“Since 1914 the British Government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any sign of willingness to unite… Nigerian unity is only a British intention for the country.” — Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Lagos, 1948.
Let’s start from the top. Nigeria is not working. Not for me, not for you who is reading, not for anyone. Except of course, your definition of working is piling up cash from government patronage, and looking at it. The fact is that even those who are making all that pile of dosh still feel our daily pain each day. From the sound of power plants in their backyards, to more than the average visit to the motor-mechanic to have their shock absorbers fixed. From having to provide their own personal water supply, to having to provide their own personal security, Nigeria is an annoyance to everyone.
One problem that has been readily identified is that the country is just too big, and too concentrated in Abuja to run properly. This is true. It is also true that China, Canada, the United States, are bigger, and are making progress. It is also true that India, who started along the path to nationhood at a similar time as we did, is making progress in some form. However, this does not stop the arguments that we need to break Nigeria up.
Now a confession — I have, for the majority of my life, been almost implacably opposed to the idea of breaking Nigeria up. But ever since I joined a small geo-political research company two years ago now, the contradictions of the Nigerian state, and the sheer waste it engenders, which I am faced with everyday, have kind of elevated my thinking, and made me reconsider my position. Will the people who occupy the space that is currently Nigeria, be better served if we break the country up?
Maybe they will, but I still have my doubts. You see, human behaviour is rather constant given certain conditions, and the conditions within the Nigerian state, have been conducive for projecting the worst of human behaviours.
One of the things I do a lot at work is to stare at maps. So let me drop one here.
We will come back to this map later in this discussion.
For the sake of convenience, let us consider what we now call the six geopolitical zones in the country.
The North-Central, popularly known as the Middle Belt, is made up of Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger and Plateau states. We could add Abuja, but we must remember that Abuja is federally run. The Middle Belt is dominated by “minority” ethnic groups who have various allegiances. This has exacerbated a burning conflict in the region that is at once ethnic and religious. The region has never, since independence, been able to articulate a singular agenda. More importantly because of age-old animosities, there are so many conflicts in the region that keep the people there unable to fight against the Hausa-Fulani-Islamic influence that is coming in from the North of their borders. Should this region become a country, it will be just a matter of time it will fall like a plum, and become a vassal to the North.
The North-East is made up of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe. This region has borne the brunt of the Boko Haram insurgency over the last decade, and there is no sign whatsoever that this will go away soon. The region was also the base of Maitatsine. Historically, the northern reaches of this region, dominated by the Kanuri, was centred around the Lake Chad economy. The Kanuri are spread around Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, and the creation of these states has not really divided them. They look more “inward” amongst themselves, than “outward” towards any of these countries. This will be a problem for a “North-East country”, not to talk of the extremism of groups like Maitatsine, Boko Haram, or whoever else comes along. This means that this country will be inherently unstable, and will be a problem for the countries that border it, namely the Middle-Belt country, the North-West country, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad.
The North-West is made up of Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara. The first problem this new country will have is that while it will immediately have the largest population (disputed) of the six new countries, and a huge proportion of this population, will be uneducated, and possibly uneducatable. The region will however, based on current stats, be the most self-sufficient in food production. However, it will suffer in terms of trade, as a lack of access to the sea will hamper it. To its North, will be very poor neighbours, Dosso, Maradi and Tahoua; regions of Niger Republic, with which it has deep historical ties, and which happen to be the most densely populated parts of that, the poorest country in the world. This means that the movement of people between both will be almost unrestricted, and immediate, putting a strain on the new country. It will fail very quickly.
