Will Nnamdi Kanu fight a war?

Political activist and leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement, Nnamdi Kanu (L), wearing a Jewish prayer shawl, poses in the garden of his house in Umuahia, southeast Nigeria, on May 26, 2017, before commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the war on May 30.The war was triggered when the Igbo people, the main ethnic group in the southeast, declared an independent breakaway state, the Republic of Biafra. / AFP PHOTO / STEFAN HEUNIS

Being the impatient and “clever” people that we are, we have tended to always advocate confederation whenever there was a hiccup in our federal arrangement!  George Kousoulas defines “confederation” as a “loose association of independent and sovereign states, which goes beyond the context of alliance by establishing some common political and administrative organs but without setting up central governmental authorities.” 

In comparing federal unions with confederacies, Karl Deutsch reveals, inter alia, that “states often may secede from confederacy, if their own governments or voters so decide, whereas such secession is not permitted in a federal union.” 

The European Union is one example of a confederation, and it should be understood from the context of the above authoritative definitions why the pull out of a member nation, Britain being the latest example, has not been a subject of conflict or acrimony. Britons voted in 2016, albeit by a small margin, to pull out of the European Union and the process of withdrawal has since commenced with the triggering of “Article 50” by the former.  The Scottish referendum of 2014, also has to be understood within the context of the United Kingdom and the nature of laws and understandings that guide relationships therein.

On the contrary, the dissolution of a federal union has tended to result from some war or conflict.  The United States of America is the oldest federal nation in the world, the founding fathers having rejected the erstwhile Articles of Confederation which did not meet the needs of a purposeful and dynamic nation.  The attempted secession of 11 southern states in 1860 and 1861 led to the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865.  The successful prosecution of the war by the federalists firmly established the indestructibility of the union as a doctrine.  In Texas v White (1869), the United States Supreme Court held that the USA was an “indestructible union” from which no state can secede.  However, the justices commented that revolution or consent of the states could lead to a successful secession. 

Almost 100 years after the American Civil War, Nigeria fought its own “war of unity” between 1967 and 1970.  The federal authorities asserted that the war was to preserve the “territorial integrity” of Nigeria. With the “indissolubility” of the nation emphatically inserted in the Constitution, it is doubtful if the authorities will acquiesce in any action or suggestion that directly or indirectly results in the destruction of the Nigerian state. It is in this regard that the referendum demanded by Nnamdi Kanu and his co-agitators on the prospect of a sovereign state of Biafra, might have fallen on deaf ears. The smart bet is that they will not get that referendum from the Federal Government, and the principle of self-determination, elegantly crafted in international law, has not been the easiest of principles to invoke or implement.

However, the agitators have an option; they could warmly support the restructuring of the Nigerian federation, as currently being canvassed by politicians.  Motives compete and contend in this advocacy; some proponents genuinely believe that their advocacy will lead to a better and more stable Nigerian federation, while there are those whose utterances suggest that they anticipate that such restructuring could lead to their ultimate goal of breaking up the federation.  Beyond mere sloganeering, the protagonists of restructuring have yet to forcefully articulate and disseminate their agenda. Of course, some have suggested the scrapping of the states for new regions and this suggests that they might have quickly forgotten that some of the states were once violently agitated for by Nigerians. 

Be that as it may, Kanu and his Indigenous People of Biafra have said all they ever advocate is a referendum and not the restructuring of Nigeria. The agitators may very well end up engaging the Federal Government in a war that would eventually decide the fate of their cause. Their leadership seems to have adopted some stubborn and more militant posturing recently, not least in their declaration or warning that there would be no elections in any part of the south-eastern states, beginning with the Anambra State elections in November, unless the Federal Government authorised a referendum on Biafra.
Although some politicians in the region have voiced their anger at the seeming arrogance and over-exaggerated feelings of self-importance on the part of Nnamdi Kanu in making that declaration or warning, it is in effecting it that the entire world will know or appreciate how determined and prepared the separatists are in daring the state. When Chukwuemeka Odumegwu- Ojukwu took on the state in 1967, he had a united Igbo nation behind him as well as an army reasonably prepared for war; time will tell if Kanu had got what it takes to back what would appear, on current assumption, to be mere rhetoric and grandstanding.

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Nnamdi Kanu
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