment from president Buhari who did not choose to invite the Biafra agitators to a table but would send armed soldiers to them. The video of the Aba protesters, who were praying but were dispersed by the military after shooting down about seven people, was played by Martine to which Buhari would not view. In the course of the interview, he contended that the Biafra agitators can “organise themselves and vote for a state within a state.”

A state within a state by the context, of which Mr. Buhari made the suggestion, in my understanding, is for the people of Biafra instead of opting for a sovereign country, can still achieve the same within Nigeria. It could be an autonomous region or a Non-Self-Governing Territory.

The United Nation defines Non-Self-Governing Territories as “territories whose people have not yet attained a full measure of self-government”. There are about 17 non-self-governing territories of which Western Sahara (WS) is one. Morocco administers power over WS of which the authorities will not allow pro-independence candidates to run for office.

Autonomy as the Princeton Encyclopedia of Self-Determination defined “is the legally entrenched power of communities to exercise public policy functions of a legislative, executive and/or judicial type independently of other sources of authority in the state, but subject to the overall legal order of the state.” to continue, “In practice, autonomy arrangements incorporate executive, legislative, and judicial powers to varying degrees. In cases where it is used as an instrument for self-determination, conflict prevention and settlement, autonomy ideally includes such a mix of the three that enables the ethnic group in question to regulate independently the affairs central to the concerns of its members, which are normally easily identifiable as they manifest themselves in concrete claims.”

Even if the Biafra restoration agitators cannot successfully gain access to referendum towards a sovereign state as both systems show, autonomy could easily be attained which needs to be explored.

“Outside of the colonial context, any self-determination discourse was viewed with great suspicion by governments, seeing it as a first step onto that slippery slope that inevitably leads towards irredentist or secessionist claims. Thus, autonomy was widely regarded as a somewhat dangerous concept that a state would only employ at its own peril…But by 1991, the governments of the member states of the European Community (EC) went further in endorsing autonomy as a means of addressing minority issues and self-determination conflicts.” Princeton Encyclopedia of Self-Determination.

Read Also: How Igbo political leaders failed the people

In August 1998, to avoid wars engulfing Somalia, Puntland, an arid oil-rich region in northeastern Somalia, declared itself autonomous.

“Puntland says it does not seek recognition as an independent entity, wishing instead to be part of a federal Somalia.” BBC reported. Puntland also has its president and conducts its elections – which the ‘United Nations, African Union and a number of world governments hailed the Puntland {2017} process as “historic.” VOA reported.

Declaring autonomy could be a temporary step towards the referendum or exploring it may resolve the hunger or agitation for sovereignty, however, the politics of the people of Igbo land should change.

The politics as played is not wholly and strongly developmental. It is rather transactional and competing interests with detrimental affiliations to political parties and self-interests.

The politicians have often allowed their views determined by their party and self interests which have ultimately hampered the development and growth of the Igbo region. They have not learnt to close ranks, if they do, they are not often forceful in achieving for the people. That is why there are many infrastructure decay, socio-economic decline, political rascality, and insecurity. There are less opportunities and poor well-being improvement.

Development is a political process. It creates a situation for the improvement of human development. Human development defined by UNDP is “about giving people more freedom and opportunities to live lives they value which focuses on improving the lives people lead rather than assuming that economic growth will lead, automatically, to greater opportunities for all.”

Upon Nigeria’s independence, Igbo land thrived under M.I Opara regime. Post war policies of Nigeria aimed specifically at cutting down on the powers and influence of Igbo people, for example, the banking policy which “nullified any bank account which had been operated during the Civil War. This had the immediate result of pauperizing the Igbo middle class and earning a profit of 4 million pounds for the Federal Government Treasury. The indigenization decree which followed soon afterwards completed the routing of the Igbo from the commanding heights of the Nigerian economy, to everyone’s apparent satisfaction” Chinua Achebe in The Trouble with Nigeria.

The knowledge of this is not taken away from many Igbo leaders who would look inwards to turn Igboland into that Eldorado that the defunct Biafra had denied the people. If the development of the region is paramount on the minds of the leaders, autonomy or sovereignty may not be required but the Constitution may still prevent certain decisions as some projects are in the exclusive lists that only the president can assent to. But, regardless of such impediments, local infrastructure or put differently, the Human Development Index of the region is average. 

Development is paramount and it is time Igbo intelligentsia and the agitators look towards developing the region and to explore the state within the state as an autonomous region within Nigeria. That will bring more concentration to making the region what Biafra should have been.

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