The South-East is made up of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo. Historically the homeland of the Igbo people, this was also the heartland of the secession attempt in the 1960s, and is the heartland of the current secessionist agitations. It is also the smallest region geographically, and the most densely populated. While its natives are aspirational and upwardly mobile, the country will run into trouble pretty quickly because it will be landlocked, and there will almost immediately be fierce competition for scarce resources. There is a reason why three centuries ago, lots of Igbo people began to abandon their farms, and produce great traders — the land simply could not cope. There is no reason to to believe that it will cope now. A drive from Onitsha to Awka, just in Anambra state will show this expanding soil deterioration. Then there will be the geopolitics of coping with expansion from the North, and hostility from the South…
The South-South is made up of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers. The first problem such a country will have, that more than any other region in the country, this region has had its environment completely devastated. By the very stuff, which keeps Nigeria going, in its current form. What this means is that should this region become a country on its own, feeding will become a problem, almost from the get go. Fun fact, they produce more fish in the North-West than in the South-South. Added to that, is that the region will have a very similar problem to what the Middle Belt has — no common cause. The only portion of this region I foresee making a headway, is the far eastern part made up of Cross River and Akwa Ibom states today. The others, will soon descend into anarchy brought about by the fact that the youth in that region have been so thoroughly devastated by a proliferation of arms, gangs, and turf wars for control of lucrative, if illegal oil trades. No, a country from the South-South, will be a problem to everyone.
The South-West is made up of Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Oyo. On the surface, this is will be the most stable and forward looking of all the new countries that will emerge. The current Nigerian economy is centred here (46% of Nigeria’s tax receipts come from Lagos alone), and there is a knock on effect from Lagos, which is beginning to lift Ogun up. But that is on the surface. In reality, we tend to forget that Lagos was federal capital for 87 years, and as a result, commanded the lion’s share of whatever development came the way of the various zones. This arrangement is still felt till today as Lagos is without doubt the centre of everything economic in Nigeria, despite Abuja’s pretensions to the contrary. Lagos, is also effectively Nigeria’s only port. This means that there is a large number of people from the other regions, in Lagos, who are both doing business, and living here. Heck, I live in Lagos too. Now, what if we scatter this country, and every man goes back to the region of his ancestors? The very thing that makes Lagos so dynamic, will be gone. And there will be a lot of catching up to do from the other states in the region. The other new countries, will begin to develop their own infrastructure to compete with Lagos, and a population of roughly 20 million (2006 census figures minus Lagos) will no longer be as attractive to trade, as a population of 180 million plus. This will give a new lease of life to Cotonou, Lome, Sekondi and Tema, all existing ports within six hours of Lagos, and all, even now, better organised.
So, these are some of the practical problems that the six new countries will face within themselves. What practical problem will they face amongst one another?
First, the fight for resources will continue. You think oil is the only thing worth fighting for?
Consider the large scale desertification that is happening to Nigeria’s north, in Niger. It will keep spreading, and that will push people down southwards. Into new countries. These people need to survive, and they will fight to survive.
Consider that if this break happens, four of the six countries will be cut off from the ocean. Think about how dependent Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, and Mali are on their neighbours. Think about the Central African Republic. Do you for one second think that the political and business elite in the North-West, North-East and North-Central will sit idly by and watch themselves effectively become another Niger Republic? Do you for one second think that even the normal South-Easterner on the street will want to be constrained within the limited space that 29,388 sq.km will afford him? A space which will give him a population density of 1,089 people per sq.km, which will immediately shoot his country up to being one of the world’s top thirty in terms of population density?
There are arguments for changing the structure that we currently run, and the singular, overreaching argument, is that it is not working. But breaking up the country? You only need to take a look at the map again. From a military standpoint, there’s only one region that will be easily defended: the North-Central. If we are mad enough to go the route of a break-up, and the inevitable war for resources/access to the sea that will follow, we will be caught up in a war without end. This war will affect not just us, but two huge regions — West, and Central Africa. When that happens, isolationist or not, the world will take notice, and will intervene. Then they will put us back together, because that is the reality that they know. We are not the Soviet Union, or Yugoslavia, who had prior body corporates, to return to. Not one of our regions existed as a country, prior to Lugard’s “mistake of 1914”.
So my question is — what is the point of fighting a war, or wars, if we will end up back where we started? Will we not be better off thinking through a solution to what is clearly a problem?
This article is not absolute. It is meant to provoke a discussion. So, let’s discuss like thinking men.
Cheta Nwanze is journalist and information technology professional. He is a political activist and social affairs commentator. He tweets from @Chxta.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.